Sunday, 31 March 2013

A tribute to the late FM Chia Chee Seng (1955-2013)

Slightly past midnight,  we received a FB message from Osric Mooi, informing us that Chia Chee Seng had left us. He had passed away in his sleep.

Chia Chee Seng (extreme right) with his team members winning the 2007 National Interclub

Chia Chee Seng winning his first Queenstown Open in 1978  (he won it again in 1989).

After Wei Ming won the 2012 National Championships, Chee Seng wrote a comment on this blog, saying that he recalled going to Boon Lay Primary school to teach chess to an intermediate group before proceeding to an advanced group of players. After one to one blitz sessions with Wei Ming, he then realised that Wei Ming would in time become a national champion - which came to fruition...

Chee Seng also wrote about having trained another National Champion. After spending much time with Daniel Chan, he requested to his boss for a change of coach as he felt that Daniel was getting too strong for him to train. That is CS Chia, humble, unassuming, unegoistic and concerned about the welfare of potential masters. What was CS Chia like as a coach? It is best to let his student Daniel elaborate.

Daniel recalled, "I started playing chess when I was eight years old. Mr Chia was my very first coach. He tenaciously built my foundation in chess and without him, I would never have taken such an interest in chess let alone excel in it. He taught me with such passion and love for the game that it served as an inspiration for me. He was a simple man and one of few words, and yet always gave his best. He was always patient, understanding and supportive. I can only wonder how he managed to deal with a playful 8 year old. If you ask me what is the greatest quality of any chess coach? I would say it is one who goes out of his way to give his students the best he can. In this regard, Mr Chia genuinely gave of his all most selflessly. In fact, I could sense that he was quietly pleased the first time that I beat him in a game. Mr Chia devoted most of his lfe to chess. I will remember Mr Chia, a great player, a better teacher".

 Most of us also remember CS Chia as a computer/Internet whiz and more chatty online than face to face. In fact, he was the fastest  Minesweeper game player I've (Jr Tay) ever seen. He was a popular Internet Chess Club Administrator and was also involved in aiding a stroke victim who was incapacitated during an online ICC game - by helping to pass on the message. Eventually, the person was rescued when firemen broke down the door to his house after being notified. CS Chia was also the first Singaporean to set up a website featuring Singapore chess - the CHIACS website, which was basically the forerunner to SCN, this blog and

We spoke much more often on the Internet Chess Servers and one day, I was pleasantly shocked when he suddenly decided to present me a gift with the following message "OK, Given you a free ICC account for a long long time until ICC closes down!".  I really cherished this as IMs and GMs get free ICC accounts. Olimpiu recalls an incident seeing how the officials managing the huge National Interschools event were getting snowed in by the huge volume of work when CS Chia calmly showed up, adroitly manned the computer and cleared the backlog in 15 minutes flat and zipped off  nochalantly without requiring a word of thanks or a pat on the back.

Our last conversation was in December 2010. I greeted him at the arbiter's desk and he suddenly asked me to play in the Singapore Malaysia Challenge match, saying "Since you are here and can play, you should. If I am in the condition to do so, I would too". That was two years ago, when he has already been in poor health for some time.

But play he did three months ago, performing brilliantly  in the National Candidates in January with an excellent win over Tan Weiliang and winning the Bronze medal. Weiming recalled watching the game and was astounded at the speed in which Chee Seng whipped out the moves, even when he was defending against Weiliang's attack. Weiliang mused, "He was still a strong player even in his last days... In our last encounter(at the National Candidates), he defeated me very convincingly 1.5-0.5, and actually deserved to win 2-0".

CS Chia first made a big splash on the local chess scene in 1976, winning the Cairnhill Open, the Kampong Kapor Open and the Queenstown Club Championships. He won Cairnhill again in 1977 and1980, took the Kuo Chuan Open in 1980 and had the best Singaporean result in the 1979 Singapore International Chess Festival. Moving onto the regional circuit, he came in 2nd in the 1980 Penang Open and the Kuala Lumpur Open. In 1983, he caused a stir by beating IM V Ravikumar in the Asian Masters (KL Leg) and earned the IM norm with one round to spare. He first represented Singapore in the Asian Team Championships in 1979 and in the Olympiad in 1982 and 1984.

What's the strongest point of CS Chia's chess? We've asked the masters of our generation to recall.

