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Friday, April 9, 1999


Myanmar chess under probe

By Quah Seng Sun

IN A press release issued by the World Chess Federation (Fide) soon after its presidential board meeting in Ankara, Turkey, last month, there was an ominous statement which must have chilled the Myanmar Chess Federation and its players. Let me quote from the press release:

"The board resolved to suspend with immediate effect the publication of the new ratings of players from the Myanmar Chess Federation, pending a full investigation by the Qualification Commission in conjunction with the Titles and Ratings Committee, to ascertain the exact circumstances how some players could have obtained such exceedingly high ratings as to place them among others in the top 10 list of Fide."

There were several recent incidents that made a probe into Myanmar chess almost inevitable. Firstly, an investigative article which appeared in the German chess magazine Schach, said in Myanmar, players could push their Fide ratings to unknown heights with the blessing of Fide, the international chess governing body.

The writer of the article, Milan Novkovic, claimed that Myanmar could produce the world's next number one and the top 100 of the Fide rating list would be filled with absolutely unfamiliar names.

He noted that in January 1997, Myanmar had only six internationally rated players and the highest ranked among them was Lwin Aye with 2,360. But that year saw the beginning of a chess boom in the country as their players started fighting numerous tournaments among themselves.

Some managed to achieve almost superhuman feats. For example, in the Ninth TMW Invitational Rating Tournament last September Moun Moun Latt scored 15.5 out of 18 against his fellow countrymen who had an average rating of 2,391 and as a result, gained a rating of 2,554 and Number 196 on the current list, one point ahead of well-known grandmasters like Lobron and Dzindzichashvili.

Novkovic said Moun Moun Latt was only one of many examples. By July last year 73 Myanmar players had catapulted themselves into the Fide list. In the January 1999 list, there were 201 Myanmar players, 16 of whom had a rating higher than 2,500 and 36 with more than 2,400.

He noted that only Russia, Germany, the Ukraine, the United States, the former Yugoslavia and Hungary had better achievements. Even chess powers like Britain, Israel and the Netherlands had failed to push many of their players beyond 2,400 despite decades of hard work.

Then, in January/February this year, the Myanmar Chess Federation organised a GM Scheveningen tournament in Yangon with 28 players. Among them were foreign players like GMs Ye Jiangchuan and Liang Jinrong of China, GM Mohamad Al-Modiahki of Qatar, WGM Zhu Chen of China, IM Dashzeveg Sharavdorj of Mongolia, IM Wong Meng Kong of Singapore and our own IM Mas Hafizulhelmi.

When the results of this tournament were made known on the Internet, someone from the Netherlands made a quick calculation and noted that the six players who managed to get a GM norm were Zhu Chen, Sharavdorj and four Myanmar players: Zaw Win Lay, Aung Thant Zin, Nay Oo Kyaw Tun and Myo Naing. In addition, at least eight players could have made an IM norm, among them, five Myanmar players.

The Dutch observer said something about the tournament and the ratings of the Myanmar players was not right. Although the tournament chart showed a large number of untitled Myanmar participants with ratings above 2,500, some performed below 2,200 in this event.

Australian grandmaster and chess journalist Ian Rogers also commented on the event in the Canberra Times' chess column last month. He said the six GM results and eight IM results were astonishing as some who had obtained the GM results had struggled to score even 50% in the zonal tournament last December.

He claimed that corruption was rampant in this tournament and other Myanmar chess events held last year. He said seven highly rated Myanmar locals who lost all their games to their compatriots were unrated in January last year but on the January 1999 Fide list, had rankings higher than Australia's other GM, Darryl Johansen.

Rogers wrote: "The following game is not atypical of their play, with the heavily 'outrated' Mas winning one of the easiest games of his career: Rangoon 1999 White: H. Mas Black: Thein Dan Oo 1.e4 c5 2.f4 d6 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.Bb5 g6 5.0-0 Bg7 6.Bxc6+ bxc6 7.d3 Rb8?! 8.Nc3 Nf6 9.Qe1 0-0 10.b3 d5? 11.e5 Nd7 12.Ba3 Re8?! 13.Na4 Rb5 14.e6 Nf6? 15.c4 Ra5? 16.exf7+ Kxf7 17.Ne5+ Kg8 18.Nxc6 1-0

"Mas, the honourable Malaysian IM who performed so creditably in Sydney in January, was not one of the favoured many who scored title results. His opponent, rated 2,539 - a near-GM ranking, managed only four points from 14 games. There is no suggestion that any of the foreign visitors were involved in anything other than pre-arranged draws; they simply took advantage of the extraordinarily overrated opposition.

