Friday, September 30, 2011

Tan Chin Nam the doyen of local chess


Datuk Tan Chin Nam, 85, is still up to playing chess.

LAST week, I wrote about the youngest faces that had come to play in the main event of this year’s Malaysian Chess Festival, the Arthur Tan Malaysian open chess championship.

It then struck me that if I want to do a similar story on the oldest player in the festival, I would have to look at the Lee Loy Seng seniors open chess championship.

Everybody in the chess circle knows that the oldest active chess player in the country is none other than Datuk Tan Chin Nam himself.

Tan, 85, is the doyen of Malaysian chess. He may have been frailer than when I last saw him a year ago, but his mind was as keen as ever. “Still up to playing chess,” he said when we sat across the chessboard in the second round.

Mega festival ahead: Datuk Tan Chin Nam promises that next year’s edition will be the grandest Malaysian Chess Festival of all.

Tan soon found out to his dismay that results still favoured the younger seniors as he finished the event with a modest 1½ points that he collected from nine games.

Despite the setback, he took pride in his final game of the tournament. He lost – but for much of that game, he showed he could still mix it up as well as his opponent. He absorbed the attack in a complicated game and then simplified the position to a point where he held a piece advantage. It was only a gross blunder in the critical last hour of play when tiredness had crept into both players’ game that spoilt everything for Tan.

A draw would have been an equitable result in that game, seeing that both he and his opponent had fought and defended well.

At last year’s Malaysian Chess Festival, Tan announced that he intended to take a two-year sabbatical from sponsoring the festival. He wanted to enjoy playing the game without thinking about pumping money into organising it. There could be other reasons and I would think that one of them was that he wanted to see how the organisers would rise to the challenge, and continue with this chess festival with only his moral support.

I believe he was encouraged by what he saw: the hard work put in by the organisers in the last two to three months to get their act together. At the closing ceremony of the festival, he promised to end his sojourn and make next year’s edition the grandest Malaysian Chess Festival of all.

By the way, Tan was at least 10 years older than the next most senior competitor at the festival – Thailand’s 74-year-old Pricha Srivatanakul.

source: The Star

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Armenia triumphs in chess world


Crowded calendar keeps enthusiasts on their toes.

THERE are just too many world-class chess events which have taken place or are taking place all over the world at the same time. From Ningbo in China to Dortmund in Germany and Biel in Switzerland, my attention is being divided by this surfeit of chess activities.

Would I consider this a problem? Yes, but this is a happy problem. I don’t mind the distraction. It only proves that chess can have a crowded calendar.

So where shall I start? Perhaps, from where I left off last week, with the world team chess championship that ended in Ningbo on Tuesday with Armenia deposing Russia to become the new champion.

Poised to win: Vladimir Kramnik is creating waves at the Dortmund Sparkassen invitational chess tournament.

I thought at first that Russia was going to win this event but the Russians stumbled badly and lost to China and Azerbaijan, and in the final round, suffered the ignominy of losing to India.

Russia’s setback was the opportunity for Armenia to spring into the lead. The Armenian team had played so steadily that they hadn’t lost to any other team yet. At their worst, they drew with Russia, the United States and Azerbaijan.

On Tuesday, Armenia was due to play Ukraine in the final round. A drawn match was all that they needed to clinch the title but the Ukrainians themselves were in the chase. If they could score a crushing result like a 3½-½ win against Armenia, they may even come out tops. Maybe the Ukrainians saw the unlikelihood of this ever happening because soon after the start of the round, their match was quickly drawn.

I believe China was disappointed with this outcome because they were mathematically in contention for the title and they would only need to win by 2½-1½ against Hungary, which they did, to be the champion if Ukraine had won by any score line. The only consolation for the Chinese team was that they actually finished with the same game points as the Armenians, except that on the more important match points, they trailed the new champion.

India, Israel and Egypt found themselves out of their depth. Israel was possibly the biggest disappointment seeing how just a year ago, they had finished third in the Chess Olympiad.

India came into this event as the Asian champion but they soon realized that even finishing in the middle of the table would be a tall order. I thought they could play the role of a spoiler and take surprising points off the main title contenders but the only problem was, they could not until the very last round against Russia when the results did not count any more.

As for Egypt, there is little to be said about this African representative except that they failed totally.

And so we move on to Germany where the former world champion, Vladimir Kramnik, is creating waves at the Dortmund Sparkassen invitational chess tournament. Well, at least he has been in impressive form right until the mid-way point of this event last Monday. By the way, the tournament ends on Sunday so there is still time to see whether Kramnik will carry his advantage right through till the end.

The Dortmund Sparkassen is an elite chess tournament that goes a long way back. However, it was not until 1973 that it was converted into a regular annual event. This year’s edition is a six-player, double round-robin tournament that features Vladimir Kramnik, Hikaru Nakamura, Ruslan Ponomariov, Le Quang Liem, Anish Giri and local German player Georg Meier.

As mentioned, Kramnik has been showing great form. He couldn’t have been happier. In the first half of the tournament, his victims included Ponomariov, Giri, Meier and Nakamura, and he has dropped only a draw to Le. Even if he eases up on the pedal and draws the rest of his games in the second half, I believe he should coast through easily to win the top prize.

The last tournament on my list today is the annual Biel Chess Festival.

This chess festival has been around for decades. It started as a masters open tournament in 1968; the grandmaster tournament was introduced in 1976, and evolved into one of Europe’s showcase events. Like in Dortmund, this is a double round-robin tournament featuring six very strong players. Their names speak for themselves: Magnus Carlsen, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Alexei Shirov, Fabiano Caruana, Alexander Morozevich and Yannick Pelletier.

I would be very surprised if Carlsen does not win the event which will end today. On Tuesday as I was writing this story, Carlsen was leading the field with only Morozevich following hard on his tail. The rest had been left behind.

Caruana, who had won last year’s Biel grandmaster tournament, found himself trailing everyone this time around. A complete reversal of form.

source: the Star

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Three times a winner


Dr Nicholas Chan scores a hat-trick at the 38th Selangor open chess tournament.

NOW, don’t start me off. I’m not going to launch myself with superlatives to describe Dr Nicholas Chan’s feat in winning the annual Selangor open chess tournament for the third year in succession. All I’m going to say to him is, congratulations. Short and simple.