 NM Lee Wang Sheng noted, "I would say that he's probably the most natural player we had around in the Singapore scene in the 80s and 90s. He had great intuition and played fast, coherently and confidently. He played classical chess like he was playing a rapid game. And even if you were winning against him, you could never tell from his expression until he turned the tables on you".

IMs Terry Toh and Hsu Li Yang also concurred. Said Terry," CS Chia is one of the toughest guy I played as a growing chess player. Full of practical and creative resources to turn around lost games!" Li Yang also indicated that Chee Seng was the most resourceful Singapore player in lost positions, having experienced those feats personally.

In the following game, CS Chia was simply two pawns down against the champion of Indonesia's 1st National Championships, Bachtiar. if you look at the way he played, it seems as if he's not even remotely interested in getting his pawns back!

FM Ong Chong Ghee recalled, "He used to play 1...Nc6 against anything and win a lot, way before either Wei Ming or I played it. In the 1988 Nationals, he beat me easily and proceeded to show me lines I never even considered so much so that FM Wong Foong Yin, in his usual laconic way, said, "Chia saw everything and Ghee saw nothing!" Here is how CS Chia dismantled a strong master with 1...Nc6 efficiently.

CS Chia had never won the National Championships, finishing 2nd to IM Leslie Leow in 1984. However, he was one of the best blitz players in Singapore, having been National Blitz Champion a few times. Recalled Wei Ming "In one National Blitz, he led from start to end, crushed me and was playing GM Wu Shaobin in the final round. Chong Ghee had won his last game to finish half point ahead of the field with Chia-Wu yet to end. Ghee was trying to find out if he had at least tied for 1st, only to realise that CS Chia had crushed Wu to pip him by half point instead. Ignatius Leong then said "I can't believe CS Chia is still winning the National Blitz after so many years! You youngsters should be ashamed of yourselves!"

Super fast, calm under extreme pressure, it is impossible to read what he was thinking over the board as he puts on a game face regardless of the board situation.  He can suddenly hit his opponents with a maelstrom of tactics if they lose a bit of focus and he does it with a calm exterior. Here's a fine example of CS Chia's tactical elan.

Swift, resourceful and creative. That's the style of CS Chia. Here is how he worked out a beautiful concept to overcome Indian IM Manuel Aaron.

Very strong with the initiative, CS Chia can gambit pawns with calm aplomb while setting up ferocious attacks 
CS Chia was also an endgame expert. I recall the SCN days when Olimpiu had put up a video showing how NM Koh Kum Hong won a difficult Rook +  2 pawns vs Rook  pawn endgame. CS Chia emailed to Olimpiu, demonstrating how Kum Hong could have won more efficiently and how his opponent could put up better resistance.

Being well known as a resolute player who eschewed draws and played for wins from all sorts of positions, ironically, Wei Ming recalled an instance of mercy from the master - "There was this National Rapid where I blundered a piece after 15 moves against him in the last round. I  played Bh6, and he went Qh4+, winning my bishop. I was distraught and was kicking myself mentally when he offered a draw and he said he only needed a draw to confirm 2nd place and didn't want to bully me!".

Finally, we bid CS Chia goodbye with a picture of this simple, unassuming chess master who has been integral in Singapore Chess for the past 40 years. Here, NUS showed their appreciation to him for arbitering the event. We hope this article does justice to you, Mr Chiacs!

Saturday, 30 March 2013

TCA 10th Anniversary Mega Open - A tourney like no Goh Wei Ming and Junior Tay

We won't even bother to repeat the accolades already mentioned by NM Olimpiu Urcan in his TCA Mega Open blog entry but it's certainly the grandest and most professional setup we've seen in local chess praxis. The tourney was held in the same Serangoon Gardens Country Club ballroom as the Kasparov Simul and Blitz in 2010 and the organizers certainly worked through many nuances which experienced tournament players greatly appreciate.

Just to name a few- Pencils provided for players to record the results or keep score if they want to, a buffet lunch and free flow of drinks and beverages, the numerous arbiters decked in bright pink for easy identification, tactful and non-abrasive manner of arbitering, especially when players get too caught up in the game or attempted post mortems too excitedly after the game and even a magic show to entertain the kids while the arbiters tote up the prize list. The best part was reserved for the last, as after the prizewinners step off the podium, they were directed to officials who passed the prizemoney to them  in cash immediately!

Even though the zero start was applied in the event, the organizers also did their best to make sure the players reach their seats before they get defaulted. Also, in the later rounds, the organizers saw it fit to partition off the Open section from the U10/12 categories, a gesture which we appreciate too.

