Chess in Singapore

1/18/2021 – The recently founded Yuhua CSC Chess Club wants to promote chess in Singapore - with beginner classes, weekly blitz sessions, tournaments, lectures and simultaneous exhibitions by the nation’s top masters. To get things going the club organised the "Kickoff 2021 - 1st Yuhua Community Sports Club Online Speed Chess Championships", a huge blitz-tournament. In a large illustrated report Kevin Goh and Junior Tay present highlights of this tournament. | Photo: Aerial Marina Bay Singapore | Source: Aerial Marina Bay.

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A big Kickoff to Singapore Chess in 2021!

Text: Junior Tay and GM Kevin Goh
Pictures (if not otherwise indicated): Junior Tay and GM Kevin Goh

Internet chess events have truly taken off in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic and even though the virus is somewhat (knock on wood) under control here, the Singapore government has been cautiously and gradually removing the different anti-Covid measures. While we look forward to the lifting of all these safe-distancing measures, #ChessAgainstCovid (“CAC”), which raised nearly US$120,000 for Lakeside Family Service’s “Caring Amidst Covid-19 fund), has initiated plans to launch a brand-new chess club at the grassroots level. After a couple of months of planning and reconnaissance, Grandmaster Kevin Goh and his team decided on Yuhua Community Centre, located in the West of Singapore due to its proximity to where many of the CAC members spent most of their childhood growing up.

The idea of starting a chess club is to further promote chess through community engagement predominantly within the Yuhua vicinity and community, but with membership open to all. Plans such as beginner classes, weekly blitz sessions, tournaments, lectures and simultaneous exhibitions conducted by the nation’s top masters are in the works and the club promises to be a vibrant addition to the Singapore chess scene.

Yuhua CSC Chess Club is open for all comers now!

To start the ball rolling, Kevin came up with the idea of a big online blitz event to start the new year, hence the name - Kickoff 2021 -1st Yuhua Community Sports Club Online Speed Chess Championships. The tournament was held on the lichess.org server on the 9th of January 2021 and the team took the opportunity to also announce the launch of the Yuhua CSC Chess club during the live streaming of the event.

Before we continue the report, I should give a shout out to all the main movers in this event, i.e., FM Ashvin Sivakumar (Chief Arbiter), FM Lee Qing Aun and Mdm Lim Peck Seah (Coordinators), Mr. Jagadeesh Balakrishnan, Mr. Seow Yongli (Arbiters/Organisers) and Mr. Goh Miao Guang, Chairman of Yuhua CSC Sports Club for all their hard work in organising this event.

FM Ashvin Sivakumar, Chief Arbiter of Kickoff 2021

FM Lee Qing Aun, National Championship runner up 2019. Coordinator of Kickoff 2021

Prior to this tournament, #ChessAgainstCovid had also organised the 1st Singapore Online International Chess Day Tournament (20th July 2020) which also had a bumper crop of prizes (see the tournament summary here). That tournament attracted 109 players including 4 IMs, 1 WGM and 5 FMs and 2 CMs.

As this is the first open event in 2021 for Singapore chess, Kevin spared no efforts in canvassing for an attractive prize fund and this time round, the prizes were even more impressive (see the summary of prizes here). 135 chess players showed up for the tournament, with 1 GM, 5 IMs, 1 WGM, 3 FMs, 2 CMs, 1 NM and 1 WCM involved in the fray. The stage is set for an exciting fight for SGD2,500 worth of prizes generously contributed by Yuhua CC and huge chess enthusiasts Mr. Joshua Lim Geok Hock and Mr. Zhang Changjie. As for Kevin, he once again livestreamed the event from his Twitch account (see the live commentary here). During the show, he hosted Dr Ang Hak Seng, Chairman, Yuhua Community Club Management Committee & Deputy Secretary, Ministry of Culture, Community & Youth and Mr. Goh Miao Guang (Chairman of Yuhua CSC Sports Club) as they held a dialogue on the Yuhua chess initiative and what they hope to achieve through this.

Mr Goh Miao Guang (top left), GM Kevin Goh (top right() and Dr Ang Hak Seng (bottom middle) discussing the Yuhua chess initiative on livestream just before commencing the Kickoff 2021 event.

Now to the event proper. By rating, IM Tin Jingyao, the newly minted National Champion of Singapore with a perfect 9/9 picket fencing was the favourite to take the SGD300 first prize.

Singapore’s National Champion 2020, IM Tin Jingyao

However, the participation of his bête noire (Li Yang has a healthy plus score vs Tin so far), the ‘Legend’ – IM Dr. Hsu Li Yang made the odds smaller.

IM Professor Hsu Li Yang, the Vice Dean of NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health

There was also the very erratic but mercurial IM Liu Xiangyi who can mix brilliant wins (or bizarre swindles) with face-palming losses.