Really, there are no big words to describe Dr Chan’s hat-trick of Selangor open achievements. He was the champion in 2009, made a great defence of this title last year and then, earlier this week, he overcame some mid-tournament jitters to become the Selangor open champion again.

Hat-trick: After a close and intense fight, Dr Nicholas Chan emerged winner of the Selangor open chess ournament.

Add his tournament victory in 2004, and Dr Chan has won this event four times in the past eight years.

It wasn’t all plain sailing, though. He led until the sixth round and even reeled off five wins in a row which included a win over international master Jimmy Liew. Then Dr Chan hiccupped in the seventh round, losing to Indian international master Srinath Narayanan. Suddenly, he found Liew, Srinath and familiar Filipino player Ian Udani leap-frogging half a point over him.

With two rounds remaining, the tournament became alive. There were four contenders who could easily be winner of the tournament. However, some of them had still to play one another and so, there would be no easy gallop towards the finish line. The event was wide open.

In the eighth round, two of the leaders met. Udani and Srinath were paired together, but their game was drawn. Then Dr Chan beat Mohd Irman Ibrahim to draw level with the Indian and the Filipino. In the meantime, Liew took advantage of their lapse by disposing of his opponent, Abdul Rahim Ramli, to take the sole lead for the first time in the tournament.

So by the end of the eighth round, the standings were: Liew in front with seven points followed by Udani, Srinath and Dr Chan just half a point behind. The ninth and final round would be crucial.

To be champion, Liew would need to win his final game. A draw might have been enough, too, but he could possibly be subjecting himself to a tie-break with two other players. It wasn’t a completely appealing situation but maybe, it would be better than nothing. In any case, his final-round opponent, Udani, refused to follow the same script and in a tensely fought game, the Filipino prevailed over Liew.

Srinath was also in a good position to join Udani at the top of the standings if he could beat his opponent, the newly minted national closed champion Lim Zhuo Ren. But Lim proved to be a tougher nut than expected and he put paid to any idea that the Indian player could have.

These unexpected results presented Dr Chan with a precious lifeline which he gladly seized. Among the top contenders, he had possibly the most comfortable pairing of all. Sitting across from Mark Siew, Dr Chan outplayed his opponent to win the game and thus finish on equal points with Udani.

But this is not the end of the story. Two players stood at the top of the standings with equal points. Who would be the champion? For Dr Chan, his spurt of five wins in his first five games would now ensure him a much superior tie-break than Udani. And with this better tie-break came the coveted winner’s purse at the conclusion of this 38th Selangor open chess tournament.

source: The Star

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Attention on junior players at chess championships

By Quah Seng Sun

Young players provide excitement at championships.

ONE of the most encouraging signs in local chess is the continuing willingness of the Malaysian Chess Federation (MCF) to allow their state chess affiliates to play active roles in organising some of the national-level chess competitions.

Take the annual national age group chess championships as an example.

Last year, the Penang Chess Association was given the go-ahead to plan for this competition in George Town on behalf of the federation. This year, the challenge was offered to the Perak International Chess Association (PICA).

PICA did so in Tronoh, Perak, in a joint effort which involved Universiti Teknologi Malaysia. By all accounts, this year’s edition of the national age group championships was a great success for the organisers. A total of 380 players took part in the three-day competition which, I was told, proceeded without any hitches.

As was to be expected, the most closely watched contest was the boys’ under-18 event. There were a few junior heavyweight players in the field, the most notable among them being the top-seeded Evan Timothy Capel who was a former national closed champion and last year’s winner of the boys’ under-16 event.

This year, though, the 17-year-old would be playing in the under-18 section, no longer eligible for the younger age group event. In fact, many of his rivals who played with him in Penang last year had also been elevated to the under-18 section.

Past successes, however, do not guarantee future gains, and Evan found this out pretty quickly. By the third round, he had already dropped a point to the second-seeded Sumant Subramaniam. By the tournament’s end, he had dropped two more points to Patrick Lim Kong Hui and the new winner of the boys’ under-18 event, Muhd Nabil Azman Hisham.

This was also a sobering experience for Sumant. After his heady win against Evan, he was brought down to earth by two consecutive losses to Muhd Nabil and Low Jun Jian. A further loss to Chong Shao Hong also ended his hopes in this tournament.

For Muhd Nabil, though, everything fell into place for him perfectly. He had lost to Evan in the boys’ under-16 event last year but this year, he exacted revenge on the top seed. By also defeating the second seed, there could only be one description for Muhd Nabil: worthy winner. His draws were with Jun Jian and Mark Siew Kit Tze, but he won all the other six games.

Now with the national age group championships over, the focus this week is on the national closed and national women’s closed championships that are taking place at the Wilayah Complex in Kuala Lumpur.

Today is already the third day of play and there are only five more rounds to go before the two competitions end on Sunday. So if you are not competing but have time on your hands, why not go and speculate who will emerge as the 2011 national champions?

The organisers tell me that as of the beginning of this week, there hasn’t been any change to the number of entries: still 89 players for the national closed and 34 players for the national women’s closed. At press time it is impossible to say whether there were any dropouts from the players’ lists or additions to it.

Anyway, I have to set the record straight in a slip of the finger that appeared in last week’s story. In my excitement to see our international master Jimmy Liew enter the fray as one of the competitors, I have inadvertently described him as a grandmaster.

I’ve received a lot of ribbing privately from friends and chess players in the past week. Really, I’m a bit embarrassed. I hope that my personal embarrassment has not spilled over to Liew. I really don’t want this episode to distract him in this national event where he is clearly the top seeded player.

So I shall wish “best of luck” to Liew, as well as wishing the same to last year’s winners Tan Khai Boon (national closed defending champion) and Fong Mi Yen (national women’s closed defending champion) and all the hopefuls this year.

Both events are being played at the Datuk Arthur Tan Chess Centre, Wilayah Complex, Kuala Lumpur until Sunday. The games start at 9am and 3pm daily. For more information, contact Najib Wahab (016– 338 2542 or

source: The Star online

Friday, February 25, 2011

Frenzy of entries in chess championships


New development augurs well for local chess scene.

