Penang Heritage City Open

by Edwin Lam
1/6/2023 – December was typically a busy month for chess all over the world. While the world watched in awe at the world’s top, top exponents battle it out in the final month of the year 2022 to try and stop Carlsen’s dominance in the World Rapid and Blitz championships, there was no less excitement over the chess board in the classical format in other parts of the world. One was the return of over-the-board version of the Penang Heritage City International Chess Open, after the Covid-imposed hiatus in the past three years. Report by By Edwin Lam Choong Wai.

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Indonesian GM stamped his mark at the 2022 Penang Heritage City International Chess Open

By Edwin Lam Choong Wai. All pictures courtesy of Andrew Ooi or Muhd Arshad, unless otherwise stated.

The Penang Heritage City International Chess Open was held at the St. Xavier’s Institution in the Pearl of the Orient (which is the nickname of this amazing island city, of which part of it has been accorded World Heritage Site status by UNESCO since July 2008) from the 19th to the 24th of December 2022, this 14th edition of the Penang Heritage City International Chess Open 2022 came with prizes totalling Malaysian Ringgit 31,700 (approximately US$ 7,200), making it a pretty attractive proposition for the masters!

Given the longevity of this event being held every year for more than a decade – the only pauses to its OTB classical event were due to the pandemic – we need to call out and acknowledge the support from the Penang state government who has been the mainstay of support throughout. PCA has been working closely with the state’s Youth & Sports Committee chairman, Yang Berhormat Soon Lip Chee and the Penang State Sports Council, while the office of the state’s Chief Ministers – from the time of the previous Chief Minister, Yang Amat Berhormat Tan Sri Dr. Koh Tsu Koon up to the present one, Yang Amat Berhormat Chow Kon Yeow – were extremely supportive of the event and its intention to develop chess in Penang. Additionally, the event would not have been possible without the tireless ‘time’ sponsorships by members of the Penang Chess Association (PCA). 

With the sustained support, PCA has over the years been at the forefront of creating an ideal ecosystem to develop chess amongst its talented juniors. They have produced many former Malaysian national champions and in fact, the most talented teenage chess player in the country – FM Poh Yu Tian, who famously took down GM Ftacnik at the recent Olympiad – hails from the Pearl of the Orient! He is a future GM in the making!

Fifty years of Chess in Penang!

Interestingly, the PCA turned 50 years old in 2022. It is, in fact, the oldest chess organisation in Malaysia with its starting point being the association’s inaugural meeting on 12 March 1972 in the presence of forty-two adults and nine junior members to discuss the draft constitution and to elect the office bearers. Upon the conclusion of the meeting on that day’s late morning, Mr. Fang Ewe Churh was elected its first President. 

A cake-cutting ceremony was held (photo taken from Buletin Mutiara’s website) during the opening ceremony of the Penang Heritage City International Chess Open to commemorate this historic occasion of the Golden Jubilee of the PCA. “The PCA would not be what it is today without the generations of chess lovers from the past to the present who have put in their time, effort and ideas to nurture a healthy ecosystem for chess players to grow and thrive in. We have run a good race so far, and we hope to continue to support the growth of chess in the next five decades,” remarked Madam See Swee Sie, current President of the PCA.

Back to the Tournament: The Starting Grid

The 14th Penang Heritage City International Chess Open 2022 was split into two categories, namely Open and Challengers (for those below 2000 in FIDE rating) sections. In total, there were 205 players from 18 countries across the globe who competed in both categories – with participants coming from countries as diverse as Sweden and Denmark in the North down to Australia and thereafter with good representations from across Asia by the Indonesians, Vietnamese, Indians, Chinese, Singaporeans, Filipinos and Malaysians.

Headlining the starting rank of the Open category event was GM Vitaly Sivuk of Sweden besides the winner of the 2022 edition of IGB Dato’ Arthur Tan Malaysia Open, GM Priasmoro Novendra of Indonesia.

Two IMs from India namely A. Harikrishnan and AL Muthaiah as well as IM Rolando Nolte of the Philippines who finished in 3rd placed (tied on points with the top two) at the very strongly contested Manny Pacquiao International Open Chess Festival.

The Middlegame: Upsets Galore (especially by the Young Guns!!!)

