South Africa

Pretoria Chess Club champion also performs overseas

Hans Skaak scaled

The Pretoria Chess Club, founded in 1889, is hands down the city’s oldest chess club and it has a rich history.

Great minds from the past have been involved with this club. The first history recorded about it talks about a six-a-side match between this club and Johannesburg Chess Club in Pretoria’s President Hotel on 24 October 1891.

The club has already had several homes over the past 131 years, but nowadays it is established at the Rietondale Tennis Club House in Soutpans Road in the Moot of Pretoria. Here, chess is played every Wednesday evening and on Saturday mornings by the approximately 80 current members of the club.

It is not clear whether the Pretoria Chess Club crowned regular annual club champions in the first 24 years of its existence. The only instance found in sources when this happened, was before 1923. JC Kotze was the club champion in 1911 and he was awarded a gold medal worth 30 shillings.

In 1923, two gentlemen, E Rooth and CW Giovanetti, donated an imposing trophy to the club with the intention that it should be presented as a floating trophy to the annual club champion. It was then decided that it would be known as the “Rooth-Giovanetti” trophy and one FW Dunbar became its first winner, after being crowned club champion in 1923.

Although no champion was crowned in the past two years due to Covid, 2022 was still the 100th anniversary of the institution of the “Rooth-Giovanetti” trophy. The man who was lucky enough to win the trophy in this particular year is Hans Steyn. It was his third time he became the sole holder of this prestigious trophy. In 2000 he also shared it with Albert Ponelis, one of the legends of the club.

Steyn, who as an exceptionally good player in the Blitz format (also known as Speed Chess) also walked away as club champion in this format.

This born and bred Pretorian and former pupil of Afrikaans Hoër Seunskool (Affies) is a chess fanatic who also makes a living from the sport. He currently holds the title of “National Instructor” and has been a full-time chess coach at various schools for 20 years.

Steyn’s achievements as a chess player are exceptional, especially considering that he first started playing the game as a student at the University of Pretoria.

As for school children, Steyn does not necessarily agree with the view that chess is only good for math students.

“It’s a sport that can empower anyone in terms of most school subjects, not just mathematics. The reason for that is that it stimulates your ability to think on all levels, not just strategic,” he explained.

Steyn takes a holistic approach to chess and he also believes that no one who does not have the right temperament will succeed in the sport.

“It’s not all about what happens between your ears. I believe your whole body needs to be healthy and in shape to be a better chess player. That’s why I train physically – in the gym – almost as much as in front of the chessboard or computer,” he commented.

This chess specialist has just returned from Italy, where this year he had the opportunity to participate in the World Senior Championship for the first time. This came after he earned his Protea colours by finishing second in the South African senior closed championship earlier this year.

He regards his participation in Italy, where he performed in line with his rating in the traditional game, as a steep learning curve on more than one level. However, he is particularly proud of his achievement of being able to finish among the top 20 in the world at the championship in the Blitz format.

Steyn, who trains under the supervision of the South African International Master, Johannes Mabusela, has an immediate dream as a player to be able to win the South African open championship. In addition, he would also like to play more overseas as part of the Grand Prix series. It will enable him to improve his rating and perhaps claim the title of FIDE master.

“Unfortunately, travel costs are expensive and chess is not exactly a spectator sport. That’s why sponsorships are not easy to come by. But one can certainly dream”, concluded Steyn with a smile.


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