IM Liu Xiangyi, who has been a prolific top scorer for all Singapore’s team events in 2020

Apart from these three national representatives of the 2020 Singapore Online Olympiad and Online Asian Nations Cup squads, FM Siddharth Jagadeesh, the 2020 National Runner up, IM Nima Javanbakht who is studying his PhD at the National University of Singapore, as well as the blitz fiends WGM Gong Qianyun and Ethan Poh (1st and 2nd respectively at the 1st Singapore Online International Chess Day Tournament) lent more intrigue to the 11-round event. We were also delighted that two retired and former national players in GM Wong Meng Kong and IM Chan Peng Kong joined in the fun.

WGM Gong Qianyun, Gold Medallist in SEA Games Rapid Chess 2019 (Credit: WGM  Gong Qianyun)

IM Nima Javanbakht, PhD student in National University of Singapore (NUS).

GM Dr Wong Meng Kong, Singapore’s first Grandmaster (credit: Dr Wong’s Facebook account)

IM Chan Peng Kong, Singapore Champion 1999 (left) speaking to CM Dr Shashi Jayakumar

Ethan Poh, Runner up in both the 1st Singapore Chess Day Online and Kickoff 2021  (credit: Carleton Lim)

Games Section:

ACS International’s Tay Yi Xiang created a stir in Round 2 when he held GM Wong Meng Kong to a draw from a slightly worse position, hence putting Singapore’s first GM adrift of the tournament leaders.

Tay Yi Xiang, Equal 3rd at Nationals Schools  Individuals U12 in 2019

The upsets came as early as in Round 3 where Teo Hong Ming (who placed 9th in the National Championships) took advantage of a lapse of judgement by Ethan to promote an unlikely pawn.

 

Nima wasn’t spared either as CM Benjamin Foo went after his king with a sustained full-scale attack on the b-file after both sides castled long.

 

M Benjamin Foo, 2nd runner up in National Championships 2015 (Photo: Benjamin Foo)

National Serviceman Jonathan Goh outplayed IM Chan Peng Kong from the Black side of a Botvinnik English to stay a title contender too in another upset result. The most impressive feat however is Anglo Chinese School (Independent) youngster Jayden Wong’s controlled overpowering of the 2010 Singapore National Champion, FM Daniel Chan. In a textbook Reti System, he controlled the central dark-squares admirably and snuffed out all counterplay and finally crashed through the queenside.

 

Jayden Wong, Singapore’s 2nd highest rated U14 player (Credit: Jayden Wong)

Round 4 saw Jayden, Li Yang, Marcus Chen and Jingyao go into the lead with 4/4. Jayden took advantage of inaccurate opening play by WGM Gong Qianyun to notch another scalp while Li Yang had a very tense battle with Hong Ming. Unheralded Marcus Chen (whose 2000+ elo meant he certainly could be a threat) outplayed Benjamin to join the leaders.

 

Teo Hong Ming, 4th in Melbourne Open 2020

It was sheer anguish for IM Liu Xiangyi this time as he skilfully outplayed Jingyao in a Rook + 3 pawns vs Bishop and Knight ending, only to lose on time when he reached Rook + pawn vs Knight. Yes, you read that right…the server allows the player with the lone knight to take the win. Xiangyi explained that he panicked for 3 seconds and before he could unfreeze himself, his time had run out. Life is tough.

 

Round 5 was heartbreak time for Jingyao instead. The ‘last to blunder loses’ syndrome hit him as in a winning Rook and 3 pawns vs Rook and 1 endgame vs FM Andrean Susilodinata, he sent his king the wrong way and could not stop the Indo expat’s lone pawn from promotion.

 

Li Yang took advantage of Siddharth’s ‘combination’ which seemingly won a pawn but instead allowed Li Yang a favourable trade of two minors for rook and pawn and the resulting endgame was overwhelming for the Legend.

 

Meanwhile, Nima ended GM Wong Meng Kong’s challenge for the title with this win that was more gifted than earned.

 

Andrean and Jayden were the others to join Li Yang in the lead at 5/5 but a hard fought draw between Li Yang and Jonathan sent Andrean in the lead as he overcame Jonahan Goh to reach half-time with a perfect 6/6.

 

Jayden ended Susilo’s purple patch streak when the latter blundered a piece after 14 moves of another Reti System, sending the youngster into a joint lead with Li Yang at 6.5/7, Li Yang had it much harder, having to fight tooth and nail to overcome Nima with some insane tactics by both side in the final juncture.

 

The National Champion showed his tactical acumen with this brilliant miniature where he upended Siddharth’s London system with a deeply calculated and powerful knight sacrifice.

