Friday, August 13, 2010

Clash of the titans

by Quah Seng Sun

The game’s super- powers battle it out.

WHO do you think would win if a match were to be played today between Russia and China? Russia is, of course, the traditional chess powerhouse of the world, while China is the top chess-playing country in Asia.

If the top 10 players in each country are taken as the basis of comparison, the Russian men leads their Chinese counterparts by 89 rating points today. And if a comparison is made of their women chess players, the difference is even smaller: a mere 11 points separate the 10 best players from both sides.

Therefore, a match between these two chess superpowers would make a very good reason to determine which country is superior.

And actually, there is such a match going on today. It is the seventh such encounter between the two countries but it did not start out as an annual match because after the first one was played in Shanghai in 2001, there was a three-year gap before the second match was organised in Moscow in 2004.

After that, the chess federations of the two countries thought it best to have an annual match and so, Argun in Russia was the host in 2006, followed by the fourth match in Nizhni Novgorod in 2007, Ningbo in China in 2008, and last year’s match in Sochi, Russia.

Tough opponent: Wang Hao, China’s chess champion.

This year’s match is taking place today in Yinzhou, Ninbo in China. It started on Aug 4 and will end this Sunday. Each side is fielding five men’s players and five women’s players.

The match comprises a Scheveningen-style of team event where the members of each team will play the members of the opposing team once at normal time controls, followed by rapidchess games and finally, a series of blitz games. Of course, to ensure an even playing field, the men are competing among themselves only and likewise, the women are playing among themselves, too.

In the first round, the China men’s team won with a 3-2 score but the Russian women won 3½-1½. In the second round, the Russian men were almost whitewashed when China won by 4½-½. However, the women’s teams fought to a 2½-2½ draw. In the third round, Russia and China tied at 2½-2½ in both the men’s and women’s contests.

The fourth round saw the men drawing on all the boards, while the Russian women edged out their Chinese opponents by a 3-2 margin. In the fifth, both the Chinese men’s and women’s sides won by 3-2.

The final score at the end of the normal time control games on Tuesday was 27 points to the China team and 23 points to Russia.

The Chinese men’s team could take credit that they did not lose any of the rounds. At their worst, they drew the third round but at their best, they almost totally blanked out the Russian men in the second round.

Here are two Wang Hao games from the match. Wang Hao is the current national champion of China. He is also a previous winner of the Malaysia open chess tournament in 2005. The first game below was from the fifth round while the other one was played in the fourth round.

White: Vladimir Potkin (Russia)

Black: Wang Hao (Chinese)

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 0-0 5.Bd3 d5 6.Nf3 c5 7.0-0 Nc6 8.a3 Bxc3 9.bxc3 Qc7 10.Bb2 Na5 11.cxd5 exd5 12.Ne5 Re8 13.a4 Rxe5 (A rather inspired exchange sacrifice. In exchange for the rook, Black gets a dominating knight into the game.) 14.dxe5 Qxe5 15.h3 c4 (This fixes White’s black-squared bishop and after which, Black can look to exchanging off White’s other bishop.) 16.Bc2 Bf5 17.Re1 Bxc2 18.Qxc2 Nb3 19.Rad1 Re8 20.f3 Nc5 21.Rd4 Nd3 22.Re2 (It was time to eliminate the black knight with 22.Rxd3.) 22...Nh5 23.e4 (23.Rxd3 is too late because of 23...cxd3 24.Qxd3 Nf4.) 23...Nhf4 24.Rd2 f5 25.Ba3 fxe4 26.fxe4 Qg5 27.Kh2 Rxe4 28.Qd1 Qe5 29.Rxe4 dxe4 30.Qg4 h5 0-1

White: Wang Hao (China)

Black: Sergei Rublevsky (Russia)

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be2 Qc7 7.0-0 Nf6 8.Be3 Be7 9.f4 d6 10.a4 0-0 11.Kh1 Re8 12.Bf3 Rb8 13.Qd2 Na5 14.b3 b6 15.Rad1 Bb7 16.Nde2 Rbc8 17.Bf2 Nc6 18.g4 d5 19.e5 Ne4 20.Nxe4 dxe4 21.Bg2 Nb4 22.c3 Red8 23.Bd4 Nd5 24.Qc2 e3 25.Qd3 Bc5 26.c4 Bxd4 27.Qxd4 Nf6 28.Qxe3 Nxg4 29.Qg3 h5 30.Nd4 Bxg2+ 31.Kxg2 Qb7+ 32.Kg1 Rd7 33.h3 Nh6 34.Rd2 Rcd8 35.Rfd1 g6 36.Qe3 Kg7 37.Kf2 Qc7 38.Ke2 Kh7 39.Rd3 Qb7 40.Qf3 Qc7 41.Qc6 Rc8 42.Qxc7 Rdxc7 43.Nf3 Nf5 44.Ng5+ Kg8 45.Rd8+ Rxd8 46.Rxd8+ Kg7 47.Ne4 h4 48.Kd3 Rc6 49.b4 Rc7 50.Nf6 Rb7 51.Ra8 a5 52.b5 Ng3 53.Ne8+ Kh6 54.Nd6 Rc7 55.Rh8+ Kg7 56.Rb8 Rc5 57.Rxb6 g5 58.Rc6 g4 59.Ne4 gxh3 60.Nf2 Rxc6 61.bxc6 Nf5 62.Nxh3 Kf8 63.c7 Ne7 64.Kd4 (This was a mistake that threw away the full point. White should have played 64.c5 and 65.c6 to cut off Black’s king from the queenside.) 64...Ke8 65.Kc5 Kd7 66.Kb6 Kc8 67.Ng5 Nf5 68.Kxa5 Kxc7 69.Kb5 Nd4+ 70.Kb4 Kc6 71.a5 Ne2 72.Nh3 Nd4 73.c5 Kb7 74.Kc4 Nc6 75.Kb5 Nd4+ 76.Kc4 Nc6 77.Ng5 Nxa5+ 78.Kd3 Kc6 79.Ke4 Nb3 80.Kf3 Nxc5 81.Kg4 Nd3 82.Nh3 Kd5 83.Kxh4 ½-½