Also, when the first round was delayed due to the lengthy explanation of the regulations and club facilities, we surmised that the other rounds would be delayed as well but to our surprise, everything ran extremely efficiently according to schedule like clockwork.

The generous prize fund of $2800 was definitely great news for the local chess fratenity. It's not just about the money but the opportunity for our locals to challenge the super strong foreign contingent of Grandmasters, International Masters and National Masters. We are glad to see our top juniors (and recent medalists in the National Interschools Individuals)  like Heng Zheng Kai, Ashvin Sivakumar, Carwyn Yeo, Cyrus Nisban, Emmanuel Hng, Tin Rui Qi, Lee Qing Aun and  Royce Tan chose to deck it out in the Open Section rather than to remain in the comfort zone of the  U10/U12 categories. Enrolling in the  school of hard-knocks is one of the best ways to improve at chess. to the tournament proper.

The upsets
 Timothy Ling causing the first upset of the event by downing IM Terry Toh

National Junior Squad member Timothy Ling created the first upset after beating IM Terry Toh in Round 1 and drawing Tan Weiliang. Your co-scribe was beaten by Isaac Ethan Soh after the latter nabbed a pawn nicely and showed good technique in reeling home the point. The Wee brothers were the relevation of this event. Elder brother Kelvin  racked up an impressive 5.5/7 with wins over IMs Luis Chiong and Terry Toh though he revealed that the clock beat Terry not his play). Eugene, on the other hand, also did a number on Terry and Olympian Steven Tan, and drew against Luis and Andre Jerome Eng. In the battle of the Stevens, the Singaporean version prevailed over the Pinoy IM.  GM 'Bong' Villamayor incredibly lost 3 games in a row from Round 3 to 5, with IM Luis Chiong, NM Olimpiu Urcan and Joshua Lee being the culprits. Bong's last tournament games were played in 2010 so it seems that the long layoff and constant coaching has taken its toll on the former Zonal and SEA Games champion.

Grandmasterly manners
Even though Bong was a shade of his usual standard, he displayed impeccable manners before, during and after the game. He would rise up from his seat to shake his opponents' hands, and even after he lost, he showed great equanimity in congratulating his opponents for their play. GM Gasanov also took the trouble to go to all the other prize winners in the Open Section to congratulate them earnestly and give a solid handshake.I think this shows that at the top level,  chess professionalism is not only about how well one plays, but also about manners and chess etiquette. 

The race for the $1010
With Bong, Terry and Luis (after losing to Wei Ming) out of the race, Gasanov, Wei Ming and Enrique sprinted off to 4/4 before Wei Ming outlasted Gasanov in the ending and Leonard Reyes stopped Enrique with a draw. FM Dominic Lo, taking a breather from his medical studies, joined the hunt for the title in Round 6 with 4/5  but CM Jarred Neubronner ended his chances.

 Enrique vs Wei Ming - a sudden, abrupt twist in the end  which left the National champion reeling....
Meanwhile Enrique pulled off an incredible swindle (OK, he was at least equal by then) to beat Wei Ming who was virtually inconsolable after the game. Equally outlucked was Tan Weiliang who was on the receiving end of a remarkable Steven Yap swindle.

 In the final round, IM Steven Yap and IM Enrique Paciencia were playing for the top spot as 6 or 6.5 points meant one of them could be the ultimate winners. However, they fought all the way to a standstill and this allowed Goh Wei Ming to clinch the title on tiebreak with the grittiest of bulldoggerish defending against a rampant Jarred Neubronner.

So the top honours go to Wei Ming, Enrique (who showed a return to form after an indifferent 2012) and Steven Yap, Nelson Mariano III and Kelvin Wee.  Joshua Lee pulled off an incredible performance and played 500 points above his rating to make the prize list after a final round win over Dominic.

The top 10 prizewinners in the Open section (sans Enrique who had a prior engagement) - Picture swiped from Wei Ming's facebook.

There was also the odd attempted gamesmanship - An experienced tournament player was facing a master and a few moves into the game, the former suddenly tried a mind game trick by querying the latter in an accusatory tone - "Why aren't you recording the moves?" The master laconically replied "You record lor..., I only record games against masters". the master won handily.

Final results of the Open Section.
Final results of the U12 Section.
Final Results of the U10 Section

Games Section

First - the slayers of the Goliaths.