IN a development rather unprecedented for Malaysian chess, I have just learnt that all the places in this year’s national closed and national women’s closed chess championships from March 16-20 may have been completely filled by now.

If you are still dithering over whether or not to play in either of the two competitions, your best chance is to give the organisers a call and enquire directly from them.

Defending champ: Fong Mi Yen is joining the fray to defend the title that she won last year.

The Malaysian Chess Federation (MCF) is the organiser of both events. They had allowed only 110 places collectively for the two competitions but a frenzy of entries received before last Sunday’s deadline for a 20% discount on the entry fees meant that the places were quickly filled up.

That, by itself, is quite an achievement. Chess players are known to be procrastinators with their time. Who was it that once wrote about the relationship between work and time?

Ah, yes, Cyril Northcote Parkinson. You may have heard of him. Parkinson, a history professor at the University of Malaya in Singapore from 1950 to 1959, was fond of poking fun at government bureaucracies and in 1955 published a humorous article that quickly became labelled as Parkinson’s Law.

All that Parkinson’s Law said was that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

Now, just substitute “chess” for “work” and don’t you think that this statement also applies to chess? Beating deadlines is the name of the game, otherwise why are chess games played with chess clocks?

Of course, to ensure that the players get into a time scramble! (A chess clock is a double-faced clock that counts down the time that a chess player has for his remaining moves. It used to be that players dreaded the dropping of the tiny flag at the 12 o’clock mark on the clock; nowadays, players dread the digital countdown to zero.)

Getting into time scrambles is second nature for serious chess players. That’s one of the delights of chess. Any chess player worth his salt should be a servant of the time scramble. Whether he is given five minutes, 30 minutes or 90 minutes to finish his game, he should make full use of this time to play. That’s the law of deadlines.

There is another deadline in chess, though not as potent as the time control, but still important enough for players not to ignore. And that is the deadline of registering for events and coughing up the entry fee.

Unfortunately, this deadline means little to some of them. In the past, even threats of penalty fees do not discourage people from turning up at the last minute and wanting to play. Chess organisers used to be so accommodating – an additional player means extra entry fee – to the extent that they would delay the start of their tournaments.

Fortunately, the situation has improved over the last few years. Late entries are less tolerated nowadays. I believe players now appreciate that tournaments need to start on time and end on time.

What I’ve learnt from this national closed and national women’s closed championships is remarkable. Players are actually registering and paying up before the closing date all because of a 20% discount. Penalty fees are no deterrent to chess players but discounts certainly are the carrots!

While looking through the list of entries, I’m heartened to see the continuing strong support from our women chess champions. Fong Mi Yen is joining the fray to defend the title that she won last year. Tan Li Ting and Alia Anin Azwa Bakri, the 2009 and 2008 champions respectively, have also entered the ring. With the trio in the national women’s closed championship, I should think it is going to be a good contest.

This is not to say that the national closed championship won’t be tight enough. Indeed, it has all the potential to be very competitive despite the absence of any former national champion or any of our titled players. On this point, I’m disappointed that Tan Khai Boon, Evan Timothy Capel and Edward Lee are not playing. The three of them would have added colour to the competition.

Nevertheless, it will still be an interesting race to the finish as the MCF has announced that the top eight players from the national closed championship will be included in a shortlist for selection to this year’s SEA Games in Indonesia. Likewise, too, the top eight women players will be among those shortlisted for selection to the women’s competitions at the SEA Games.

For details on the two competitions, contact Najib Wahab (016-338 2542 or for the national closed championship and Haslindah Ruslan (019-206 9605 or for the national women’s closed championship.

source: The Star

Monday, February 21, 2011

National chess contests coming up


Get ready for the national closed championships next month.

THIS year’s national closed and national women’s closed championships are just a month away. According to the Malaysian Chess Federation, the two competitions will be played concurrently at the Datuk Arthur Tan Chess Centre, Wilayah Complex, Kuala Lumpur, from March 16-20.

In previous years, the two events tend to be held in the middle of the year. Last year, for example, the championships were played in June. This year, though, they have been brought forward to the first quarter of the year, and they coincide with the school calendar’s mid-semester break.

The main reason for this is that the Malaysian Chess Federation (MCF) is co-organising the two championships with the Datuk Arthur Tan Chess Centre (DATCC). The DATCC had undergone some recent internal reorganisation and can now accommodate more events. Having more events also mean having to draw up a chess calendar and adhere more strictly to it.

While going through the rules and regulations last week, I noticed a radical change in the treatment of past national champions. They are no longer given free entries into either competition, if they ever choose to play. The only exception is given to the defending champions and even then, this only applies if they confirm their entries before the end of this month. Otherwise they, like all other participants, will be subjected to an entry fee.

The match between Maxime Vachier- Lagrave (white) and Wang Hao (black).

This new regulation makes a lot of sense to me because I am sure that the organisers will not miss them. It is a great shame that in all these years, save for perhaps one or two of the former champions, I hardly see any of the others. They had moved up the ranks from anonymity to visibility, and the least they could do was to contribute back to the structure that placed them there.

So what of the entry fees?

For starters, the entry fee for players with FIDE international ratings of above 2,000 is RM60; those with FIDE ratings of between 1,600 and 1,999 are required to pay RM100; those rated below 1599 or who are unrated will be charged RM150. A 20% discount will apply if a participant registers before this Sunday (Feb 20), while a 50% late fee will be imposed on all entries registered after March 13.

Each of the state chess associations affiliated to the MCF is eligible to register one player for each competition at a 50% discount until the end of this month. After March 1, the state representative will need to pay normal rates, and after March 13, a late fee of RM50 applies. However, any state representative with a FIDE rating of above 2200 is given free entry.

For more details, contact Najib Wahab (016-338 2542 for the national closed championship and Haslindah Ruslan (019-206 9605 or for the national women’s closed championship.

Meanwhile, DATCC has also made known that it is organising a one-day Lim Chong memorial tournament at its premises on March 27. “He was an avid chess player and a noted columnist for The Malay Mail for more than a decade beginning 1983,” said Hamid Majid who is organising this event.

Later, Lim joined Bernama as a sub-editor of the national news agency’s economic news service. He died of a heart attack last November while en route from London to Kuala Lumpur.