---- The Star Online

Friday, August 6, 2010

Tough choice for chess players to turn pro

Are our players prepared to sacrifice for the game?

RIGHT after my column last week, I received a short message from one of Malaysia’s international masters.

By all accounts, it can be safely assumed that Wong Zijing is no longer playing in chess competitions. As far as I can determine, he hasn’t been playing much at all since August 2006. In fact, even social chess may have taken a back seat for him as his last known attempt at a serious chess game must have been at last year’s annual chess match between the teams of Cambridge and Oxford universities.

His friends and fellow chess players in the country may want to know that he is now pursuing his Doctorate at the University of California Berkeley in the United States. He asked me to say “hi” to them.

Before going to the States, Wong was at University of Cambridge in England and before that, the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. He is now doing research on a specialist area of science called metamaterials.

Anyway, after taking a look at the picture in last week’s column, Wong dropped me a short note to say that it was about time that 12-year-old Yeoh Li Tian, pictured playing a blitz game with former world chess champion Anatoly Karpov, decide whether he wants to be like “Le Quang Liem” or “one of us”.

He didn’t mince his words. The “one of us” refers explicitly to himself and his chess peers, local players like Mas Hafizulhelmi, Lim Yee Weng, Marcus Chan, Nicholas Chan and Lim Chuin Hoong.

Note this: Wong Zijing has some interesting things to say about 12-year-old chess player Yeoh Li Tian.

The “Le Quang Liem” he mentioned happens to be Vietnam’s top chess player. Liem joined the world’s grandmaster club four years ago.

Today, while only 19 years old but with an international rating of 2681 points, he is already knocking on the doors of that even more elite club of chess grandmasters who are rated at 2,700 points and above. There are not many of them, certainly not more than 40 players currently in this category of super-grandmasters.

I knew fairly well what Wong was trying to say but his note made such a fascinating impression that I wanted to know more from him.

He said that it is well known that to become a grandmaster like Liem, you need to be a professional chess player and the financial support to train abroad.

Recently, the Vietnam Chess Federation stated that Liem would require an annual fund of US$100,000. Then there is the player’s own commitment and sacrifices, especially academic sacrifice. Is our society ready for that, he questioned.

“I have a good friend in China who told me that many of the Chinese grandmasters had quit school early in their lives to take up a professional career in chess. Many of them had not even completed their primary education.

“Are our chess players prepared to make such personal sacrifices?” he asked. “My peers and I had to balance chess with our studies because at the end of the day, we have to think about our own livelihood and our direction in life.”

Livelihood. Indeed, if we look at some of our national champions, I can say that they have ended up very well in life. Mas Hafizulhelmi is today a chemical engineer, both Lim Chuin Hoong and Nicholas Chan are medical doctors, Lim Yee Weng is a lawyer while Marcus Chan is an electronics engineer.

Even Ooi Chern Ee, arguably our highest ranked player not to have become a national champion, is an actuarist. But to get where they are today, they recognise that they had to sacrifice their chess.

According to Wong, only geniuses are able to continue with this fine balance in their lives. He believed that Gata Kamsky, a chess prodigy, was one of them.

(Kamsky was born in the old Soviet Union in 1974 and his family emigrated to the United States in 1989. At 16 years old, he took his first steps towards the pinnacle of world chess and ultimately challenged Viswanathan Anand for the Professional Chess Association version of the chess crown in 1995. One year later, he challenged Anatoly Karpov for the World Chess Federation version of the chess title. After he lost both matches, he disappeared completely from the chess world for nine years to earn his law degree and then returned to top-level chess in 2004 with great success.)

Unless you are like Kamsky, Wong said, it is almost impossible to find that balance between chess and work. Where Li Tian is concerned, he suggested that the boy would have to make up his mind soon.

No doubt, his one-month stint in Beijing last year and his present chess tutelage under Bangladeshi grandmaster Ziaur Rahman would help his chess grow in the short to medium term. But he must either have the courage to make chess his profession or concentrate on his studies and eventually “be like one of us”.

“It’s a tough decision, very tough indeed,” Wong acknowledged, “but there are no two ways about it.”

---- The Star Online