Interview with Themba Nene, Chess Player and administrator

We recently had an interview with Themba Nene. It was a wide ranging interview covering Themba’s involvement in chess a player and administrator and how to get more township children playing chess. The interview was conducted via Facebook.

Themba Nene pictured in 2013 on his bike
Themba Nene pictured in 2013 on his bike

Africa Chess Net: What do you do for a living Themba?

Themba Nene: I’m currently working for the US Embassy, teaching mathematics and running a library in Mamelodi

Africa Chess Net: How and when did you get involved in chess?

Themba Nene: When I finished my matric  in 2005 , I took 2 years to do an IT diploma, then in 2009 I decided to give back to my community and I started establishing chess clubs in the local schools and we’ve been growing strong

But I started playing in the year 2000.

Africa Chess Net: Would you say you are more of a chess player or a chess adminstrator?

Themba Nene: Lol, a little bit of both, but I fund myself falling more on the administrative side lately.

Themba and some junior talent after a successful chess tournament
Themba and some junior talent after a successful chess tournament

Africa Chess Net: You are doing a great deal of work to grow the game of chess. Keep up the excellent work.

Themba Nene: Thanks man

Africa Chess Net:  Self-funding must be very difficult. You can only do so much

Themba Nene: Talent and ability in chess are in abundance, but insufficient funds always limit us!

Africa Chess Net: One thing I notice is that there many more white kids at Chess tournments. Is Chess an expensive game or it’s playing in tournaments? How can we get more children from diverse backgrounds playing chess?

Themba Nene: In this country, if you going to talk about the haves and the have nots , you can’t escape talking about race. Right now it’s only the kids whose parents can afford that are able to play tournaments.  There is nothing wrong with that, the responsibility lies with us to make sure that we create sustainable programs that will allow the black child to be able to also attend tournaments without being hindered by lack of resources

Africa Chess Net: That is very inspirational Themba, a noble vision indeed. What keeps you up every day regarding chess?

Themba Nene: My passion for my township, there is so much to be done to uplift it and I’m inspired to put in the work and tag team with other peers to improve Mamelodi, the place is buzzing with potential and there is so much promise. The dream of a better Mamelodi keeps me going!

Africa Chess Net: Thanks for bringing up Mamelodi. You recently held a tournament there. How did that go?

Themba Nene: It was the 6th instalment of our annual tournament and it has been growing year by year. We are thankful for the support we have been receiving from the USA Embassy to host the event throughout the years

Africa Chess Net: I wish we could replicate what you have in Mamelodi in other townships. We need more township chess in South Africa

Themba Nene: It is slowly but surely coming, Kaiser Lee is doing some good work in Atteridgeville and Mpya Tshediso is keen to get started in Tembisa, so we can definitely say the glass is half full

Africa Chess Net: Brilliant stuff. If the tournaments are too expensive for the township kids to attend maybe the tournaments can be taken right into the townships.

Themba Nene: Exactly, that’s what we’ve been doing in Mamelodi

Africa Chess Net: Africa Chess Net. So as a chess player is it e4 or d4 for you?

Themba in action at a tournament in 2013.
Themba in action at a tournament in 2013.

Themba Nene: 1.d4, even Magnus Carlsen doesn’t know how to reply against it. I also struggle playing against 1.d4

Africa Chess Net: You have a point there. d4 has causes Magnus Carlsen more problems than e4. He just lost a game at the Tata Steel against d4. (Magnus Carlsen lost a game as black against Radoslaw Wojtaszek. Carlsen played the Dutch Defence against Wojtaszek who was also a Vishwanathan Anand’s second during the World Championship Match.

Even in the 2014 World Champioship against Vishy Anand, Carlsen lost to d4.

Themba Nene: Exactly my point…even Kasparov kept on jumping between the Grunfeld and King’s Indian Defence (KID).

Africa Chess Net: Which is your favourite piece on the chess board and why?

Themba Nene: Any opponent’s piece that is en prise will be my favourite piece!

Africa Chess Net: You seem to be very much on the ball in term of Chess. What has been the greatest highlight of your career thus far?

Themba Nene: My highlight was an inter provincial tournament I played some 4 years ago in Cape Town, I managed to beat Ophoff (former SA champ) , Dennis Ovcina and draw with Kromhout all in one tournament

Almost everything I do and achieve has chess tied to it whether directly or indirectly,  it has generally shaped my life

I spend more time on my chess during the holidays but the past few years it has been difficult as I’ve been trying to finish my degree.

Africa Chess Net: Who is your favourite chess player and why?

Themba Nene: Garry Kasparov, he is a player I personally admire and I believe he is the greatest champion of all times! Kasparov dominated his opponents and left no shadow of a doubt about who is best

Africa Chess Net: It’s been said that a chess player’s personality is mirrored or reflected by their chess style (positional, tactical, strategic). What are your thoughts on this?

I think a chess style is directly linked to one’s personality,  we all know that Garry Kasparov is not interested in winning a popularity contest and his chess shows, Anatoly Karpov is calm and collected and hence it’s not a surprise when his games play all the way to move 60 and sometimes 70

Tal was very tactical and he played what can be branded as risky chess, and we all know about the lifestyle he lead

AfricaChess Net: What do you think is the right age to start playing chess and why?

Themba Nene: I think around 6-8 years should be a good year for kids to start playing; as long as they enjoy it

Africa Chess Net: Why would you encourage anyone to take up chess?

Themba Nene: Chess teaches many good qualities that are needed in life and there’s many pros for playing the game. Scientifically proven advantages of playing chess and there are countless articles about this matter,

But I’ve realised that I learn more when I am coaching.

Africa Chess Net: Wow, very insightful. How would you best describe your chess style?.

Themba Nene: I try to play dynamic chess but some players think I play too solid and maybe a little passive sometimes, so I’m still not too sure about my style

Africa Chess Net: How would you like to be remembered as a chess player?

Themba Nene: I would like to be remembered as a player who took his chess seriously and as a player who always seemed to do his best over the chess board

Africa Chess Net: What do you think it will take for Africa to have a world chess champion?

Themba Nene: As a continent,  we are still too far behind, I have no idea what it takes to be a world champ hence I cannot make a comparison and highlight where we are lacking, maybe the stronger players like Watu Kobese, Kenny Solomon and Mohamed Henry Steel would give a more accurate answer

Africa Chess Net: Themba, thanks so much for your time. I have really enjoyed this interview

Themba Nene: Thanks man; keep well

Africa Chess Net: Themba, you are a really a MASSIVE asset to the game of chess.

Themba Nene: Will take that as a compliment

Bruce Mubayiwa

I am the founder and editor of Africa Chess Net. I have been playing chess for over 25 years and love writing about the game. Our goal is simple, to get more people playing chess in Africa! The game of chess is not only absorbing but a great deal of fun.

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