Kelvin Wee wormed his way out of a Sicilian Najdorf squeeze to overcome IM Luis Chiong in the endgame. (Game annotations by Kelvin)

Before the tourney, Olimpiu Urcan told us he was going to start flinging flank pawns in the opening and our advice was for him to take it easy. What if his students see him playing such travesty....but did he listen? Watch the following game annotated by Olimpiu.

Next up, a couple of miniatures by the Ah Pek.

Aspiring players, take heart that ELO 2000+ players can miss one movers and get mated. Don't believe?

Let's see how tough it is to make 1010 bucks. Game annotations by Wei Ming and notes by Jr.
Finally, the best game of the tourney, as attested by spectators of this barnstormer of an attack. Thanks to Olimpiu for annotating this!

Saturday, 23 March 2013

The Fernandezes in action by Junior Tay

Michael Fernandez improved on his equal 3rd position in the Chester Open to finish equal 2nd in the Buxton Open where he once again finished unbeaten to make a 3.5/5 result (inclusive of 1 bye) and another 16 ELO points. It wasn't all that easy, actually, as Michael had to defend with his life against the dangerous Mike Surtee's King's Gambit in the final round. Michael even had to give up his Queen for 2 minor pieces to ward off the attack and it took him 77 moves to attain the draw.  His elder brother IM Daniel Fernandez indicated that Michael's Round 2 win is quite nice.

               Two days ago, Michael and Daniel represented their home club, Marple in the Manchester Reiner Trophy Team event. Their team made it to the semis where their challenge came to a halt, losing 4-3 to the 3Cs, despite both Michael and Daniel winning their games. Here's how Daniel accounted for his 2212 rated opponent.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Picket Fencers and Multi-champions by Junior Tay

In the recently concluded National Schools Individuals, I found it interesting that in the Boys'(aka Open) section, there were 6 players who won the titles with a perfect 7/7 score (FM Tin Jingyao in the Junior Open, Joel Ong  in the Open U8, Cyrus Nisban in the Open U9, Alfred Chua in the Open U10, Cyrus Low in the Open U11, Calvin Ong in the Open U15) while in the Girls' Sections, only Sunshine Kong (Girls U9) and Steffi Lim (Girls U11) attained the same feat. Of course, this in no way indicate that the girls have less fighting spirit and are more likely to take draws.  In fact, there were plenty of hard fought games among the girls. Check out the following remarkable results:

Steffi Lim (Northland Primary) - 1st in Girls U11, 1st in Girls U13 and 5th in Girls U12.
Tin Ruiqi (Nanyang Primary) - 1st in Girls U12, 2nd in Girls U13, 3rd in Girls U11.
That's a gruelling 21 games over 3 days and both of them went back with 3 trophies.Quite a cool way to end the March Holidays....

Calvin Ong of Hwa Chong Institution, the runaway winner of the Open U15 championships sent us some games from his event (upon request).

First up, Calvin's win over top seed Isaac Ethan Soh (ACS Independent)  who eventually finished 2nd.

    Finally, a miniature with ye ole Grecian Gift....

Monday, 18 March 2013

Learning from the kid - by Junior Tay

I followed the GM Hou Yifan's simul game against FM Tin Jingyao online with great interest as the game was a g3 Vienna game line that I had read about in New In Chess Yearbook 101 which Israelite GM Alexander Finkel had analysed. However, what Finkel did not explain is why White had to weaken his Kingside with g3-g4 just to get a reasonable game (see the Hou - Tin game below).  Well, Jingyao saved me the trouble of working it out myself.                  Now, so having learnt from the 'Crouching Tiger' how to handle the position, it's time to apply and what better way than to go online and try it out? Anyway, in local praxis, hardly anyone today plays the Vienna game, let alone the g3 variation. Just 3 days after the Hou YF simul, I managed to play Jingyao's line and was rewarded with the same type of attacking possibilities.           And just 10 days ago, I once again got a g3 Vienna and well, deja vu.           Anyway, the message I'm driving at is that during a tourney, it's good to watch and learn from others, you might pick up one or two useful things. The most rewarding example I know of is IM Hsu Li Yang who after coming back from the super strong Oakham Junior 1992 event (with the likes of Shirov, Kramnik, Bologan, Akopian, Tiviakov, Svidler, Rublevsky and Adams taking part), he picked up at least two lines from GM Akopian in the English Reversed Sicilian and the French Rubinstein. In fact, he even managed to win a parallel game (which Akopian had destroyed Andrew Webster with) against a 2500 IM in the First Saturday IM event later that year, helping him to gain an IM norm.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Singapore chess - a pragmatic view of standards by Junior Tay

I had started playing chess in 1986 and when I heard of the 1987 Asian Teams Championships was to be held in Hotel Miramar, I practically went down every day to watch the event unfold and to root for our players. It was fantastic as spectators could watch the matches from less than one metre away from the playing area. Chess players whom I had played with or encountered in the 1986 National Youth Championships were actually participating!