The idea for this tournament was mooted recently by the Malaysian Chess Federation’s honorary life president, Datuk Tan Chin Nam, who offered to match and donate “ringgit for ringgit” all entry fees collected for the event. More than 100 participants are expected to register for this one-day tournament which, incidentally, would fall on Lim’s 57th birthday.

For details, contact Hamid Majid (019-315 8098 or or Najib Wahab (016-338 2542). The entry form is available

Tata Steel

Two games of interest from the recently concluded Tata Steel chess tournament in Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands.

White: Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (2715)

Black: Wang Hao (2731)

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.a4 Bf5 6.e3 e6 7.Bxc4 Bb4 8.0-0 Nbd7 9.Qe2 0-0 10.e4 Bg6 11.Bd3 Bh5 12.e5 Nd5 13.Nxd5 cxd5 14.Qe3 Be7 15.Bd2 Nb8 16.a5 a6 17.Rfc1 Nc6 18.Ne1 Qd7 19.Bc2 Qd8 20.Qh3 Bg6 21.Bxg6 hxg6 22.Qg4 Rc8 23.Nf3 Qd7 24.Bg5 Bb4 25.Qh4 Ne7 26.g4 Rxc1+ 27.Rxc1 Rc8 28.Kg2 Nc6 29.Rd1 Bxa5 30.Rd3 Nb4 31.Rb3 Qb5 32.Be7 (White has a tremendous game going for him. With this move, he clears the g5 square for his knight, after which checkmate would seem inevitable. However, Black had seen a little further and he saves the game with an unlikely move.) 32...Nd3!! (see diagram)33.Rxb5 (Now, if White had played 33.Rxd3, Black has the resource 33...g5 and 34…Qxd3 which protects the h7 square. After White accepts the black queen, the game quickly ends with a draw.) 33...Nf4+ 34.Kg3 Ne2+ 35.Kh3 Nf4+ 36.Kg3 Ne2+ 37.Kg2 Nf4+ ½-½

The former world chess champion, Vladimir Kramnik, seems to find it difficult to overcome Magnus Carlsen in recent tournaments. He fell again to the Norwegian grandmaster at the Tata Steel tournament.

White: Vladimir Kramnik (2784)

Black: Magnus Carlsen

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 Bb4+ 4.Bd2 Bxd2+ 5.Qxd2 d5 6.Bg2 Nbd7 7.Nf3 c6 8.0-0 b6 9.Rc1 0-0 10.cxd5 cxd5 11.Na3 Bb7 12.Nb5 a6 13.Nd6 Qb8 14.Qb4 a5 15.Qa3 Ba6 16.Ne5 b5 17.Qxa5 Qxd6 18.Rc6 Qb8 19.Rxa6 Rxa6 20.Qxa6 Nxe5 21.dxe5 Qxe5 22.Qxb5 Rb8 23.Qd3 Rxb2 24.Qe3 (In the last few moves, Kramnik’s play had been suspect. He now realises that he is going to lose a pawn. This is his best continuation, to exchange queens and go into an endgame where he can try to push forward his a-pawn.) 24...Qxe3 25.fxe3 Rxe2 26.a4 Rc2 27.a5 Rc7 28.a6 Ra7 29.Bf1 Kf8 30.Rb1 Ke7 31.Rb7+ Rxb7 32.axb7 Nd7 33.Kf2 Kd6 34.Bb5 Nb8 35.Be8 Ke7 36.Bb5 f6 37.Kf3 Kd6 38.Be8 Kc7 39.Bf7 Kxb7 40.Bxe6 Kc6 41.Bg8 h6 42.Kg4 Nd7 43.Kf5 Ne5 44.h3 Kc5 45.g4 (According to Carlsen’s own assessment of this position, 45.Ke6 would have been enough for a draw. After 45.g4, Carlsen patiently grinds out the win.) 45...Kd6 46.Bh7 Ke7 47.Bg8 g6+ 48.Kf4 Nf7 49.Bh7 g5+ 50.Kg3 Nd6 51.Bg8 Ne4+ 52.Kg2 Kd6 53.Kf3 Kc5 54.Bh7 Nc3 55.Bd3 Kb4 56.Ba6 Kb3 57.Bb7 Kc2 58.Ba6 Kd1 59.Bb7 Kd2 60.Bc6 Ke1 61.Bb7 Kf1 62.Ba8 Kg1 63.Kg3 Ne4+ 64.Kf3 Nd2+ 65.Kg3 Nf1+ 66.Kf3 Nd2+ 67.Kg3 Nc4 68.Bxd5 Nxe3 69.Bb7 Nf1+ 70.Kf3 Kh2 71.Kf2 Nd2 72.Bg2 Nc4 73.Bf1 Ne5 74.Ke3 Kg1 75.Be2 Kg2 76.Ke4 Kxh3 77.Kf5 Kh4 78.Bd1 Nc4 79.Ke4 Nd6+ 80.Kd5 f5 (White captures the knight with 81.Kxd6 but he will lose the game after 81…fxg4 82.Ke5 g3 83.Bf3 Kh3 84.Kf6 g4 85.Bc6 g2) 0-1

source: The star

Monday, February 14, 2011

Nakamura finally finds fame in chess world


Hikaru Nakamura makes a name for himself by winning the Tata Steel chess tournament.

TAKE note of the name Hikaru Nakamura. For years, he has been skirting around the peripherals of true chess fame but finally, he has arrived to claim his place in history.

He achieved this more than two weeks ago at the Tata Steel chess tournament which was played in the Dutch seaside resort town of Wijk aan Zee. This is a tournament with a history that goes back to 1938.

It is a prestigious event; it is already difficult enough for any chess grandmaster to get an invitation to this tournament, what more to win it. But Nakamura did just that. Against all odds, he played the tournament of his life there.

Claim to fame: Japanese chess prodigy Hikaru Nakamura played with confidence among the world’s best.

For this year’s edition, the organisers had invited the world’s top four chess players to be part of their 14-player field: world chess champion Viswanathan Anand, world No.1 Magnus Carlsen, former world champion Vladimir Kramnik and world No.3 Levon Aronian.

Also invited were Alexander Grischuk, Nakamura (former US chess champion), Ruslan Ponomariov, Ian Nepomniachtchi (current Russian chess champion), Wang Hao (current Chinese chess champion), Alexei Shirov and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (current world junior chess champion), all top players in their own right.

