Kenny Solomon joins the likes of Garry Kasparov and the late Bobby Fisher.

Cape Town - A Mitchells Plain father who grew up in the township and played his first game of chess at 13, has become South Africa’s first chess grandmaster.

Kenny Solomon, 32 was in a team of five South Africans at the 2012 World Chess Olympiad in Istanbul for two weeks.

When results were announced at the weekend, he was one of eight international contestants awarded grandmaster – a title held for life. It is the highest title a player can attain and had been awarded to greats like Garry Kasparov and the late Bobby Fisher. To become a grandmaster a player must have a performance rating consistently above 2 500.

Solomon could not be reached as he was flying from Turkey to Italy, but Anant Dole, whom he taught chess for five years, said his rating had been around 2 600 over nine rounds at the Olympiad as well as at three other previous tournaments.

“The best rating in the world is 2 880. Kenny has been working very hard for the grandmaster title – even while he trained me he was preparing himself. He deserves it.”

Dole who lives in Constantia said Solomon moved to Italy last year to hone his skills.

“Playing top-class chess in South Africa is very difficult because there are few top-class players. Kenny was number one here, but for him it was not enough,” Dole, 19 said. He said Solomon was married with a daughter.

On his blog, Solomon said he started playing in Mitchells Plain aged 13 after his older brother, Maxwell, was flown to Manila to play in an Olympiad.

He began reading chess books, taught himself and in two years won the national championship. Also on the blog were messages, including one from a Sharon Snell who wrote: “South Africa’s first grandmaster. You are an inspiration to us all.”

Cultural Affairs and Sport MEC Ivan Meyer said: “We await with great excitement for the confirmation of his new status ... making him only the second chess player from sub-Saharan Africa and only the eighth in Africa to ever achieve this.”

Cape Times