SEPTEMBER 11 — Now in its 11th year, the Malaysian Chess Festival has grown to become arguably the region's most anticipated event with no less than five distinct competitions which offer a little something for each and every chess player.
Kicking everything off tomorrow is the enormously popular ASTRO Rapid Team Championship with no less than 120 teams participating and there would have easily been many more if there was space in the ballroom of the Cititel Mid Vallley hotel where once again everything will take place.
Immediately after, on Sunday September 14, there will be the Swensen's Age Group Championship where kids from all over Malaysia, no less than 450 of them, will fight for honours.
Then of course will be the main event, the IGB Malaysian Open from September 15-21, an internationally titled and rated tournament with 144 players from 18 countries, again a record number.
Held concurrently for the veterans and the amateurs, respectively, will be the Tan Sri Lee Loy Seniors and the Malaysia Chess Challenge, the latter having 101 local enthusiasts taking part.
So we have our five events over 10 days, and congratulations are in order for long-time organiser Hamid Majid who will give equal credit to both the attractiveness of Malaysia and the passion for chess of prime mover Datuk Tan Chin Nam.
Traditionally players from China, when they are able to attend, have dominated the Malaysian Open. The inaugural winner in 2004 was Ni Hua who, having moved aside for younger players, was surprisingly recalled to national team duty, perhaps to add crucial experience to a young China team that took Gold for the first time at the recent World Chess Olympiad in Tromso!
Next up was perhaps the most comprehensive winner in Wang Hao in 2005 and then Li Chao became a two-time winner in 2007 and 2008 while in 2011 unheralded Li Shilong took the honours.
In 2013, Xiu Deshun was the winner and is the defending champion.
What is the secret of China's success?
Perhaps Li Chao put it best in an interview when asked why he was so good: "I don’t know why I have a high rating and good results, probably I should thank my mother. Every day she brought me to chess school to study chess even though it wasn’t easy for me to study every day.
"Probably also we have so many people in China that we have to compete hard amongst ourselves. That is our characteristic, our signature. I was also lucky to be able to achieve success in my career because I had trainers who gave me positive support."
But this year, for "non-chess" reasons, the Chinese will not be coming even if the top seed at the Malaysian Open will be a former No. 1 — Zhang Zhong, who now represents Singapore.
His challengers will be main Grandmasters from ASEAN countries while the locals will be largely fighting it out with the many Filipinos and Indonesians playing.
Malaysian hopes will be with No. 1 ranked FIDE Masters Nicholas Chan and Lim Zhou Ren together with Penang-based National Masters Jonathan Chuah and Marcus Chan.
Playing the endgame well at the Malaysian Open (and in fact any tournament) is going to be a make or break factor — especially now that time controls are to the death without adjourned games — and to warm up (and warn) the participants, I will share some mistakes made by Grandmasters taken from the excellent book Modern Endgame Practice!
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.