Early impressions of the Malaysian Chess Festival 2015

SEPTEMBER 24 ― The Malaysian Chess Festival is well underway at Cititel Mid Valley and so far three events have been completed, starting with the 35th ASTRO Merdeka Rapid Team Championships from September 18-19 with a total of 151 teams ― 104 in the Open Section and 47 in the U-12 Section ― making a total of 704 players from as many as 14 countries just for one event.

To nobody's surprise, it was victory for yet another relatively unheralded Filipino team made up of no titled or even well-known players but whose individual strengths were equal across all four boards. This is perhaps something for others to think about when putting together their challengers next year.

Several tweaks and one major change to this year's event probably even enhanced this: just four players per team and no reserve; increase the number of categories and special prizes to the point that if you did not win something, it was the exception rather than the norm (make the customers happy?), and moving the U-12 teams to their own category,

The conclusion of the ASTRO Merdeka Rapid Teams meant the start of a new event immediately after ― the KCFAP Merdeka Blitz ― and while not exactly a top class field, it was very nice to see 25th seeded Malaysian Jonathan Chua who is a former national champion from Penang coming through to be a convincing winner.

It will be very interesting to see how Jonathan, now a full-time chess trainer, does in the IGB Malaysian Open Championships which started on September 21. 

On September 20, the day after the ASTRO Merdeka Rapid Teams, it was the turn of the Swensen's Age-Group Championships and this short six-round event threw up results amongst our young which largely confirms what is already known about our current talent.

In the U-16 no Malaysian was competing with the Indonesians and Filipinos dominating and in the U-14 while we had a third place finish, it was still much the same.

U-12 was perhaps the most watched as arguably some who will be representative of our chess future were on display and while the long touted Bangladeshi talent took first place it was just on tie-break over a young Malaysian talent he had only drawn with earlier,

When it comes to U-10, even more so U-8 and U-6 (seriously?), there aren't a lot of conclusions one can draw with regards to talent.

Generally I think the organisers have done as well as they could given their many limitations.

The main grouse perhaps is the space as the events have clearly grown beyond the Cititel Ballroom and Function rooms, and while I can relate to and sympathise with our local chess parents and kids' habit of occupying their own little spaces in any available corner, the result was that the corridors and walkways became badly blocked and the resulting noise was a little overwhelming at times.

Of course I understand that for many chess officials from all over the country, it was a chance to be a part of the Malaysian Chess Festival and to also get much-needed exposure to organising a large international event.

Yet the flip side meant that a certain inexperience showed and there were more technical mistakes than usual. This put enormous stress on the main organiser and surprised foreign players here for the first time and not yet used to the generally tolerant and accepting culture at the festival.

With the again-delayed Malaysian Chess Federation elections now expected to be held next month, the many interested parties ― the wannabes and those representing vested interests ― were highly visible at the festival. One simply could not step anywhere in the hotel without coming upon some horse trading session, and some of what was talked about or on offer can only be described as surreal!

Even the newly-elected leadership of the Singapore Chess Federation were in KL to be a part of all this!

Today is the official rest day for the IGB Malaysian Open and the concurrently-held KK Lee Loy Seng Seniors and Malaysian Chess Challenge which ends on September 27 but today sees the KCFAP Lim Chong Memorial organised as a one-day Rapid for those who think they have not had enough chess.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.