Grigoryan came, saw and conquered Laos!

by Edwin Lam
1/13/2018 – Edwin Lam Choong Wai reports from the inaugural Laos International Open which was held from January 3rd to 7th in Vientiane, near the country's southern border with Thailand. | Pictured: Chess is booming amongst the juniors in Laos, thanks to the "Chess in Schools" program | Photo: Laos Chess Federation

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1st Laos International Chess Open

Laos is a relatively late entrant to the global chess family. Despite having established the Laos Chess Federation (LCF) in 2011, they have made great strides in various aspects of the game. Its crowning glory is the recently concluded 1st Laos International Open Chess Championship. This tournament saw progessional GMs descend on the country for the first-time (as players at least!). Not one, but four GMs: Karen Grigoryan, Bui Vinh, Sriram Jha and Gerhard Schebler. Armenian GM Grigoryan came, saw and conquered. He topped the standings with 7½ points.

The venue was the Don Chan Palace Hotel & Convention in Vientiane, Lao PDR

7 "magical" years

Despite only having formed its national chess federation seven years back, it has clocked many milestones in the development of the game. One of the first “wins” was when its Ministry of Education and Sports approved the implementation of "Chess in Schools" throughout the country. In seven years, the program has been successfully implemented in all but two provinces of Laos.

Chess in schools

Chess in Schools | Photo: Laos Chess Federation

Having scored its first "point", the LCF continued its push for chess to be included in the country’s National Games. They succeeded. Soon after, chess was also accepted as a sport in the tri-annual National School Games. Both successes together with the LCF being a member of the Laos National Olympic Committee formed the foundation of chess’ development as a sport in the country.

In the past four years, the LCF went about its efforts to strengthen their team’s chess organizational abilities. These efforts include a visit to Singapore to learn about how to go about organizing scholastic chess competitions. With a monetary grant from the Asian Chess Federation (ACF), they also managed to organize the FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar as well as a first-ever FIDE rated tournament in 2015. Both efforts resulted in the birth of 8 FIDE-rated local players as well as 14 qualified arbiters. 

Last month saw the organization of a first-ever National Blitz tournament. Held on December 22nd and 23rd, 2017, school-going junior chess players came together to fight for the Vice President Cup of Lao P.D.R.

National blitz tournament

The recently concluded National Blitz tournament | Photo: Laos Chess Federation

To top it all off is the recently concluded 1st Laos International Open Chess Championship, a festival of chess that brought together an international crowd of chess gladiators to compete in a nine-round FIDE rated tournament from January 3rd to the 7th, 2018. Co-organized between the LCF and KK Chan, the Vice-President of the Hong Kong Chess Federation (HKCF), this tournament was made possible with the grants provided by FIDE and the ACF.

group photo with LCF president

The President of Laos Chess Federation, Dr. Inthirath Khammany (Minister of Energy & Mines) together with the Deputy Ministers of Education & Sports and Tourism, being surrounded by the Organizing Committee and other LCF officials | Photo: Laos Chess Federation

Sixty-eight players from fifteen nationalities, including Laotians, competed in this tournament held at the 5-star Don Chan Palace Hotel in Vientiane, Laos. Aside from players who came from neighbouring Vietnam and Thailand as well as from Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines, the rest of the field came from Armenia, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, the United States of America, Canada, Australia, South Korea and India. With a top-class venue together with hardworking members of the organizing team, the event went by smoothly. With little to worry about, the players were able to focus wholeheartedly on playing their best chess!  

"I came, I saw, I conquered"

The top seed for the event is GM Karen Grigoryan of Armenia. He, together with three other GMs, GM Bui Vinh of Vietnam, GM Sriram Jha of India and GM Gerhard Schebler of Germany became the first-ever chess GMs (on official chess-playing duties, at least!!) to have set foot on Laotian land.

The four GMs were joined by four IMs as well as another eight more titled chess players in the event. Uncompromising chess were played at the event…And, the GMs were in for a rude shock!

The shocks came in round three. The 2172-rated Filipino player, Ric Portugalera, held the Vietnamese GM to a draw. Ric played exceptionally well in the game, which we share below:


A World Champion's Repertoire against the Queen's Gambit Declined

This DVD offers a complete repertoire for handling this solid opening, often featuring a dynamic approach to pose the opponent more practical problems. Both of the main continuations 3...Nf6 and 3...Be7 are covered in two separate parts.


Bui vs Ric

GM Bui Vinh’s (left) draw against Ric Portugalera of the Philippines | Photo: Laos Chess Federation

Also in the same round, GM Sriram Jha was also held to a draw by 1734 rated Vietnamese player, CM Tran Dang Minh Quang. Out of the four GMs, two of them came across stubborn oppositions.

In the next round, GM Bui Vinh conceded another draw. The GM’s opponent is CM Tran Dang Minh Quang. CM Tran played extremely solidly to again draw another GM. This draw proved that the preceding result against GM Sriram was no fluke. With such a strong showing, this 1734 rated Vietnamese player is the one to watch in the coming year!


