Malaysia’s performance at the World Chess Olympiad

SEPTEMBER 15 — The World Chess Olympiad held in Baku from September 1-14 has just ended and most will agree that this was one of the best Olympiads in recent memory despite the, at times, peculiar security measures in the tournament hall.

There was a rather serious incident involving a member of the English team and an over zealous arbiter which simply highlighted the poor implementation of anti-cheating measures by the World Chess Federation (FIDE).

History was made in what proved to be one of the most competitive Open sections in history with the USA finally winning Gold again after 40 years albeit on tiebreak over Ukraine while Russia once again failed in its challenge.

For Asians, India for a long time led its challenge as defending champions China simply could not spark. But the unprecedented performance of 64-year-old Eugene Torre of the Philippines, who is already a living legend by virtue of being Asia’s first ever grandmaster and a two-time world championship candidate, was the stuff of fairy tales.

Torre came to the Olympiad for a record 23rd appearance and played every game, ending as his country and team’s top scorer with an unbeaten 10 points from nine wins and two draws with a 2800+ rating performance!

Malaysia started ranked 104th and finished 134th, our worst ever performance. This showed up the lie given to justify the Malaysian Chess Federation (MCF) ignoring of their own selection policy which was that the team needed to have several senior players included at the expense of both young players who qualified and young talents who have been consistently beating them.

Of these back-door boys, Mok Tze Ming on top board was outclassed by his opponents, scoring just 2/9 while Mohd Kamal Abdullah on board four had a 4/8 score only because he was kept away from stronger opposition.

The only success was that of the only young player, a twenty-something Sumant Subramaniam on board three who won the Malaysian Masters and selection trial as his performance was good enough for the FIDE Master title and only his inexperience and lack of team support prevented him from making a more serious run at the International Master title.

Of the remaining members, veterans Ng Tse Han on board three and Jimmy Liew on board four played to their level, at about 2200 but they can hardly be part of national teams of the future.

In the Women’s section, after a slow start, China, despite several hiccups, proved to be comfortable winners but more because the other challengers simply cancelled themselves out.

It was, however, a little surprising that as in the Open section, Russia could not put up a challenge and in fact finished fourth and out of the medals. Surprisingly, Poland and big favourite Ukraine took Silver and Bronze respectively.

Among the Asian teams, the Philippines was the early sensation with a series of upsets although it was India, which finally finished fifth, that made more of the running for medals.

The Malaysia girls started slowly but bit by bit crept up the table and had a sensational run which was finally halted in the last round where the team was ranked as high as 13th place and playing in the fourth match on stage! 

Starting ranked 66th but finishing 25th and also declared winners of Group C is proof that a young team selected on merit and whose members (with one exception) have already played three Olympiads each and mostly together since 2010 is the way to go.

Great show, girls!

Some notable individual achievements by young Asians at the Olympiad was International Woman Master Janelle Mae Frayna of the Philippines becoming her country’s first ever Woman Grandmaster and in doing so also satisfied the requirements for the International Master title which was also achieved by International Woman Grandmaster Nguyen Thi Mai Hung of Vietnam, also the current ASEAN Champion.

Malaysia was not left out with national champion Nur Nabila Azman Hisham being awarded the Woman FIDE Master title.

I know I speak for the Malaysian chess community in congratulating our girls but might be one of too few asking them to also now step up their game and start competing for the bigger titles that so many are capable of.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.