The time machine takes us to a chilly Friday morning of 2013 in Gaborone Botswana. Chess enthusiast Mothokomedi Thabano is holding a chess motivational talk to handful pupils at Ikhutseng Primary School. The pupils listen attentively as he demonstrates the movement of the pieces. He is supposed to make the lesson interesting enough to sell chess to pupils that are engrossed in sports like soccer, which is making good strides after the Botswana football team’s maiden qualification for the Africa Cup of Nations a year earlier. As expected, he spends more time on the intricate knight move. But little does he know that, 7 years later, this humble set up would be referred to as the beginning of a chess journey of one of the pupils, then 11 year old girl Besa Masaiti when she wins a chess scholarship to study in Texas, USA.
Born to parents Charles and Sikhanyiswe Masaiti on 7th July , 2002, Besa Masaiti’s chess journey started after this Thabano’s chess inspirational talk at her school . It was here where she got the magic chess injection that has carried her all these years. After this Thabano chess inspirational talk , the chess zeal in her was so much so that she, together with her brother, Gideon , immediately formed a chess club at her school.
Everyday, after classes, the handful chess club pupils would remain to practice the chess moves. After intensive training, Besa got the courage to participate in her first tournament in the very same 2013, the Master Spei tournament .She achieved bronze under the primary section, and that injected in her even more passion for the game. Now, not only did chess become her favorite sport, but also her signature sport. In all the primary and high schools she attended in various Botswana cities like Francistown, Gaborone, Palapye, Selibe Phikwe , apart from her academic brilliance, Besa was known for her passion for chess.
A 2014 incident, when the great Garry Kasparov visited Botswana where Besa was the only kid that took a photograph with the legend, even triggered in her much zeal for chess.
But Besa was not going to test her moves on international chess waters until 2015 when she participated in the Africa Schools Chess champion that was held in Botswana. Though she didn’t have very impressive results, it was good learning experience for the girl.
One incident from this event remains imprinted in Besa’s memory . In one round , playing a little girl from South Africa , Besa got checkmated and, adding insult to injury, the little girl shouted on top of her voice: ‘Checkmate!!’ , causing the entire playing hall to rotate their bent heads to the direction of the sound, so that they see the victim of the little girl.
‘It was very embarrassing’, Besa said with distaste memories.
But magic Besa kept working hard on her game which was eased by her early subjection to chess literature. She first had access to the Encyclopedia of Chess Openings and later a book entitled ‘’How to play Chess‘, the books which, she says, opened up her chess mind.
Given this hard training ,coupled with dedication to solving chess puzzles, it was not surprising that later in the same year she achieved Bronze at the Africa Youth Chess Championship in her 2nd international tournament in Lusaka, Zambia.
A year later , in 2016, ever improving Besa shot like a fiery dart to win The Africa Schools Chess Championship in Lusaka, Zambia . Besa replicated the feat in 2018 in Limpopo, South Africa, achievements that have made her a powerful presence in Africa schools chess circles.
But perhaps the achievement that earned her much kudos is her winning of the Botswana Metropolitan National Chess Championship in 2020 . It was a very strong tournament with almost all the senior Botswana female players present. But she managed to outwit the likes of the formidable WIM Francis Onkometse, WIM Boikhutso Mudongo and WFM Naledi Marape.
Suffice to say, since 2018, Besa has found herself an almost permanent board in the Botswana ladies team as she has gallantry represented Botswana at the Batumi Chess Olympiad in 2018, World Online Chess Olympiad in 2020, and Zone 4.5 Online Team Chess Championship in 2020.
Chess has been so generous to her as it has also taken her to World Schools chess championship in Turkey and Rumania in 2017 and 2019 respectively.
To sum up her chess trips so far , she has been to Namibia, Zambia , South Africa, Rumania, Turkey, Georgia, which is just too much for her age.
Despite a glittering chess career thus far, Besa singles out her win against Woman Fide Master Luiz Pirez from Angola at the Africa Schools Chess Championship in Limpopo, South Africa in 2018 as her most memorable win.
‘I was really scared of her. But I guess my preparation of the London System surprised her and I won beautifuly’ , she said sounding like a brilliant Maths student celebrating that he has cracked a complex calculus problem.
She also quickly added she will also live to remember her win against Norlamo Sarabella of Finland in the last round of the Batumi Chess Olympiad in 2018.
All days are not Sundays. Besa says her lowest moment in chess was her poor showing at the virtual event Pan American College Chess Championship where she scored a meager 2.5 out of 9. An event which she said ‘she kept blowing up won games’.
‘ Though all the players I lost to were players of higher rating , they were games I had an edge , I did not play my best. It was demotivating and disappointing, but I continued to learn, it’s part of the game. Learn and move on’, she said, this time sounding like a pious Christian advising some vagabond youth.
However ,Besa, who is a born again Christian, was quick to point out that apart from this low moment in chess , she has had many lows in life, but all of themshe count as gain coz of her salvation .
‘ I’m always the lowest when I drift away from God and his word. Christianity is not a playing ground, it’s a hard life time commitment’, she said, but this time sounding like a modern day charismatic preacher.
On international scene Besa, who is first born in a family of 3, says she admires World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen , not only because of his prowess on the chess board , but because of his agility , speed, confidence, and dominance when he is playing .
‘He is one of the people I would love to meet in person’, she said in a soft baritone.
However, in Botswana , Besa says she admires Dr Francis Onkometse Gumpo , especially how she combines her work commitments and great chess.
Besa, an avid reader and writer is also into blogging. She says she runs a blog called Lumiere, which has largely Christian content. Her passion for writing dates back from the time she used to write short stories for her high schoolmates to enjoy. Her other hobby is coding, which she says she took up coz she is an aspiring actuary .She says she also enjoys learning about Forex trading , which she finds mind boggling –typical of geniuses.
Besa has also impressively proved her mettle in academics as she graduated from High School in 2019 at Master Spei High School with 4 positive As , 3 negative As and 2 positive Bs . Now in the University she says , by Gods grace, she got a 4.00 GPA for her first Semester .
Surprisingly, despite all these earthshattering achievements, Besa says the greatest thing she has ever done is putting God first in her life.
Besa was also thankful of her parents for giving her good guidance in life by teaching her the need to balance in life.
She is able to balance chess, school, scripture union, science olympiad, national quizzes, and a business club called JAB simultaneously, and says she is doing well in all these areas.
‘I m also trying to demonstrate nothing is impossible with God’, she added.
Besa also says, apart from chess , her other hobbies are tennis , Swimming and cycling, of which she she mocked herself ,saying she really tries hard at it.
As the year 2020 was drawing to a close, Besa won the Botswana National Sports Commission elite scholarship, a feat she humbly said ; ‘ It was after much prayer, God’s grace , support and anointing’
‘I t was indeed a blessing and a miracle since I am the first chess player to win it in my country’ , she said.
‘ It shows massive growth of the sport and its recognition in my country and beyond,’ she added .
She will be attending Texas Tech University of which the famous Grandmaster Alex Onischuck is the head coach.
Besa also emphasized she is a Christian and every day she strives and desires to follow and emulate Christ as in Mathews 116 vs 24-27 as well as spread the gospel.
Besa , who is set to leave for Texas in the spring semester, oozed with confidence that she will excel in her Academics and also that her prime ambition of becoming a Woman Grandmaster by the time she graduates, will materialize .
‘The Texas chess team , Knights Raiders Chess Club is wonderful and supportive and I believe I will be able to grow more in my chess ‘, She said with much hope.