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Friday, October 23, 1998


Fighting spirit in Russia

By Quah Seng Sun

I MUST admit that the Malaysians who went to the Elista Olympiad in Russia three weeks ago played remarkably well as a team.

I mentioned two weeks ago that this team was one of the weakest that the Malaysian Chess Federation had sent for an overseas assignment. But then, I had also said that the players did not lack courage and fought hard in all their matches.

Let me recapitulate their first six rounds.

In the first round, the Malaysians lost 0-4 to the Russia "3" team. They lost 1-3 to Faroe Islands in the second round, but scored 4-0 against San Marino in the third round and 2 1/2-1 1/2 against Luxembourg in the fourth. A 2-2 draw with Mongolia ensued in the fifth round, and in the sixth round, they lost 1/2-3 1/2 to Portugal.

In the seventh round, the Malaysian team suffered its second 0-4 loss in the Olympiad and this time, it was at the hands of the International Braille Chess Association. A big measure of respect must be given to their visually handicapped opponents, especially if they could score by such a huge margin.

The loss ensured that the Malaysians would meet with a weak team in the eighth round, and our players duly won by their second 4-0 result against Afghanistan. In the ninth round, they played the Russian "4" team and lost by a 1-3 score. Wong Zi Jing and Ng Tze Han excelled by drawing with their opponents, though Ng did miss a chance to win his game.

Although the 2-2 result against Singapore in the 10th round would suggest that the match was a routine draw, in reality it was a fight all the way. Wong and Ng scored their wins but unfortunately, Ismail Ahmad and Azahari Md Nor lost theirs.

In the 11th round, the Malaysian team won 3 1/2-1/2 against Libya, with Ismail being the only player to drop half a point. This big win lined them up to meet New Zealand in the 12th round. It was a tough fight with the Kiwis scoring a narrow 2 1/2-1 1/2 win. Malaysia's results came from Ismail's draw and Ng's win.

The final round was against the United Arab Emirates and for the first time in the Olympiad, both Wong and Ng came unstuck in their games. But luckily, Ismail and Azahari rose to the occasion by winning their games, resulting in a draw.

The 24 points earned by the team enabled them to finish in 74th position, about 20 places above their pre-Olympiad ranking. The most remarkable performances came from Ng and Wong.

Ng, playing on the third board, scored 8 1/2 points from 13 games. This should be enough to give him an international rating when the World Chess Federation issues its lates rating list in two months' time. By my estimate, his rating should be about 2280.

Wong had a good score of 6 1/2 points, a very creditable result since he was playing on the top board which was not easy.

Both Ismail and Azahari were a bit of a disappointment, but they made up for their poor results in the first 12 matches when they pulled off two essential wins against the UAE in the 13th round. They scored when it really mattered to the team.

Ismail's final points were four out of 13 games, while Azahari obtained five points.

It may seem surprising that only a four-man team was sent to the Olympiad. But after Lim Yee Weng pulled out and Ghalam Sani failed to turn up at the airport, the MCF had no time to contact anyone to fill the two reserve places in the team.

This meant the players had to play in every round. Nobody could afford to fall sick during the event. But here is a little secret: Malaysia did have a fifth player, though he preferred not to play unless the team was faced with an emergency.

When the Malaysians arrived in Elista, Hamid Majid, the MCF secretary, had the option of being appointed an arbiter in the Olympiad but instead, he chose to stick with the team as a standby player.

Among the top teams chasing the gold medal, there were both heartache and jubilation. It was heartache for the United States who went into the final round holding a slim half-point lead over the Russia "1" team. Considering that the Americans had led the event most of the way, the disappointment must have been terrible.

In the last round, the United States were paired with China and they needed to win by a large margin to take the gold. However, the Chinese proved to be a tough nut to crack.

On the first board, Alex Yermolinsky could find no way to pierce the armour of Peng Xiaomin and the game was drawn. On the second board, Yasser Seirawan pulled off a win against Ye Jiangchuan but almost immediately, Wu Wenjin beat Gregory Kaidanov on the fourth board to level the score. The third board game between Nick de Firmian and Zhang Zhong was drawn.

In the meantime, Russia "1" had been paired with the Netherlands. The Dutch team was quite formidable and the Americans had expected the Dutch players to put up a big resistance against the Russians.

But the Americans were also wary of the Dutch who had shown in their mutual fifth-round match that they were susceptible to pressure. The Americans' worst fears were confirmed when the Netherlands went down in flames against the Russians.

The first board was a big disaster for Jan Timman when, in a drawn game, he blundered his bishop by moving it to a square where it could be taken immediately by Peter Svidler. A distressed Timman was reported to be trying to take back his move but the damage was already done.

Alexander Morozevich, the newly-crowned Russian champion, got the better of Loek van Wely in a complicated game on the second board, while Vadim Zvjaginsev beat Jeroen Piket on the third board. By the time the fourth board game between Friso Nijboer and Konstantin Sakaev was drawn, the Russians were already jubilant with the gold medal in their corner.

At the end of the Olympiad, Russia "1" had amassed 35 1/2 points while the United States fell back to second place with 34 1/2 points. Ukraine and Israel both had 32 1/2 points each, but Ukraine won the bronze medal with a better tie-break.

In joint fifth to seventh places were China, Germany and Georgia with 31 1/2 points each. Russia "2" and Hungary finished with 31 points each to complete the top nine places among the 110 men's teams.

China cruised comfortably to the gold in the women's event with 29 points. After taking over in the middle rounds they just kept building onto their lead. Russia "1" won the silver medal ahead of the Georgian team. Both teams had scored 27 points each but the tie-break favoured the Russians.

Kepong junior event

For the fifth year running, the Parent-Teacher Association of Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan (China) Kepong Dua in Kuala Lumpur will be organising the Kepong junior chess open tournament. This annual event, which is divided into four age-group categories, will be played on Nov 15 in the school hall.

Children born in 1990 or later will be eligible to take part in the under-8 section, and the winner will receive the SJK(C) Kepong 2 PIBG trophy. The winner of the under-10 section will get the Cheah Lim Choy trophy, the under-12 winner will win the Kong Foo Leong trophy and the under-16 winner, the Datuk Tan Kim Hor trophy. The respective winners will also get cash prizes. Apart from these winners, there are nine other consolation prizes for each of the four age-groups.

Entry fees are RM7 for pupils of the SJK(C) Kepong Dua and RM10 for other players. Anyone registering after Nov 8 will be required to pay an extra RM5 as late fee.

For entry forms and enquiries, contact Mrs F.L. Wong (Tel: 03-636-4197 after 7pm) or Total Chess (Tel: 03-633-6306 or 016-221-8296).

JB Open

The fifth Johor Baru open chess tournament, jointly organised by the Johor Baru District Chess Club and Johor Land Bhd, will be played on Nov 22 at the Dewan Menara Komtar in Johor Baru.

There are three sections in this event: the open, under-16 and under-12. The open section features 10 cash prizes totalling RM1,710 with a first prize of RM500. The winner will also receive the Piala Mentri Besar Johor. The under-16 and the under-12 sections also have 10 cash prizes each. The top prize for the two sections are RM100 and RM80 respectively.

Entry fees are RM20 for the open section, RM7 for the under-16 section and RM5 for the under-12 section. Entries will close on Nov 20; only the first 300 entries will be accepted.

For details, contact Narayanan Krishnan (Tel: 07-333-8215).

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