'Aiyoh, aiyoh, banyak susah-lah'

by ChessBase
9/15/2003 – In Malay that translates to "Uh-oh, the position is very difficult already". But the spectactators at the 23rd Merdeka Team Chess Challenge held in Kuala Lumpur thought the player was in need of medical assistance. Unfortunately the only doctor in the house was on the opposite side of the board. Read all about it in this special report from Malaysia.

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23rd Merdeka Chess Challenge

Playchess.com players triumphant!

The biggest chess event in Malaysia is undoubtedly the 23rd Merdeka Team Chess Challenge held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from 28th August to 1st September 2003.

Kuala Lumpur’s impressive Petronas Twin Towers

An IM chess friend suggested to me that I should form a team to mount a challenge. I thought it was a good idea. Instead of us bashing each other up in the local Singapore rapid events month after month, we should instead combine forces. So here’s our team lineup...

Board/Player Remarks
1. GM Tu Hoang Thong ‘Tu Hoang Thong’ on playchess.com. Reigning South East Asian Chess Champion
2. NM Julio Catalino Sadorra Student in International Community School in Singapore, Cairnhill Open Champion 2001, Former top Filipino Junior player
3. NM Lee Wang Sheng ‘karpovian’ on playchess.com. Former Asian Junior Silver medalist, winner of the Negri Sembilan Open 2003
4. NM Koh Kum Hong ‘kumhong’ on playchess.com. Singapore Champion 2001
5. Dr J Nithiananthan

Team Doctor , ‘drj’ on playchess.com. 3rd in the 2001 Singapore Rapid Open and 2nd in the 2003 Singapore Rapid Open

6. Jimmy Ng Former National Player. ‘Chess Romantic’ on playchess.com. Also the team guide – knows Malaysia like the back of his hand...

Do the math

Well, back to the event, which was dealt a financial setback when for the first time in 23 years, Culture, Arts and Tourism Minister Datuk Paduka Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir rejected an appeal from the Malaysian Chess Federation for the funds needed to organise the Merdeka chess team championships.

Dato’ Tan Chin Nam
to the rescue!

Amid the gloom, two of Malaysia’s financial giants came to the rescue. ASTRO, (Malaysia's largest media company, operating satellite television, a radio network and information services) stepped in to fund the event together with the well known chess supporter Dato Tan Chin Nam who pledged to match Astro ringgit for ringgit! [The Malaysian currency Ringgits are around 3.8 to the dollar]

Hence, instead of a reduced prize fund, the event saw it beefed up to a cool RM 60,000! Kudos to ASTRO and Dato Tan for their generosity in keeping the event afloat and making it even more attractive to chess enthusiasts!

The surprising thing about the Merdeka event was that their Rapid Team Chess Challenge came with a prize fund of a cool RM 45,000 (about 15,000 Euros/$) while its main Open Chess and Junior Category was funded to the tune of RM 10,000 and RM 5,000 respectively. So no prizes for guessing which category we would be ‘attacking’! Just do the math!

It seems that the reason for the strong backing for the Rapid event was that Dato’ Tan Chin Nam was pleased with the strong turnout for it last year during the World Under 16 Olympiad when the event was awash with Grandmasters and International Masters. Hence, he had promised to increase the prize fund to keep the interest going.

The importance of a good team name

Having formed a team, the next most important task at hand was to select a great team name. Obviously, names such as ‘We’re going to Tarrasch you’ or ‘Nigel’s shorts’ isn’t quite appropriate for a Singapore-based team taking part in an event which is meant to celebrate Malaysia’s National Day. Thus, the name ‘Knightmare’ was picked, with its chessic connotations and inherent intention to give their opponents a torrid experience.

At the start of the event, FIDE IA and Honorary Secretary of the Malaysian Chess Federation, Abd Hamid Majid, the Chief Arbiter of the event, warned right at the opening bell that the Singaporean-based team could prove to be a ‘nightmare’ for their opponents.

Malaysian National Master Mok Tze Meng was very impressed with the team name and complained that it was also 'psychologically disturbing’, putting many teams at a disadvantage even before starting the clocks! He exclaimed a few times in the tournament hall,"Hey! Doctor Knightmare – are you trying to give all of us nightmares?" FM Lim Chuin Hoong's mother also said that it was ridiculous that even after you wake up you still have "Knightmare" waiting for you!

Well, the following game does illustrate how Black’s Queen Knight was left high and dry on the Queenside while the main events unfolded in the centre and Kingside. This is a game in which Black’s mare (weak pun entirely intended) was caught in a place it did not want to be in.

Lee Wang Sheng (2252) – Nicholas Chan (2245) [A81]
Merdeka Open '03 Kuala Lumpur, 08.2003

Here Black played 9...Na7 and the knight stayed there until the move 33.b6 forced it to retreat to c8, where it was immediately captured by the white queen. All games in this article are given with full annotations at the bottom of this page.

Wang Sheng also held IM Jimmy Liew to a draw and beat current Malaysian National Closed Champion Nicholas Chan in the Open helping us beat the top seeds convincingly twice in two tournaments!

