Thursday, 18 October 2012

An interview with IM Lim Yee Weng - by Junior Tay

At the Genting Zonal 3.2 in 1995, I was invited by the MCF to play in a FIDE-rated  tournament which was held concurrently. There, I was given a very hard time by 3 kids, Lim Yee Weng, Wong Zi Jing and Ng Yee Vern and very fortunate to scrape a minimal plus  score against the trio. Yee Weng in particular, gave me a very strong impression during the post mortem analysis of our Dragon game, in which he showed his tremendous knowledge of its nuances.  On and off, I would see him in local or Malaysian events but it was only when he moved to Singapore to work as a lawyer (and nearby to the Newton area) this year did we and other old friends spend time in chess and makan sessions.
I felt this is a good time as any to introduce my young 'old' friend (heck, he's only 30...), IM Lim Yee Weng.  And please do spend time going through the instructive games in which he has kindly annotated for us.

How did you pick up chess and when was that?

My childhood friend and relative, Edward (we were both 7 years old then) love playing all sorts of sports and games. One day I chanced upon a chess set in his games closet and he taught me how to play. A few years later when I was 10, my school brought in a chess teacher Mr Seto who was instrumental in my formative years as a chess player. I then started searching for chess tournament to participate in on the newspaper and will tell my parents where they were and asked that they drop me off so I could play. 

Can you recall a specific turning point when you made a quantum leap in your chess?

There are a few phases and turning points in my chess career.

The first was when I was participating in the Malaysian National Age Group (under 12) championships. Going into the last round, I was half a point behind the leaders. This was not unexpected as I wasn’t the best player in my age group at that time. By some sheer coincidence, the leaders all failed to win while I managed to win a game which I was losing against Khor Shihong. I was not expecting anything but was surprised to learn that I was declared the champion on tie-break. This win gave me the opportunity to take on against the best in the World Under 12 Age Group in Hungary. 

The second was when I was participating in the Malaysian National Chess Championship (men) when I was 14 years old. In a dramatic must-win last round game, I dubiously sacrificed 2 pieces for a Rook and 2 pawns against Darren Yong. Somehow with my Queen + Rook, I managed to outplay my opponent’s Queen + 2 Bishops and I became the National Champion. This again gave me the boost in confidence that I can achieve much more.

My standard of play however stagnated. I participated in the Zonals in Myanmar when I was 16 but finished close to last. I was really demoralised and disappointed and felt that I had reached a dead end in my chess career, so I decided to stop playing chess seriously. I decided to give chess another go again when I was 19 and that was when the talented Chan brothers (Nicholas and Marcus) appeared in the Malaysian chess scene. It was great fun going to tournaments with them, playing against them, alongside them as teammates and their presence certainly helped pushed up my standard of play to 2200 – 2300 and I soon started pushing for my IM norms.

Can you name any people responsible for helping you improve? How did they help you? 
Yee Weng and his better half, Evy

My wife. She is incredibly patient, supportive and kind. We started dating while we were in college and she would follow me to tournaments, sit there patiently while I play my games. Sometimes, I would miss classes as I will be away participating in tournaments and when I get back, she would make sure that I am up to speed with my studies. She will also voluntarily take on all the chores and give me all the space and time that I need to devote myself to chess. 

My parents and brothers (elaborated in the answer to the next question).

My friends, for all the support through prayers and encouragement.

God. For teaching me the important lesson of being patient and staying focussed. 

How about family support? Has that made a difference for you?

My parents certainly played a pivotal role in my chess career. Most of my chess excursions were sponsored by my parents and I am very grateful that they gave me the opportunity to pursue my interest.

Any comments on your chess style?
I think that my style of play is quite balanced. Generally, I prefer to be the aggressor and also be the one holding the initiative. 

Who is your favourite chess player and why?
I enjoy watching Carlsen, Aronian and Morozevich’s games as they play fighting chess.

Is there any chess literature or software you will recommend to the aspiring junior who hopes to make the big league?

Books written by Mark Dvoretsky have helped me. As for software, Chessbase is a must for any serious player.  

Yee Weng here demonstrates how his chess thinking has been greatly enhanced by the strategy of prophylaxis, a theme which his favourite author Mark Dvroretsky emphasises in his books.


In Malaysia, your name is synonymous with the Sicilian Dragon. Care to discuss your lifelong dedication to this ultra-sharp opening?