Round 1 went pretty much to plan. But the upsets started rolling in thereafter. In round 2, the top seeded GM Sivuk lost on table 1 when his opponent, FM Yeap Eng Chiam, of Malaysia took him down with the Black pieces of a Queen’s Gambit Declined. The annotation of this game is given here. As if inspired by what was happening on table 1, the 1944-rated Indian player, Hemanth Raam, defeated IM Maxim Lavrov on table 7.

In the next round, the untitled Indonesian master, Syaputra Arifa Rizki, held the higher-rated IM Harikrishnan to a draw in forty moves. In the adjacent table, CM Xie Kaifan of China defeated one of the tournament favourites, IM Rolando Nolte of the Philippines – it was very well played by 14 years old Chinese player who gained an edge in the opening, transposing into a good set-up that is akin to that from the French Tarrasch variation and later on sacrificed the exchange and then used his very active king to great effect in the endgame! The annotation of this game is given with this article.

In the same round, Indian Hemanth Raam continued his scintillating form in this round by taking down the higher-rated FM Kurniawan Muhammad Agus with the Black pieces in a 70-move queen ending battle. IM Maxim Lavrov suffered another blow here when he drew despite having the white pieces against talented 14 years old Malaysian junior, Uzair Shahar. 

In round 4, CM Xie Kaifan continued his rampage and this time around, he defeated Indonesian IM Novita Anjas. Not to be outdone, the 22 years old Hemanth Raam with white shot down experienced, veteran GM Alexander Fominyh. IM Rolando Nolte, despite sacrificing pawns at various points of his game to destabilize white’s position, just could not break down the white defences of Teo Hong Ming – with the lower-rated white player holding out a draw. 

Round 5 saw the draw by CM Xie with Hemanth on the top table. 23 years old Syaputra Arifa defeated his countryman, IM Novita Anjas in a 41-move Queen’s Indian Defence game. White’s rooks and queen dominated the game, first via the doubled rooks on the 7th rank and then later on the queen and rook battery along the c-file. 

Vietnamese super talent – the 12 years old Dinh Nho Kiet – held the highly regarded Malaysian teenager, FM Poh Yu Tian to a draw in the next round.

Hemanth Ram drew against compatriot IM Harikrishna also in this round. Continuing his solid display in the next round, Hemanth drew with another Indian IM, Muthaiah AL. In the same round, CM Xie held Indian IM Harikrishnan to a draw as well. GM ‘Bong’ Villamayor, lost in this round to Vietnamese, Dinh Nho Kiet.

Round 8 saw the talented CM Xie, Dinh and Hemant holding themselves against stronger opponents. The final round saw Hemanth playing on top board against GM Sivuk – but he lost that game. GM Novendra on the second table also defeated Syaputra. CM Xie held a GM to a draw while Dinh held Indian IM Harikrishna to a peaceful accord, as well.

The Endgame: Conforming to the formbook

Despite the rather messy ‘middlegame’ starting from round 2, the top two seeds more or less began to pull their acts together towards rounds 7 or 8. In the end, after the 9-round battle, Indonesian GM Priasmoro Novendra, and Swede, GM Vitaly Sivuk finished tied on 7.5 points. GM Novendra was adjudged the winner on tie-break.

Four others were tied on 6.5 points: IM Muthiah, IM Novita, FM Poh Yu Tian and FM Makarov Nikolai. IM Harikrishnan came up next on 7th place, and to complete the line-up of the top 10 finishers were CM Xie Kaifan, Hemanth Raam and Syaputra Arifa – all on 6 points. Vietnamese Dinh Nho Kiet finished just outside the top guns – at 12th place! 

The top 5 winners of the Open category with Madam See, President of the PCA and Mr Lee Ewe Ghee, former President of the PCA. From left, Madam See, FM Poh Yu Tian (5th), IM Muthiah AL (3rd), GM Vitaly Sivuk (2nd), GM Priasmoro Novendra (1st), Mr Lee and IM Novita Anjas (4th)

The rest of the top 10 finishers in the Open category with Madam See. From left: Syaputra Arifa (10th), Hemanth Raam (9th), Madam See, CM Xie Kaifan (8th), IM Harikrishnan (7th) and FM Nikolai Makarov (6th)

And here are two annotated games



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.