Reasons to rejoice
By Quah Seng Sun
I CAN list 88 reasons why this year's Merdeka team chess championship was one of the most memorable ever organised by the Malaysian Chess Federation. Let me just name a few.
Firstly, the Society of the Blind Malaysia (SBM). In what other games can the visually-impaired compete with their able-bodied opponents on an equal footing? Not many, I'm afraid. But I can proudly proclaim that, in this tournament, our visually-impaired friends from the SBM were able to give some of the other teams a run for their money!
Secondly, the Brunei Chess Association. In recent years, one of our nearest neighbours has been making it a welcome habit of sending several teams to compete in both the Open and Youth sections of the Merdeka tournament. This year has not been any different; in fact, playing on the first board of their "A'' team in the Open section was an invited player from Indonesia, no less a person than grandmaster Ardiansyah.
Thirdly, Caissa Chess Enterprise and the St John's Institution Singapore (SJI) from our neighbour down south. Year in and year out, the Singaporeans have been giving the Merdeka tournament tremendous support. The Caissa team finished fourth in the Open section while the SJI Singapore was eighth in the Youth Section this year.
Fourthly, the Sekolah Catur Enerpac from Indonesia. This was their third appearance in the Merdeka tournament. In the past two years, this team of talented Indonesian youngsters had swept the Youth title.
Sensing that there was not much of a challenge left for them, the Enerpac boys turned their sights on the Open section of the tournament and it was to their credit that they finished third!
Sixthly, PCMM-Petronas. This team from the Persatuan Catur Melayu Malaysia (PCCM), playing under Petronas colours and led by Malaysia's top player, Mas Hafizulhelmi, chalked up a memorable win in the Open section. Mas, playing on the first board, was the inspiration for the team as he was undefeated in all seven games.
Seventhly, Keluarga Effa. There aren't many families who have sufficient members to make up a chess team but for this year's Merdeka tournament, the Mohd Farid siblings turned out in full force to stamp their mark in the Youth section. Effazuwan, Effawira, Effahrin, Effalini and Effaliana, turned in a remarkable performance to finish fifth in this event.
Eighthly, the State teams. This was one of those very rare occasions when all the states sent their teams to play in the State section of the tournament. They were rallying behind the Malaysian Chess Federation (MCF) which was facing a small crisis over the future of the Merdeka team chess championship itself. I shall comment more about this later on.
Ninthly, the Deputy Prime Minister's challenge trophy. This heavy pewter trophy is shaped like a Chinese steamboat (others say a Mongolian hotpot) but it is the symbol of chess supremacy in Malaysia. The winner of the State competition would get to keep it until the next year. Tenthly, the Merdeka double. The Penang state and youth teams, both sponsored by Dell Asia Pacific, achieved the rare Merdeka double by winning both the State and Youth titles this year.
I do not have to mention all the other participating teams in this tournament, for they are the remaining reasons why the Merdeka team chess championship has garnered such a loyal following over the years. This year's entries numbered a record-breaking 88 teams, making it the largest and most successful national-scale team event ever held by the Malaysian Chess Federation. There were 14 teams in the State section, 34 in the Youth section and 40 playing in the Open section.
The organisers and participants of this year's tournament, played at the Putra World Trade Centre, had every reason to be thankful to the Youth and Sports Ministry.
The Sports Ministry had stepped in to save the event after its fate hung in the balance following the Culture, Arts and Tourism Ministry's decision early this year to cut off its Merdeka financial aid to the MCF.
Nobody in the federation was aware of the decision until the MCF forwarded enquiries to the Ministry at the end of July. Apparently, what the MCF could not understand was why the Ministry had not thought it necessary to inform it about this.
Would almost 20 years of an uninterrupted Merdeka team chess championship come to an abrupt end? Even people in Brunei and Singapore voiced their concern to me and the MCF when the story broke.
But luckily, tradition did count with the Sports Ministry which channelled some RM30,000 to ensure that the Merdeka team chess championship went on. The increased participation this year completely supported the MCF's case that chess is not a dying game in this country.
At the Sydney Olympics
IN 1999, when the International Olympic Committee officially recognised chess as a sport, the foremost question on chessplayers' minds was whether chess would make its way to the Summer Olympics in Sydney as a demonstration event.
There were many people who believed that this would not happen because preparations in Sydney were already far advanced and no provision could be made to accommodate this sudden turn of events.
However in the months since the recognition, the World Chess Federation (FIDE) had been working quietly with the Australian Chess Federation to discuss this possibility with the Olympic organisers in Sydney.
Now, the good news is that chess will be a presentation game in Sydney, and the game will feature Viswanathan Anand and Alexei Shirov at the chessboard.
The presentation will take place in the heart of the Olympic grounds which is the Sydney Olympic Athletes' Village from 1pm (Malaysian time) this Sunday, and it can be viewed live through the Internet.
This is a very significant event for the chess world, so if you have access to the Internet, do keep this Sunday free for surfing at sydney.fide.com
© 1995-2000 Star Publications (Malaysia) Bhd (Co No 10894-D)
Managed by I.STAR Sdn Bhd (Co No 422871-T).