A 20-year-old chess player, Tshepang Tlale, is making both the province and country proud as she is the youngest black woman and also the youngest South African to hold the title of “Woman International Master” as awarded by the World Chess Federation.
Although she received the award over six years ago as a tender 13-year-old, Tlale continues to be celebrated as the country’s youngest title holder.
While she has since then gone on to participate in countless national and international tournaments, she remains humble and considers the title a privilege, which she believes she should use to serve other young upcoming black female chess players. “Winning the title allowed me to be more confident in all my goals because with the correct effort and work put in I know I can achieve anything. It also gave me the vision to help grow women’s chess in South Africa, especially for young black girls, which is why I decided to also coach as well as be a player,” Tlale says.
Tlale, who began playing chess when she was only three years old, says she was taught by her sister, Seadimo, who in turn was taught by their mother, Pulane, who learned the sport during her days as a high school scholar. “She passed it on to us because she felt that our generation has more opportunities than she did,” Tlale says.
While she admits that she and her sibling grew up playing the sport, Tlale says it is the life skills that the game taught her off the board that made her fall in love with the game. “I love the complexity of the game. I love that it teaches you lessons and skills that are applicable beyond the board, such as time management, discipline, problem-solving and prophylactic thinking,” she says.
As she pursues her degree in Psychology at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, Tlale still has her eyes set on breaking more national and international records. “In the next decade, I see myself as (at least) a Woman Grandmaster! I also see myself coaching a team of girls who are making big moves in their time as junior chess players,” she says.
Advice the rising chess star offers to others in the sport as well as other sporting codes is: “Always dream big and believe in your ability to do wonders. Even though you might have an incredible support structure it will mean nothing if you don’t fully support yourself and have faith in your abilities. Every game is a learning experience and a chance for growth, grab it and keep moving forward and upwards.”
Tlale is also the Woman FIDE Master, which she was awarded in 2011 at the African Youth Chess Championships in Botswana. She also won the African Junior Chess Championships in East London in 2011 as well as the World Chess Olympiad in Norway in 2014, which has led to her being one of Africa’s top ten female players as well as the world’s top 30 chess players in her peer group.