Maties Chess Player Makes International Debut

Stellenbosch University second-year international studies student Simamnkele Hemeni has been named in the University Sport South Africa (USSA) Chess team for the FISU Mind Games World University Championships, which will take place from 25-27 June in Uganda, Entebbe.

Born and raised in Kayamandi, Stellenbosch, 21-year-old Simamnkele played chess since he was a young boy in grade 6 at school.

“One break I went to play chess, and I played well the first time, and the teacher told me to come back, and I think in a month I went to play with the Cape Winelands team.”

Hemeni continued to play chess throughout his school career. In high school, he joined the Stellenbosch Chess Club. Last year, he also joined the Maties Chess Club, which competes in the Cape Town Chess League with the Stellenbosch Chess Club. This has made him familiar with the club and its members. He mentioned, “The Stellenbosch Chess Club has a strong group of players, including former and current students.”

Last year Hemeni competed at his first USSA Open Chess Tournament hosted by Durban University of Technology (DUT) and finished 4th. The top 10 players from the tournament were sent to a qualifier in Pretoria to compete for a spot in the USSA South Africa Chess team for the FISU World University Games. Hemeni is one of four members who made the squad and is thrilled to have qualified for his first international tournament.

“This is my first international event… I’m super excited. I’ve been working hard; I’m hoping I do well. It’s a great feeling, I’m happy for the opportunity, for the club, for everyone that is involved to make it possible. It’s an honour to represent my country and university.”

Hemeni dedicates hours to studying chess books to enhance his play, leading to improved games and valuable insights. He describes his approach as strategic and analytical.

“I’m a bit of an oppositional chess player and really strategic, my play is beautiful and principled.”

Hemeni concludes that chess is a sport that is inclusive regardless of age or background. “I don’t think you have to be a genius to be good at chess… I think in chess it’s one of the only sports where you’ll see an eight-year-old play a nineteen-year-old, and you’ll see people from not so privilege backgrounds doing well.”

When asked what chess has taught him, he says, “One thing that chess has taught me is that no matter where you come from, regardless of your background, you can compete. You shouldn’t look at what you have or what you don’t have.”

Hemeni has shown remarkable progress in the field of chess. He contributed to the success of the Maties chess team, which emerged victorious in the 2023 Western Province Club Premier League Chess Championship and secured a gold trophy in November. This achievement marked the club’s first win since 2007. The 21-year-old is focused on pursuing a championship title, and this national call-up signifies the start of his international journey.




By Jamie Wyngaardt