Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Getting back into the game

About 10 days ago, I went back to playing chess. Although the game had been so much a part of my life since my schooldays and throughout my working life into my retirement, I had not played at all for about two years now. I can't really remember when it was that I last touched a chess piece but as I said, maybe it was about two years ago.

At about this time last year when the Penang Chess Association was organising its Penang Chess league, I had cried off turning up in any of the Old Frees' Association teams because I was so unsure of my playing standard. Inactivity had bred doubts in my mind and I was undergoing a bit of mini-crisis.

But this year, I actually informed my OFA chess cronies that I wanted to play and in a further commitment to my friends, I told them that I was prepared to play in all rounds except one. Now, having made  that sort of commitment, it was very hard for me to go back on my words. And more so when I was placed in the B team, whereas in the past few years it had always been the C team for me. Wah...the confidence they have in me, one who hasn't played for so long and totally out of practice.

On the day of the competition on the sixth of December, I turned up at the Red Rock Hotel in MacAlister Road and nonchalently took my seat on the third board. Around me was Chuah Heng Meng on the first board, Lim Cheng Teik on the second board and Colin Chong on the fourth board. Our fifth player, William Lee was unavailable to play on that Saturday, but he turned up for all the games on Sunday.

Inwardly, I was very nervous although I was a picture of calm to everyone around me. How would I perform in the three games on the first day of the chess league? The first round did not give me any comfort although my team won easily against a team of very young players. My opponent was 10 years old while his even younger brother on the fourth board was only eight. Colin and I ended up helping the kids write on their scorebooks.

The second round opponents provided us with a sterner test. My team-mates won their games but I could only contribute a draw. In fact, my opponent came out with a slight edge in the middlegame but he wasn't adventurous enough and was quite satisfied to split the point after we went into a repetition of position.

My real test was in the third round when we were paired with the CLOBA A team and I found myself sitting down facing Loo Swee Leong. My opening went hay-wire and not only did I find myself down a pawn after some oversight but I was forced into doubling my centre pawns. Luckily, my opponent got lulled into a comfort zone and allowed me to counter-attack his king. Both of us got chances to double our rooks on the seventh rank but after a pair was forced off the board, the position became so sterile that we agreed to a draw.

As planned earlier, I sat out the fourth round on Sunday morning. My team were going great guns that round and we decided to field the same line-up for the fifth round. So, this was a round that I did not get to play too.

By the sixth round, I was already itching for some action. I emerged from the opening with an encouraging position but unfortunately, when my opponent presented me with a choice of continuations, I had to choose the worst among them and ended up with the worse position, having to defend an inferior game. But I dug in and my opponent then decided to present me with enough counter-play to squeeze a win from the position.

My final round game was yet another lucky escape. How many did I have in this tournament; three? I think so. I ended up with the exchange down but the position was just too close and my opponent just could not infiltrate in. I managed to exchange off many of the pawns and having neutralised his threats, the game petered off to another draw.

I must say that I felt rather upbeat and encouraged after returning to playing. Though my present form is nothing much to shout about -- repeatedly, I had to remind myself that I did not possess enough sense of danger in my games -- it makes me wanting to play again in the next team tournament. That would be the USM team open tournament that's slated for March next year.

Incredibly, we finished third! William, Cheng Teik, Colin and I with the PCA president, Lee Ewe Ghee.

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