Forging friendship, renewing ties

12/30/2004 – Chess players have no winter breaks. While the Northern Hemisphere is enjoying tournaments in Norway, Pamplona, Hastings and Groningen, there was a tradition-filled event taking place on Christmas and Boxing Days over in Kuala Lumpur. Here is an extensive illustrated report on the Malaysia-Singapore Chess Challenge.

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The Dato’ Tan Kim Yeow Trophy

16th Malaysia-Singapore Challenge 2004
25th and 26th December 2004

By Edwin Lam Choong Wai

Unlike soccer players, chess players need no ‘winter breaks’. While the year-end is normally a season of easy-going family get-togethers and celebrations, chess players seem to be competing hard against each other in an assortment of tournaments worldwide. From the cold, winters of the Northern Hemisphere all the way to the summer heat in Australia, there is a wide variety of top notch events going on during this 2004 Christmas/New Year’s period. With Shirov, Khalifman, Korchnoi and Magnus Carlsen competing in the Smartfish Chess Masters and Gelfand competing in the Pamplona event, there is definitely plenty for chess fans worldwide to savor.

Aside from that, other events include the biennial Australian Open Chess Championships, the Harmonie tournament in Groningen, the Reggio Emilia and the traditionally popular Hastings International Chess Congress. The Hastings Congress is an event synonymous with the Christmas/New Year’s period. With a long-standing tradition that stretches back to the late 19th century, the Hastings Christmas event has played host to every World Champion ever since, except for Fischer and Kasparov. Even the great Botvinnik, widely credited for his influences on modern-day Soviet / Russian dominance of the game of chess, had made his debut at Hastings in 1934 and finished first on two occasions, in 1961 and 1966!

Boxing Day: shopping for great bargains, or playing chess?

Over in Kuala Lumpur, there was another little known, but tradition-filled event that took place on Christmas and Boxing Days (25th and 26th of December 2004, respectively). The Malaysia-Singapore Chess Challenge is organized by the Malaysian Chess Federation and is sponsored by chess enthusiasts Dato’ Tan Chin Nam. Just like the Hastings Christmas event, this annual match-up has a long history that dates back to two decades ago. And, this year marked the 16th edition of the Malaysia-Singapore Chess Challenge. The winner of this chess spectacle will get to keep the Dato’ Tan Kim Yeow trophy for a year, until the next edition of the Malaysia-Singapore Chess Challenge.


The Dato’ Tan Kim Yeow trophy

Played over a spread of 70 boards, this match is made up of the Veteran, Men, Women, Under-20 (Boys & Girls), Under-18 (Boys & Girls), Under-16 (Boys & Girls), Under-14 (Boys & Girls), Under-12 (Boys & Girls), Under-10 (Boys & Girls) and Under-8 (Boys & Girls) categories. Quah Seng Sun, veteran chess columnist for The Star, leads the Malaysian side, while the Singapore team is led by Associate Professor Dr. Nick Aplin, Hon. General Secretary of the Singapore Chess Federation.

This annual match-up is hosted on an alternate basis between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. And, this year is Kuala Lumpur’s turn to host the event – dubbed the ‘friendly chess challenge’. It is aptly described as friendly simply because it provides the best possible platform for old friends from both countries to meet up once a year! Notwithstanding, many of these players from both countries had been seeing and playing against each other many a times, in this yearly event! Take Watson Tay (Singapore) and Ramli Bahari (Malaysia), for example. Watson drew with Ramli in the 2003 Malaysia-Singapore Chess Challenge and again, agreed to a draw, in time pressure in this year’s edition. Perhaps, another draw next year, Watson?


Singapore veteran player, Watson Tay, in action against a determined Bernard Ng of Malaysia

Forging friendship, renewing ties and catching up with one another…

Results are not of primary importance here, according to Watson. Rather, he feels it is the spirit of togetherness as well as the exposure given to the junior players that will prove invaluable to players from both countries. Watson certainly spoke from experience. As one of the pioneer batches of the Malaysia-Singapore challenge, he spoke fondly about the original format whereby only the best 20 players from both countries took on each other in the match. Those were the days whereby no junior players involved in the match. Looks like the match has come a long way from its original format.

Watson, having only made his return to this annual match in 2003 after a gap of many years, cherished the experience of playing in the event. This explained why he didn’t mind driving his way up from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur (a journey of approximately three hundred kilometers of expressways) and spending his Christmas weekend playing chess!

