Local chess starlet refutes alleged cheating





She has been accused of cheating and was disqualified from an international chess tournament, but she is definitely not out. Naleli McPherson lost an opportunity to put herself on the global chess map and win some big money after playing and training tirelessly for months. The chess starlet has just taken part in the African Online Chess Championships with M220 000 prize money. Naleli beat Woman International Master Esperanca Caxita of Angola who is 500 Elo above her in strength. She went on to win against Kudzanayi Charinda of Zimbabwe and was playing on Board Two, meaning she was seriously in contention for the top prizes.

After beating Charinda she was disqualified from the tournament. The reason given was that all of the sudden in the middle of her game she began playing too well. “I was told that a player of my standard should not be able to consistently play such quality moves and, therefore, beat stronger players,” she says, adding, “So I was accused of getting assistance from a computer despite the fact that I was on video for the entirety of all six of my games.”

The Lesotho Chess Federation appealed her disqualification but has only been promised a review of her case after the tournament is over. This is not the first time something like this happens, Team Lesotho was recently accused by Malawi of cheating in the African Team Championships after they gave them a serious thrashing with a lame argument that they cannot lose to Lesotho.

Naleli is a 23-year-old born and bred in the country’s Southern district of Mohale’s Hoek; she is currently pursuing a degree in social work at the National University of Lesotho (NUL). She is one of the best female chess players in Lesotho who has represented the country in several chess tournaments. She is also one of the first women in the country to have a chess rating and is the first person in Lesotho to open her own youtube channel where she gives out lessons and guidelines on how one can become a better chess player.

As decorated as her career is, her journey in chess started in a rather ironic way. She said she never even imagined that she would one day be a recognized chess player. “Though I started playing chess professionally in 2014, I was introduced to it in 2011 and by then it was just a sport like any other. In all honesty, I was not even intrigued by it that much,” she explains. My friends were huge chess fanatics; they used to play every chance they got. They would force me to play chess with them and because of their influence and I started playing daily and I was becoming a better player each moment. I attribute my success to them,” she says.

It was in 2014 when her love for playing chess grew and she started playing at various chess tournaments in high school, this is the time when she gained a lot of recognition. She says she only discovered that she was good at the game when she was in tournaments playing against other giants. That is where she gradually made a name for herself until she was elected to represent the country at the World Youth Tournament which was held in Durban, South Africa, in 2014.

“Being elected to represent my country for the first time was clearly one of the biggest highlights of my career as it also helped me to be more determined because now I was entrusted with a huge task,” she recalls.

After the Durban tournament the ambitious chess player would soon become a regular representative of Lesotho in various other tournaments and she was quickly picked in the national team, where she continued to excel tremendously. As ambitious and talented as she was, she says one of the struggles she has encountered as a chess player is lack of support.

“It is extremely hard to partake in sports as a woman. Most challenges that I have encountered have mainly to do with the fact that I am a woman and there is insufficient support for women in sports generally. Since most sports are male dominated, women who engage in sports are not given much support and recognition,” she explains. “I have encountered a problem similar to the aforementioned recently where I was disqualified from an online tournament, being accused of cheating, which I didn’t,” she adds.

She continues to explain that she was accused of using computer assistance in her moves, but she denies these accusations, adding that she has filed a complaint against the tournament organisers – and she is still awaiting their response.

“The saddest part is that they could not even provide evidence to show that I have cheated and, like I mentioned, those are some of the disadvantages of being a woman in sports,” she says.

Decorated local chess player with a Fédération Internationale des Échecs (FIDE) Candidate Master (CM) title, Chief Joang Molapo, says a couple of years ago he was in Mohale’s Hoek for the King’s Birthday celebrations and had time to play a few games with Naleli and Liteboho Mohatlane. They set up the pieces at around 07:00hrs and knocked off at around 02:00hrs when her parents called asking where she was.

“We went to a practice tournament in eSwatini and Naleli came along. We went to a practice tournament in Mozambique and she came along. We have lots of local tournaments and she is always participating.

If you were to ask me who the strongest female players in Lesotho are I would automatically say Lieketseng Ngatane, ‘Malehloa Likhomo and ‘Maboloko Leboela and maybe I would give Naleli an honorable mention. With the coming of COVID-19 many chess players including myself have taken the opportunity of being indoors to work seriously on their chess.

One of the people who has been very visible on learning channels, playing online and participating in tutorials is Naleli Mcpherson,” Chief Molapo says. He also remembers with disbelief the African Online Chess Championships in which Naleli beat Charinda in an absolutely brilliant recovery having lost her Queen for minimal compensation, a moment that brought a dark cloud over Naleli’s head.

“She was disqualified from the tournament. The reason we are being given is that all of the sudden in the middle of her game she began playing too well. We were told that a player of her rating/standard should not be able to consistently play such quality moves and therefore beat stronger players.

She was accused of getting assistance from a computer despite the fact that she was on video for the entirely of all six of her games,” he continues. Naleli, The Lesotho Chess Federation and Chief Molapo have been appealing her disqualification, but “we are only being promised a review of her case after the tournament is over.”

The chess guru adds that Naleli is devastated and heartbroken, while being called a cheat without anyone being able to produce hard evidence. All six hours of her play is captured on video, and the chief is troubles that organisors say she was looking to the side sometimes.

He continues that: “They say she was taking her time and being careful with her moves even when the move was obvious. The poor girl is now going to suffer reputational damage on an unsubstantiated claim from poor losers. Team Lesotho was recently accused by Malawi of cheating in the African Team Championships after we gave them a serious thrashing. Their argument was simply that they can’t lose to Lesotho. We beat a lot of other countries in that tournament as well.”

On her future aspirations, Mcpherson says she has fallen in love with chess so much that she feels like she cannot live without playing. She says she wants to improve on her ratings and ultimately be a better player.

“I believe there is always room for improvement, and I want to become better than I already am. I also want to establish my own academy where I can teach other aspiring chess players and help them to improve their game,” the ambitious youngster tells Public Eye.

On the other hand, she advises young chess players who may aspire to be like her to focus and to keep practicing every chance they get. She further points out that chess needs discipline therefore all who intend to play the game professionally should first be disciplined and respectful.

“The difference between chess and other sports is the fact that it needs ultimate respect. In chess, we do not disrespect any opponent regardless of their age because you never know how good a player is before you face them,” she says. At only 23 years with such a decorated career, the future is clearly looking bright for the ambitious chess player.

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