Ace Magashule plays chess, strangely
(Ace Magashule, via Twitter)
  • Ace Magashule, the secretary general the rest of the top leaders of the ANC say is suspended, posted a picture of himself playing chess, amid a political battle with party president Cyril Ramaphosa.
  • One of the most famous names in chess is not impressed with his strategy.
  • Asked for his analysis of Magashule's game, champion Gary Kasparov called it a "photo-op opening".
  • Magashule appears to be playing white in the photo – but black appears to have moved first.
  • That could mirror a recent anti-racist message by two high-profile chess players.
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What is Ace Magashule's strategy?

Politically, that is not clear. The secretary general of the ANC, who refused to accept the suspension other top leaders say he is now under, said he had unsuspended himself by virtue of appealing his suspension and then purported to suspend party president Cyril Ramaphosa.

When it comes to chess, though, his approach has been summed up in seven words and an emoticon.

In the middle of the battle, Magashule tweeted what appears to be an old photo of him playing chess, without any caption. He seldom tweets, and given the timing, the photo was widely taken as a reference to the machinations within in the ANC.

The photo is peculiar in several respects – including when it comes to chess – and an enterprising Twitter user reached out to legendary chess champion Gary Kasparov for some help in analysing it.

Kasparov's expert analysis: "I would call this the 'photo-op opening'!", followed by the emoticon officially known as "rolling on the floor laughing".

In the photo, Magashule is playing white, and is gripping a pawn that has no legal move open to it.

That could be read as an admission that Magashule finds himself trapped with nowhere to go – had the photo been specifically staged. But as Magashule is surrounded by people and not wearing a mask, the photo must either predate the coronavirus pandemic, or it is also an admission that he broke lockdown rules.

A more plausible explanation is that Magashule was captured in the act of completing his second move – which would mean that, against the tradition of the game, black moved first.

That would not be entirely unheard of, even at the very highest levels of the game. In 2019, two champion players chose to have black move first, in what was described as an anti-racist statement.

(Compiled by Phillip de Wet)

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