Friday, December 17, 1999



Top contender in national championship

By Quah Seng Sun

WHO do you think will win the national closed chess championship which started yesterday at the Putra World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur? In the absence of the defending champion, will it be someone new or one of the former winners?

In all likelihood, the answer will be a foregone conclusion. I do not see how any of the other players can touch Mas Hafizulhelmi who is playing in the national championship again after a lapse of three years. He is by far the most experienced player in the field.

Of course, I am not saying that Mas Hafizul cannot be toppled. The other players still have a chance to upset his game. Only thing is, without defending champion Ng Ee Vern or previous winner Lim Yee Weng playing, there are not too many players who can give Mas Hafizul a good fight for his money.

The torch-bearers this year are likely to be young veterans like Wong Zijing, Lim Chuin Hoong, Ng Tze Han and Jonathan Chuah who should all be capable of beating Mas Hafizul on their best days. I am sure there are many other lesser known hopefuls waiting for the opportunity too. Well, there are nine rounds for the hopefuls to prove themselves.

The national championship was originally scheduled to finish before the start of the Muslim fasting month. However, the Malaysian Chess Federation decided to postpone the tournament to the middle of December because the public school examinations had not ended yet.

The winner of the men's section of the championship will receive the Datuk Hussein Onn challenge trophy. The women's section is a seven-round event and the winner will get the Datuk Sabbaruddin Chik trophy. Trophies will also be awarded to the most promising under-18 male and female players.


Nightmare event for FIDE

The World Chess Federation's 75th anniversary celebrations in Paris on Nov 20 turned out to be a public relations nightmare. According to reports, it was a badly organised event.

FIDE had initially planned a parade through the streets of Paris with the participation of numerous celebrities. However, the plans were continually changed until there was no parade or celebrity in the end. When the Mayor of Paris was asked to come to the stage, it turned out that she was not there.

Then, the celebration banquet was snubbed by the world champion, Alexander Khalifman, in protest over FIDE's failure to pay him his prize money for winning the world championship in Las Vegas last August. At a press conference earlier in the day, Khalifman confirmed that he had not yet been paid his prize money.

Even Xie Jun, the women's world champion, walked out of the ceremonies after receiving FIDE's recognition of her title. Later, when asked why, she said that it was boring.

FIDE had planned to honour a select group of celebrities and volunteers who made organisational contributions to the world body and organised FIDE events over the years. But during the celebration ceremony, there was not enough time to mention the names of those who had come from all over the world to receive the recognition.

It turned out that FIDE had chosen instead to give lengthy speeches to honour celebrities such as the Pope, French President Jacques Chirac, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lennox Lewis, none of whom were present. Naturally, those who were present were outraged. One said that he intended to request the FIDE Secretariat to reimburse his expenses.

FIDE executive director Emmanuel Omuku went round apologising for FIDE's failure to properly recognise the invitees. However, he was unable to get to all the tables, thereby causing further resentment.

Earlier in the day, FIDE had cancelled the midday buffet luncheon without notifying the guests who were waiting for the lunch. Eventually, word of the cancellation got around.

Adding to this nightmare was a report from FIDE's Verification Commission, prepared by Israel Gelfer of Israel and Don Schultz of the United States, which warned that there was a large overdue loan of Swiss francs 478,000 (about RM595,000) from FIDE to the World Chess Foundation, and any failure to collect this could mean that FIDE would be unable to continue providing a full complement of services to its members. At the very worst, FIDE's existence itself could be threatened.

But according to Schultz, FIDE president Kirsan Iljumzhinov had said that all obligations to the players who took part in Las Vegas would be paid by the end of the year. He attributed the delay to poor coordination in bank transfers, delays in payments from sponsors, a large prize fund and dates that kept changing.

Meanwhile, in what may be the most serious challenge to FIDE yet, Dutch grandmaster Jan Timman is threatening to set up a rival chess federation.

According to The Australian newspaper, Timman said he was willing to walk out of FIDE over the spectacle of drug tests.

"I will not comply with the tests and because I do not want to give up chess for this nonsense, I might create an alternative federation that has no ties with the International Olympic Committee," he said in an interview on Dutch television.

Timman appeared to be quite set on this matter. If he leaves FIDE and sets up another organisation, there may be a lot of professional players who would follow him, and not all of them would be because of the drug testing. It would be ironic if FIDE's public relations victory of joining with the IOC ended up spelling its own end instead of buffeting its position.

The idea of some drugs enhancing chess performance is old, but there is no information publicly available on the subject.

Anatoly Karpov and Kasparov were both recently accused by Leonxto Garcia, a Spanish journalist writing in the El Pais newspaper, of using a drug developed by the Soviet space programme to enhance endurance during their matches in the 80s.

The Australian added that an unnamed Canadian international master once experimented with marijuana as an aid to chess during the 80s but gave it up after losing 10 consecutive games.


Deep Blue's next incarnation

IBM has unveiled a US$100mil (RM380mil) plan to build the world's fastest supercomputer, according to a Reuters report last week. The computer would be used in understanding how proteins fold, which is considered important in studying diseases and finding cures.

The ambitious plan envisions a new RS/6000 computer named Blue Gene, capable of more than one quadrillion operations per second, or 1,000 times more powerful than the Deep Blue machine that beat Gary Kasparov in 1997.

"We think a tremendous gain in performance will be made possible by the first major revolution in how computers are built since the mid-80s," said Dr Ambuj Goyal, IBM Research's vice-president of computer science.

Blue Gene will consist of more than one million processors, each capable of one billion operations per second, IBM said. That would make it two million times more powerful than today's top personal computers.

Researchers believed that they can achieve that level of performance in about five years, when the computer would be put to work on complex genetic mysteries.

"In many ways, Deep Blue got a better job today," said Paul Horn, senior vice-president of IBM Research. "If this computer unlocks the mystery of how proteins fold, it will be an important milestone in the future of medicine and healthcare."

Proteins, which control all cellular functions in the human body, fold into highly complex, three-dimensional shapes that determine their function.

A change in the shape of a protein can dramatically change its function, and even a slight change in folding can turn a desirable protein into a disease.



Give chess its due recognition

THE Majlis Sukan Sekolah-sekolah Malaysia (MSSM) cancelled chess as one of its annual events last year because of the economic crisis.

However, our district continued to hold chess competitions for the schools. In this year's competition, I finished third in the boys' under-18 category but I felt disappointed because I could not go any further.

In 1997, the top four players represented our district at the state level but now, there is no more state level competition.

Now that the economy is picking up, I believe the MSSM should not have any more funding problem. Chess is already recognised as a sport by the International Olympic Committee.

I hope the MSSM will reinstate chess competitions at all levels to find more talented players in the country.

Fischer Yu
Ayer Tawar, Perak
(via e-mail)



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