From guesswork to strategic chess prowess

Namibia’s reigning chess champ began from humble beginnings
Despite starting the game at a relatively late age, Ndahangwapo's determination and hard work have propelled him to become Namibia's reigning chess champion.
Mariud Ngula
Namibia's reigning chess champion, Heskiel Ndahangwapo, strives for constant improvement in the game of chess.

Ndahangwapo is determined, hardworking and passionate about the game, and hopes this will pave the way for his dream of becoming a professional chess player and enable him to acquire the highest title.

"I take it seriously, and I am always looking to do my best. Even though I started playing a bit late, at 15 years of age, when I did not even know the rules, I persistently taught myself."

He said he was enticed into his first game after he saw his peers playing at school.

"It was fun, and I also wanted to know how to move pieces across the board."

At 16, he acquired a coach to help mentor his progress.

"I played him most days after school and would lose dismally with a 10 to nothing score. I then picked up a tactic book, and it has been different since."

He continued to make progress and has gone on to represent the Namibian national team on a continental and global stage.

"Chess is a thrilling game. Having played it for seven years, I always look to outmanoeuvre my opponents by getting the best of their thoughts. I hope to be a professional one day and dream of acquiring the highest title, all by practising daily. I also want to play some tournaments on the continent, but I lack sponsorship."

Hard work pays off

Ndahangwapo has gone from guessing moves to scooping chess awards.

In 2022, he achieved a Fide-Master conditional title at the Chess Olympiad in Chennai, India, which he said inspired him to train harder.

This year, he won the Namibia National Chess Championships, making him the country’s reigning chess champion.

Additionally, he won the 2023 Namibian International Open, the 2023 National Rapid and Blitz Championships, and many other notable tournaments.

"It’s an amazing feeling to have accomplished all these – being victorious in my consistency and my hard work finally paying off."

About his current achievements, he said: "Not everyone gets to win, and doing just that elicits a special feeling, especially in a strong field of notable players. It’s been wonderful! People are admiring my games and style of play. I have a lot of fans who ask daily about how to get better, and I enjoy interacting with them."

He said winning the Nam Open and getting 7/9 points at the Olympiad, consequently helping Namibia qualify for the World Cup, have been among his proudest achievements.

"I still have to do more. The Olympiad is a very prestigious event where about 190 countries participate."

Ndahangwapo said to stay at the top of the game, a player has to fight tooth and nail.

He said characteristics that shape champions include being able to wield flexibility, being strategic and employing tactical prowess in their play. He said chess champions must be almost unpredictable and prepare hard for each competition.

"I spent a month preparing after qualifying and analysing all the top player’s styles. I practised picking out suitable positions that will make them uncomfortable in making their decision and hopefully get an edge. I also spent a lot of hours studying endgames. It helps with calculation clarity."

A balancing act

For Ndahangwapo, the need to balance school and the demanding hours dedicated to chess never became a major challenge.

"I didn’t have much difficulty balancing school and chess. Despite spending much time on it as my passion grew, I would take breaks during exams and study in advance to ensure it did not impede my school work."

He attended Ongwediva Control Combined School and later matriculated at Gabriel Taapopi Secondary School. "I would bring a chessboard to school and teach my classmates a new chess opening each day. The Stonewall was their favourite," he said.

His advice for individuals who want to take up chess is to draw up training schedules and stick to them, as being disciplined yields the desired results.

However, they must not put too much strain on the hours but rather increase them as time passes. "Endgames are a must-study. As for enthusiasts, always play for fun and learn from your opponents. It’s vital!"