An Auckland Assignment

by Edwin Lam
12/27/2018 – And now for something a bit different...EDWIN LAM offers a noir-ish fictional introduction to the impending New Zealand Open. The set-up is fake but the tournament is very real, even if set in the fantastic wonderland of New Zealand. | Pictured: The young and young-at-heart playing in bubbles on scenic Lake Rotorua | Photo: Edwin Lam

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New Castle City and I

An email came through from Mr Fred Pettersun, my editor at The Rook’s Gazette. It’s about my next writing assignment in January. 

The email read: 

Gerry, you can choose to either attend the Tata Steel Chess in Wijk aan Zee or head to Auckland to write about the New Zealand Chess Congress. Please let me know your decision before Christmas. Thank you.

Before we go further, let me first introduce myself:

My name is Gerry Shilton and I am a chess journalist. I live in New Castle City where chess is played by anyone and everyone. We have cafes, libraries, bookshops, stadiums and schools dedicated solely to chess. Skyscrapers and towers are architecturally designed with chess motives and patterns.

Some places have even been named after famous chess players such as the Petrosian Twin Towers and Alexei’s Bistro. Others are named after chess terminologies. An example is Night Pin, a well-known watering hole here in New Castle City.

If New Mouse City with its cheese-rrific adventures is deemed heavenly by Geronimo and friends, then New Castle City with its chess-errific attractions is no less so. But life as a chess journalist lies beyond this lovely city. Unlike the regal monarch of chess — there aren’t any castling options in my life! A journalist had to go to the centre of the chess battlefield to cover the event and interview the victor and console the vanquished. And this meant travelling to the coldest winters and hottest tropics.

Windy Wijk or awesome Auckland?

Coming back to my January writing assignment. Seems that Magnus will be joined by Vishy and Vlad as well as the Shak, Anish, Liren and others in Wijk. This seems like a tempting writing assignment, but like Hikaru Nakamura I have never liked the cold of the Dutch coast.

A check online of the winter predictions for Europe and I’d read words like ‘teeth-chattering’, ‘bone-chilling’, ‘shivering’ and ‘the bleakest and coldest winter in 10 years’. I guess it’s better for me to skip Wijk and head South to enjoy summertime in New Zealand. There isn’t much I know of Auckland and even less about the New Zealand Chess Congress. So, allow me to Google them to find out more.

Auckland downtown

Auckland, the commercial capital of New Zealand

Oldest chess festival in the world

First up, the New Zealand Chess Congress (PDF entry form). Organised by the Howick-Pakuranga Chess Club and the New Zealand Chess Federation, it will take place between January 14th and 24th 2019. This will be the 126th edition…Whoa, this is something! The Hastings Chess Congress will only turn 94 next month, while the Wijk will celebrate its 81st in January, but this one in NZ is into its 126th year and it is definitely the oldest chess tournament in the world!

The New Zealand Chess Congress will be held at the Waipuna Conference Centre in Auckland (which is only a 15-minute drive from Auckland’s Central Business District) in the form of a chess festival — incorporating the NZ Open Championship (first played in 1879!!!), the NZ Major Open (for under 2100 FIDE rate players), NZ Junior Open Championship, NZ Rapid Championship as well as the NZ Lightning Championship.

Waipuna Conference Centre

Waipuna Conference Centre, the venue of the NZ Chess Congress

It will be helmed by CM Paul Spiller, who is also the FIDE Zone 3.6 President. According to Paul:

“The NZ Chess Congress has a guaranteed total of NZ$ 10,000 in prize money [about USD $6,700], with the winner of the NZ Open Championship taking home NZ$ 1,800 [about USD $1,200] and the title of 2019 NZ Open Champion. Chess players of all nationalities are welcome to compete here. In fact, the defending champion of the Open section is GM Adrien Demuth of France who won the title earlier this year.”

Paul Spiller simul

Chief organiser, CM Paul Spiller, giving a simultaneous chess exhibition in August this year

A quick check online confirmed that players from seven different countries have signed up together with the locals in New Zealand in the Open section. Leading the way are GMs Timur Gareyev, Vasily Papin and Darryl Johansen together with a host of strong IMs like Izzat Kanan, Anthony Ker, Russell Dive and Alex Wohl. GM Gareyev is the blindfold chess king. In December 2016, he created a new Guinness World Record by playing simultaneous chess against 48 opponents, blindfolded.