Then there were also 16-year-old Anish Giri who had qualified into the main tournament from last year’s B-event, Jan Smeets (current Dutch chess champion) and Erwin l’Ami.

But who exactly is Hikaru Nakamura? His father is Japanese but his mother is American, which qualifies him as an American, too. He was born in Japan in 1987 but at the age of two, his family moved to the United States. He started learning chess at five years old and progressed to become a grandmaster at 15.

He is recognised as a chess prodigy, winning his first US chess championship in 2005. In 2009, he became the US chess champion for the second time. At the end of that year, he played in the London Chess Classic and had indifferent results.

The year 2010 began with Nakamura playing on the first board for the United States at the world team chess championship in Turkey. He then finished tied in fourth position in the 2010 Corus chess tournament in Wijk aan Zee and fourth in the 2010 Mikhail Tal memorial tournament in Moscow which incidentally was the third strongest tournament in chess history.

It was Nakamura’s performance in this tournament that made the chess world sit up to take notice of his potential. In December 2010, he again played in the London Chess Classic.

By the time 2011 began, he was already ranked No.10 in the world.

And so we arrive at the present moment. The race for the top honours in the Tata Steel chess tournament was very close and Nakamura played with absolute confidence among the world’s best. Except for a slight hiccup – he lost in the eighth round to Carlsen – he has shown an ability to compete with them at their standard.

Not only that, Nakamura was not awed by the fact that he was racing against no less than the world champion, Anand. Nakamura was running neck-to-neck with Anand after the eighth round and in the 11th round, assumed the sole lead in the tournament. To his credit, he never lost his nerve and romped home as worthy winner.

Here is one of Nakamura’s games from the tournament.

White: Hikaru Nakamura (2751)

Black: Jan Smeets (2662)

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5.Bg5 dxc4 6.e4 b5 7.e5 h6 8.Bh4 g5 9.Nxg5 hxg5 10.Bxg5 Nbd7 11.g3 Bb7 12.Bg2 Qb6 13.exf6 c5 14.d5 0-0-0 15.0-0 b4 16.Na4 Qb5 17.a3 exd5 18.axb4 cxb4 19.Bf4 Bh6 20.Qd2 Bxf4 21.Qxf4 Bc6 22.Qd4 Kb8 23.Rfe1 Rhe8 (White already has the upper hand in this game. Now, 24.Qf4+ would be the strongest move. Instead, Black is allowed back into the game and the win is not so simple anymore.)

24.Re7 Qa5 25.Rxf7 Bxa4 26.Bxd5 Qc5 27.Qf4+ Ne5 28.Be4 Rd7 29.Rg7 Bb5 30.Rxd7 Bxd7 31.Bg6 Rf8 32.Re1 Qd6 33.Qxe5 Rxf6 34.Qxd6+ Rxd6 (And suddenly the game enters the endgame phase. But although the position is better for White, there’s still a lot of work to convert it into a win.) 35.Bf7 Rd2 36.Bxc4 Rxb2 37.h4 Bg4 38.Kg2 a5 39.Re5 Rc2 40.Rb5+ Kc7 41.Bd5 Rd2 42.Bf7 Bd7 43.Rxa5 Bc6+ 44.Kf1 Bf3 45.Ra1 Kd6 46.Bb3. 46.Re1 Rd3 47.Rb1 Kc5 48.Ke1 Kb5 49.Bd1 Bxd1 50.Rxd1 Rc3 51.h5 b3 52.Kd2 Rc8 53.Rc1 Rf8 54.f4 Kb4 55.Rh1 Ka3 56.Ke3 b2 57.g4 Rc8 58.Rb1 Ka2 59.Rxb2+ Kxb2 60.h6 Kc3 61.g5 1-0

source: The Star

Friday, January 21, 2011

Looking to the future in chess


Chess enthusiasts can expect a busy year ahead.

IT IS three weeks into the new year already. Pardon me if I’m still delving into the past but I need to mention two things before I move on.

The first was the demise of a fellow Malaysian chess journalist, one whom I’ve known since the 1980s.

Local chess enthusiasts will know the name of Lim Chong who worked with the Economics Desk of our national news agency, Bernama. Lim passed away in November last year while en route from an assignment in London.

In the 1980s, The Star and The Malay Mail were the only newspapers in the country with a regular chess page, and Lim was in charge of the chess output over there. Though we had different styles, I rather enjoyed what he wrote.

After a long helm, he was transferred to a sister publication and was in charge of the computer section. Much later, he left for Bernama. Though he no longer wrote about chess, he was still very much in touch with the game and concerned about the accuracy of local chess news.

For instance, in April last year, I had a rather long conversation with him about a news item on one of the Malaysian chess players. It was quite clear that the reporter had misunderstood our player and written something that created a minor flap in our chess circles. I was right there when the player was interviewed, so I could explain to Lim what went wrong.

However, that was an exception rather than the norm because Lim was a person of very few words, even in conversations. What he wanted to say, he preferred to say via e-mail. At least, that was my impression.

In the last year of his life, we exchanged quite a number of e-mails. He was working to compile information on the history of the Selangor open chess tournaments and he wanted me to fill in some blanks. I don’t know the extent of his work but I hope that he had completed it and handed it to the Chess Association of Selangor.

The other thing I must mention is the withdrawal of Datuk Tan Chin Nam from chess sponsorship. Immediately after the conclusion of last year’s Malaysia Chess Festival, Tan announced that he would be taking a sabbatical from sponsoring chess activities in the country.

He said that in order for chess in Malaysia to progress beyond the present, the chess movement should no longer be dependent on him to provide monetary assistance.

Chess organisers, he said, should be prepared to look at other sources of sponsorship. He considered himself a hindrance to chess. Though he did not say it, that could possibly mean that he did not want chess organisers to take him too much for granted.

I believe the implication of his decision has finally sunk in. I heard that when the Malaysians went down to Singapore in December for the annual chess match between the two countries, Tan declined to help meet the travel expenses. The Malay-sian Chess Federation was forced to look elsewhere for funds.

I have also been told that the running of the Datuk Arthur Tan Chess Centre at Wilayah Complex in Kuala Lumpur may also have been impacted. For the past two years, Tan had been meeting the cost of running this place. But since the beginning of this month, it has been different. Several chess supporters have banded together to keep the centre up and running.

