Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Some chess books to treasure

Recently, I came into the possession of many chess books from the collection of the first president of the Penang Chess Association, Fang Ewe Churh. Fang and I go back a long way. I first got to know him in 1972. That was when I was still in school and he was the headmaster of the Han Chiang Primary School in Penang.

In 1972, he and his friends formed the Penang Chess Association. Also, as he was in the education line, he pushed real hard for chess to be included in the Malaysian Schools Sports Council's (Majlis Sukan Sekolah-sekolah Malaysia) annual sports programme.

Anyway, out of the blue on Sunday, I received a telephone call from his wife. It seemed that the whole family was going to move to the Klang Valley soon and she wanted to give away his chess books. I was the only logical person that she could think of to contact but she didn't know how to get in touch with me. Her son came to the rescue and somehow, managed to track me down through the Internet.

On Monday, I went to visit the old couple. I hadn't seen Fang for close to 10 years already. He still looked okay but according to his wife, he suffers from Alzheimer. Now, that's a terrible disease. You tend to forget everything. Memory is shot to pieces. I approached Fang and asked whether he remembered me. There was a split second of incomprehension then suddenly, his eyes lit up and he called out my full name. He remembered. Despite his affliction, he suddenly remembered.

I stayed for about a half hour talking with his wife and his son, Alvin, who was back from Subang USJ for a short holiday. She said that Fang was already 76 and she herself was 72. It was impossible for them to remain in Penang as it was getting harder for her to take care of her husband. She couldn't allow him to go out on the streets anymore in his condition. And the best solution was for them to stay at USJ with their son. So they'll be leaving more probably in the new year. In the meanime, there are things to clear from the house and his chess books are among them.

I only had the chance to look at the books last night. There were about 20 copies of the Sahovski Informator series of books, including the elusive Volume One. And there were other gems that I could remember reading way back in the 1970s.

The Modern Defence, by Raymond Keene and George Botterill. The hardcover Batsford edition is now out of print although it is still possible to buy used copies of other editions through the Internet. I got a lot of joy from reading this particular book and I never thought that I could be holding it in my hands again. Looking through this book, I realised that it was still as sparkling as before. Real avant garde chess.

The other gem of a book that I never thought it possible to see again was this one, chess meets of the CENTURY. The book listed Bobby Fischer and Dimitrije Bjelica as co-authors but actually, Fischer had little to do with this book except to give some comments to several of his own games. Bjelica was the real writer behind it and of course, he was never one to miss jumping on the opportunity to use the American grandmaster's name. Nevertheless, it was a very interesting book which covered the USSR vs Rest Of The World chess match in Belgrade in 1970. And immediately after this four-round match, a memorable blitz tournament was held in Herceg Novi. All that and more were chronicled in this fascinating book.

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