My initial memorable experience with the Sicilian Dragon was against Shihong during the Malaysian National Age Group (under 12). I was getting crushed nicely with some neat tactics before I somehow turned things around. That spurred me to find out more about this fascinating opening and Chris Ward’s “Winning with the Sicilian Dragon” was the book that set me on my way and I even used it in the World Under 12 Age Group in Hungary. My games were so impressive that our Malaysian Under 18 representative decided to try the Sicilian Dragon too as he was having a bad run with Black. His game went like this 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6. Bc4 Nc6 7. Nxc6 bxc6 8. e5 dxe5 [and here he said to me he calculated 9.Qxd8 Kxd8 10. Bxf7 e6 and Black wins the Bishop] but of course that did not happen and he resigned soon after......
Until today, I am still fascinated by this rich opening as there were so many beautiful games, sacrifices and ideas. Seeing Carlsen, Ivanchuk and Nakamura use this opening from time to time also allowed me to keep faith that the opening is still sound.

Here's a Yee Weng Dragon game in which his Rook multitasks as a defender and attacker to outgun Filipino IM Rolando Nolte.

How do you study chess?

Generally, I will do some chess tactics exercises to warm up my ‘engine’, revise my opening preparations and make sure that they are up to date using Chessbase. I also find it useful to just run through some typical endings.

How did you make your IM norms/title?

There is some pinoy connection in my first and third norm as it was a draw against GM Antonio (1st norm) in the SEA Games in 2003 and GM Torre (3rd norm) in the Turin Olympiad in 2006 that enabled me to complete my norm requirements. Even though I completed my norm requirements in 2006, it was tough getting my rating up to 2400 as I did not have the opportunity to participate in many tournaments as I just started my legal career. It was not until 2 years later in the Malaysian Open in 2008 that I managed to hit the 2400 barrier.

What is the most memorable thing that happened to you in chess?

Well, there are 2 events that were just as memorable as each other.

The first was during the Malaysian Open in 2008. I started off slowly, but soon started winning one game after another. Finally in Round 9, I was up against Chinese GM Li Shilong. I knew beforehand that a win would give me the coveted IM title but defeating him would be no easy feat. It started off as a French Tarrasch but somehow transposed into an isolated queen pawn game. The game was very tense and during time trouble my opponent blundered a piece. The feeling when my opponent resigned was simply extraordinary as I had waited such a long time for the day I will become an IM and for a while, I wasn’t sure if I will ever make it. It was really long and agonising wait but I kept telling myself that I need to persevere and continue to do my best and I will definitely get it if I deserved it.  For me, this was an important life lesson on the virtue of being patient.

The second was in the SEA Games in Indonesia in 2011. I moved over to Singapore in May 2011 and my new career kept me occupied all the time that I did not have time to even look at chess. In fact, I was still working from the airport, aeroplane and all the way till I reached my hotel in Indonesia when my boss finally said “Yee Weng, leave the work to us and you should just concentrate on your chess now!”. Well, I actually said to my wife before leaving for Indonesia that winning a medal in SEA Games is one of my dreams but this time, it will be even tougher than before as I did not have time for chess and my teammate Najiha (we were playing in the mixed doubles event) only just finished her final primary school examination. The odds were so heavily stacked against us but somehow there was this calm assurance in every game that I played. 
Yee Weng and Najiha in their critical match against Indonesia

The key moment was our win against the Indonesia team which  out-rated us by a combined FIDE ELO of 700+. 

In our final match, we were up against Myanmar and I could not find a way to effect a break-through against my solid opponent. Therefore, all hopes were pinned on Najiha and after a long see-saw game (which I really could not bear to watch), she finally won and delivered the Bronze medal.  

Well, all I can say is that God was wonderful and I am truly blessed. 
Yee Weng managed another win over GM Susanto later in the year with this effort.

Can you comment on your experience in the Istanbul Olympiad?

Yee Weng at the Istanbul Olympiad

At the start, I was disappointed to learn that IM Mas was not able to make it this time as he has always been our pillar of strength. However, I was also quite pleased with the selection as I felt that it was still a very good team with a fine balance between both youth and experience.

