Saturday, 12 April 2014

All the right moves

It has been two long years since I wrote my last chess column. Two years, one month, one week and four days, to be more exact, till today. I thought that I had been forgotten by the people in The Star -- you know how things are: out of sight, out of mind -- but then I was surprised one day in February with an email from one of their sub-editors to ask whether I would agree to be interviewed to mark the 30th anniversary of their Star2 pull-out. "Not all our present or past columnists will be featured," she told me almost apologetically, "and we'd like to include you in. Your stories have been so fascinating." This, then, was the story that had appeared in The Star on 1 Mar 2014:
This writer had all the right moves!

BACK in the 1980s, there was no Internet. And if you were a chess enthusiast in Malaysia wanting to know more about the international chess scene, there was one place you’d turn to – Quah Seng Sun’s Chess column in The Star. His words, printed fortnightly, every Friday, were precious nuggets of information for the Malaysian chess buff.

For 32 years, Quah kept us up to date on tournaments, upcoming events and blow-to-blow accounts of tense competitions – written in his meticulous, straight-to-the-point style.

Writing about something he loved was never planned however, but rather an accidental adventure. He’d had some journalism experience, reporting for the now defunct Penang-based Straits Echo as a young man back in the 1970s. That was eventually superseded by a career in the banking sector.

Eventually however, the writing itch must have got to him. He found himself replying to an advertisement for freelance writers at The Star out of pure curiosity, his first article with us was published in 1980. His contacts with overseas chess organisers in Europe and the United States and a natural interest in chess made the sport a natural topic to pursue, and voila! that’s how a void in the Malaysian chess scene came to be filled.

Quah describes what it was like sourcing information for his column back then – he communicated and received details about chess events through foreign organisers, via snail mail or fax.

Of course, over a course of over 30 years, things change. As the Internet – and information about chess – became more widely accessible, Quah says he moved from pure reporting to more opinion-based pieces, giving colour to the local and international chess scene. “It was never about the money,” he says. “The column served as a platform for chess education in Malaysia as a whole.”

When Quah’s column finally came to an end on March 2, 2012, many felt a loss – some readers even filed an online petition to bring his column back. Despite the paper’s editorial decision for a change in direction, Quah’s contributions will always be remembered for the invaluable voice it gave to Malaysia’s chess community. The many letters and feedback from readers, including some chess grandmasters and an unusual letter from the World Chess Federation (no less!) are proof that his work was widely read, and not just in Malaysia.

Incidentally, the piece of correspondence from the World Chess Federation was a request for clarification on an opinion they had taken issue with, from one of his articles. Quah took it as a compliment. “I never realised that my column was sometimes read in high places. Power of the Internet, you see.”

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