Africa Chess Net recently caught up with Donovan Van den Heever, winner of the Men’s A section at the South African Closed Chess Championship which took place January 2014 in Cape Town, South Africa. Donovan, a Fide Master, originally came from Springbok in Namaqualand and now resides in Cape Town. His winning Chess strategy and solid tactics was an absolute pleasure to watch while at the same time he was also securing his place on the South African Olympiad team competing in August 2014 at the World Chess Olympiad, in Tromso, Norway.
Congratulations Donovan on your recent victory at the SA championships. Please tell us about the tournament.
1. What was your general impression of the whole tournament?
The tournament was very well organized. All players fought very hard in every game.
2. Which was your best game of the tournament and why?
My best game and a very pivotal one was in Round 4 against Calvin Klaasen. I just lost to Shabier Bhawoodien in Round 3 with the white pieces where I gambled by trying to surprise him with the King’s Gambit! In retrospect and even prospectively it was not a very good idea because I knew that Shabier regularly looks at all these interesting romantic openings… So winning against Klaasen allowed me to regain some confidence and pick up some momentum….. On another note, I think my game against Jacques Meintjies was quite interesting.
3. You just won the SA championships where there were many strong players. What was your secret to success in this tournament? Would you care to share?
Relatively speaking there were many strong players, Watu Kobese, Daniel Cawdery, Johannes Mabusela, David Gluckman, Charles de Villiers, etc… I did not have much time to prepare for the tournament. Ten days before the tournament I started preparing intensely on a daily basis after returning from work. Maybe I can mention that during the tournament I prepared quietly in my room because normally I listen to a lot of fast music. I am not sure if it contributed to my success but I will try it again in the future!
4. Your plans in chess going forward? Can we expect to see more of you in future tournaments?
In 2013 I started playing local tournaments regularly again. I’m planning to start training now again to improve my overall level so you will definitely see more of me!
5. Where are you based, city and country?
I’m based in Cape Town, South Africa.
6. What do you do [profession]?
I work in investments/finance where I’m responsible for portfolio management, trading and analyst functions.
7. When did you start playing chess and how did you play?
I started playing chess at the age of 15 by learning most of the basics out of a book which I found in our school library. I mostly played against computer programs and speed chess over the internet until I was 18 because I lived in a remote part of the country where there was no chess activity. At 18, when I went to University, I started playing chess tournaments.
8. How has chess impacted your life?
Through chess I met a lot of interesting people and got to see some of the world. Losses in chess helped me to handle losses in life easier (I’m sure everybody knows how hard it is to lose a game, the feeling of regret… 🙂 ) The game also taught me to fight and never give up.
9. Which of the two first moves do you prefer, e4 or d4?
10. Which is your favorite piece on the chess board and why?
The Queen. I guess I like positions with a lot of piece activity and I like to attack (not sure if this explains it 🙂 ).
11. What do you regard as your 3 greatest achievements in chess?
Winning the USSASA 1998 schools tournament as a totally unknown player.
Winning the SA Junior Closed Championships in the year 2000 as a relatively unknown player.
Winning the SA Closed Championships 2013-2014.
12. Who is your favorite chess player and why?
Gary Kasparov. I like his creative attacking play.
13. 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 agree with this to some extent because there are some exceptions. In my case it is also true, I’m a player who always strives for the initiative. In life and in other sports I’m similar.
14. Name 2 chess players you admire in Africa and why?
Bassem Amin. He is very focused and calm and somehow he achieved a very high rating/level although he plays a lot of sidelines. He is also a pretty accurate calculator and strong tactician.
Ahmed Adly. He is a really fast player, accurate calculator, strong tactician and probably has in depth knowledge of the openings he plays.
15. What do you think is the right age to start playing chess and why?
I guess 6 is a decent age to start. At these ages the brain is still fresh and kids tend to learn faster.
16. Do you still take part in tournaments and if so, how often?
Yes, I still take part. One or two every two months, but about all of these tournaments are not FIDE rated.
17. Why would you encourage anyone to take up chess?
It keeps the brain sharp, teaches you a lot of thinking skills, teaches you how to handle losses, teaches you to always fight and never give up easily.
18. In your opinion should Chess be made an Olympic sport and why?
I don’t think it is that important that it must be an Olympic sport. I also think that the chances for that happening is very small…
19. How would you best describe your chess style?
I am a creative and aggressive player who always strives for the initiative.
20. How do you keep sharp in chess?
I’ve not been keeping sharp in recent times. Guess I’ll start doing it more frequently soon again, using online games, analyzing games, solving chess exercises, etc…
21. How would you like to be remembered as a chess player?
I’d like to be remembered as a player who had a huge passion for the game.
22. What do you think about the impact of computers of chess in Africa?
It is a known fact that most of Africa are far away from the rest of the competitive chess world and are not so affluent. Computers and the internet play a role of narrowing this gap.
23. What do you think it will take for Africa to have a world chess champion?
Players must be sent to Europe from a young age where they can compete regularly at the highest level.