Friday, December 31, 2010

Hail to the new queen of chess


A 16-year-old chess prodigy from China has emerged as the new women’s world champ.

NOBODY who had met Hou Yifan in April this year, when she took part in the Kuala Lumpur open chess tournament, would have expected that the petite 16-year-old chess prodigy from China could close 2010 crowned as the new women’s world champion.

“When do you think you can become the world champion?” I had asked her then. She let out a stifled giggle, a reaction which I had mistaken for a nervous laugh. “I don’t know,” she replied.

Crowning glory: Hou Yifan with World Chess Federation president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov.

“But that’s your ambition, isn’t it?” I persisted. “Your last attempt at the world chess title had been so very close,” I men-tioned, referring to the previous world chess championship in Nalchik, Russia, in 2008.

At that time, Yifan was only 14 years old and she had progressed through the knock-out tournament till the final stage where she met the other finalist, Alexandra Kosteniuk. However, her opponent proved to be the better player and she was left to reflect on her lost opportunity.

“Oh, I hope to be better prepared and play better this time,” she had replied modestly.

Well, Yifan has really played better this time and gone one better than before. Two additional years of travelling the world and playing chess against top-notch men’s and women’s players had added to her experience.

Just last Friday in Hatay, Turkey, she finally claimed the women’s chess crown as her own. In the final of the championship, she played the match of her life and just about eked through with a hard-fought win against her compatriot, Ruan Lufei.

Yifan had started the knock-out women’s world championship as the third seed just behind India’s Humpy Koneru, the second seeded player. Despite being rated so much lower in the 64-player field, Kosteniuk as the defending champion had been given top seed in deference to her World Champion’s title but it was clear as the championship progressed that Kosteniuk would not be able to repeat her success of 2008.

In the third round, Kosteniuk was eliminated by Ruan. Both players had drawn their first two games and so it was left to the tie-break games to decide. A gritty Ruan won the first game of the tie-break before she then closed down Kosteniuk in the second tie-break game and thus, the Chinese player advanced to the quarter-finals.

It will be interesting to note that throughout this championship, Ruan gained a reputation as the tie-break queen. Right from the word Go, all of Ruan’s mini-matches (each round except for the final would be an encounter of two games at normal regulation time control and if there was no decision, then tie-break games at a faster time control would decide) went into nerve-wracking tie-breaks. None of her rounds were ever decided under normal time control.

So it wasn’t much of a surprise to observers when Ruan pulled level with Yifan after four normal regulation games in the final of this world championship.

The first game of the final began with Yifan playing with the white pieces and pressing to strike the first blow. At one point the position was better for Yifan but try as she could, she could not overcome Ruan and the game ended drawn.

Yifan was not to be denied, however, and she did pick up her first win against Ruan in the second game. The point was split again in the third game, but I can assure you that it was no tame stuff. Ruan could have won it and equalised. She had that pressing advantage which she could have converted into a win but did not.

So going into the fourth game, Yifan was still leading and needed just a draw. On the other hand, the fourth game was going to be a do-or-die mission for Ruan. Anything less than a win for Ruan would mean that the women’s world chess championship would have ended then and there for her.

It was fascinating to watch this game as it unfolded. Maybe it was due to nerves but Yifan, after defending well against Ruan’s onslaught, succumbed after Ruan found the very best moves over the board. At the end of the four normal regulation time control games, the final was back where it started: on equal footing for both players.

The first game of the tie-break was drawn, then Yifan won the second tie-break game. In the third tie-break game, the players drew again. But this was where the resemblance to the normal regulation games ended. In the fourth tie-break game, Yifan seized the initiative from Ruan and did not let go. As much as Ruan tried, she could not turn the game around and finally, with defeat staring at her on the chessboard, Ruan conceded the game.

So there we have it: Yifan is the newest and youngest of the long line of women’s world chess champions. Hail to the new queen of chess.

> (Just an interesting footnote here: China’s Ruan Lufei is 23 years old. She is a doctoral student at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the United States. “I think there are three reasons why she beat me,” Ruan reflected after the championship. “Firstly, she is really a good player, and unlike me, she plays chess every day. Secondly, I played tie-break in every round, so I have played for 20 days with only one day of rest. Finally, she has two coaches here, but I’m fighting alone. My coach is in China.”)

source: The star

Friday, December 17, 2010

Malaysia has huge potential in chess

Quah Seng Sun

Much can be done to attract foreign players to our shores.

