The chess queen with an extraordinary endgame

 
 
 

Yanti Nunnan is the queen of South African chess. Her favoured opening is moving a pawn to E6 from black. The classic French defence lulls her opponents into a false sense that she’s setting up to hold out from the back foot, but in two or three moves she’s fighting for the centre of the board. It’s a tough bluff to read. Chess isn’t about this move or the next, but the one after that. Nunnan learnt from her older brother. Now he rarely takes a game off her.

As far as chess prodigies go, Nunnan is a late bloomer. The 9-year-old from KwaZulu-Natal started playing less than two years ago, but has quickly ascended the local rankings. She claimed gold at the African Youth Chess Championship in 2016, showing a hot streak of form that earned her a spot on the South African team that was set to take part in the Commonwealth Chess Championship in Sri Lanka. It was a dream year, until her father had a heart attack.

Nunnan was torn between remaining with her family during a trying time and chasing her dream. Her father called her and encouraged her to follow her dreams. “That was really scary, but I want to excel,” says Nunnan. “I want to be the next world champion.” So she managed her emotions, and made her dad proud by representing her country abroad. “I’m so lucky to have a family that supports me,” she says. Overcoming this early obstacle to her career is a telling sign of the Woman Candidate Master’s temperament, possibly the most important skill to possess in the sport. Still so young, Nunnan is a paragon of serious South African chess.