It has been two long years since I wrote my last chess column. I thought that I had been forgotten by the people in The Star until one day in February when one of their sub-editors emailed me to ask whether I would agree to be interviewed for the 30th anniversary of their Star2 pull-out. “Not all our present or past columnists will be featured,” she told me almost apologetically, “and we’d like to include you in. Your stories have been so fascinating.” Below are the interview questions and my response:
Q: Start date and end date of the column:
A: I am what you may call an accidental chess columnist. I never thought that I would or could write anything about chess but it all began in 1980 when out of curiosity, I answered an advertisement in The Star for freelance writers. The column began in August 1980 and ended in March 2012. Thirty-two continuous years in all, except for three short breaks in contribution.
Q: Can you tell us a little about the sorts of content you used to write when you first started, and how that evolved over time?
A: When the column first started, it filled a much-needed void in the Malaysian chess scene. This was during the pre-Internet and early Interney days when news about local and international chess events was almost impossible to get in Malaysia. Luckily, I had contacts with some big overseas chess organisers in Europe and the United States and they were kind enough to send me detail results of their tournaments, sometimes on a daily basis, by airmail and fax. Local organisers then began sending me announcements of their forthcoming tournaments for inclusion in the chess column. So yes, for the first two decades of the column, I concentrated more on tournament reports. But in the final decade of the column, circumstances had changed. With Internet access now everywhere, overseas tournament reports were readily available. As a result, my strategy changed to writing more opinion pieces about chess development in the country. But I still wrote extensively about important world chess events.
Q: Do you think your column in the Star has served as a good platform for you and those interested in the chess world over the years?
A: Definitely, it served as a good platform for chess education in Malaysia as a whole. I was never in it for the money and anyway, The Star paid me peanuts for a very long time. I looked at my columns as a contribution back to the game which I first learnt while in school and which had given me so much pleasure. For your information, I was never a top player in the country, never a Malaysian champion nor even a Penang champion. But I was good enough to play for the state and country in international events on three or four occasions. I was in the Malaysian team that played in the Asian team chess championship in 1974, the Malaysian contingent that went on a goodwill tour of China in 1978 and the Malaysian team to the World Chess Olympiad in 1982. I learnt a lot and was grateful to be able to encourage adults to return to the game and youngsters to take it up.
Q: Would you get feedback from your readers? And if so, what sort of feedback – what is the most interesting / weirdest / touching communication that you received?
A: Yes, I had all sorts of feedback from readers, even overseas readers. Some chess grandmasters even wrote to me. But the most interesting contact was with the World Chess Federation which once took issue with one of my opinions and asked me to make a clarification. I never realised that my column was sometimes read in high places. Power of the Internet, you see.
Q: Of all your submissions over the decade, has there been a personal favorite/ most interesting/ most impactful/ popular?
A: There were several but my favourite story was also my very last one on 2 March 2012. I was writing about a respected chess administrator and personality in Malaya/Malaysia from the 1940s to 1970s. But nobody among the present generation knew anything much about him, myself included. My story garnered a lot of response from people who knew him as a medical doctor. Through one of them, I managed to establish contact with his family members who helped me fill in many of the blanks and give closure to my own inquisitiveness. Very fulfilling.