There is definitely change in the air. In the months ahead, surely there will be more changes. The greatest impact will be felt nearer August and September. How will the next Malaysia Chess Festival be affected?

Although I’m not privy to the Festival’s finances, I know that the cost of staging it can be quite monumental. Hundreds of thousands of ringgit, perhaps? If Tan is not prepared to bankroll it, we should not expect this year’s Malaysia Chess Festival to be organised the same way as before. Only time will show how this will turn out.

Okay, now that I’ve gotten these two things out of my system, I’d just like to mention that this year’s Malaysian chess calendar has been released. Frankly, I’m very much surprised as this is only January. That’s pretty efficient on the Malaysian Chess Federation’s part.

So what sort of events can we expect this year? Well, in two months’ time, there will be the national age group championship and the national closed championships. They follow one another: the age group event is from March 12 to 15, while the national closed and the national women’s championships are from March 16 to 20.

In May, there will be the Malaysian men’s and women’s masters tournaments. Also in May and extending into June, we shall see the national schools chess tournament, organised by the Majlis Sukan Sekolah-Sekolah Malaysia (MSSM).

Also on the calendar will be a Malaysia inter-state chess championship in June, the Merdeka team chess championship and the Malaysia open championship in August, the national rapid age group and the national rapid championships in September, various chess camps for students in November, and the national junior chess championship in December.

On top of all that, the Chess Association of Selangor is certain of holding its Selangor open tournament, the Penang Chess Association will want to hold its Penang open tournament, and the Kuala Lumpur Chess Association will be planning its next KL open, while the Sarawak Chess Association will be looking into organising its Sarawak open.

Then, we should also expect to see all manner of organisers around the country coming out to plan their one-day tournaments as well. All too many to mention here at this stage, but they shall be announced as we go along.

It looks like it’s going to be another busy chess year indeed.

source: The Star Online

Monday, January 17, 2011

Focused or aimless?


Nurturing and training young talent is the way to go.

IF SOME of us are still feeling smug two weeks after the Malaysian side had beaten their Singapore counterparts in the annual chess match between the two countries, my advice is this: stop. It’s over; let’s not waste more time on it. We should move on, because chess-wise there is a lot to do.

My own general sense of euphoria ended right after I had written last week’s article. I don’t gloat over the results because in reality, this isn’t much of an achievement. I know the Malaysian team badly wanted to win but what do the results really mean? Don’t read too much into them.

We went into the match with a senior team that lacked our best players. We missed out on several key players until the Malaysian Chess Federation was forced to field our better junior players for the senior side. Not that I am complaining about this, though. I’ve always been an advocate of the move to bleed in new talent. Our national chess body as well as our state chess associations must always allow talented juniors to come forward and show their mettle.

Short-lived stint: Bangladeshi grandmaster Ziaur Rahman was under-utilised during his short stay here.

It’s the only way forward. If junior players are cloistered and shielded behind their age group events, we are simply limiting them. How on Earth can they develop and blossom if not given the chance? So what the Malaysian Chess Federation did was right. In the absence of the usual senior regulars, the boys were asked to play like men.

Budding players like Edward Lee, Evan Capel (yes, there are even former national champions who are no older than 20), Lim Zhuo Ren, Sumant Subramaniam and Yeap Eng Chiam ... they all stepped up admirably to fill the seniors’ shoes.

What was at the back of my mind was whether or not the Singapore side had fielded their best players against us.

While players like Daniel Chan, Jarred Neubronner and Tan Weiliang are among the top 15 active home-grown players in Singapore today, their senior line-up was nowhere near the best they could assemble either.

Despite this, there was about a 100 rating-point gap that separated the two senior sides. With the strength of their senior side far out-weighing ours, it wasn’t any surprise that we lost out on these boards. We were not good enough, period.

But at least, we redeemed ourselves with far better results in the age-group encounters. It’s almost impossible to determine for sure which side was the stronger on paper as many of the players were young and without official ratings. Nevertheless, based on the results, we were better in the age groups.

However, one thing became clear, looking deeper at the results. Regardless of whether we talk about Singapore or Malaysia, the future of the game will always have to come through from the younger ranks. We shall have to continue nurturing and training them from small. There is no other way for succession planning.

The important question that needs to be asked is how well are we moving forward today? What is the big picture? Are we focused or are we simply moving aimlessly? How are our young chess players here being trained? If you ask me, I’d say the road ahead is bumpy. The journey is not going smoothly. Not at all.

In November, we lost our one and only big-name foreign chess trainer. Bangladeshi grandmaster, Ziaur Rahman, has ended his stay here in Kuala Lumpur and returned to his home country. He was on contract for a year but he asked to be released early.

From what I heard, it was an amicable separation for both him and his private chess employers. And since his departure, all that we have left are the same old local chess coaches. We continue to be so dependent on them to impart chess knowledge to the young.

In the last decade or so, chess coaching clinics have sprung up in the bigger chess centres around the Klang Valley and elsewhere in the country but sad to say, coaching techniques and quality are far from consistent.

So how can we determine whether one coach is better than another? Just because a local coach may have been successful as a player does not necessarily mean that they are competent enough to teach.

On the other hand, a local coach who is just an average-level player can turn out to be a good teacher who inspires his students. I suppose, at the end of the day, the only measure of a coach in Malaysia is his track record, that is, how successful his students are when they play competitively.

From my point of view, it looks unlikely that anyone will be bringing in more foreign chess coaches anytime soon. Malaysia is spread too wide as a country, compared to a compact place like Singapore, and there is not enough spending power to support the presence of foreign coaches. It’s the vicious law of supply and demand.

To my mind, Ziaur Rahman was under-utilised during his short stay here. But for better coordination with all the state chess associations, more could have been achieved with him. But then also, chess exists in this country as a result of parents and volunteers pitching in their time and money for the game. The state chess associations are not exactly rich, so that leaves the parents to fork out the dough.

When I was in Singapore a fortnight ago, I noticed that there are quite a number of foreign trainers – players with acceptable credentials – around to provide chess tuition to the children there. Fees are not cheap, but the parents are prepared to pay good money to make their children play better than the next kid.