I was very excited to learn that I would lock horns with GM Ivan Sokolov. One of the books which I felt was very instructive was GM Sokolov’s book on his best games so playing the man himself simply felt awesome. Of course I was disappointed not to have at least obtained a draw against Sokolov but playing him (and Mok’s crushing win over GM Loek Van Wely) made me realise that these 2690++ GMs are also human. I suppose this belief helped me when I was playing against the former world junior champion, GM Ahmed Adly. 

However, I started feeling tired mid-way through and 3 bad games in a row killed any aspirations for a GM norm. The problem was that I didn’t pace myself well by preparing too hard before and during the event and soon found myself exhausted. My teammates kindly allowed me a day off to recharge and that did the trick as I didn’t lose any more games subsequently. 

Mok and Zhuo Ren were both having a fantastic run and that was the one key factor that kept everyone in the team going and giving their best as we want to give both of them a chance to come back with a norm. 

A separate point I would like to add here is that I would like to express my sincerest thanks appreciation to Junior for being so kind to arrange for training games and also to Weiliang for setting aside his precious time to work with me on some of my opening preparation for the Chess Olympiad.

 Yee Weng training with Weiliang

What is your ultimate chess aim? 

Well, I do hope to become a GM someday.

And how do you plan on achieving that?

My plan is really simple; take it one step at a time.
Well, my rating was free falling after I became an IM and I carelessly lost 100+ points. I knew that the first thing I had to do was to become a 2300 player again and then try to play at IM level again. I knew it would be challenging as I need to divide my time between family, career and working towards my dream to be a GM. Therefore, there is a need for me to be sensible and practical in my approach which means that I will just have to try to make use of any opportunities given and try to make the best out of it.

But the man of the moment now is Wei Ming. The manner he juggles everything so well is really inspiring and encouraging and I am trying my best to emulate him.

Have you been able to apply anything you learnt from chess to your legal career?
Not specifically. But I think in general, chess teaches you to think and plan in a systematic and orderly manner. That helps a lot not only in my career but in my life in general.

What are your other interests besides chess?

I enjoy both playing and watching sports such as badminton, tennis and soccer (EPL). 

OK! We gotta do these someday! At least we should be able to whup Wei Ming in one of the three...I think! Thanks for setting aside your time for this interview and the heavily annotated games!


We thus end this interview with 2 more exciting games from Yee Weng. 

Yee Weng conducts a sustained controlled buildup leading to an irresistable Kingside assault.

Finally, an intense mess in which Yee Weng had to wend his way past the complications invoked by his opponent.


  1. Beautiful interview!

  2. First of all, thanks Junior and Yee Weng for such an insightful, up close and personal interview, and Wei Ming, for hosting it.

    Two mentions in one article. Awesome :) To be honest, I barely recall that game, but I definitely remember that I was totally bummed out after that loss. I am glad that it turned out to be a memorable game! Last but not least, long live the Dragon! :)

  3. Great interview, Junior!

    All the best Yee Weng in your chess, career and family!

  4. Best interview I've read so far, and thanks Yee Weng, for the kind words. :)

  5. Yes, certainly the best interview thanks to the interviewee :) who managed to give a lot of personal insights of himself.

    Just want to add that Yee Weng was very independent even as a kid. Most chess kids come to tournaments with their parents but Yee Weng always showed up alone (and he was like 11 or 12 years old).

  6. Superb interview. Old memories coming back. Was that the 1994 U-12 National Age-group tourney in Shah Alam you were talking about? It was my first tourney on the national level and I think we played to a draw in the first or second round. It was a Dutch or something right? LOL, I still remembered being unhappy for drawing (me being a cocky kid ma) but little did I know that I was drawing the Champion!

    Anyway, has anyone read the book "Chess Juggler" by James Magner? It deals with the problems we are all going through now; family, career and chess.

    Ronnie Lim

  7. Thanks Anonymous no.1, Shihong, Ilham, Weiming, Jimmy & Ronnie. Well Shihong, I suppose that game was the lucky first break that I needed and somehow it was a Dragon :) Ronnie yes, it was the 1994 Round 2 game and it was a Dutch Stonewall which left me pretty "stoned" after the draw. I suppose "Chess Juggler" is worth a read? Not sure what he says but I suppose Weiming is more than qualified to write a similar piece based on the juggling stunts that he pulls off. Jimmy, parents hovering over me is too much pressure for me. Thanks again Weiming for kindly hosting this.

    Yee Weng

  8. Great Website!!!