The Accelerated Dragon by Nigel Davies

The Accelerated Dragon is much more than just a dynamic yet solid means of countering 1.e4. By knowing how to counter the Maroczy Bind Black can counter both the English and Reti Openings and even develop the basis of a defence against 1.d4.

Whilst having been used extensively by superstars such as Bent Larsen and Tigran Petrosian, Davies argues that the Accelerated Dragon is an even more effective proposition for club players. As he explains on this DVD, many White players are under the mistaken impression that the positions are like a regular Sicilian Dragon. And if this is the case they can find himself being demolished right out of the opening.


On top board in round four, the "perfect scorers", GM Schebler and GM Grigoryan, were pitted against one another. GM Grigoryan essayed the favourite opening of Armenia’s strongest-ever chess player, Petrosian, the Caro-Kann against the German GM, and rejected entering into variations where White would be able to trade queens with Black. This signalled GM Grigoryan’s aggressive intention to win the game, which he duly converted when GM Schebler made some inaccuracies late in the middlegame:


GM Schebler

GM Schebler (left) from Germany | Photo: Laos Chess Federation

GM GrigoryanAfter round four, only one out of the four GMs maintained the perfect score: GM Grigoryan. Despite conceding a draw in round five, he never looked like losing sight of the first prize. In rounds six and seven, GM Grigoryan defeated GM Bui and IM Nguyen Anh Khoi respectively to lead the field by an entire point. He guaranteed the win via a hard-fought draw against Thai FM Wiwatanadate Poompong, in round eight. GM Grigoryan (right), having won the tournament with a round to spare, went for a quick draw in round nine to finish the tournament with 7½ out of 9 points.

Playing solid and economical chess throughout, GM Grigoryan came, saw and conquered! Finishing second is IM Le Tuan Minh, who is then followed by IM Duong The Anh, GM Bui Vinh and FM Causo Deniel. GM Sriram Jha finished in seventh position, while GM Schebler finished in fourteenth spot.

Final standings (top 20)

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Grigoryan Karen H. 7,5 0,0
2 Le Tuan Minh 7,0 0,0
3 Duong The Anh 6,5 0,0
4 Bui Vinh 6,5 0,0
5 Causo Deniel 6,5 0,0
6 Lee Jun Hyeok 6,5 0,0
7 Sriram Jha 6,0 0,0
8 Ferriol Gerald 6,0 0,0
9 Rom Jasper 6,0 0,0
10 Wiwatanadate Poompong 6,0 0,0
11 Habla Jony 6,0 0,0
12 Chan Peng Kong 6,0 0,0
13 Nguyen Anh Khoi 5,5 0,0
14 Schebler Gerhard 5,5 0,0
15 Tran Dang Minh Quang 5,5 0,0
16 Ayza Leon David 5,5 0,0
17 Nguyen Thi Minh Oanh 5,5 0,0
18 Khumnorkaew Tupfah 5,5 0,0
19 Kim Changhoon 5,5 0,0
20 Tantipura Noppakorn 5,5 0,0

Fuelling the fire

The top Laotian finisher is the 1372 rated Nattaky Insesuphun. Together with the other nine participating Laotian players, they managed to get a great exposure of competing against serious chess players from other countries. They also managed to watch first-hand the games of GMs in a tournament. The chess festival ended with a free chess clinic by Malaysian NM Jonathan Chuah and his fellow Malaysian arbiter from Penang, PS Lim, for budding junior chess enthusiasts. After the success of this chess festival, the LCF is committed to its efforts in chess development moving forward, by planning to hold the next Laos International Chess Open in December 2018!

Jonathan Chuah

NM Jonathan Chuah of Malaysia explaining the finer points of the game to Laotian kids | Photo: Laos Chess Federation

John Vilavane

General Secretary of LCF, John Inthava Vilavane with the arbiters in the background | Photo: Laos Chess Federation

The baptism of fire for chess has been ignited in a country where this game was hardly known eight years ago. Kudos to the efforts of the LCF and its General Secretary, John Inthava Vilavane. The only way forward is up, as the team at LCF prepares to further fuel chess development in Laos.


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 and Essilor. He was recently attached to The Purpose Group, a creative and digital marketing agency in Ho Chi Minh City. He is now based in Malaysia to jointly start an education venture with his parents.
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macauley macauley 1/15/2018 12:39
@Rybkaz - Thanks for your comment. I've added the final standings (top 20) and the full standings link in the Links section.
Rybkaz Rybkaz 1/14/2018 12:19
A strange chess article. Good in all respects except for two obvious omissions: The final standings and crosstable.
It's like writing an article about the end of the season in some league sport without seeing the final standings. Why these obvious omissions??
turok turok 1/13/2018 11:49
can it be difficult to show us a game and place rating by players names-GM and IM means nothing and it really is important IMO-just a thought to better serve your chess community. It is done sometimes but like in this article none of them were at the top next to the players