One parent there claimed to have spent S$20,000 over the years on foreign chess trainers for her children. Are our parents here capable of spending RM20,000 on their children’s chess and, if so, how many such parents are there?

(Unfortunately, spending so much also puts the children under immense parental pressure to perform well in competitions; not all children can deal with it. However, this is not a topic I want to raise here.)

Nevertheless, to answer my own question, I doubt there are many parents in Malaysia who are able to spend that amount of money on foreign chess tutors. And without these parents spending on foreign coaches, all we have left are the local ones. How far they can bring their students forward will depend on their local expertise. No more and no less.

At the end of the day, some will say that we get what we pay for. We reap what we sow. I suppose it’s true, after all.

source: The star Online

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Malaysia wins Singapore-Malaysia Chess Challenge


It was a neck-and-neck race at the recent Singapore-Malaysia Chess Challenge 2010.

SO what did you do at the turn of the decade? Me, I went to Singapore. I went there not so much as to watch the fireworks display at Marina Bay but to participate in the latest annual match between Malaysia and our neighbours down south, the 21st in a series that goes back to 1985.

With the Singapore Chess Federation being the hosts this time around, a contingent of about 50 people, comprising players and accompanying officials, travelled there bent on reversing the fortunes of the past few years.

It’s to be noted that in February 2010, when the last encounter was played in Kuala Lumpur, we had lost out to the Singapore team by the narrowest of margins: 76½ points to them and 75½ points to us.

What made it heartbreaking last year was that we as the hosts had taken the lead from the first two rounds of games played at normal time controls, only to see the visitors winning the other two rounds, which adopted rapidchess time controls, and thus overhauling us in the process.

Let’s shake on this: Friends and rivals across the table battle for the Datuk Tan Kim Yeow trophy.

This time around in Singapore, the situation was the reverse.

After the first day of normal time control games, we found ourselves down by an unenviable seven points. The first round in the morning had landed us in negative territory. We had tripped ourselves up. From the 38 games played in this round, we scored only 15½ points compared to the Singaporeans’ 22½ points.

Luckily, the situation stabilised in the afternoon. Here, both sides were unable to find the advantage and the results were split right down the table with the Malaysians and Singaporeans scoring 19 points each. So, collectively at the end of the first day’s games, Singapore were leading us 41½ points to 34½ points.

If you were to suggest that the Malaysians were depressed, that would be an understatement. Not only were they depressed, they were openly asking what it would take to beat the Singaporeans at chess. Seven points was a big margin and an extraordinary effort, coupled with a large dose of luck, would be needed to overturn it.

Nevertheless, it could still be done. Someone mentioned that if ever we needed the luck of the Malaysian football team, this would be the time. If the courage of the plucky footballers can be emulated on the chessboard, of course there was a chance for the chess players to overcome the seven points of deficit. It wasn’t insurmountable.

And so it proved not to be insurmountable. The second day’s matches would be played with rapidchess time controls and here, the Malaysians found back their own self-belief.

Slowly, the seven-point gap was being narrowed. At one stage, the two teams were running neck-and-neck. But eventually, the Malaysians collected 24 points from this third round and the Singaporeans 14 points. At the end of the morning’s third round, the Malaysians suddenly found themselves leading by a narrow three points.

The sudden reversal of fortune caused nerves to set in: nerves that obviously affected not only the Malaysians but the Singaporeans as well. Everything would now boil down to the fourth round. The last 38 games would be crucial.

The Singaporeans, smarting from being dismantled in the third round, were looking not only to win the fourth round but by a big margin as well. As for the Malaysians, they were hoping that the same winning momentum would carry them through till the end of the last game. Whatever, I knew that the match would be very, very close.

And it was! Singapore threw everything at the Malaysians but perhaps because of nerves, maybe they couldn’t find the killer touches. Anyhow, the Malaysians built up a wall and stood firm behind it, despite their own nervousness, too. Eventually, this round finished tied with both sides scoring 19 points.

Overall, the Malaysian team had collected 77½ points to the Singaporeans’ 74½ points. A modest three-point spread, you may say, but it was a fortunate result for us and an unfortunate loss for them. But that’s how chess is like.

So that’s how the year started with a chess win. For this year at least, the Datuk Tan Kim Yeow trophy is finally back in Malaysia’s hands.

Here’s a little trivia to end this week’s story. As I travelled back to Kuala Lumpur by train from Singapore’s Tanjung Pagar station, having purposely chosen this mode of transportation for nostalgia reasons as KTM would soon cease running their trains right through the middle of Singapore, I noticed a lady was still reading last week’s story about Hou Yifan winning the women’s world championship match in Turkey. Suddenly, she pointed to the picture of 16-year-old Hou and blurted out quite loudly to her husband: “Wah, so young, ah!”

I guess in a way, this reaction also pays tribute to the youth in the Malaysian team. Of the 38 games in each round, at least 30 of our players were below the age of 18. Once again, they are proving to be the backbone and the future of Malaysian chess. If not for their determined effort in Singapore, I really doubt that we could have won back the Datuk Tan Kim Yeow trophy.

Meanwhile, here are some of the games from the women’s world championship match between Hou Yifan and Ruan Lufei. Do enjoy them.

