BARRIE TERBLANCHE Oct 03 2008 10:43
An unemployed draughts player from New Brighton township in Port
Elizabeth has shocked the draughts world with a string of international
victories, including the US
Open Checkers (draughts) Championship
But true to South African sporting tradition,
internal politics kept him from joining the South African team going to the
World Mind Sports Games this month in Beijing.
South Africa's best hope of winning a medal at the Games by far, Lubabalo
Kondlo was left out of the team for not belonging to the officially recognized
Mind Sports South Africa association (MSSA) and for failing to take part in
A long-standing personality clash between MSSA president Colin Webster and
Kondlo seems to be the reason two apparently minor players, Thabo Makuna and
Lebogang Shibambu, will represent South Africa in Beijing instead of Kondlo.
He has just returned from the United Sates, where he drew 23 games against the
world champion and lost one. He recently attained grandmaster status and was
ranked number seven in the world even before his latest successes.
Thirty-six-year-old Kondlo has been playing draughts since the age of seven in
the obscurity of New Brighton township, where he was raised single-handedly by
his mother who scraped together a living as a casual domestic worker.
"Draughts is so popular in Port Elizabeth that people play it everywhere on
the streets," he says. His talent was spotted early on by the local draughts
enthusiasts and he was urged to join a club as a teenager, which probably
saved him from a life of crime, he says. As a mind sport, the game requires
high levels of concentration and therefore does not form part of the shebeen
culture of the township.
With only a matric to his name, he has not had a job apart from a short stint
as a manual laborer on a building site, which he had to give up because of an
old rugby injury.
In search of more challenging opponents and work he headed for Gauteng, where
he stayed at an Orlando West hotel -- popular among black Gauteng draughts
players. He played so well that the owner of the hotel gave him free
accommodation for a few years in return for "raising the level of the club"
there. He studied draughts books borrowed from the Johannesburg library.
Kondlo caught international attention in 1999 when the long-standing world
champion, Ron King from Barbados, toured South Africa and was beaten by Kondlo
six games to two. Kondlo admits that King, who was recovering from an
accident, was not in top form. But in 2001 the then number-two player in the
world, Irishman Hugh Devlin, toured South Africa and was also beaten by Kondlo,
who officially represented South Africa in Protea colours.
But then the relationship between Kondlo and Webster soured. Kondlo says he
was blocked by Webster from taking part in international championships and
Webster, who is sponsoring the air tickets to Beijing, says Kondlo's obstinate
refusal to join a club affiliated to the MSSA, the official governing body of
draughts in South Africa, and his absence at the trials made it impossible for
the MSSA to select him. It is considered unfair towards other members of the
association. Kondlo, on the other hand, claims that an obtuse insistence on
bureaucratic correctness has thwarted his previous attempts at joining the
Webster says that after the Test match against Devlin, "Lubabalo disappeared.
He came back this year in January and he said he wants to go to Beijing and we
said 'look, we have procedures, we've done the trials, you're not even a
But Kondlo had meanwhile caught the attention of the World Checkers and
Draughts Federation in the US, which invited him to participate in the US Open
in July last year. He won the title, as well as a world championship
qualifier, which allowed him to challenge King in Ohio this month.
His achievements are all the more remarkable for not having a computer on
which to practice -- standard gear for the world's top players. But he
believes that his success is because of the high-level play among the
enthusiasts in Port Elizabeth, many of whom remain undiscovered because of the
lack of formal development of the game. "There are guys here in Port
Elizabeth, we are on the same level; it's like I win today, I lose tomorrow,"
Kondlo usually studies the game for six hours a day at the New Brighton
library. He lives mostly at an aunt's tiny council house, which is shared
among more than a dozen people, making it hard to practice at home.
When he isn't preparing for matches, Kondlo teaches draughts at local schools.
He dreams of starting his own draughts academy to develop local talent and
help fight the misconception that draughts is less of a mental challenge than
chess. "I think chess and draughts are equal."
Competitive draughts has a strong psychological component to it, says Kondlo.
"For you to become a good player you have to read [your opponent's] mind, how
Kondlo says he was desperate to represent South Africa in Beijing and had
secured a US sponsor to pay for the trip were he allowed to go. He says he was
even offered an opportunity to play for the US, but turned it down out of
loyalty to South Africa.
About the MSSA, he says: "I wanted to join the organization. Before last year
[Webster] would play hide-and-seek with me. I would send him forms and when I
tried to fax him forms [he would say] the forms are wrong." Earlier this year,
when he played in a tournament in Johannesburg, he asked Webster for the
correct forms, but their interaction ended with Webster accusing Kondlo of
"bad-mouthing" him in the US, he says. Webster, on the other hand, claims he
has constantly urged Kondlo to join.
article in The Herald - Nov. 16, 2008 "Bay
draughts guru an inspiration to other"
The World Mind Sports Games from October 3 to 18 is the first of what could
become a regular fixture alongside the Olympic Games. A total of 35 gold
medals will go to the winners in five mind sports: chess, bridge, draughts,
the Chinese board game go and a Chinese form of chess called xiang qi, which
is the only code in which South Africa will not be represented.
September 10, 2008 - DAILY SPECULATIONS
- "Checkers Champions Square Off
in Ohio, from John Acker"
May 19, 2001- South African Wargames Union - reported: "Lubabalo Kondlo defeats High Devlin"