As always, simultaneously with the publication of my story in the souvenir programme of the annual Malaysia Chess Festival, I shall reproduce the same here on my blog. But first, a disclaimer of sorts: Some of the facts or dates mentioned here may need further verification from MCF records, if indeed they are available.
As we know now, Kasparov failed in his quest to unseat the incumbent, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, by quite a wide margin.
I am not going to go into a speculative assessment of why Kasparov failed or why Ilyumzhinov succeeded, because frankly, FIDE politics are complex and beyond me. Either you are with Ilyumzhinov or you are not and it was clear that many chess federations worldwide preferred the devil they knew over the devil they didn’t exactly know, despite the latter being so well known during his time at the chess summit as the greatest chess player alive.
Just a few days ago as I was wondering what to write for this year’s Malaysian Chess Federation souvenir programme, it struck me that Kasparov certainly wasn’t the first former world champion to visit or pass through Malaysia.
Like Kasparov, this too was Karpov’s second visit to Malaysia. The first time he came to Kuala Lumpur was in March 1990. It was a singularly big occasion for chess in Malaysia at that time because Karpov was playing Jan Timman in the final of the Candidates match. I remember that the world’s chess press had practically camped in our capital city to watch not whether the Dutchman could get the better of the Russian but how much he could salvage from the match. We know the answer was no, right?
Through some good luck, I was there in the welcoming party to document their brief sojourn in the transit lounge. Among the former world champions present were Vassily Smyslov and Mikhail Tal. Among them was also a future FIDE world champion in Alexander Khalifman.
I would also like to mention that two other future world champions had also played in Malaysia, long before they attained that ultimate success in their chess careers.
Going a little further back into time, Dr Max Euwe, world chess champion from 1935 to 1937 and FIDE president from 1970 to 1978, had visited Malaysia twice. The first time was in April 1972, and I remember that occasion just too well because it had more or less coincided with the start of my chess-playing days.
However, all these visits by Euwe, Karpov, Smyslov, Tal, Khalifman, Anand and Kasparov came either before they had attained the chess summit or after they had become a former world champion. Was there any player that had visited this country while he was still a world champion? There was one, and the visit happened 81 years ago.
At the end of 1932, the reigning world chess champion, Alexander Alekhine, had announced that he would be undertaking a world tour in the following year to play exhibition matches. It was a tour that would take him to the Far East. Among the countries in his itinerary would be the United States (Hawaii), Japan (Tokyo), China (Shanghai), Hong Kong, the Philippines (Manila), British Malaya (Singapore) and the Dutch East Indies (Djakarta). There was an attempt to get Alekhine to Australia too but negotiations fell through.
Alekhine left Singapore for the Dutch Indies after this display but one month later, he found himself back in Singapore. Not one to miss this golden opportunity, the Singapore Chess Club announced a second simultaneous match with the world champion willing to play blindfold against 10 players. So on 27 Mar 1933 at the Adelphi again, Alekhine sat with his back to the players as he methodically picked apart nine of his opponents. However, he had to resign a game to one of them when he found himself a piece down with no chance of salvaging even a draw.