Speaking of team names, the Malaysian National Teams gave the Knightmare team a problem with their ‘Mars’ and ‘Uranus’ names when it came to team strategy discussion. Perhaps the teams’ planet names were chosen as a tribute to ASTRO Malaysia. They cleverly put their top player, International Master Mas Hafizulhelmi in the Uranus team, somewhat causing confusion and tongue tripping. For example...

‘Hey doc, who are we playing next? Mars?’
‘We’re playing the ‘Uranus’ team, … and Mas is playing…’
‘er…Mars or Mas…’
‘What do you mean we’re playing ‘Mars’ team next…?’
‘Oh…forget it…’

Knightmare’s secret weapon,
Julio Catalino Sadorra

This however, did not stop our secret weapon Sadorra from beating IM Mas. In the first four rounds, the team was missing GM Tu who had some coaching commitments in Singapore and Sadorra had to mount Knightmare’s (pun again intended) challenge on Board 1.

Well, I think IM Mas has been somewhat out of the chess scene since he started his UK studies, only pausing to take part in the annual Hastings Congress. However, he is a force to be reckoned with, especially having attained one of his IM norms by posting an impressive 9-0 score in a First Saturday IM event a few years back.

IM Mas Hafizulhelmi (2397) - Julio Catalino Sadorra (2255) [C05]
Merdeka Rapid '03 Kuala Lumpur (3), 28.08.2003
[Julio Catalino Sadorra]

I stopped my analysis here and considered that Black had good compensation for the exchange here. 23.Rf1? [ 23.Rc1+ is unclear] 23...Qc6+! [23...Bxf4 24.gxf4 Qc6+ 25.Kg3 and White is slightly better] 24.Kf2 Bxf4 25.gxf4 Rxf4+ 26.Kg3 [26.Kg1 Bh3!-+] 26...Qc3+ 27.Rf3 Rg4+ 28.Kf2 Qb2+ 29.Qe2 Rg2+! 30.Kxg2 Qxe2+ 31.Kg3 Qe5+ 32.Rf4 d3 33.Rd1 d2 0-1. All games in this article are given with full annotations at the bottom of this page.

Sadorra outdid himself again, beating Malaysia's other IM Jimmy Liew later in the Classical event!

Julio Catalino Sadorra (2255) - IM Jimmy Liew (2333) [A58]
Merdeka Rapid '03 Kuala Lumpur (4), 31.08.2003
[Julio Catalino Sadorra]

Black played 37...Bxh3? [better is 37...Qd1+ 38.Kf2 Qc2+=] 38.a7+- Bxg2 39.Qxc8+ Kg7 40.Kxg2 Qe2+ 41.Bf2 Qe4+ 42.Kh2 Qe2 43.Kg2 Qe4+ 44.Kf1 Qd3+ 45.Ke1 Qc3+ 46.Ke2 Qc4+ 47.Kd2 Qb4+ 48.Kd3 Qb3+ 49.Kd4 Qb6+ 50.Kc4 Qxf2 51.a8Q+- Qc5+ 52.Kb3 Qb5+ 53.Ka3 Qc5+ 54.Ka4+- 1-0. All games in this article are given with full annotations at the bottom of this page.

Kill the enemy!

Although Dr Nithia was the team captain and doctor, the role of the team psychologist went unofficially to GM Tu. On one of our KL shopping trips, he chose to head for the archery range to shoot arrows instead. When asked what had been up to, he curtly replied, "Kill the enemy!"

KL Chinatown – A good place for a shopping spree. Note the Malaysian flags (above) hoisted in celebration of Malaysia’s National Day.

His strong psychological mindset rubbed off on the rest of the team members. Always ready for a fight he spurred the team many a time, especially when we met fearsome China with IM Yin Hao on Board 1 who has an Elo of nearly 2600! After sizing up our team’s chances just before this crucial round, his last words were "We will try to get an even result (2-2) and maybe even offer a draw or two, but if they refuse, we will fight to the last arrow! (an obvious allusion to his earlier archery)”.

Left to right: The ‘Archer’, The ‘Crow’, ‘karpovian’ and ‘Doctor Knightmare’!

Of course GM Tu on Board 1 won all his games and only drew twice with IM Yin Hao in both events. He easily pocketed the Gold Medal in the Open Event. Here is a game where he not only left the Black mare in a quandary but also the all the rest of the Black pieces!

GM Tu Hoang Thong (2510) - Marcus Chan (2242) [B20]
Merdeka Open '03 Kuala Lumpur, 08.2003

White won with 33.e6! fxe6 [33...Qe8? 34.Ng5] 34.fxg6 hxg6 [34...Qd7 35.Ng5 h6 36.Bh3 Re2 37.Qh5+-] 35.Ng5 Qd7 36.Be5 1-0

Beware of the ‘Crow’

In the local chess scene, NM Koh Kum Hong is known as the ‘Crow’ and like the hero of James O’Barr’s graphic novels, Kum Hong ‘swoops’ in on his opponents to put things right. With an awesome 9/9 score in the Rapid Event, he won the Gold Medal on Board 4 with remarkable ease. Dato' Tan Chin Nam upon presenting Koh the Gold Medal, immediately challenged him to a duel but the ‘Crow’ diplomatically avoided it of course. For that matter, Kum Hong was interviewed in the Singapore newspaper ‘Streats’ about their emphatic win!