 I distinctively remembered how IM Tan Lian Ann applied a concept I had just learnt from Batsford books, overprotecting the e5 pawn and thus jamming the lines of communication between GM Ardiansyah's kingside and Queenside. Also how Jeremy Lim and IM Ye Rongguang blitzed frantically in the latter's time trouble with Singapore giving China a hard time. When the Singaporeans won both games, I was really feeling very proud of my countrymen. I mean, these were the top guns in Asia and we were taking them out! I remember being perplexed at the way Derrick Heng developed 1.e4 2.Nf3 3.c3 4.Bd3!? against Uetani's Sicilian Defence. Isn't this like beginner's chess and that's our National champion playing White and he won! Also, how Lee Wang Sheng forgot to exchange his Bogo Indian bishop on d2, and had to struggle the whole game after his opponent made use of the tempo to play Bf4. What made the whole experience even more enriching was the great performance of the Singapore A team, finishing in 3rd position for the team bronze. Also, Mark Lim, who had advised and encouraged me after crushing me in my first event-National Youth 86, was in stunning form, emerging with the 2nd  best overall result in the event.

Here we had the Singapore Team holding its own against Asia's best. Little did I realise back then that this was the best result we have ever attained in the Asian form of the World Chess Olympiad. Any local chess player of my generation would have read about how Tan Lian Ann fought the great Efim Geller from the Black side of the Centre Counter and only missed the draw in the endgame. Or how he beat the World No 12, GM Vlastimir Hort in the 1970 Siegen Oympiad and Wong Meng Kong's besting the English No 2 and World No 14, World Championship Candidate Jonathan Speelman. Now, impressive these feats may be, they represent the highlights in the players' career, not a trend that our players perform on a regular basis. Of course, it would take something very special to beat the world's best. So how good are we, really at chess?

Of late, I had the time and access to chess archives dating back to the 60s and after much digging and updating, my conclusion is that we were never 'world-class' players. In our heydays, we were 'asian-class', although there were sporadic flashes of brilliance, which as I indicated are not representative of top players. It's a given that we're of 'South East Asian' class, with Jason Goh's SEA Games Silver and Goh Wei Ming's bronze settling the issue. I would like to quantify that the results I will be listing are medal winning performances (1st to 3rd) in World and Asian chess meets recognised by FIDE.

It is highly likely that a player who has finished in the top 10 in the World Juniors or World Youth (eg. Tan Lian Ann, Leslie Leow, Alphonsus Chia, Hsu Li Yang, Wong Meng Kong, Terry Toh and Jason Goh) might be considered a better performer than an Asian Junior medalist  However, I am sticking to the acknowledged sporting convention of acknowledging achievement based on the Gold, Silver and Bronze medal standards as a yardstick. Going off tangent - I have recently read in this article how Bronze Medal Winners might be happier than Silver medalists in sporting competition.

OK...Here goes.

Firstly, I'll list the prize winners (Board Prize and Overall Team)  in the Asian Teams Championships. Now, just like in any Swiss system event, the eventual prize winners might not even figure among the top 3 performance rating-wise. This normally happens when a middling or under performing team has one star performer who does not have to face the toughest opposition, thanks to his team constantly avoiding top teams.  Kasparov had once even noted that the Board Prize winners in a certain Olympiad might have a tough time in a simul conducted by a member of the Soviet Team. From the Dresden Olympiad 2008 onwards, FIDE has since awarded Board Prizes according to Rating performances. This is also the case with the Zaozhuang 2012 Asian Nations event. Another thing to note is that things got considerably harder from 1993 onwards where the extremely strong ex-Soviet states such as Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan could participate since they have become recognised as Asian countries. For example, Hsu Li Yang and Wong Meng Kong had to play world class players such as Vladimirov and Tkachiev respectively in 1999 and 1995 and both nicked draws.