Hou Yifan - Ruan Lufei, Game One

1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. f3 dxe4 4. fxe4 e5 5. Nf3 Bg4 6. Bc4 Nd7 7. c3 b5 8. Bd3 Ngf6 9. O-O Bd6 10. Bg5 O-O 11. Nbd2 h6 12. Bh4 Qc7 13. Qc2 Nh5 14. h3 Be6 15. Rae1 Nf4 16. Bg3 Nxd3 17. Qxd3 Rad8 18. Bf2 a6 19. Nh4 Nb6 20. b3 Rfe8 21. Qf3 b4 22. Rc1 bxc3 23. Qxc3 exd4 24. Bxd4 c5 25. Bxg7 Bf4 26. Nhf3 Rxd2 27. Nxd2 Bxd2 28. Qxd2 Kxg7 29. Qc3+ Kh7 30. Qxc5 Qxc5+ 31. Rxc5 Ra8 32. Ra5 Nc8 33. Rc1 Nd6 34. e5 Nf5 35. Kf2 h5 36. Rc2 Nd4 37. Rd2 Nc6 38. Rc5 Ne7 39. b4 Kg6 40. a3 Kf5 41. Ke3 Rg8 42. Ra5 Rg3+ 43. Kf2 Rb3 44. Rxa6 Nd5 45. Ra5 Ne3 46. Rc5 Nc4 47. Rc2 Nxa3 48. R2c3 Rb2+ 49. Kg3 Nb1 50. Rf3+ Kg5 51. h4+ Kg6 52. Rc7 Kg7 53. Rf6 Kg8 54. Rf4 Rb3+ 55. Kh2 Rb2 56. Rc5 Na3 57. Rc3 Nb5 58. Rg3+ Kf8 59. Rg5 Nc7 60. Rxh5 Nd5 61. Re4 Kg7 62. Rg5+ Kh7 63. Rc4 Rb3 64. Rg3 Rb2 65. Rg5 Rb3 66. Rd4 Nxb4 67. Rg3 Rb2 68. Rc3 Nd5 69. Rcd3 Ne7 70. Rd2 Rb5 71. Re2 Ng6 72. Rde4 Bf5 73. e6 Bxe6 ½-½

Ruan Lufei - Hou Yifan, Game Two

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 d6 6. Be2 Be7 7. O-O Nc6 8. Be3 O-O 9. f4 e5 10. Nxc6 bxc6 11. Kh1 exf4 12. Bxf4 Be6 13. Bf3 Qb8 14. b3 Qb4 15. Qe1 a5 16. Rd1 Rfe8 17. e5 dxe5 18. Bxe5 Rac8 19. Qg3 g6 20. Na4 Nd5 21. Bxd5 cxd5 22. Bc3 Qg4 23. Qxg4 Bxg4 24. Rxd5 Bb4 25. Bxb4 axb4 26. Rd2 Bf5 27. Kg1 Rxc2 28. Rxc2 Bxc2 29. Kf2 Bd3 30. Re1 Rc8 31. Ke3 Bb5 32. Rd1 Re8+ 33. Kf4 Re2 34. g4 Bxa4 35. bxa4 Rxa2 36. Rd4 Rxa4 37. h4 Kf8 38. Re4 f6 39. Rc4 Ke7 40. Rd4 Ke6 41. Ke4 Ke7 42. Kf4 h6 43. h5 gxh5 44. gxh5 Kf7 45. Re4 Kf8 46. Kg4 f5+ 47. Kxf5 Ra5+ 48. Kg6 Ra6+ 49. Kh7 Rb6 50. Rf4+ Ke7 51. Rf1 b3 52. Kg7 b2 53. Rb1 Ke6 54. Kxh6 Kf5+ 55. Kg7 Kg5 56. Kf7 Kxh5 57. Ke7 Kg4 58. Kd7 Kf3 59. Kc7 Rb3 0-1

Hou Yifan - Ruan Lufei, Game Three

1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Nd7 5. Ng5 Ngf6 6. Bd3 g6 7. N1f3 Bg7 8. O-O O-O 9. Qe2 h6 10. Ne4 Nxe4 11. Qxe4 c5 12. Bc4 e6 13. Be3 Nf6 14. Qd3 Ng4 15. dxc5 Qc7 16. Rad1 Nxe3 17. Qxe3 b6 18. Nd2 Qxc5 19. Qxc5 bxc5 20. c3 Bb7 21. Nb3 Rfc8 22. Na5 Rc7 23. Nxb7 Rxb7 24. Rd2 Rab8 25. Bb3 a5 26. Rc1 a4 27. Bxa4 Rxb2 28. Rxb2 Rxb2 29. Bd1 Rxa2 30. g3 Ra3 31. c4 Bd4 32. Kg2 Ra2 33. Rc2 Ra1 34. Bf3 Kf8 35. h4 Ke7 36. Bc6 g5 37. hxg5 hxg5 38. g4 Ra3 39. Be4 Kd6 40. Re2 Kc7 41. Bh7 e5 42. Be4 Kb6 43. Rd2 Ka5 44. Bd5 f6 45. Kf1 Kb4 46. Ke2 e4 47. Rc2 e3 48. fxe3 Rxe3+ 49. Kd1 Rg3 50. Rg2 Rh3 51. Re2 Kc3 52. Rd2 Rh4 53. Rg2 Kd3 54. Rd2+ Ke3 55. Re2+ Kf4 56. Re4+ Kg3 57. Be6 Rh8 58. Kd2 Re8 59. Kd3 Rxe6 60. Rxe6 Kxg4 61. Re4+ Kf5 62. Re1 g4 63. Rf1+ Ke5 64. Re1+ Kd6 65. Ke4 Bf2 66. Rd1+ Ke6 67. Rd5 g3 68. Kf3 f5 69. Kg2 Kf6 70. Kf3 Kg5 71. Re5 Kg6 72. Rd5 Kf6 73. Kg2 Ke6 74. Kf3 f4 75. Kg2 Be3 ½-½

Ruan Lufei - Hou Yifan, Game Four

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 d6 6. g4 h6 7. h4 Nc6 8. Rg1 d5 9. exd5 Nxd5 10. Nxd5 Qxd5 11. Bg2 Qe5+ 12. Be3 Qh2 13. f4 Bd7 14. Qd2 Nxd4 15. O-O-O Bc5 16. Bxd4 Bxd4 17. Qxd4 O-O-O 18. Qc4+ Kb8 19. Qe4 Bc8 20. h5 Ka8 21. a4 Rd5 22. Rdf1 Qh4 23. Qc4 Rd7 24. a5 Qd8 25. a6 Qa5 26. Kb1 Kb8 27. axb7 Bxb7 28. Bxb7 Rxb7 29. Qd4 Ka8 30. Rf3 Rhb8 31. b3 f6 32. Rd1 Qb4 33. Qe3 Rb6 34. Rd4 Qe7 35. Qd3 R6b7 36. Re3 Re8 37. Rd6 e5 38. fxe5 fxe5 39. Re4 Qc7 40. Rd5 Qb8 41. Rc4 Rf8 42. Kb2 Qe8 43. Rdc5 Qe6 44. Qe4 Kb8 45. Rxe5 Qf6 46. Rc6 Qf7 47. Rf5 1-0

source: The Star