PDBY Featured Athlete: Cora Mak

Kayla Thomas

Woman FIDE Master and TuksChess star, Cora Mak, began playing chess at eight years old. Now a masters student at UP, she competes in university and national championships, winning as an individual and as part of the TuksChess team. PDBY spoke to Mak about her career in chess so far, and some of the highlights of the game.

How did you get into the sport?
There was a chess board at home and it was my brother that was curious about it. My dad taught us how to play and it so happened that chess coaching had just started at our primary school.

What is your favourite thing about chess?
The thought process throughout the game because you never know what your opponent might play – hence having to think about many ‘lines’ (variations) in order to compensate for each possible move. […] Also, to think of moves that improve my own position and not simply responding to my opponent.

You won the 2019 University Sport South Africa (USSA) championships, can you walk us through the process of preparing and competing?
TuksChess hosts clinics, throughout the year, where we have a coaching session followed by a mini tournament amongst our team. Another preparation for USSAs was to play a lot of online chess and to also revise my ‘openings’. As for the competing part – I am certainly more confident over the board than off it. So I must thank my teammates for the encouragement they gave and for their help in the preparation against some of my opponents.

How have you continued with chess during the pandemic?
I play online on Lichess, mainly bullet games (1 minute on each side) but I love to play hyperbullet and ultrabullet as well (30 seconds and 15 seconds respectively).
I also play for TuksChess in online tournaments against many SA Universities. The tournament is held every Sunday. TuksChess is run by students, Mfundo Masiya and myself, and this year we have started hosting clinics on Google Meet.

What are your goals for the future in chess?
Specifically for TuksChess: I’d like to leave the club to students that will step up and continue to run this amazing club. Over the past several years, excluding 2020, TuksChess has been at the top of the USSA standings and I’d love to see TuksChess thrive for the years to come.

What are some highlights of your chess career so far?
To have played in two World Youth Chess Championships. I competed in the African Youth Chess Championship where I won in my section and got a title: WFM, Woman FIDE Master. [And] winning the 2019 USSA Championship female section, individually and as a team.

What is the most challenging part of playing chess?
Not blundering.
I find it challenging to analyse the position objectively. It’s easy to have the feeling that you’re winning or [have] the advantage but it gets hard when it comes to critiquing/analysing a position not solely on material. Eg. You can be up on material but still be losing and not even know it.

How do you stay focused in a demanding game?
I don’t really know, but what I can say is that in long games, I end up walking around and analysing other games to just take a short break from my own game. Some people leave their board but still analyse their game in their head – I can’t. I would also walk around and see the board from my opponents view, although I don’t do that often.

Who has most influenced you in your chess career?
Johannes Mabusela. He was my coach and I’ve learnt so much of what I know now from him. Also, after tournaments he would go over my games [which equals] added pressure to not make mistakes.

What advice would you give aspiring players of the game?
Don’t take a piece just because you can.
But on a more serious note, I’d say to analyse your games. Don’t just play continuously without learning something from your games.

Image provided 

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