Asian Team Championships
Penang 1974
Bd 1 - Silver - Giam Choo Kwee
Bd 4 - Bronze - Chan Peng Kong
Bd 5 - Bronze - Terence Wong

Singapore 1979
Bd 4 - Gold - Edmund Leow
Bd 6 - Bronze - Wee Khim Him

Dubai 1986
Bd 1- Silver - Lim Hoon Cheng

Singapore 1987  (Bumper Harvest!)
Team Singapore A: Bronze Medal winning team
Members: Tan Lian Ann, Alphonsus Chia, Chan Peng Kong, Derrick Heng, Wong Meng Kong and Winston Williams.

Best overall performance - Silver - Mark Lim
Bd 1- Silver - Wong Foong Yin
Bd 1 Bronze - Tan Lian Ann
Bd 2 - Silver - Alphonsus Chia
Bd 6 - Gold - Mark Lim

Genting Highlands 1989
Bd 6 - Gold - Ong Chong Ghee

Kuala Lumpur  1990
Bd 4 - Gold - Mark Lim

Singapore 1995
Bd 3 - Gold - Hsu Li Yang
Bd 6 - Bronze - Giam Choo Kwee

Zaozhuang China 2012 (Hence renamed Asian Nations)
Bd 2 - Bronze - Goh Wei Ming (also top scorer on Bd 2).

Now we move on to the Asian and World Junior Championships. I have omitted the Asian Schools and World Schools events as a yardstick as I considered them to be substantially weaker events (no offence to the medalists in the event, I hope). GM Wong Meng Kong won the  Asian Junior event in 1979 and Lee Wang Sheng won two medals in the same year. FM Daniel Chan did very well in the Asian Youth in 2007 to finish in a tie for 3rd place (4th on tiebreak). Terence Wong was the only medalist in the World Juniors/Cadets series and that was certainly an incredible result.

Asian Junior Championships 

Sivakasi, India 1979 - Gold  - Wong Meng Kong   (Thanks to IM Jovan Petronic for spotting the error in the venue)

Kerala, India  1990 (actually held in Feb 1991 due to Gulf War)- Silver -Lee Wang Sheng

Dubai 1991 - Bronze - Lee Wang Sheng

World Junior and World Cadets Championships

World Cadets (U18) 1975 - Silver - Terence Wong

The Asian Cities concept was thought up by the Hong Kong Chess Federation in 1979 when they decided that even though there was political tension between Hong Kong and China then, by inviting teams based on cities instead of countries, they can skirt the politics and just play chess. Professor Lim Kok Ann had noted that during the 1st edition in 1979 that had Philippines sent in their top 4 players from Manila instead of IM Cardoso and 3 youngsters and had China not split its Olympiad team between 3 cities, things might have turned out differently. Nevertheless, the event is a FIDE sanctioned team championships featuring top Asian players. Singapore registered a stunning finish to win the event for the first and only time! I will write more about that success in due time.

Asian Cities Team Championships

Hong Kong 1979 – Team Gold - Singapore:
Members: Leslie Leow, Tan Lian Ann, Chan Peng Kong, Alphonsus Chia, Quek Suan Fuan
Board 2 - Gold - Tan Lian Ann

Hong Kong 1985
Board 5 - Gold - Dennis Tan

Dubai 1990
Board 2 - Silver - Teo Kok Siong
Board 3 - Silver - Hsu Li Yang

Dubai 1992
Board 3 - Silver - Tan Chin Hoe

Dubai 1996
Board 3 - Silver - Osric Mooi

Genting Highlands
1998 - Board 2 - Gold - Mark Chan

The World Cities Chess Championships followed the same concept as the Asian Cities except that there are no restrictions geographically. The event survived only 2 editions but a new concept was devised in 2012 with 5 editions pledged till 2020 in UAE. The new edition has the best team in each FIDE zone from the prior Olympiad being eligible to send a team, effectively granting qualification for Russia, Ukraine, USA and Canada. The national teams were labelled as "cities"
Curiously, the only Singaporean medal winner from the World Cities was Ignatius Leong who represented STMK Jakarta instead!

World Cities Team Championships

Jarkata 1997
Board 5 - Silver - Ignatius Leong

The Commonwealth Championships originated in 1951 in Oxford England comprising teams from Commonwealth countries including chess powers like England and India.

