Monday, 5 March 2012

Dr Yeoh Bok Choon

Below, I am reproducing an extract from my final chess column in The Star newspaper last Friday. From among all the things I wrote in that piece, this part should stand out on its own merit. There have been several interesting developments since this article appeared in the newspaper and I would like to leave them to another blog essay sometime down the road before I sat anything. In the meantime, you can read what I wrote originally for the column (with some minor edits):
I have always maintained that in this modern era, the Penang Chess Association was the oldest chess association in the country. After it was established in 1972, both the Malaysian Chess Federation and the Chess Association of Selangor were formed in 1974.

Some may argue that the Johor Chess Club already existed long before 1972. I would not dispute that but unfortunately, the Johor Chess Club is defunct and its functions have been taken over by the newer Johor Chess Association.

The Johor Chess Club would always be synonymous with its president, Dr Yeoh Bok Choon. For a long time, he cast a long shadow over chess development in Johor as well as Singapore.

Dr Yeoh was an athlete. He was the first schoolboy ever to win gold medals at a Malayan or Malaysian Amateur Athletic Association meet. That was in 1930. After completing his secondary education at the Penang Free School, he proceeded to the King Edward VII College of Medicine in Singapore.

He honed his chess skills in tournaments there and even became the Singapore Chess Club champion in 1947. Today, that’s the equivalent of becoming the Singapore national champion.

He worked in Singapore after graduation but by 1951, he had relocated to Johor Baru where he became the state surgeon. In October that year, he formed the Johor Chess Club and became its first president.

This much I know about the man. A few months ago, I wanted to know more about him because I was then involved in a book project for The Old Frees’ Association in Penang. However, all my efforts were stymied as nobody from the present generation of chess players in Johor seemed able to provide any information on him.

As far as they were aware, after Dr Yeoh passed away in 1983, his family moved to the Klang Valley, and they lost contact.

By a curious coincidence, about two weeks ago, I received an e-mail from someone in Singapore who, as part of his research into the history of Singapore chess, had wanted to know whether I have any useful information to share with him.

Inevitably our email exchanges gravitated to the topic of Dr Yeoh. This chap from Singapore told me that the name did crop up in conversations recently with their 100-year-old Mah Beng Guan, who was the secretary of the Singapore Chess Club in the 1950s. Mah remembered Dr Yeoh but could not offer more information than what I already know.

This is the end of my quest to dig into details about the former Johor state surgeon. But there is still a very slim chance that his family may be reading this column and if so, I would very much welcome their effort to contact me.

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