Kasparov in Malaysia

by Azlan Iqbal
5/11/2014 – He was mobbed, but in a good way: a large number of chess fans and autograph hunters sought close contact to the legendary World Champion, who officiated the opening of the PMB National Age Group Championship 2014, and took time to discuss a variety of topics with an expert on aesthetics-recognition technology in chess, our author Dr Azlan Iqbal – who sent us a big pictorial report.

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Kasparov Visits UNITEN!

When the greatest chess player in recorded human history, the one and only Garry Kasparov, decided to pay a visit to my humble institution, Universiti Tenaga Nasional in Malaysia, in the spirit of promoting chess among young people, I was naturally delighted. Garry is actually on a Malaysia Tour (between April 23-25th 2014 in Putrajaya) jointly organized by the UMNO Youth Economic Bureau (BePU) and the Malaysian Chess Federation (MCF), an affiliate to the Olympic Council Malaysia (OCM) and a member of the FIDE. Kasparov arrived at our ‘Dewan Sri Sarjana’ (DSS) hall where a tournament for young players is being held between 25-27th April 2014.

The tournament hall stage, before the children were allowed in

The legendary Chess World Champion arrives in the hall ...

... which is now filled with competing children

This tournament is the PMB (Pelaburan Mara Berhad) National Age-Group Chess Championship 2014. It is organized in association with the MCF and Universiti Tenaga Nasional (UNITEN). It was a national rated event, attended by about 500 young players from all over the country. The purpose of this tournament is to choose the representatives for Malaysia in the ASEAN+ Age Group Championships 2014 in Macau in June 2014. Garry was here to officiate the opening of the tournament.

Garry with our Vice-Chancellor, after making the traditional first-move at the board...

... after which the round could begin

I was actually not aware that Garry was coming to UNITEN or that he was even in Malaysia until my dean (of the College of Information Technology in UNITEN) invited me via email to be part of the group for a ‘Charity Chess Gala Dinner’ with him the previous night. This dinner was also attended by our Minister of Youth and Sports, YB Khairy Jamaluddin and the ‘Father of Malaysian Chess’, Dato’ Tan Chin Nam. On the way to the Putrajaya International Convention Centre (PICC) with my colleagues where the event was being held, I also learned he would be coming the next morning for the tournament. I was pleasantly surprised.

So on the day of the tournament, Garry arrived around 10.30 am and was brought into the VIP lounge where a few members of our senior management (including our Vice-Chancellor, YB Dato' Seri Prof. Mashkuri Yaacob) and myself were waiting. Despite the somewhat short notice we had, some of my colleagues and I thought we should make the event a memorable one for our UNITEN chess club as well. I happened to have a spare imported, large wenge chessboard, so I decided to donate it to our UNITEN chess club as a memento Garry could also autograph, which he did.

Garry signing the items: left is Ignatius Leong, President of the Singapore Chess Federation,
on the Kasparov team for FIDE Presidency 2014. On the right your author Azlan Iqbal.

In addition, we also wanted Garry to have something unique and chess-related from us here at UNITEN. Naturally, all eyes turned to me and my prototype chess aesthetics software, ‘CHESTHETICA’. I do not distribute copies of the version that I presently use in my research work but, given Garry’s commitment to computer chess and how he, in no small part inspired me to pursue chess in my youth and artificial intelligence research in adulthood, I felt honored to present him with a CD of the latest build (v9.22) of the program, which was compiled just the day before, in fact.

If aesthetics-recognition technology and computational creativity (CHESTHETICA also composes chess problems now using some fundamentally new AI technology) catches on and finds its niche for commercialization someday, Garry just might have in his possession a unique piece of chess history. The former World Champion also autographed an identical copy of the disc which I donated to our UNITEN chess club as well; possibly to frame along with the chessboard. Hopefully these items will inspire generations of young Malaysians to excel at the game (perhaps even our first grandmaster) and pursue the computational technologies research into the game typically gives rise to.

Garry and I spoke for a while on a number of topics such as chess in schools, a universal rating system for all players, the current state of the FIDE and the importance of social networking to the game. He told me about some of the places he had visited and the reception he received. I mentioned to Garry that support for chess research was also important because the game still had many facets of exploration (e.g. from the perspectives of computer science, artificial intelligence, psychology) to which he agreed.

Kasparov mobbed on the stage by fans and autograph hunters

Throughout his entire time at UNITEN, Garry was swamped with requests for photos and autographs from a very enthusiastic crowd of children and adults. For a genius who appears very firm in his decisions, knows what he wants and walks fast, he was very accommodating and did his best.

Back in the VIP lounge with some UNITEN chess club members, and the autographed chessboard

Garry left UNITEN a few hours later in the afternoon but his presence will be felt in our university and chess club for a very long time. We thank you Garry for your decades-long commitment to the chess, education, human potential and technology and look forward to more great things from you in the future.

Special Acknowledgements: Zulkifli Bin Ishak (College of Engineering, UNITEN), Norma Binti Hassan (Corporate Communications Department, UNITEN), Gregory Lau (MCF) and Jeffrey Ong (main photographer).


Topics Kasparov, Malaysia

Dr. Azlan Iqbal has a Ph.D. in artificial intelligence from the University of Malaya and is a senior lecturer at Universiti Tenaga Nasional, Malaysia, where he has worked since 2002. His research interests include computational aesthetics and computational creativity in games. He is a regular contributor at ChessBase News.
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