Myanmar proves to be good host for international open chess championship

DECEMBER 4 — The GM Zaw Win Lay Memorial Myanmar International Open Chess Championship took place in Yangon from November 23-30, 2014 and was very well received with 128 players representing 17 countries participating.

This included 28 titled players, 10 of whom are Grandmasters.

In 2011 the very first Myanmar International Open took place after many years of limited international engagement, both in chess and as a country, and it has taken another three long years before a second international open could be organised.

In the meantime, the South-East Asian Games took place last year where chess together with its other regional variants were also included as medal sports.

Myanmar Chess Federation President Maung Maung Lwin being interviewed during the tournament. — Picture courtesy of Peter Long
Myanmar Chess Federation President Maung Maung Lwin being interviewed during the tournament. — Picture courtesy of Peter Long

Every event needs to be designed around a series of objectives. For the Myanmar Open 2014, and for Myanmar Chess Federation President Maung Maung Lwin it was firstly to show the authorities that world class players found it attractive to come to Myanmar and play this tournament; secondly, that many other players from many different countries were happy to come to visit as well as to seek prizes, title norms and increase international ratings; thirdly, it would provide exposure and opportunities for their best local players; and fourthly, it was to promote the game amongst their youth by given them the chance to take part and learn the ways of international competition.

There was even a fifth objective added later due to the sudden death of their one and only Grandmaster who had been in ill health, as evidenced by the name change and the donation of entry fees together with additional sponsorship going to the family of the late Zaw Win Lay, a very humble person who burst on the international scene with some stunning performances in 2000 and since then had been a role model for an entire generation of Myanmar players.

With a few sad exceptions (of course no one can please everyone!), the participants fully enjoyed participating as not only were the tournament conditions excellent and the competition good (isn't that the point, to enjoy hard fought games with other strong players?) but Yangon has certainly seen a lot of positive development while to a large extent still managing to keep its traditional and old world charm largely intact especially since the organisers had taken some trouble to locate the tournament in the heart of the city at the Central Hotel on Bagyoke Aung Sang Road, the city's main shopping district.

Our location was surrounded by numerous cafes with the renowned Scott's Market and its hundreds of jewellery, handicraft and garment (also banks and money changers!) a stone's throw away and most major attractions were less than a 10-minute stroll away.

This included the Sule Pagoda and the rest of the city's main administrative and recreational areas on the way to the riverside.

The Shwedagon Pagoda... lovely even though it is shrouded for its annual cleaning. — Picture courtesy of Peter Long
The Shwedagon Pagoda... lovely even though it is shrouded for its annual cleaning. — Picture courtesy of Peter Long

Of course the must-see sight in Yangon is the Shwedagon Pagoda which could be seen from a distance, still unbelievably spectacular and surely one of the wonders of the world even if it is currently undergoing its annual cleaning.

 Many of the foreign participants, including even quite a few of the usually fearful Singaporeans present, made the trip as it was just a short taxi ride away.

To be fair and to balance my previous remark about them, I was impressed that Singapore sent a national team to take part; FM Tin Jingyao has long been identified as their best young talent and he was joined by Tromso Olympiad team mates WIM Gong Qianyun and Lee Qing Aun as well as another very promising young man Ashvin Sivakumar who was the alternate as well as most recent China import Liu Xiangyi. 

Also joining them was Cyrus Low, another young player who was also actually playing for the second time in the Myanmar Open, and two even younger brothers, Sean Christian and Ethan Goh also took part.

In the end, Englishman Nigel Short and Russian Vladimir Belous were declared joint champions when both finished equal on points and the tie-break calculation showed two different results when done manually from the official Swiss Manager computer program!

But it was the three rounds after the rest day that changed everything with the results from rounds seven and eight throwing up upset after upset and until the dust finally settled at the end of the long day it was anyone's guess as to who would eventually emerge the winner.

The third seeded Belous had drawn his games in rounds three, four and five to drop slightly off the leaderboard while Short crashed to a loss in the six round afternoon game of a testing three consecutive days of double rounds against India's M.R. Venkatesh and it looked like the top seeded Sergei Tiviakov's win over journeyman Serbian Grandmaster Stefan Djuric to take sole lead put him in the driving seat.

But the Dutch national team stalwart collapsed in unrecognisable fashion in rounds seven and eight after the rest day to completely drop out of contention, afterward admitting to me that he had not only underestimated his opponents and pushed too hard instead of accepting draws but perhaps the rest day should have not been spent seeing even more of Yangon!

After beating Tiviakov, the unfancied Arun Prasad who had played steadily and well throughout was the leader going into the last round and a draw would have been enough to become champion and he initially looked good in his game against Belous, almost certainly winning at one point but he was also visibly nervous throughout, pacing a great deal at the start and at the critical moment his level of play dropped and the Russian player, as he had done so very resourcefully in so many of his earlier games, took his chance with open hands.

Heartbreaking losses in the last round for the front running Singapore trio of Tin, Gong and Liu ensured that their younger team mate Lee who amassed an impressive tally of five wins and two draws with entertaining tactical games against just two losses leapfroged them to get a share of 12th place as well as the U-14 prize.

Malaysia's two representatives participating on their own found the going tough and so largely played the bottom half of the event; Justin Ong with 4.5/9 and a 50 per cent score finishing 71st while Dilwen Ding, our latest FM as the winner of the recent Asian Schools Championship held in Taiwan and coached here by Russian Grandmaster Alexander Fominyh (who has been working as a chess coach in KL?), had half a point less on 4/9 to finish in 81st position.

The following are the main standings and all the prize winners:

1-2. Short, Belous 7.5/9; 3--7. Nguyen Duc Hoa, Arun Prasad, Venkatesh, Vishnu Prasanna, Tiviakov 7/9; 8-11. Jahongir Vakhidov, Zaw Oo, Fominyh, Djuric 6.5/9; 12-25. Nay Oo Kyaw Tun, Gong, Longsee Uaychai, Myint Han, Wynn Zaw Htun, Lee, Aung Aung Aung Myo Hliang, Zeyar, Htut Htut Than, Saeheng Boonsueb, Kyaw Lin Niang, Tn Tun zaw, Thu Han Soe, Myo Kyaw Hliang 6/9.      

My personal thanks to Maung Maung Lwin for inviting me to Yangon for the second time, this time to serve as Chief Arbiter in a very memorable event.

 * This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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