NM Mok Tze Meng’s ‘Knightmare-ish’ words turned out prophetically as he was outplayed by the ‘Crow’ in their individual encounter.

Mok Tze Meng (2329) - Koh Kum Hong (2244) [C19]
Merdeka Open '03 Kuala Lumpur, 28.08.2003

After 31...Be4! 32.Bxe4 White loses the exchange but what choice does he have? 32.Bg2 Rf2 33.Qg4+ Kh8 34.Rxf2 Qxf2 35.Rg1 Rf5 is a horrendous zugzwang. 32...Rf2+ 33.Qxf2 Rxf2+ 34.Bg2 Rxf1 [34...Rxc2-+] 35.Rxf1 Qe3 and Black won in 50 moves.

Doc doing his job

The last match provided some humorous and tense moments simultaneously. I was the first one to win my game but what was interesting was the very audible response that I elicited from my opponent when I produced the winning move.

Dr J Nithiananthan (2091) - PQ Abdul Rahman [C96]
Merdeka Open '03 Kuala Lumpur, 01.09.2003
[J Nithiananthan]

White has just played 27.Nxa5!? which looks winning, but there is one saving resource which black misses. 27...Nc7? The last chance for counterplay in time trouble was 27...Nxd5! with attack: 28.Nc6 Qb6 29.Qxd5 Nc7! 30.Qe4 (30.Qd2 Qxc6 31.c4) 30...d5 31.Qe2 Qxc6 32.fxe5 fxe5 33.Qxe5. I thought this was fine for White (pawn plus), but after 33...Bf6 Black's pieces are very active 33...Bf6 34.Qg3. At the cost of a pawn, Black's pieces are very active.

28.Nc6± Qd7 29.c4+- After this Black is simply lost 29...Rac8 30.a4+-. White is also in time trouble now and chooses what he thinks is the least complicated path. 30.fxe5+- is an easy win too: 30...dxe5 31.Nxe5!? Interestingly I saw this line in the game and rejected it for the simpler 30.a4+- but just 31.Ne7 (instead of the complicated 31.Nxe5!?) was the simplest route! (31.Nxe7 and white wins easly after 31...Qxe7 32.d6+-) 31...fxe5 32.f6 g6 33.fxe7 Rxf3 34.Qxf3 Qxe7 35.Qg4+-]

30...Ncxd5 31.cxd5 Nxd5 32.Qxd5 Rxc6 33.a5 Rfc8? overlooking the skewer 34.Ba4+-. Black suddenly exclaimed "Oh, oh, no, no, aiyoh, aiyoh, banyak susah-lah" ("very difficult already"). One or two of the spectators thought that my opponent was badly hurt and possibly required the services of a doctor. Unfortunately the doctor that caused him the demise was 'off-duty'! 34...Qc7 35.Bxc6 Qxc6 36.Qxc6 Rxc6 37.a6+- 1-0.

My services were actually really required when Jimmy Ng's son was mauled on the face by a Batu Pahat monkey and required stitching and wound debridement.

"Kaching" – says the cash register!

Knightmare (minus Sadorra who had to return to Singapore for his exams), 1st in Merdeka Rapid Teams and 2nd in Merdeka Open (1.5hr) Teams! From left: Chess Romantic, kumhong, drj, karpovian and Tu Hoang Thong (as known on playchess.com)

Knightmare almost swept the Open event in Merdeka as well but was pipped by a lucky but deserving team from China 'Ecosem' into second place by a mere half point. Overall it was a fantabulous performance, from the playing and financial perspective. Despite being seeded third, Knightmare captured top honours in the main Merdeka Chess Rapid '03 event (42 teams participated) winning the RM 9000 booty and emerged in second place in the Merdeka Chess Open '03 event (54 teams) winning RM 1500, not to mention Gold Medals for best board performances on all four boards!! FIDE Vice-President Ignatius Leong from Singapore (who was invited for the closing ceremony) shook hands with me at the final prize-giving, exclaiming "Thank you for winning for Singapore!"

Final Selected Results Merdeka Rapid Teams 2003

1st Knightmare
RM 9,000 / 6 Gold Medals
2nd SEA Mars
RM 9,000 / 6 Silver Medals
3rd SEA Uranus
RM 4,000 6 / Bronze Medals 
4th China Ecosem
RM 3,000
5th Caissa Chess Ent
RM 2,000
6th Semaun
RM 1,250
7th Spotted Dog
RM 1,250
8th UTM A
RM 900
9th Nusa Mahkota
RM 400
10th Sarawak
RM 400
11th Squad 99
RM 400

Report by J Nithiananthan and Junior Tay
Photos by Kek Wei Chuan
More details of the Merdeka Team Challenge can be found here.

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