Thursday, 2 September 2010

Chess legend Liu Wenzhe

This is Liu Wenzhe. I had time to catch up with him yesterday. We were both very surprised to see one another. Although I don't know how to speak Mandarin, nor he English, we bridged the gap with our smiles and handshakes. I haven't seen him for 10 years. The last time we met was in 2000 when he took part in the Wah Seong international master chess tournament at the Cititel Hotel, Penang. I was the chief arbiter for the event.

But our ties go back even further. We first met in 1978 in Beijing. At that time, he was already at the height of his chess prowess, being the chess champion of China or at the very least, champion of Beijing. In later years he was the chief trainer of the Chinese Institute of Chess and head coach of the Chinese national chess team.

Liu's main claim to fame was in 1976 when China first took part in the biennial World Chess Olympiad. It was in Buenos Aires and in one of the rounds, China had been paired with the Netherlands. The story goes that Dutch grandmaster Jan Donner, a towering personality and the Netherlands' best player at that time, was rather dismissive of the Chinese.

But it was a rude awakening for the Dutchman. He got himself caught in a bind and his opponent, none other than Liu himself, ended the game with a great flourish: sacrificing his queen in an irresistible attack. Faced with the inevitable checkmate, Donner resigned the game. A sparkling miniature of only 20 moves.

It was a game that sent shockwaves around the chess world. Donner was a known and respected personality. Liu was unheard of outside China and yet....Donner had fallen to Liu in a spectacular game. This was perhaps the first time that the chess world sat up to notice China. It was the start of the Chinese chess revolution which has since swept the world for all to see.

By the way, in the picture above, there's also Singapore international master Tan Lian Ann standing in the background behind Dato Tan Chin Nam and Norway's Morten Sand. We were having a rare dinner outing at the Swensen's restaurant at Subang Parade in Subang Jaya.

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