APRIL 14 ― As I write this column, the 16th Bangkok Chess Club Open-Thailand Open Chess Championships has passed the initial stage where the first three rounds were played over two days and the Challengers section has started; altogether there are a record 324 participants.
The curse of the single double round day has had its first major casualty in the third round: second seeded defending champion Nigel Short's upset loss to an unheralded Vietnamese FIDE Master Hoang Son Dang.
Short recently celebrated his 50th birthday with selection to the English team for the World Chess Olympiad to be held in Baku from September 1-16, 2016.
Sadly the dates of the Word Chess Olympiad clash with the Malaysian Chess Festival which will coincide with the school term break from September 8-16, 2016.
Fifth seeded German Jan Gustafsson, who is more of a chess commentator nowadays, has also dropped a little of the pace with a draw with a determined 13-year-old Kalyan Arjun of India but it has been business as usual with top seeded Spanish No. 1 Francisco Vallejo Pons, newcomers Loek Van Wely and Benjamin Bok from Nederlands, and the returning Indian Surja Sekhar Ganguly.
There is a surprisingly large Malaysian contingent in Bangkok this year with no less than 11 in the Open and as always it is Yeoh Li Tian who is right up there among the leaders with 3/3, followed by Zaidan Zulkifli and Wong Yinn Loong also performing to their ranking with 2/3.
I had a choice between being at the Asian Youth Chess Championships held in Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia from April 6-14 or the Bangkok Club Open but at least three Malaysians made it to the land of Genghis Khan.
Unfortunately they are not the best we have although clearly well supported by both the Malaysian Chess Federation (MCF) Secretary and their parents and so after seven rounds, in Open U-12 Kong Ren En is on 2.5/7, in Open U-14 Cheah Kah Hoe is on 1.5/7 and in Girls U-16 Vivien Ngieng is on 2.5/7.
One major Asian Chess Federation (ACF) event ― the Asian Nations Cup ― has ended and India were the surprise winners over the defending champions and favourites China who while sending a good-enough-to-win team were clearly missing a few of their stars and were undone by a fantastic team effort by their main Asian rivals.
The women's championships was, however, a lot more competitive but in the end the China team was just that little more consistent than most. What was shocking was the fancied Indian girls being unable to mount a challenge and indeed finish out the medals while an excellent Kazakstan team was only able to take third place.
Impressive and deserving runners-up was Uzbekistan who welcomed back their top player after a long absence.
Sadly of course, in this prestigious event, only Vietnam among the Asean countries bothered to take part.
It is clearly not a priority for our neighbours Singapore who is focused on the juniors while it seems that at home, MCF not only did not circulate the information but had no interest in organising a team to participate while in Indonesia they have a National Chess Federation President who has completely lost interest and yet refuses to step down.
The absence of former Asian powerhouse Philippines was a little surprising though as National Chess Federation of the Philippines' (NCEP) Abraham Tolentino is also the General Secretary of FIDE and his adviser Casto Abundo Jr the Executive Director of ACF.
Browsing the chat groups and social media posts and after conversations with severaI observers, it would seem that our Filipino friends are mainly lamenting the failure of NCFP while excusing Tolentino and complaining that their grandmasters are one by one forced to leave the Philippines to take up coaching jobs in the USA where they are happy and proving to be making successful careers.
With due respect to this Filipino chess community's sentiment, shouldn't they instead be proud and happy that their best are wanted elsewhere? It is not a failure but a success of NCFP under Prospero Pichay Jr's leadership after he single-handedly revived Philippines chess a decade ago and helped double their grandmasters and build a relationship with the Philippines Sports Commission (PSC) that has provided regular stipends and travel support to national players and teams.
It is, after all, not just in chess that Filipinos find greener pastures overseas!
*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.