Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Chess heroes

It is unusual for me to sleep at two o'clock in the morning. Unless there's an extraordinary reason for me to do so, I would be in bed by one o'clock at the latest. The last time I sleep late (or early, depending on your point of view) was the new day after the 2008 general elections.

This time, however, it wasn't about politics. It was about chess. In far away Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, India's Viswanathan Anand had just won the 12th and final game of his world chess championship match against Bulgaria's own Veselin Topalov. With this win, Anand proved to the world that he was still the world champion in this game.

For much of the early phases of the game, the position was sorta equal until Topalov panicked and committed two pawn blunders. Suddenly, the position came alive with Anand's pieces all swarming around the Bulgarian's king and threatening to end the game with a forceful checkmate. That the game could still continue for some 25 more moves said a lot for Topalov's resistance but the final decision was never in any more doubt once the position was opened up.

As an Asian, of course I'm happy that the Indian grandmaster had defended his chess title against one of the most resourceful and uncompromising in the world. For the past few days, ever since Anand allowed Topalov to win the eighth game, may people had been on tenterhooks, wondering whether the former could last four more rounds. But he did, and with great style too in the final game.

I thought that was that when I went to bed. This morning when I woke up all groggy to deal with a flat battery in my car, I was mildly amused to see online that the Indian newspapers in that sub-continent have been dishing out praise after praise for their chess warrior. One effusive praise after another. It's not going to abate soon, based on past experience. And I can really expect that the media there will work themselves up to another frenzy when Anand momentarily returns to Madras. Well, we can't really blame them. Everyone needs a hero and Anand is indeed India's favourite child of the moment. No question about that.

Which makes me think: why can't we have a real chess hero in Malaysia too? The closest we have to calling one is Mas Hafizul but I doubt that he himself would ever want to be associated as that. For a long time, he has been chasing after his first grandmaster norm but always, he has fallen short. For a long time too, he has taken time off from his work to seek his chess fortunes around the world but has been unsuccessful. He realises that he cannot do this forever and sooner or later, he would have to train his thoughts on more bread-and-butter issues back home. In fact, it's now sooner than later. He's back at his workplace in Terengganu but I hear that he's seeking a transfer to his employer's head office in Kuala Lumpur.

So who do we have left in Malaysia that can possibly "qualify" as a chess hero, if not Mas Hafizul. Jimmy Liew? I think he was our chess hero in the 1980s but no longer. Christi Hon? He have been out of the picture for far too long. Peter Long? He could have been one but his frank opinions have riled up too many people in the chess community. Mok Tze Meng? Nope, he creates and believes too much in his own abilities to the extent that people are now indifferent to him.

What about our younger charges? Wong Zijing? Nope, he's now fully concentrated on his academic career in aviation engineering. Lim Yee Weng? He tries to juggle chess with his law practice but lately, finds that he is not producing the right result. Lim Chuin Hoong? I think the demands of his career in medicine will force him to play chess only when he has the time. Nicholas Chan? Same, he will find the demands of being a new doctor will not give him much time to play. Marcus Chan? He has talent but he's too unassuming and prefers to stay in the background and concentrate on his engineering career. There are many more players that I've seen grown up to be successful doctors, engineers, lawyers and whatever else but they all have their careers before them too.

So there we are. For Malaysian chess, there's hardly anyone that I can label a hero. Quite unfortunate, really, because we really need one to emulate and focus on if we want to excel in this sport.

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