A thousand kings in Singapore

4/22/2004 – There are countries where chess simply thrives. Singapore is one of them. Maybe it is because the Chess Federation so actively promotes the games amongst the young. The result: 1200 children from 141 schools had three exciting days of chess in the national inter-school championship. Read all about it in Olimpiu Urcan's pictorial report.

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A Historical Record

More than 1200 Pupils Attending the M1 56th National Inter-School Individual Championship

By Olimpiu Urcan

Usually the readers of ChessBase are looking for articles and photographs of five-star tournaments played all over the world. Statistics, results, games and interviews are the target of their avid search. Here is a report which will disappoint them. It is not about top level players, theoretically important games or exclusive interviews of one of the top ten world players. Yet, it is about something which is lately missed in most of the reports from tournaments: How a tournament for kids is organized? What is the atmosphere of a tournament before, during and after? How are such tournaments nowadays?

We invite the reader in the island of Singapore for at least several pages. The occasion is the M1 56th National Inter-School Individual Championship which was held between 18 and 20 March 2004 on the premises of the Anglo-Chinese Primary School (Singapore). A historical record of more than 1200 participants was registered. They were coming from about 141 schools all over the island dressed in their schools uniforms. A chess tournament? Hardly. More like a chess celebration.

The event was organized by the Singapore Chess Federation in collaboration with other sponsors and firms among which M1 and ASEAN Chess Academy, the later already established as a first class provider of chess utilities and chess assistance in Singapore. Without wasting your time anymore, we let the images speak.

Let’s start with the day before the first round. Tables and chairs needed to be arranged, chess boards and pieces, chess clocks and score-sheets, well…if you want specific details about thousands of score sheets and about 2000 chairs…The photograph above is looking more like a wedding preparation than a chess tourney arrangement. Yet, the doubts soon vanished at the sight of the first signs of how a chess community was preparing for a chess event.

Local workers were hired to offer a hand. Chess is an industry after all, isn’t it? Someone would need muscles and workers not only brains and computerized management.

Finally the chess pieces and chess boards appeared. The white sheets arranged on the tables chased away any regrets of those present there for a hard day of labor.

The place was becoming nicer and nicer.

I imagined that one could hardly find another room in the world in that day in which more than a thousand Kings were gathered together...

Finally, everything was ready. The stage was set, the headlines offered, the clocks were set up for what would become in the history of Singapore chess as the event with the largest participation ever registered: more than 1200 kids pouring in from all the corners of Singapore to compete in a traditional chess tournament.

The crowds of children were finally allowed to occupy their seats for the first round. The streams of parents preparing the score sheets and pencils for their kids were kindly asked to leave the area.

Hands are shaken, moves are made, and parents are watching. Not only watching. Hoping and shaking at each move their kids made over the board. The state of agitation was even more amplified by arbiters’ insistence that parents should keep a fair distance from the playing tables.

The opening speech held by Mr Kenneth Tan, President of SCF, and by Mr. Ignatius Leong, the Secretary of the SCF as well as the Chairman of FIDE Development Commission and tournament director, introduced the participants in the atmosphere of the ambitious championship. Those present ceased their noise while hearing the opening words of the mentioned gentlemen. Suddenly the question “Are you ready to begin?” met a thundering “Yes!!” from a thousand chests which must have troubled the neighbors of the Anglo-Chinese Primary School. Thus it began. Clocks were hit – with more or less precision skills -, pieces were moved speedily over the board, pencils started to record moves while eyes and minds pursued to imagine threats and traps.

These lines of girls playing with the style of the professionals were paralleled by images of younger boys who could hardly reach at the playing table. Some of them were still in kindergarten.

While the first round wasn’t an easy one for everyone, contrasting images appeared for a careful eye. Someone struggling to activate the rooks on open files sweating inside the playing hall.

Some of the players had their chance to say “I won!” after their game was completed and face the camera. “I won”, she whispered…

The first round was finished and streams of pupils were waiting to deliver their score sheets and results to the officials’ table.

During the pairing and accounting results procedure most of the parents were waiting outside for the official new round to be posted. The constant heat made them beg for entering the air conditioned hall…

Off hand games and analyses were continuously played outside the hall and someone argued that arbiters were needed in that area as well!

Inside the playing hall the trophies were resting waiting their performance at the end of the act. The results and complete lists of the schools attending this excellent event can be found on the website of the Singapore Chess Federation. Identically, for ASEAN Chess Academy – the institution which took care of the chess assistance and utilities mission both with materials and human resources.

Now let’s browse the last clips of the tournament with the prize presentation. Impressive to note was the full energy the participants had even after three exhausting days of intensive chess.

Some of them managed to climb on the stage collecting trophies. Some of them rested on the floor after a good three days long fight. Nevertheless, the game still goes on, they said. In Singapore chess events are not a rarity.

As any fairy tale, a chess tournament must come to and end. The participants left the venue with one of the most enriching chess experiences of their life.

This was the short movie of the M1 56th Inter-School Individual Chess Tournament held in Singapore between 18 and 20 March 2003. A precious legacy such an event left us is casting doubt on those who say that chess is not helping out our intolerant world. I witnessed in a superb event in which an incredible diversity of religions and races came together under the spell of chess.


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