Commonwealth Championships

Kuala Lumpur 1992
Top Junior - Ong Chong Ghee

Singapore 2009
Gold -  Enrique Paciencia

Now we come to the World Championships Cycle. Tan Lian Ann twice qualified as Asia's representative to the Interzonals, a feat that Goh Wei Ming, Wong Meng Kong and Wu Shaobin narrowly missed in recent years (though the next stage would have been the World Cup event for them).  Chan Lai Fung, like Lian Ann, made it to the Interzonals but did not compete due to funding issues.  Li Ruofan made the mark and represented Singapore in the World Cup last year where she and American IM Irina Krush fought till the blitz tiebreaks before the latter held off her challenge.

World Championship Cycle.

Asian Zone 10 1972
2nd - Tan Lian Ann (qualified for Interzonals after playoff).

Asian-Pacific Zonal  1975
2nd - Tan Lian Ann (qualified for Interzonals)

Singapore International Women's Tournament (doubling up as an Asian Zonal) 1978
2nd - Chan Lai Fung (qualified for Interzonal)

Asian Zone 3.3 Zonals  2011
1st Li Ruofan (qualified for 2012 World Cup).

Asian Zone 3.3 Zonals 2011 
Equal 2nd - Zhang Zhong

Asian Zone 3.3 Zonals  2006
Equal 3rd - Wong Meng Kong and Wu Shaobin

So do we have a world class player in our midst? Yes we do have a couple (in both senses).  Chinese born GM Zhang Zhong, prior to representing Singapore, won the Silver medal in both the 1996 and 1998 World Junior Championships. He is also the 2005 Asian Champion. Representing Singapore, he won the Bronze medal in the World Mind Sport Rapid event in France (2008). In the 2010 and 2012 Olympiad, helming Board 1, he scored TPRs of 2678 and 2618 respectively. His wife, Li Ruofan is also World No 66 in the Women's ranking and number 16 in Asia.

I am not inclined to analyse the reasons to why we do not produce native world class players nor do I think it is pragmatic or worthwhile to ditch the books or career to go for broke. One notes that in prior interviews, Prof Lim Kok Ann, Tan Lian Ann, Terence Wong,  Leslie Leow and Wong Meng Kong have indicated that they have no wish to go professional and climb the top ranks. Those interested in analysing what it takes for a small nation to achieve chess success might glean something from  NM Olimpiu Urcan's Success and Chess Culture article. As to what it takes for native Singaporeans to achieve that, you might want to look at Li Ruofan's interview here.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Once upon a Brilliancy - by Junior Tay

As I slotted in Howard Chiu's Brilliancy Prize game in the previous post, I was reminded of a 40+ years old game I had annotated some time ago, a Best Game Prize winner from the 1974 Asian Teams Championships in Penang where Singapore had finished a respectable 4th position. Giam Choo Kwee had won the Board 1 Silver medal, Chan Peng Kong, the Board 4 Bronze Medal and Terence Wong the 1st Reserve Bronze Medal. Lim Seng Hoo on Board 2 did not go empty handed though, as he won the Best Game Prize awarded by former World Champion and the then FIDE President Dr Max Euwe.

Awesome eh?

Monday, 11 March 2013

Singaporeans in the thick of action at the 131st Varsity Chess Match 2013 - by Junior Tay

IM Ravindran Shanmugan and CM Howard Chiu represented Oxford in the annual Varsity Chess Match against Cambridge. Despite fielding 2 IMs, 1FM and 1 CM (vs Cambridge's 2 FMs and 1 WFM), Oxford went down 3.5-4.5 and this meant that Cambridge forges ahead 58-53 (20 draws) in the overall score. Ravindran and his opponent FM Rafe Martyn  played into a topical equalising line of the Bd3/h3 Benoni where too many pieces got hoovered off to make any winning attempts relevant.  However, CM Howard Chiu (formerly of Hwa Chong Institution) paid scant respect for his opponent's 181 point ELO advantage by impaling him with the most ferocious Hedgehog I've ever seen. The organizers apparently thought so too, as they awarded the Brilliancy Prize to Howard for his effort. Howard, who is reading Psychology, was pleased with the win as he had not played for quite a while.

Howard in Oxford

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Play-off Poker by Junior Tay

Top finishers in the National Schools Individual Championships will be very familiar with the concept of the Championship playoff, usually comprising of 2 or 4 rapid or blitz matches to decide who walks home with the title. Ties in the National Championships and National Schools Individuals are broken by this method  and I feel it certainly adds to the excitement of the events.