Needless to say, beautiful memories are best captured on photos. And, Vincent Khng – an expert in Chess and Chinese Chess – came to play in the event armed with his Canon SLR camera. Whenever he had finished playing his game, I would see him combing the playing hall to take snapshots of the players and the event, in general. Such thoughtfulness, I would say!

There were also many non-playing Malaysian chess enthusiasts who took this opportunity to come and meet up with their friends from Down South. Aw Wai Onn and FM Christie Hon were seen hovering around Stanford Perdana, where the match was held, on the first and second day respectively, to greet friends and watch them play.

Ease of connectivity and accessibility

The two-day match was held at the Stanford Hotel, Kuala Lumpur (www.stanfordhotel.com.my). Besides being the venue for the event, Stanford Hotel – located along the bustling Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman – also hosted the chess players’ two nights stay in Kuala Lumpur. Managed by the Micasa International Hotels and Resorts, Stanford Hotel has 153 guest rooms that are affordably priced between RM 160 to RM 190 per night (1USD = RM 3.80).


Stanford Hotel Kuala Lumpur


The lobby of Stanford Hotel

Stanford Hotel is the ideal accommodation for both business and leisure travelers. With a KL Monorail station located just within a five-minute walk from the hotel, getting to shopping malls along Jalan Sultan Ismail, Jalan Ampang, Jalan Bukit Bintang and Jalan Imbi is never easier. The KL Monorail, which is also directly connected to the ultra-modern, integrated transportation hub, KL Sentral, enables ease of accessibility. Besides the monorail, buses and taxis are also regularly available in front of the hotel.


The ever-lively Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, as seen from the 4th floor of Stanford Hotel

For the more adventurous travelers, who are bent on “walking the earth” to discover capitals and cities the world over, do not despair. Stanford Hotel’s proximity to the major attractions such as the Putra World Trade Center and the Central Business District of Kuala Lumpur, makes it the ideal starting point to ‘globe trek’. Besides that, Stanford Hotel, located within minutes from the Asian Heritage Row, offers something for the nightlife seeker. The Asian Heritage Row, with a combination of fine dining restaurants and watering holes such as Bar Savanh, Saray Turkish Restaurant and BarBlonde, is a favorite hang out place for locals, especially auditors from international firms such as PriceWaterhouseCoopers and BDO Binder. Aside from that, Stanford Hotel is also conveniently located within minutes from the Maju Junction Mall and Giant hypermarket.


The Asian Heritage Row, with its wide array of Indo-Chine and Turkish treats

“Roti canai”… or, “roti prata”?

We love Singapore, in the same way that Singaporeans love Malaysia! There is no doubt that a lot of Malaysians enjoy shopping at Orchard Road and loves the comedic acts of Phua Chu Kang. Similarly, thousands of Singaporeans throng holiday destinations in Malaysia during their school breaks and public holidays.

Malaysia is a federation of fourteen states with a multi-ethnic population of mainly Malays, Chinese and Indians. Sunny and humid the whole year round, Malaysia is made up of two parts – West Malaysia and East Malaysia. East Malaysia, which is part of the northern island of Borneo, is made up of two states, Sabah and Sarawak. Kuala Lumpur, which is the capital city, is located in West Malaysia. Known for their hospitability, Malaysians are friendly and most of them converse very good English.

Geographically, Singapore is an oblong-shaped island located south of West Malaysia. The island of Singapore measures 27 miles in width between two extreme points from East to West and 13 miles in height between two extreme points from North to South. Just as the French and the British are separated by the English Channel, Singapore is separated from Malaysia by the Straits of Johore.

The proximity of Singapore to Malaysia means that there are a lot of similarities between the two countries. Like there is a Zouk in Singapore, there is also a Zouk in Kuala Lumpur. However, much like the British and the French, there seems to be a similar ‘mutual envy’ too between the Malaysians and the Singaporeans – a ‘mutual envy’, which strives to differentiate one country from the other. Perhaps, this explains why ‘roti canai’ in Malaysia is called ‘roti prata’ in Singapore?

And, so began the match…

The players checked into Stanford Hotel on the 24th of December 2004. On that day, the hotel staffs, led by Front Office Manager Alan Chan, were busy making all the necessary arrangements to welcome the players. Officials of the Malaysian Chess Federation were up at Stanford Perdana to set up the playing hall for the match.