 

Li Yang thus went into the sole lead, thanks to Jingyao drawing Jayden and Xiangyi having to concede ½ point to Andrean. Meanwhile, Ethan ousted Qianyun to stay ½ point behind Li Yang. Daniel Chan also stayed in contention with a smooth total chokehold grip on GM Wong Meng Kong’s structure forcing the later to relinquish a pawn and subsequently the game.

 

FM Daniel Chan, Singapore Champion 2010 (Credit: Daniel Chan’s Facebook account)

Just as Li Yang seemed to be cruising to the title, young Ethan Poh outslugged him in a long-protracted Rooks and Pawns ending which went down to the wire.

 

Jingyao won a strange game vs Jonathan where he was worse for most of the game but somehow his queen and pawns managed to beat Jonathan’s queen and knight. The revelation of the event, Jayden ran out of gas henceforth…and he was outplayed by Xiangyi in a tough knight and pawns ending. Meanwhile Nima ended Qianyun’s title chances in this round, when she was forced to sacrifice the exchange and he converted the resulting position. The game of the round was produced by Siddharth when he tortured Andrean in a positional masterpiece that featured an awesome knight tour which set up a huge squeeze on the latter’s position. Mind you, the engine still called it equal but we are only human…and Andrean succumbed in the increment phase.

 

FM Siddharth Jagadeesh, National Championship runner up 2020

FM Andrean Susilodinata, Singapore Rapid Champion 2014 (Credit: Chessbase India)

Round 10 saw Li Yang and Xiangyi setting up a juicy final round showdown for the title when both routed Jingyao and Ethan respectively. For some reason, Jingyao does not play well against Li Yang and this time, his pawn sacrifice was refuted hyper accurately and he never had a chance to get back into the game.

 

As mentioned earlier, Jayden who had performed remarkably up till round 8, was a spent force and he inexplicably walked into a queen fork against Nima and could no longer contend for the title.

Siddharth’s hard fought draw with Ben only ensured both were too far to contest Li Yang and Xiangyi so only our top scorers in the Online Asian Nations Cup had the chance to go for the SGD300 first prize and what a game it was! As expected, Xiangyi went for the jugular with a typical pawn sacrifice and attacked with all his might. Li Yang defended and fended off the barrage of attacking forays on his kingside and as was about to convert when he miscalculated the flurry of exchanges – which ended in him being a whole rook down.

Hence, when it was all said and done and when the dust has settled, IM Liu Xiangyi emerged the champion of Singapore’s first open event of 2021! Congratulations!

 

IM Liu Xiangyi, Champion Kickoff 2021 having a chat with GM Kevin Goh at YMCA (Stevens Road)

I must say that Xiangyi played the most interesting chess in the event. Li Yang described him as ‘the only player in Singapore to generate dangerous play in all sorts of positions’. See for yourself…

In this ‘nothing’ position where his opponent CM Shashi Jayakumar equalized comfortably, Xiangyi complicated the issue by slotting in a freebie Nd5 just to create chaos.

 

After a long-protracted squeeze and pushing Marcus Chen on the defensive, he terminated the contest with a powerful pawn sacrifice here.

 

Our first Grandmaster Dr. Wong Meng Kong was held to four draws by relative youngsters. As reported earlier, 12-year-old Tay Yi Xiang got half a point with stout defense. In the penultimate round, 24-year-old Sara Ann Ang held him in a Rook + opposite color bishop ending where there was nothing much to play for. I remember Sara as a key player in the NYPS team which dominated the National Schools Teams event in the early 2000s together with WFM Danielle Ho, her sister Michelle and Yuan Weiting.

The other two draws were quite amazing as they could have gone either way. Check them out.

Our sponsor Zhang Changjie seemingly attained the advantage after 14 moves and offered a truce which was accepted…but did Meng Kong take it easy? See how the game could have panned out instead…

 

Zhang Changjie, co-sponsor of Kickoff 2021

Raffles Institution schoolboy Cai Mingzhe made an impulsive piece sacrifice to expose Meng Kong’s king abode. However, the GM refuted his attack and was seemingly about to convert the advantage with the huge material difference when Mingzhe found an ingenious way make Meng Kong decide whether to allow a pawn promotion or to accept a repetition of moves. Meng Kong decided not to take chances but…well, look for yourself…

 

I am going to leave you with 3 games where the players showed great verve in converting thematic ideas.

Firstly, a lesson on how to use the queenside majority by National Champion IM Tin Jingyao.

 

Next up, Teo Hong Ming demonstrated how to prise open a kingside and conduct the attack from the Black side of the Sveshnikov.

 

Finally, Ethan Poh validated the need to be careful when one conducts a Queenside minority attack. You have to make sure you cover a certain key square first!

 

Final results: 135 player Swiss, 11 rounds - https://lichess.org/swiss/b7Sj3FIU

Links

Chess against Covid

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