A tale of two tournaments

MAY 5 ― In recent years, I have been making regular trips to Australia's Gold Coast and this time around the excuse to visit was an invitation from the Anglican Church Grammar School or Churchie as it is better known.

A couple of years ago, International Master Alex Wohl introduced me to Max Condon who heads the school's chess programme and since then Wohl has been their head coach with considerable success.

Churchie recognises chess as a sport with a multi-level talent development programme with trainers for each level and so unsurprisingly is the current chess champion of Brisbane in the prestigious Great Public Schools (GPS) competition. Their first Australian Junior Champion is old boy Yu Liu.

This year Condon, rescognising the importance of competition, decided it was time for Churchie to take a further step and reintroduce FIDE rated tournaments to Brisbane and Queensland.

Hence the call to help them start the Churchie International (April 29 to May 2, 2016). While it was an educational process for all involved, it all went well and everybody was happy to have been part of history in the making.

Churchie attracted close to 60 players for an event played over a long weekend and on dates when another large tournament was also running. While there were naturally many children taking the opportunity to take part, it was also seriously strong at the top with three International Masters and two FIDE Masters, among them some of Australia's very best.

In the end James Morris, the winner of the Doeberl Cup who had come up from Melbourne, shared the honours with Wohl who impressed all with his ability in the endgame including a fine last round win over top seeded Moulton Ly.

There are many similarities but also significant cultural differences between Malaysia and Australia. Much of this can also be seen in the local chess community but the challenges are exactly the same with both when it comes to ensuring compliance with FIDE tournament regulations!

Churchie is a school that seeks to inculcate specific values in its students and to see Yu Liu, the third place finisher, return to his old school from Sydney where he is at university to support this event was no surprise to anyone.

It was also one of the happiest tournaments I have been privileged to be a part of with children, big and small, and also the adults, all having a great time analysing games, playing blitz and transfer chess in between rounds but also taking advantage of a fantastic school setting.

Several top players commented that they hoped Churchie International would evolve to be a Queensland Open on par with other major international opens in Australia. I believe that this event will certainly take place again next year and maybe even be held more than once a year.

Back home, the Selangor Open which was played on the same dates in Kuala Lumpur attracted 20 internationally titled players including seven international masters but we are talking now of a longstanding event held in MidValley with the financial support of longtime chess patron Datuk Tan Chin Nam.

While we had the usual collection of Filipinos, there has been in recent events increasing numbers of Indonesian participants and sadly it is still only our young No. 2 ranked Yeoh Li Tian who is able to fight them for top honours.

There was great excitement when Dilwen Ding, who has spectacularly shot up to No. 1 ranking thanks to spectacular results in Hungarian tournaments played at the end of each of the last two years, agreed to take part as everyone was keen to see first-hand his improvement from an 1800+ player to 2400+.

But in the Selangor Open, perhaps not to any real surprise, Li Tian and Dilwen effectively played two different tournaments.

Li Tian took the lead at the start and only lost it after being beaten by the eventual champion and while his last round draw was good enough for a very impressive second place and yet another 2400+ level performance, it meant that he was also a half point short of what might have been his final International Master title norm.

Dilwen, in contrast, never got going, losing his first round and then drawing three other Indonesian girls before failing tests against Wong Yinn Long and Nur Nabila Azman Hisham for an 1800 level performance.

I believe the result of the race to become Malaysia's next International Master is now evident.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.