‘Woman international master” is the second highest title awarded by the World Chess Federation (FIDE) to female chess competitors. Tshepang Tlale became the youngest South African as well as the only black woman in the country to earn this title in 2011, a week before her fourteenth birthday, when she won the African Junior Chess Championships in East London.
Tlale’s mother, Pulane Tlale, played chess at high school level. She taught her older daughter Seadimo how to play, and when Tlale was just three years old, her sister passed on the knowledge. The siblings participated in local chess tournaments from an early age. Tlale met her coach Vincent Choko when she was just nine, and he has coached her ever since. Under Choko’s tutelage, Tlale began rapidly climbing the ladder in her age group, earning her national colours at the age of eleven when she captained her team for the World Youth Chess Championships in Vietnam. She has qualified for national selection every year since.
After consistently being ranked in the top thirty in the world, she outgrew her age group and began competing in the open section at various tournaments. In 2014, at the age of 17, she participated in her second World Chess Olympiad in Norway, and won seven of her ten rounds, taking her to the top of the South African female chess rankings, a position she still holds.
Now 20, Tlale is also ranked amongst the top ten women in Africa. A second year psychology and philosophy major at Wits University, she also enjoys coaching aspiring young juniors in chess, and is an official coach of the Johannesburg Metro Chess Union. “Putting myself in a position where a junior looks up to me for guidance and advice on how to win and become a champion is very humbling,” she says.
She hopes to continue making history and breaking national and international records. “I want my final chess rating to be +2000 with the title woman grandmaster or grandmaster. I want to leave a legacy that other young black girls can look up to and aspire to reach one day. I want this to be my testimony when I encourage my students to go for it: ‘Hey, I made it! You can too!’”
— Fatima Asmal