Malaysian Chess Festival: Ending the year with a bang

SEPTEMBER 17 ― It's finally here! Yes, the long-awaited Malaysian Chess Festival will start tomorrow and go on for 10 days till September 27.

The ASTRO Merdeka Rapid Team Championships will kick everything off  from September 18-19 and so far there are a record 134 teams registered. Next up, there will be the Swensen's Age Group Championships on September 20 boasting six categories from U-16 to U-6, and again there is a record 449 kids already registered.

As always the biggie is the IGB Malaysian Open which, together with the Tan Sri Lee Loy Seng Seniors and the Malaysian Chess Challenge, will be held from September 21 to 27.

These three are also internationally rated tournaments; the IGB Open is of course an internationally titled event and many participants will also be hoping to achieve title norms and some to confirm the grandmaster or international master title.

On the one rest day, September 24, there will be a new event ― the Lim Chong Memorial ― and no doubt there will be a large number of participants still wanting even more chess!

Looking at the start list for the IGB Open, there is a total of 143 players from 19 countries ― an excellent statistic and more so with 80 of them having an international title! Yet there are some less rosy facts that also stand out, the first being only 11 grandmasters present although there are 25 international masters.

So far only one grandmaster is rated 2600+ and then the rating level drops significantly. In fact only the top eight are 2500 (and some barely so) and only the top 22 are rated 2400 and above.

In recent years as China's ambition has grown, we have seen less and less participation from the top ranked Asian chess nation and at the same time India which is arguably the only other major Asian chess power is being represented at the Malaysian Chess Festival by increasingly second- and third-tier players.

Of course the Filipinos are in full force;  they have 23 representatives to Malaysia's 28 but perhaps surprising is Indonesia with 31 while India has 21 and the final large group of 13 is from Australia.

The local challenge is led by our highest rated player, Nicholas Chan, who is seeded 30th at 2372 and young Yeoh Li Tian who has dominated local chess in the last two years and is seeded 35th at 2356. It is hoped that at least one of them will finally get a long-awaited international master title norm.

With so many up and coming and also experienced players rated between 2350 and 2450, the IGB Open will be a strong event for many and to make up for the lack of truly top players is the participation of many young well-regarded talents.

From Australia Max Illingworth and Moulthun Ly are both looking to become grandmasters but all eyes will be on young Anton Smirnov who is seen as the future of chess Down Under and their only potential world beater. Indonesia's Sean Winshand Cuhendi has proven in the last year he can mix it with grandmasters while Filipino Haridas Pascua too is gunning for the grandmaster title.

India also has two big names to look out for and they are both women; national champion and Olympiad Gold medalist Padmini Rout is joined by a mainstay of their national team, fellow international master Eesha Karavade.

Attention should also be given to the performances of our best young players even if much lower ranked at 1900-2100 level and realistically out to get experience. These are the  Penang trio of Wong Yinn Long, Ooi Zhi Yang, and Tan Jun Ying and KL's Lye Lik Zang and Ng Jen Sheng even if the latter have had less than stellar results recently in international youth competitions.

See you at the Malaysian Chess Festival!

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.