Chess-deep in the excitement

There’s no let-up in the excitement generated by the Malaysia Chess Festival.

I HAVE been at the Malaysia Chess Festival at Cititel Mid Valley in Kuala Lumpur since Tuesday. As a result, I missed all the fun and bustle of the Astro Merdeka individual and team rapid chess tournaments but there is a consolation.

I am able to fully soak in the atmosphere at this year’s Datuk Arthur Tan Malaysia open tournament and the AmBank Malaysia chess challenge. Both events are currently in progress and there is also the first Tan Sri Lee Loy Seng international senior open tournament going on at the same time.

A few weeks ago, the organisers had suggested that I take part in the senior event. No, no, no, I had told them, I won’t be taking part. But it’s all good clean fun, they pleaded. And besides, “many of your friends will be competing, too.”

The pressure was unrelenting and it was all very appealing, to say the least. To cut a long story short, they won the war but my battles are only starting. Truth is, I haven’t sat down in front of the chess board for quite a while. When the rust sets in, it takes more than sandpaper to scrape it off.

So I’m quite certain that I’ll be making a fool of myself at the senior event but what the hey, it will all be good clean fun, win or lose, as long as we confine the battles to the chess board and keep our friendship off it.

Earlier, as I had expected, entries for the Astro Merdeka individual rapid chess event swelled to 107 participants due to the last-minute registration by foreign players who had arrived early for the Malaysia open.

Saidali Yuldachev, the seasoned grandmaster from Uzbekistan, secured the top prize despite a draw with local youngster Irfan Haqqim in the opening round.

After that slight hiccup, Yuldachev went full speed ahead to win his remaining games which included victories against German grandmaster Gerhard Schebler in the sixth round, and Uzbek international master Khamrakulov Dzhurabek in the final round.

Schebler, who led the event until his loss to Yuldachev, had to be contented with the second prize. In third place was Fide master Nicholas Chan who was undefeated and impressive with five wins (including one against Uzbek grandmaster Marat Dzhumaev in the final round) and two draws in the one-day tournament. Another Uzbek player, Vakhidov Jahongir, finished fourth.

Jointly fifth to seventh were international master Mok Tze Meng, grandmaster Ziaur Rahman and Sutarno; and rounding up the top 10 prize-winners were Dzhumaev, Dzhurabek and Carlos Leonardo.

Amidst all the excitement of the festival’s opening tournament, a hastily arranged one-day visit to Malaysia by World Chess Federation Kirsan Ilyumzhinov passed by almost unnoticed by the local chess fraternity.

Kirsan was en route to Manila but he made a brief stopover in Kuala Lumpur to call on the Youth and Sports Ministry and the Olympic Council of Malaysia where he witnessed a symbolic flag transfer ceremony to the Malaysian Chess Federation delegation taking part in next month’s World Youth Championships 2010 in Greece.

Meanwhile, more action was seen at the Astro Merdeka team rapid chess tournament which attracted 70 teams, a modest increase of four teams from last year’s event.

There were fewer teams from Indonesia and the Philippines in this year’s competition but from my observation, the strength of the event has not been diluted.

In fact, the increased number of mixed teams that fielded local talents with foreign players had balanced up the event and helped it retain its competitive fervour.

This year, the round-by-round pairings were made using match points instead of game points, which brought a refreshing change to the scoring system. What this meant was that a team winning by a crushing 4-0 score would be given the same match points as another team that scraped through by 2½-1½.

There are advantages and disadvantages in this system – which has already been utilised in other team events worldwide, including the biennial World Chess Olympiad – but the main reason in its favour is that it minimises the rollercoaster pairing fluctuations when teams are heftily pushed up or pulled down the pairing tables based on the results of a single round.

By the way, the event was won by Chesskidz Men’s Team – fronted by two Filipino grandmasters working in Singapore, Nelson Mariano and Bong Villamayor – which won eight matches and drew one for a total match point of 17, two match points more than their closest rivals, Bengal Tigers. Third place went to the Crusher team.

The best Malaysian team was SMS Gold which was four match points behind the winners.

Incidentally, if this event had been scored using the traditional game point method, Chesskidz Men’s Team would still have emerged as the winners. However, the second spot would have gone to Crusher and the Jakarta B team would have been third.

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