Friday, July 9, 2010

Stories from beyond the board - One night in Bangkok

In 1981, I was playing a master tournament in Bangkok. I was playing against a up-and-coming young Filipino master when I accidentally fell into a winning position with an exchange up. In those days, there were such regulation called adjournment. After five hours of play and both players reaching move forty, the player will the move could adjourn the game. The arbiter would give you an envelope and after considering your move you wrote it on a paper and the arbiter would seal the envelop. On resumption, the envelope would be opened and your move played out on the board.

So my game was adjourned. Later that night a knock came on my door. On opening the door, I found my opponent and his room-mate, Filipino IM De Guzman. The first thing I noticed was my opponent had some cuts on his hands. Guzman explained that he had cut himself "while shaving". Very odd, I thought. It looked to me they were deliberately self-inflicted.

To cut to the chase, I was offered USD50  to let my opponent off with a draw. As I stood there trying to get to grips with the situation, the pair seemed to have an inspiration. In an excited tone, I was offered double to lose the game.

Now, I read about this kind of situations but never really thought I would be in one. Stalling for time, I told them it was impossible for me to lose the game. Well then let us draw, was the reply. At this point, I learnt that my opponent was very poor and needed to win the prize money for survival.

I was already out of the running for any major prize. But I could not bring myself to accept. They would not leave and even started  asking for my price. Eventually I had to close the door in their face.

This incident bothered me considerably. As a chess player who had no other source of income, I understood their plight. All kinds of thoughts were coming into my head - should I be compassionate and avoid beating him? With hindsight I must say I made the wrong choice. I was still young and naive and did not understand the implications of my actions.

At the resumption, I surprised my opponent by offering a draw.  His sombre looking face suddenly turned to joy.

If I remember correctly, he managed to take a share of the first prize.
It was many many years later that I recalled this incident and with wisdom I realized how it would have looked to the rest of the participants and organizers. Anyone going through this game would naturally assume I had been bought to agree a draw in such a position. The truth was I gave him a draw for nothing - I just felt sorry for him.

My young opponent was the late International Master Andronico Yap and there will be more about him in my next post.


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