Sunday, August 14, 2011

Those were the days

In 1975 Soviet Grandmaster Alexander Kotov visited Malaysia  I remember he was in my home state of Penang to give a talk and simul. I think it was a Thursday and the venue was the Hooi Lye Association in Kimberley Street, where the Penang Chess Association held regular playing sessions.

Kotov played eighteen boards drawing three and winning the rest.


Look at the picture above. Can you spot me? I am the one playing in the middle board. I was only 17 years old at the time. The player on my left  (face hidden) looks like Ooi Gim Ewe. On his left (standing) is I think Mr. Gong Wooi Mau Khoo Hock song . Mr. Tan Kai Ming, Penang Free School chess advisor and a strong player in his time is standing at the right watching the game of a young player. Both Mr. Gong and Mr. Tan were active in Penang Chess Association at that time. They inspired and encouraged many Penang youngsters like Quah Seng Sun, Goh Yoon Wah, Chuah Heng Meng, Eric Cheah , Ooi Gim Ewe, Lee Huat Beng and myself. If they are reading this, I really want to thank them as well as Mr. Fang Ewe Churh (many times PCA President) and  Leong Sit Chew (also many times PCA Vice-President). They kept the Association going and provided a conducive playing and learning environment at the Hooi Lye Association, for players like me. Thank you very much, I might not be who I am today without all of you.

I remember Mr. Gong would bring the latest copy of the Chess Informator so youngsters like me could play through the wonderful games contained within (we could never afford to buy it). And those games were played some six months before getting to us! Thanks to present day advances, we can even get to watch grandmaster games as they are played via the internet.

In the days before the event we were discussing what the grandmaster would play against us and what opening to defend with. And we ribbed each other on who we thought would be the first to lose. This was my first simul and I prepared what I thought naively would be a fighting defence - the Dutch Defence - from a Fred Reinfeld book. Kotov surprised me with a gambit (not mentioned in the book!) and I fell into an opening trap. I was lost after six moves and one of the first to resign.

The game went -
1. d4 f5 2. e4 (I was shocked by this move) 2....fxe4 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5 d5?? 5. Bxf6 ( I still did not see the tactic) 5...exf6 6. Qh5+. I realized I was lost and resigned a few moves later thereby becoming one of the first, if not the first, to finish.

The next day, the papers quoted Kotov as predicting that Malaysia would have its own grandmaster in the near future. It has been 36 years since that prediction.

Alexander Kotov wrote what in my opinion is one of the most important books ever written,  Think Like a Grandmaster and the lesser Play Like a Grandmaster. These books introduced me to how grandmasters think and process their moves and helped me to make a big jump in my playing strength.


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