Blindfold chess aside, GM Timur is still very much on top of his game. In August, GM Timur won the US Open with an 8-1 score. He will be in New Zealand from early January to play in the invitation-only, George Trundle Masters together with GMs Papin and Johansen before competing in the New Zealand Chess Congress. According to GM Timur, this will be his first time to New Zealand.

Gareyev and Papin

Left: GM Timur Gareyev, the current US Open champion
Right: Russian GM Vasily Papin will be playing chess in the Oceania region throughout December 2018 and January 2019

As GM Timur is known for his penchant for extreme sports, I wonder if he’d be keen to do a cover story for The Rook’s Gazette where he’d be given a chessboard populated with pieces arranged in a puzzle, seconds before he zip-line jumps off Auckland’s Sky Tower. At the end of the 192 metres’ fall and 11 seconds later, he will share with us his answer to the puzzle. To make it more exciting, I’d even propose for him to do this blindfold! This could be you Timur!

Auckland Sky Tower

The different views of Auckland Sky Tower from the Auckland Town Hall (top left), from the base of the Tower (bottom left) and from the top before you’d jump off the tower (right) — click or tap to enlarge

Auckland’s ‘A’ for Adventure!

There is also a chance that GM Timur might find this idea of mine a bit passé since he had recently done a ‘chess-dive’ photoshoot for Chess Life magazine. If he declines my proposal, then I’ll need a plan B! I do have an ‘ace’ up my sleeve and that is the jet-boat! Now, this decidedly Kiwi experience of boating at high speed down one of the many thrilling rivers of New Zealand might just do the trick to entice him to do this cover story for The Rook’s Gazette!!


Jet-boating is best experienced through the twists and turns of New Zealand rivers | Photo: Public domain

So, the plan B sounds like this: I will propose GMs Gareyev and Papin play a blitz match on board a jet-boat down the Waikato! It is going to be an adrenaline-pumping ride coupled with magnificent views of stunning lakes and other picturesque scenery as the jet-boat hurries its way down the river. Although Papin, the Russian GM, may not have done as much extreme sports, I am sure that he is also undecidedly unadventurous. I might just be able to get him to agree, especially after he replied with the following to my question about trying adventure sports: “Maybe it is time to try!”

Waikato river New Zealand north island

The breath-taking Waikato | Photo: Public domain

To further pique the exciting natures of GMs Timur and Papin, I’d take them to visit the Craters of the Moon with its bubbling craters and steaming vents. This is probably the closest you can get on Earth to an experience of outer space.

Craters of the Moon

The Craters of the Moon in the Taupo region, a few hours’ drive from Auckland (full size)

Hobbiton movie set

Then, there is scenic Lake Roturua and the traditional Maorian experience at Te Puia village. If anyone of them is game to play a chess match in the lush pastures of Shire, as seen in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, they do so at the Hobbiton movie set! Now, this is another uniquely Kiwi experience that would make a nice cover story photo for GMs Gareyev and Papin’s maiden visit to New Zealand!

This Auckland Assignment is beginning to sound really, exciting! Let me contact GMs Timur and Papin right away to propose my cover story ideas to them! And, I’d also reply to Mr Pettersun with my decision to head to South to New Zealand in January besides outlining my cover story ideas.

I can’t wait for January to come as I head to Auckland, the City of Sails!


  1. (1) For those of you who are keen to join me at the 126th New Zealand Chess Congress, you can sign-up to play there by emailing the completed PDF entry form to the Secretary of the New Zealand Chess Federation or to the Chief Organiser, CM Paul Spiller. Over 70 players have signed up and places are filling up fast to this Land of Hobbiton! So, hurry and sign-up today;
  2. All information contained here on the 126th New Zealand Chess Congress is real as are the quotes from GMs Timur and Papin;
  3. Gerry Shilton, The Rook’s Gazette and its editor and New Castle City are fictitious characters and names created by Edwin Lam Choong Wai, specifically for this semi-fictional chess story.

Edwin Lam Choong Wai is a Malaysian chess player and author. He was previously attached to Procter & Gamble doing local, regional and global marketing roles, before joining Pfizer, Essilor and Yeo’s in both Malaysia and Singapore. He had also previously been attached to The Purpose Group, a creative and digital marketing agency in Ho Chi Minh City. He is now based in Malaysia having started an education venture known as My SKOLA+ ( since end-2017.


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