McPherson says she’s on the mend

McPherson says she’s on the mend

MASERU – Naleli McPherson, a two-time chess Olympian and one of the top women’s chess players in Lesotho, says she is healing positively after her career was rocked by a cheating scandal earlier this year.
McPherson opened up to thepost this week about what she called the “darkest period of her career”.

McPherson said being labelled a cheat was heart-breaking but the support she received from the local chess community and her family gave her strength to shrug off allegations “that did not make sense to begin with”.
In February, McPherson was accused of cheating during the African Online Individual Chess Championship. McPherson was in second place with three matches to go in the tournament when she was disqualified and the Chess Federation of Lesotho (CFL) felt she would have won if she had been allowed to continue.

The CFL fumed at the decision by the African Chess Confederation (ACC) to disqualify McPherson and labelled it a witch-hunt after she beat two players who are rated higher than her.
The organisers of the tournament could not back their claims except to say analysis from the tournament’s Tornelo host platform, which screened behavioural patterns for indicators of cheating, told the same story.
Her disqualification cost McPherson about M30 000 she could have pocketed if she had won the tournament, but all of that does not matter anymore to McPherson who has devoted her time to teaching kids to play chess while still playing herself and furthering her career.

“That was the most difficult phase I have ever had to go through and even now I am still working on healing from that because it has gone quiet but it left a name don’t really like because those people didn’t respond and it went quiet without any clarity of what is really going on but I learnt to move on from that,” McPherson said.
“I have kids that I coach who look up to me and, if I hold on to that, it is going to affect even the passion I have for the sport, so I chose to focus on the positive side and leave the negativity,” she added.
McPherson said she is relieved the episode did not tarnish her name as she thought it might.

“The people around me supported me and I told myself that I need to forget this and move on. But, honestly it hasn’t given me that reputation I thought it would because most people in chess understood the problem wasn’t me but the organisers of the tournament, they were disorganised,” she said.
The kids McPherson coaches are between the ages of 5 and 12 and she said it is important to teach them at a young age because they are in the early stages of brain development and they can become proficient at the sport from a young age.

McPherson started playing chess back in 2011 just to know the basics and started to take it seriously in 2014 when she was at St. Stephens High School. She admits that being one of the top women in chess in the country comes with pressure.
It is not just about being the best at what she does, but also knowing there are women who are watching her and perhaps want to get into the sport, and it is her responsibility to elevate the spotlight on chess.
However, as somebody who performed like a seasoned pro in her first international tournament, the 2014 World Youth Chess Championship in South Africa, pressure is something she embraces.

“Being a top women’s player comes with pressure because it’s part of my responsibility that we attract other players and to show them why they should play chess, and when you are on the international level you are in the spotlight,” McPherson said.
“We don’t have too many ladies in the game and it is pressure because I have to do something to be in the spotlight so that other players can see me,” she added.
Chess is a mind game, problems come with solutions and you have to find those solutions, she said.

Tlalane Phahla

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