Only once in the history of the National Championships did the event end in a dead heat where 2 players were declared joint winners. In the 1957 Nationals, J.C. Hickey and Tay Kheng Hong (father of ex-national player Watson Tay) topped the field and had to face off in a 4 game playoff. A 2-2 score resulted and both players were declared joint champions. This was both Mr Tay's and Mr Hickey's 2nd National title and Mr Hickey would go on to win the 1958 event as well.

Now, how does one approach the playoff event? The time controls are faster, and the stakes are much higher and naturally, the tension is much more intense. Should one just go ahead and play his typical repertoire and get to the middlegame in familiar ground or should one just throw caution to the win and force the opponent to start thinking on his clock?

I had a look at National Championships playoff games and it seems that the players do take their chances in the opening in their attempts to annex the title of National Champion.

The 2004 Nationals saw Goh Wei Ming down 1-2 to Jason Goh in the play-off when he sneakily punted  the Veresov (1.d4 Nf6 2.Nc3!? d5 3.Bg5) in the final rapid game. I think Wei Ming has played 1.d4 less than 10 times in tournament play and usually goes for the most topical main lines. It didn't exactly worked to a T as Jason got a decent position but later blundered and lost. It took an Armagedon Blitz game which Jason finally prevailed to separate the two.

In 1999, things were even more exciting. NM Koh Kum Hong was leading the field with 7.5/8 and FM Ong Chong Ghee and IM Chan Peng Kong were already in the clubhouse with 7.5/9 awaiting the result of the final game between Steven Tan and Kum Hong. Pushed onto the ropes, Steven decided to offer Kum Hong a draw which basically would clinch the title for the latter. To his surprise, Kum Hong declined and went on to lose the game. In the 3 way playoff between Kum Hong, Peng Kong and Chong Ghee, Kum Hong was a spent force and lost both games, leaving the title decider to the final game between the other two. Due to his superior tournament tiebreak, Peng Kong only needed a draw to claim the title. Peng Kong sprang a huge surprise on Chong Ghee by wheeling out the Caro Kann defence. In the 90s, Peng Kong was well known for his adherence to the Siclian Defence and once in a while, he'll pull up the Alekhine's. He admitted it was a huge gamble as at that time he only had limited knowledge of the Caro. Chong Ghee played, in his own words "like a fish", misplayed the attack and flubbed two pawns. He finally decided to offer Peng Kong the draw and thus with it, the title. Peng Kong revealed that the decision to play the Caro Kann was based on the recommendation of FM Dr Goh Cheng Hong during a golfing session!

1991 and 1992 were also Championship playoff years. GM Wong Meng Kong and NM Lee Wang Sheng contested the playoff in 1991 and after the first 3 games failed to separate the two, Meng Kong decided to skip the opening theory and play a Rossolimo, Larsen opening hodgepodge line and develop sensibly. Although Wang Sheng did not lose ground in the opening, it proved to be a great practical choice as the younger contestant made a rash Kingside pawn rush which lost an important pawn. Meng Kong's relentless technique put an end to the contest.
The following year saw an even more nervy playoff. 10 time National Champion IM Tan Lian Ann (so Wei Ming, you got 5 more to go just to match up) was pitted against IM Hsu Li Yang. In the first game, Li Yang had was a clean pawn up when he outcombined himself by missing a critical check. Instead he lost the exchange and Lian Ann had no problems converting the win. In Game 2, Lian Ann sprang the first surprise by going for the Grunfeld instead of his trusty Nimzo Indian Defence. Li Yang definitely did not expect that. He then returned the surprise by playing the sharpest, most topical line possible, the Rc1 Exchange Grunfeld with h4-h5! I asked Li Yang about this as he is well known for playing safe and solid lines to lull his opponents to sleep. He remarked "Oh! That one was simple. We were at (FM Wong)Foong Yin's house a couple of months before the Nationals, and looked at his newest NIC, which had this line analyzed. So since I was down a game by then, I thought why not?". The choice paid great dividends as Lian Ann blundered early and Li Yang equalised the match. Round 3 saw a draw in the Exchange Ruy and once again Li Yang had the White pieces. Will he go for the theory hack again now that Lian Ann had the benefit of hindsight?
So different strokes for different folks. Peng Kong goes for an ultra-solid opening to win on "away-goals". Wei Ming and Meng Kong threw theory out of the window to get a playable middlegame and Li Yang goes for the big theory hack.