I BELIEVE it is time for our Youth and Sports Ministry and Tourism Ministry to take a serious look at promoting sports tourism in this country.

If the experience of this year’s Penang Heritage City international chess tournament is anything to go by, there is a huge potential for the country to attract quality sportsmen and sportswomen to come play in our regional tournaments and enjoy the best we can offer at the same time.

Never mind if it is only a regional tournament outside of the Klang Valley. If the event is serious enough and big enough, support from the authorities can mean a big difference in attracting players and tourists to come here.

Full concentration: Oliver Dimakiling playing Niaz Murshed on his way to winning the Penang Heritage City International Chess Open.

The biggest surprise awaiting me at this tournament last week was the unusually large number of foreigners in the open section. Of course, I had anticipated that there would be foreign players in the field but I had not expected that there would be so many of them.

I counted 29 of them in the 71-player field, almost all from the countries around us but there was even one from distant Uzbekistan. Pleasant surprise, indeed!

Now, having known all that, what didn’t surprise me was that the Filipinos would dominate the event. Not at all. The Filipino players are known to be fiercely competitive, giving no quarter and expecting none in return, and they really made their presence felt.

Can you imagine that when all the dust had settled, nine of them took away the 15 prizes on offer? Four Filipino players among the top five prize winners, led by international masters Oliver Dimakiling and Oliver Barbosa who both finished with equal 7½ points with Dimakiling adjudged the overall winner by virtue of a tie-break.

Bangladesh’s Niaz Murshed, the sole grandmaster in the field, snatched the third prize, while the fourth and fifth prizes were again claimed by two Filipino international masters, Yves Ranola and Luis Chiong.

Then there were also their other compatriots – Haridas Pascua, Edgar Olay, Julius De Ramos, Ian Udani and Christopher Castellano – among the other prize winners.

It was left to our own Mas Hafizulhelmi to leave the first mark by a Malaysian in the winners’ list. A very honourable sixth place for him, considering the strength of the field. But in truth, I was also very glad to see Tan Khai Boon, Edward Lee and Ng Tze Han finishing among the prize winners; all of them our national champions at one time or another.

There was also a sizeable Singaporean presence in the open section. All juniors, they came with their parents and coaches to play chess first and tour the heritage areas of George Town second.

Among them, I can pick out Andre Jerome Eng and Benjamin Foo as the only two bright sparks among the Singapore players who were capable of mixing it up with the top players but in the end it was only Eng who managed to take home a prize.

Finally, let me say something about Luis Chiong. Now, that was a name that I had to dig out from the deep recesses of my memory. How many years was it since I first met him? Must be 1977 or 1978 when one of the legs of the first Asian grandmaster chess circuit was held here in the same building, the Dewan Sri Pinang.

Physically, he has changed, of course. Everybody has changed. In 30 years, everyone changes. However, he said this building – referring to the Dewan – looked the same to him. Ah, at least he remembered that.

source: The Star Online

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Anand draws with Adams, remains in joint lead

LONDON: World Champion Viswanathan Anand was held to a draw by Michael Adams of England in the sixth and penultimate round but the Indian ace continued to hold joint lead at the London Chess Classic.

Anand remained in the lead after Russian Vladimir Kramnik failed to bring home full points from a winning position against Magnus Carlsen of Norway in the 1,45,000 Euros prize money tournament being played on a round-robin basis.

On a day of drawn games for the first time in the tournament, the status quo remained and Anand continued to share the lead with Carlsen and Luke McShane of England on 10 points in the Soccer like scoring system in use that gives three points for a win and one for a draw.

Kramnik and Hikaru Nakamura share the fourth spot now on nine points each while Adams is sole sixth on seven points, well ahead of compatriots David Howell, who has three points, and Nigel Short, who has just two points with his two draws so far.

With just one round remaining, Anand faces arch-rival Kramnik, Carlsen is up against Short while McShane will take on Howell. The fact that Anand is playing white in the crucial last game gives the Indian ample chances to stay clear of the rest of the field in case he is able to register a victory.

Playing black against Adams, Anand did not face any difficulties. It was a Sicilian Najdorf by the Indian ace who showed right intentions for a full-bloodied battle but Adams shied away from complicated lines and stuck to his basics out of a positional system.

Anand equalised comfortably out of the opening and it looked as if he was pressing for an advantage in the endgame that ensued.

However, an alert Adams kept black's forces at bay and once he had established an outpost for his knight in the middle of the board the outcome of a the game was a foregone conclusion. The peace was signed on move 54.

