Strategic Minds at Play  
Chess Meets Football
with Mali and Mthandi
Author: John AliuEvery year, on the 20th of July, the world unites to commemorate World Chess Day. This remarkable event honors the enduring game of chess and recognizes its profound influence on cultures, societies and individuals across the globe, including the world of football.Chess is thought to have been introduced to South Africa by the Europeans in the 16th century. Today, it has become a popular sport in Mzansi, with many active clubs and tournaments. The country has produced several iconic chess players, including Kenny Solomon (the nation’s first chess grandmaster), Bruce Harper, Darryl Binder, Watu Kobese, Henry Steel, Daniel Cawdery, just to mention a few.
Chess also fascinatingly intersects with football in the country, as evidenced by Sundowns Ladies midfielders Khunjulwa Mali and Nonhlanhla Mthandi, who personify this connection.

Both sports require strategic thinking, mental agility and the ability to make quick decisions. In chess, players analyze positions, anticipate moves and devise complex strategies. Similarly, in football, players assess the game, adapt to changing situations and make split-second decisions on the field.
Nonhlanhla Mthandi© questioned about the striking similarities between chess and football, particularly in terms of strategy and tactics, both players responded:
Nonhlanhla Mthandi (NM): In chess, it is essential not to give your opponent freedom and to take your time without rushing. Similarly, in football, it’s crucial to stick to your game plan and not let the opponent dictate the flow of the match.

Khunjulwa Mali (KM): Finding the right balance between offensive and defensive moves, anticipating your opponent’s next move and making calculated decisions to gain an advantage are crucial aspects of both chess and football. Both games demand a combination of skill, foresight and tactical awareness to outwit your opponent and secure victory.
Interestingly, both players fondly remember their first-ever chess games, even though they ended in defeat.
NM: My brother introduced me to the game and in my debut performance, I received a hard dose of reality. Despite losing, playing chess has exposed me to various aspects of football, ultimately improving my understanding of strategy and decision-making on the pitch.

KM: I started playing chess in high school, facing off against a friend. Unfortunately, I lost that game as he was exceptionally skilled. However, since then, I have made significant improvements in the game and I eagerly look forward to the opportunity to avenge that defeat someday.
When asked which famous football manager they would love to play a chess match against, both midfielders responded enthusiastically:
NM: For me, it’s Pep Guardiola due to his innovative approach to games. I love the way he builds his teams and the several strategies he implements to outsmart opponents.

KM: Coach Jerry Tshabalala is truly an inspiration to me. I have immense respect for the way he analyzes opponents and isn’t afraid to change approaches when necessary.
Lastly, both players emphasized how the game of chess can significantly enhance their overall visualization of the football pitch.
NM: The strategic thinking and mental exercise involved in chess have helped me analyze the field better, anticipate movements and make more informed decisions during matches. It has enhanced my ability to see passing options, create space and envision plays before they even happen.

KM: The ability to think several moves ahead in chess has translated into improved anticipation and decision-making on the football pitch. I can now better identify potential openings and visualize different scenarios.
Khunjulwa Mali© both chess and football, success hinges on the ability to make calculated moves, anticipate the opponent’s next actions and adjust strategies instantaneously.
Whether it’s sacrificing a chess piece to gain an advantageous position on the board or tactically adapting formations and player roles to exploit weaknesses in football, the parallels between these two disciplines are undeniable.
So, whether you’re a chess enthusiast, a football fanatic or both, remember that the battles fought on the board and the pitch are not so different after all.
Who do you think would win a game of chess between Mali and Mthandi?
Few Fun Facts about Chess you never knew!
  1. The word “checkmate” in chess is derived from the Persian phrase “shah mat,” which means “the king is helpless” or “the king is defeated.”
  2. Chess has been used as a therapeutic tool to improve cognitive skills and memory in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive disorders.
  3. Chess has its origins in India, where it was known as “chaturanga” and was played as early as the 6th century.
  4. The knight is the only chess piece that can jump over other pieces on the board.
  5. The fastest possible checkmate in chess is called “Fool's Mate” and can occur in just two moves!
  6. Kenny Solomon is the first and currently the only South African chess Grandmaster.