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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.
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.