"However, the local players in Yangon probably knew the results of many of their games before the event began and if an 'accident' occurred to one of those destined to score a title norm - example losing to a foreign player - their compatriots pitched in and provided some extra points or half points.

"Unusually for a corrupt tournament, the foreign invitees were not needed to help out the locals, since the enormous rankings of the weakest players meant that the scores required for title results were relatively low."

Rogers speculated that this type of event was likely to be repeated in a few months' time, before the ratings of the tail-enders are adjusted on the July 1999 Fide rating list. He claimed that after one more such tournament, Myanmar could obtain four GMs and six IMs and after a few more such tournaments, they could have more GMs than any other Asian country.

However, in the light of the Fide move, it now looks unlikely that Myanmar's almost perfect strategy will come to fruition.

Another matter announced in the Fide press release was that the annual World Chess Championship, which will be held at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas from July 26 to Aug 29, will sport a prize fund of US$3mil (RM11.4mil).

Fide also mentioned that the women's world championship match between Zsuzsa Polgar (Hungary) and Xie Jun (China) will be played in Elista, Russia, from end May to July.

Regarding the late publication of the January 1999 Rating List, Fide said it shared the concern of players and national federations worldwide and would, from now on, handle publication of the Rating List, the Fide homepage and other specific projects and publications. In the past few years, the publication of the Rating List was contracted out to third parties.

Up Next

THE Union High School Open, which doubles up as the second leg of the Penang Grand Prix chess circuit, will be held on April 18 and played over eight rounds using a 25-minute time control.

The main prizes range from RM200 for the winner to RM30 for the eighth placed. In addition, consolation prizes will be given to the best two under-10, under-12 and under-15 boys and girls.

Entry fee is RM10 per player, and the closing date is tomorrow. However, outstation players may still enter on the day of the event, if places are available. For more information, contact Lim Chu Ai at 04-226 7067 or Lim Swee Tin at 04-262 9824.

On April 25, the sixth leg of the Bank Pertanian Malaysia-sponsored BPM national allegro chess circuit will be held. The venue is Kolej Damansara Utama in Jalan Anson, Penang. There will be six rounds with a total cash prize of RM1,500. The bulk of this prize goes to the main winners (first prize is RM300) while a portion is set aside for minor winners. The winner of each leg will qualify for the Grand Prix final.

Entry fees are RM10 for members of the Penang Chess Association, Bank Pertanian employees, women, under-12 and veteran players, and RM15 for all other participants.

For the Penang leg of the national circuit, the closing date for entries will be April 23. However, the organisers are prepared to receive last-minute entries subject to availability of space and the payment of an additional RM10 as late penalty. For details, contact Ooi Kiem Boo at 04-657 4596 during office hours or Khor Bean Hwa 04-658 1662 in the evenings.

In Klang, the Klang Parade blitz tournament will be played tomorrow in the concourse area of the shopping centre beginning 1.30pm. There are 11 rounds and five cash prizes for the winners. The champion will get RM200 and a trophy. The entry fee for this event is RM10.

On Sunday, the Klang Parade open tournament will be held. The winner will receive RM250 and a trophy, and the runner-up RM200 and a trophy. There are eight other cash prizes for the main winners and in addition, RM50 prizes await the best under-16, under-14, under-12 and girl players. Entry fee is RM15 except for those under 12 who need to pay only RM10.

According to the Malaysian Chess Federation and Klang Parade, organisers of the Klang Parade Chess Fest which started last weekend, only a maximum of 100 players will be accepted for each of the events. For registration or more information, call Stephanie, Christopher or Kuek at 03-343 7889; fax: 03-343 7313.

Meanwhile, the Chess Association of Selangor has scheduled two tournaments for this month. The first is the second CAS Selangor blitz open tournament on April 18, and the second is the 13th Royal Selangor junior open for the under-12, under-16 and under-20 age groups on April 24 and 25. Both events will be played at Sunway College. For details, call Jackie Wong at 03-703 8237 or Lim Tse Pin at 03-733 0927.

Finally, readers may want to prepare themselves for the annual Labour Day team tournament which is due to be organised by the Persatuan Catur Melayu Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur from April 30 to May 2. Hopefully, there will be more details on this event in two weeks' time.

Quah Seng Sun's chess articles are archived at ( or ( Readers can write to him at:

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