A look at chess happenings in the region

MARCH 26 — There has been a great deal going on recently in chess — both national and regional — with much more to come in the next few months.

Locally, the National Championship has ended with Yeoh Li Tian as expected emerging an easy winner, in fact winning the event with a round to spare as as he pointed out on Facebook; a repeat of what he accomplished at the Malaysian Masters last year!

Immediately after was the National Age Groups which was quite horribly organised with the first round starting very late and the second round only getting underway late in the afternoon. 

This, I dare say is the consequence of the way the World Chess Federation (FIDE) has devalued and passed out titles for favours (and votes), resulting in all sorts of people having arbiter titles without being able to do the job.

No big surprises although some favourites fell short on tie-break, something that could easily be avoided if the people who ran Malaysian chess understood a little more about chess or even sport in general because clear winners are demanded for the sport to flourish.

Vietnam's Le Quang Liem is the winner of the HD Bank Cup.
Vietnam's Le Quang Liem is the winner of the HD Bank Cup.

Of course we have the Women’s World Chess Championship knock-out tournament still going on but with hardly anyone paying attention to this much devalued and arguably pointless event while photos are emerging of the current World Women’s Chess Champion Hou Yifan enjoying herself at the inaugural Hawaii Chess Festival!

Somehow the Malaysian Chess Federation found it fit to organise the National Championship at the same time as the Zonal Championships which is the first step in World Championship qualifying so we had no representatives but I suppose then we could argue the same for some countries that did not feel they had a chance and did not want to make up the numbers..

Well, I suppose if we are going to be mediocre we might as well embrace it fully but I feel sad that young Li Tian has to be happy to dominate locals when he can compete on equal terms with his talented peers in the region as he has proved over the years and again at last year’s Penang Open.

Former China No. 1 Zhang Zhong, Singapore’s head coach of their elite program over a year ago made a study of the best young players in the region to set targets for his players and if I was told right, broadly speaking, he assessed Filipino Paulo Bersamina as not very special but very experienced and Li Tian necessarily as overly dependent on computers. 

Whatever it is, the fact is that Bersamina has by virtue of winning the ASEAN+ Age Groups last year become an IM and he is still merrily going around playing numerous strong international events which can only increase his experience.

Women's world chess champion Hou Yifan playing an exhibition with the Mayor of Hawaii as her partner.
Women's world chess champion Hou Yifan playing an exhibition with the Mayor of Hawaii as her partner.

Singapore, of course, has a huge talent too in Tin Jingyao who is even younger than Li Tian and who is now making International Master (IM) norms and he is being joined by new federation transferee Liu Xangyi from China and together with a few others not quite in the same league but happy to have the exposure now form a Singapore “dream team” being given every opportunity to excel and I would not be surprised if in a few years they would have another GM (Grandmaster).

Yes, as much as I hate it the fact is that Singapore had several IMs before we had our first and also have a homegrown GM in Dr Wong Meng Kong.

With Thailand growing leaps and bounds Malaysia might have to continue to look to tiny Brunei and also heavily undeveloped chess playing Laos and Cambodia to avoid being ranked last in ASEAN.

Let me end here by congratulating Vietnam’s No. 1, Le Quang Liem, a full time university student in the USA who returned home to win the Zonal Championship and the HB Bank Cup International Open ahead of players like Li Chao of China which simply proves talent, hard work and determination is all one needs to succeed.

It is no surprise to anyone who knows him that this soft spoken role model, a former World Blitz Chess Champion, is also the captain and leader of the top ranked all conquering Webster University chess team.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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