Kramnik may not get a sound sleep in reflection of what he missed. The Russian could have been the sole leader and that many believed was just a notion once he got the winning position out a Nimzowitch defense that Carlsen employed with his black pieces.

With an army-like pawn structure in the centre, Kramnik almost forcibly won a piece and had a huge material advantage when he missed out on a brilliant exploit that was seen only by Carlsen.

Up a Bishop against just one pawn, Kramnik had to split the point in 86 moves.

In other games of the day, Luke McShane went for the English opening and sorted out his middle game problems through perpetual checks to earn a draw against Nakamura while Nigel Short's hunt for an elusive victory continued after he could not demonstrate an advantage with his King's gambit against Howell.

In the open section being held simultaneously, International Master Sahaj Grover misplayed a winning position and lost against Grandmaster Neil McDonald of England.

Sahaj, needed 1.5 points from the last two games for his second GM norm and this is already the second time in under three weeks that the talented youngster missed on the opportunity to make the norm after a fine start.

Earlier in the Cultural village tournament in Wijk Aan Zee, Sahaj needed a draw in the final round to make the grade.

Former world junior champion Abhijeet Gupta gave a fine demonstration of his endgame skills to beat Gary Quillan of England to share the fourth spot on six points while Sahaj remained on 5.5 following the loss.

The event is being jointly led by English duo of Simon Williams and Gwain Jones both of who have seven points in their kitty.

Results Classic round 6: Michael Adams (Eng, 7) drew with V Anand (Ind, 10); Vladimir Kramnik (Rus, 9) drew with Magnus Carlsen (Nor, 10); Luke McShane (Eng, 10) drew with Hikaru Nakamura (Usa, 9); Nigel Short (Eng, 2) drew with David Howell (Eng, 3).

Friday, December 3, 2010

Chong Eu's unreserved support for chess


Remembering Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu, an honorary patron of the MCF and the Penang Chess Association.

I STARTED playing chess quite late in my school life – when I was in Form Three. Before that, chess meant almost nothing to me. Hard to imagine it now, but it’s true.

It took me about five years from the time I saw my first chess pieces before I started learning to play. I still remember the occasion when I laid eyes on the pieces. It was at the end of the year. I was in Standard Four and there was this guy, one of my classmates, who was showing around his set of mysterious wooden pieces.

For a young boy whose only exposure to the chequered board at that time was the game of draughts (or checkers, if you like), I took the revelation that there could be other forms of board games, rather coolly.

Anyhow, that was my first exposure to chess. That classmate of mine turned out to be the younger son of Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu, Penang’s second chief minister who passed away more than a week ago.

I don’t know at all whether Tun Dr Lim played chess but I do know that my classmate friend must have got the inspiration for the game from one of his father’s closest buddies.

In case anyone doesn’t know, that would be Prof Dr Lim Kok Ann from Singapore, an expert on bacteriology who later became the general secretary of the World Chess Federation (Fide).

The two Lims – Tun Dr Lim and Prof Dr Lim – had forged a close friendship since their university days in Edinburgh, Scotland, in the 1940s. It was a friendship that later contributed a significant part to the growth of chess in this country and beyond.

In 1974, Fide was celebrating its golden jubilee and had wanted their affiliates to organise chess events in their part of the world. Prof Dr Lim was then already the Fide Zone 10 president and he wanted to organise the first Asian team chess championship.

Enter the Malaysian Chess Federation (MCF). The federation was formed that year; its founding president, Datuk Tan Chin Nam, had quickly persuaded Malaysia’s second Prime Minister, Tun Abdul Razak, to donate a handsome silver challenge trophy in his name.

But still, where could the tournament be held? At this point, Datuk Tan and Prof Dr Lim turned to the one friend that they had in common: Tun Dr Lim who, five years earlier, had become the Chief Minister of Penang. Datuk Tan had known Tun Dr Lim since the 1960s.

When the idea was mooted to Tun Dr Lim, he readily agreed to let the MCF use the Dewan Sri Pinang for the Asian team chess championship.

Through the state government, Tun Dr Lim also lent much support to the numerous activities in Penang during the Fide golden jubilee celebrations, in particular, the Fide bureau meetings that were held at the Merlin Hotel (now the City Bayview Hotel).

For his unreserved support for chess, Tun Dr Lim was made an honorary patron of the MCF and the Penang Chess Association. The other honorary patrons of the MCF were the nation’s first three prime ministers: Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Abdul Razak and Tun Hussein Onn.