Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Stories from beyond the board - The lion and the lamb

In 1983, I had a call from the Malaysian Chess Federation secretary, Mr Lawrence How. There was a masters tournament in Jakarta, Indonesia and a Malaysian representative was requested. This event was part of the Asian Masters Circuit where countries in the region took turns to organize a masters tournament with the intention of generating new titles amongst the countries.

The organization was superb and the locals very friendly. At night, the tournament helpers and chess fans would gather with the players in the hotel lobby. Someone brought a guitar and everyone had a grand time singing oldies. The highlight was when one of the Indonesians surprised the Indian IM Raja Ravi Sekhar with the opening lines of an Indian song. Ravi Sekhar or RRS as he liked to be known, soon joined in. That was one unforgettable night.

Back to the chess, my first two rounds were against old friends, Singapore's Chia Chee Seng and RRS which ended in draws. Next I had a winning game but made a bad blunder and was lucky to escape with a draw. Another short draw followed. Four draws out of four rounds - not too bad I thought.

The fifth round I was to meet one of the lower rated Indonesians. This should be my first point, I thought. Instead I played too optimistically and  overlooked a series of unexpectedly good moves from my opponent. I resigned as I was losing a piece.

So after 5 rounds, I had 4 draws and one loss. At this point, I was quite close to the bottom of the
tournament cross-table.

Then a strange thing happened. Probably because I had no more expectations from this tournament, I started playing without inhibition. I won my first game against another low rated Indonesian. The next game I faced the late Edhi Handoko and won. In succession, I won another three games, one of them against an old nemesis, the late Ruben Rodriguez. What surprised me was how easy it was. These were players I were struggling with previously.  I felt like I had finally broken through a barrier.

After ten rounds and five wins in succession I had seven points! The international master norm requirement was nine points. I needed only two more points from the last three rounds.

I secured another win and a draw and with one more round to go, I was close to the prize that all Malaysian chess players was dreaming of but had eluded them - an international master norm.

At this stage this was the tournament standings:

Ardiansyah   9
Jimmy Liew   8.5
Ginting      8.5

The pairing was Jimmy - Ardiansyah and Ginting - Bachtiar. If Ginting won he could tie with Ardiansyah for first assuming that Ardiansyah drew. The question was whether Ardiansyah would be satisifed with a draw.

As I went over the possibilities I decided my best strategy was to play a safe game and wait for a draw offer. I literally could not sleep that night until towards the early morning perhaps around 5:00 AM I fell asleep from exhaustion.

I was certainly not in the best condition for this most important game. Due to lack of sleep my head was buzzing. Literally.

Usually my openings are sharp tactical games which served me well so far.  Today I opened move 1. Nf3 and headed into a Colle System, in accordance with my plan.

Players and officials kept coming over to my board, expecting the expected. I avoided meeting their eyes.

After a few moves,I glanced at Ardiansyah. The Indonesian is a short stout man with a muscular body. His neck is so short it is looks like his head is directly connected to his body. He would not look out of place in a boxing ring. He has a disarming smile - I heard it is quite a hit with the ladies - and in contrast to his physical appearance, his voice is deceptively soft.

He had his usual calm passive face - his eyes completely focused on the board. Oh my god! He is playing to win. I knew in my present state of mind, I would definitely lose the game. I felt like a lamb in the presence of a lion. No matter what I did, I would end up in his vice like jaws.

I made another move.

Out of the corner of my eyes, I saw one of the Indonesian official gesturing me over. 

"Why are you not offering a draw?"

I replied quietly, "I think he is playing for win"

"Offer him a draw!" was the command.

I dutifully crept back into my seat. I was so nervous I could not trust myself. Fearful that I would make a blunder, I searched the board for the safest move that I could play. Finally, I settled for 10. h3 and whispered "Draw?".

Ardiansyah immediately looked up at me, smiled his little smile and offered his hand. I had drawn with an old nemesis and made my first master norm.

In retrospect it seems that everyone knew Ardiansyah would accept a draw, except dumb old me.


Yeoh said...

Hi Jimmy
interesting story.
hope you may share more of your chess stories with malaysian chess fans.
it can be important experiences to our junior players!
Rgds, chinseng

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