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Friday September 23, 2011

The future of chess

Young stars shine at Malaysian Chess Festival.

TRUTH be told, the Malaysian Chess Festival wasn’t a holiday for any player taking part in any of the events. After all, there wasn’t time to take things easy. As a player, I was struggling with my own personal demons during almost every round, be it the position on the chessboard or the remaining time on the chess clock as it ticked away.

There was only one round in which my game ended relatively early and it gave me the odd pleasure to walk around the tournament hall to look at the other games and take note of my fellow strugglers, especially those playing at the main event, the Arthur Tan Malaysian open championship.

Some of the faces were very familiar, as I have seen them year in and year out, but by and large, fresh faces made up a significant proportion of the crowd.

Young champ: Zachary Loh of Australia took part in the world youth championship in the under-12 category last year.

While wandering around the tables, I couldn’t help but noticed that at this main event, the average age of the players could be rather young.

It was an intriguing thought which was later proven correct when I badgered the organisers to let me take a look at the details of the participants. Of the 98 players in the Malaysian open tournament, 44 of them were aged 21 or younger. That constituted almost 45% of the field. Add a further five players who were born in 1989 and exactly half the field were below 22.

I decided to start off in search of the youngest participants in the Malaysian open.

Bai Jinshi of China finished overall in 28th position. He created a sensation when he beat Chinese woman grandmaster Ju Wenjun.

There were three, all born in 1999 which would make them at the most, 12. I gulped. Twelve years “young” and already taking part in a chess event where they would sit as equals across the chessboard with players possibly twice or thrice their age, or perhaps even older!

The most successful of the trio was Bai Jinshi from China. Born in May 1999, he finished overall in 28th position. Nobody would have thought much of this player had he not created a sensation by beating Ju Wenjun, the Chinese woman grandmaster who recently won a strong international tournament in Hangzhou ahead of reigning women’s world champion Hou Yifan. But there was more to come from Jinshi in the Malaysia open when two rounds later, he added the experienced grandmaster from Uzbekistan, Saidali Yuldashev, to his list of victims.

Zachary Loh and Karl Zelesco, both hailing from Melbourne in Australia, were the other two players who were born in 1999. Zachary, who took part in the world youth championship for under-12 last year, was the oldest of the trio as he was born in April.

“I’m not 12 yet,” Karl said shyly when I asked about his age. His mother told me that he would be celebrating his 12th birthday on Aug 30. So technically, the boy was still 11 when he sat at the table to trade blows with his opponents. When I enquired further, she added that her son had been playing actively in Melbourne tournaments for the past year or so.

Karl Zelesco, also of Australia, is barely 12. He has been actively playing in Melbourne tournaments for the past year.

This Malaysian open was to be his first international chess competition out of his home country and he even got a chance to play against – and lose to – a grandmaster. Karl also played with two other opponents – William Lee Kah Howe and Tan Li Ting – who were just a year older. Nevertheless, Karl took 1½ points from them.

Satisfied with his 58th position at the Malaysian open? “No,” he sighed, “I could have played better but it was a good experience for me to meet good chess players from other parts of the world. I want to improve and I’m sure I will.”

Such confidence. It’s incredible what youngsters – with the correct parental support – can do at the chessboard. Yes, anywhere in the world, they really are the future of chess.

Coming tournaments

DATCC events

THE Datuk Arthur Tan Chess Centre (DATCC) at the Wilayah Complex in Kuala Lumpur is now open daily to chess players. Operating hours: Monday to Friday (1pm–8pm), Saturday and Sunday (9am to 5pm).

The second session of DATCC chess classes for beginners of all ages will start tomorrow at 10am. Please view the class schedule and topics covered at datcchess.blogspot.com. More details from Najib Wahab (016-3382542, najib.wahab@chess-malaysia.com).

First DATCC Super Kids weekend tournament for children below 12 will be played tomorrow beginning 9am. Six rounds, 25-minute games. Entry fee: RM10 per player.

Details available from Najib Wahab (016-3382542), Kaber Azzad (012-6178624) or Jax Tham (013-3232280) or visit datcchess.blogspot.com to download entry form.

National rapidchess

UNIVERSITI Teknologi Petronas in Tronoh, Perak, will be organising the second national rapidchess championship at the university campus on Oct 1 and 2 on behalf of the Malaysian Chess Federation and the Perak International Chess Association.

Eight rounds, with a time control of 25 minutes and 10-second increment per move. First prize for the open category is RM1,000. Entry fees are RM30 (players under 12), RM35 (players under 16) and RM40 (all others).

For enquiries, contact Ariana (019-5451813), Nabilah (014-9045157), Thakshna Moorthy (016-9950070) or Khairil Anwar (013-3533720). More details from nrcc2011.blogspot.com.

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