Parental love and care

The Singapore team drew the advantage of the White pieces for the first day of the match. The match began at 2 pm on the 25th of December 2004. The playing hall was packed with spectators on both days of the event. While some of these are chess enthusiasts (such as Aw Wai Onn and Eric Foo Chee Kin) who came by to support their country in action, most of them are in fact parents (such as Anthony Tan) of junior players in this match. These concerned parents would anxiously stand by the edge of the playing area and keeping a watchful eye on their loved ones fighting hard over the chessboard. However, standing for the entire duration of the four-hour game can be tiring. Thus, it is very thoughtful of the banqueting staffs at Stanford Hotel to have arranged a waiting area with empty chairs for tired parents to sit down and take a rest.

Day 1 – Singaporeans have the White pieces

The first day ended up with Singapore victorious on a score of 42 to 28. While other categories were quite evenly matched, most of Singapore’s points came from the Under-10 and Under-8 categories. The next round, with the Malaysians having the advantage of the White pieces, was scheduled to begin at 9 am on the 26th of December 2004.


Goh Wei Ming, in his game, against Mok Tze Meng of Malaysia


Dmitrij Oleinikov joined in the post-game analysis with Goh Wei Ming (Singapore) and Mok Tze Meng (Malaysia)


Lee Wei Cheng, looking troubled, in his game against Law Zhe Kang of Malaysia


Is this Spiderboy playing a game of chess?


From left to right are the arbiters: Lim Tse Pin, Ignatius Leong and Ibrahim Yaacob

As it is with most chess events, participants and spectators will play some recreational blitz games and transfer chess on the sideline. Once their games ended, one could see players like Jax Tham, Bernard Ng and Han Shuting engaging their opponents in some blitz games. On the second day of the event, I even managed to sneak in some transfer chess games against Eric Foo Chee Kin with Ernest Chia as my partner.


Seen here are Jax Tham and Bernard Ng playing a couple of blitz games against their ‘young’ rivals

Day 2 – Malaysians have the White pieces

At the end of day two, Malaysia again fell to Singapore by the same score of 42 to 28. Credit must be given to the Malaysian team, as they fought hard. In fact, the Malaysian players managed to reduce the number of defeats to their opponents. But, a loss is a loss. With a two-day total score is 84 to 56 in favor of Singapore, the Dato’ Tan Kim Yeow trophy goes to the Singaporean team. Congratulations to team Singapore! Aside from the hard work of the whole team, I must say that Dr. Nick Aplin’s ‘Singaporean’ spirit certainly helped to lift everyone up. Nick, your leadership is an exemplary to all.


Ismail Ahmad, in his game, against Luke Leong, which ended in a draw


Nur Shazwani of Malaysia, in her game against Yap Xiu Hua of Singapore


The closing ceremony


The Dato’ Tan Kim Yeow trophy, being presented to the winner, Singapore

With one year to go before the 17th edition of the Malaysia-Singapore Chess Challenge is held in Singapore, the Malaysian team, by now a wounded tiger, must go back to the drawing board and work towards wresting back the challenge trophy from the Singapore team. So, Nick, a word of caution here: a wounded tiger can be very dangerous!


Children are a happy…


… joyful lot…


… and, they just keep having fun!

In a few more days, the year 2004 will draw to a close. Happy New Year 2005 to all of you!

About the author

Highly passionate about the game, but having only recently obtained his FIDE rating, Edwin Lam is a seasoned player in his home country of Malaysia. Working full-time at an advertising agency in Kuala Lumpur, he enjoys motor racing (Formula 1, Formula Nippon and the Japan GT Championships), besides photography and traveling. Whenever he is not busy with his other passions, he invests his time and effort towards chess, especially in chess analysis. From analysis and annotations (following in the great footsteps of Botvinnik, Timman and countless other chess greats), he accidentally stumbled upon writing chess articles as a hobby. Having written chess articles for close to six years already, he is now a correspondent for Chess Asia, a Philippine-based chess magazine. Besides that, his articles have also appeared at one time or another in Chess Kids, a Melbourne-based quarterly periodical ran by David Cordover, as well as the GMChess website. A chess artist at heart, he is most impressed by the games of Keres, Bronstein, Tal and Petrosian. This, however, does not stop him from marveling at the clarity and ease of the scientific approach outlined by Botvinnik. With a large library of chess books and magazines at home in multiple languages – from English to German to French and Russian – he primarily ranks Bronstein’s 1953 Zurich International Chess Tournament and Alekhine’s 1924 New York International Chess Tournament as the best books of all time. Recently, he wrote a nice profile about GM Yasser Seirawan that appeared in ChessCafe.com. His other articles that have appeared on Chessbase.com are:

Besides being a chess columnist, he is also currently coaching the school team of his alma mater, Tengku Ampuan Rahimah Secondary School, in Klang.


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