Growing importance of the Asean+ Age Group Chess Championships

JUNE 4 — As I write this week’s column, Round Three of the 11th Asian Schools Chess Championships is actually getting underway here at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

This championship, which has 12 categories — six Open and six Girls — caters for the age groups under 7, under 9, under 11, under 13, under 15 and under 17, is the Asia continental version of the World Schools Championships held just two weeks ago in Pattaya, Thailand.

In less than a week, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Asean+ Age Group Chess Championships 2015 will also take place in this exact same location. Singapore may be making history by organising back to back major international youth competitions.

As I said last week, chess in the region owes perhaps more to the Asean+ Age Group Chess Championships which is the flagship event of the Asean Chess Confederation (ACC).

The ACC has organised the event since it was first held in Vung Tau, Vietnam in 2000 with 155 players from seven national chess federations participating.

Today the confederation consists of all 10 Asean member nations and other than their own national championships, the Asean+ Age Group Chess Championships, with under 8, under 10, under 12, under 14, under 16 and under 18 for both Open and Girls, is their most eagerly awaited and best supported international chess competition.  

In 2007 the Asean Age Group Chess Championships officially became Asean+, and players from outside the region, in fact from anywhere else in the world, became eligible to participate.

The time was clearly right as after eight years the best young talent in Asean were now able to compete with their peers from all around the world.

That championship in Pattaya, Thailand, therefore saw 241 players from 13 national chess federations and by 2012 there were as many as 398 playing in the championship held in Hue, Vietnam, and in 2014 Macau was the first non-Asean nation that hosted, and 22 national chess federations took part. 

While the Asean+ Age Groups Chess Championships has never attempted to compete with continental championships such as the Asian Youth Chess Championships, the reality is that even before it went Asean+ it had already exceeded it in popularity and prestige.

Most certainly, countries in the region — the core of Asean and the Far East especially Hong Kong, Macau, Chinese Taipei, and South Korea — prioritise the Asean+ Age Group Chess Championship and other neighbouring countries like Australia and New Zealand, Japan and even China all now have significant representation.

India and Sri Lanka have also now discovered the Asean+ Age Group Chess Championships and for some time now so have Middle East nations like UAE, and Mongolia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. 

Of the many international youth championships, only the Asean+ Age Group Championships supports fully all three formats of the game — Standard, Rapid and Blitz — with medals awarded to the top three finishers in each of the 12 by three or  36 categories, a total of a 108 medals.

There are also team medals based on the combined scores of the top three finishers amongst the country representatives in each category which adds another 108 medals while Seniors are not left out, having two categories of their own, over 55 and over 65, and adding another 12 medals to the mix.

Social night is the Asean+ Age Group Championships’ major non-chess innovation; it is the time for each federation to showcase their players’ other talents through their participation in a friendly competition of song and dance performances held at a dinner party.  

The last time the championship was held in Singapore was 12 years ago and it is perhaps fitting that in a year that they are celebrating 50 years of nation building, Singapore is once again the host.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.