Asian Cities Team Chess Championships
The Asian Cities Team Chess Championship was the brainchild of the Hongkong Chess Federation. It was first held in the former British Colony in 1979 and Penang was one of the cities invited to the first edition of the championship. This report on the first Asian Cities Team Chess Championships, written by Goh Yoon Wah, is reproduced from the second issue of Catur Magazine. The Penang team also participated in the 1980, 1981 and 1983 championships in Hongkong, the 1984 championship in Penang, the 1994 championship in Kuala Lumpur and the 1998 championship in Genting Highlands. (In 1996, the Hongkong Chess Federation also organised an Asian Cities Invitational Chess Championship which in the strictest sense cannot be considered as part of the official Asian Cities Team Chess Championship series.) Among the players who have represented Penang in the official and unofficial championships were: Chan Lee Pon, Choong Yit Chuan, Chuah Heng Meng, Eric Cheah Woon Leng, Fong Foo Khun, Goh Yoon Wah, IM Jimmy Liew Chee Meng, Khor Bean Hwa, Lam Leong Yew, Ng Weng Kong, Ooi Chern Ee, Ooi Gim Ewe, Ooi Kiem Boo and Quah Seng Sun.
In recent years, the International Chess Federation (FIDE) has become aware that it could no longer choose to conveniently ignore this part of the world which contains more than 1,000 million people. As a result, FIDE Zones 9 and 10 have never had it so good before. More tournaments and matches have been organised in this region during the last five years than perhaps in the previous 20.
One of the latest international events to spring up from the Asian continent was the first Asian cities team championship which was organised in Hongkong during the last week of March this year.
The Hongkong Chess Federation, as organisers, however had a different view of how invitations should be sent to the Asian members of FIDE and chose to invite, not countries, but city teams instead. It was explained, at least unofficially, that the HKCF under Leslie Collings was determined to bring together players who would push pawns in friendship even if their respective governments were not speaking to each other. By inviting cities to take part, Collings was able to keep politics out of sport.
Originally, sixteen teams were expected from the Zone 10 members of FIDE but the event finally went under way with only 12 teams. China, the new emerging chess force in Asia (remember that the Chinese team in the Buenos Aires chess olympiad was the best scoring Asian team ahead of traditional rival Philippines), produced three teams representing Beijing (Peking), Shanghai and Guangzhou (Canton).
Malaysia was able to send two teams - one playing under the name of Kuala Lumpur team but in effect the players were members of the Chess Association of Selangor, and another team from the Penang Chess Association, which had received a personal invitation from the HKCF.
Other teams at the Asian cities championships were Metro Manila, Jakarta, Bangkok, Tokyo, Hongkong 'A" and "B" and Singapore. From the geographical point of view, however, the Singapore team was most indistinguishable as it was a city and national team at the same time!
Contrary to views expressed from certain quarters, Singapore was not the firm favourite to win the title. They had a lucky pairing in the final round and went on to prove it, while the definite favourite, the Beijing team, met with unexpected trouble from a Hongkong team which refused to be defeated. Metro Manila, on the other hand, could only beat the Shanghai team by a narrow margin. Singapore therefore became the first Asian city champion, half a point ahead of Metro Manila with Beijing third a further half point behind.
Jakarta arrived late for the opening ceremony and in the first round Singapore was made to sit around for two hours twiddling their thumbs while waiting in suspense. Kuala Lumpur and Penang were both whitewashed by the Beijing and Metro Manila teams respectively. The Beijing players were led by the Chinese number three, Liu Wenzhe, who had been dubbed as the "Chinese Kieseritzky" after his win against Dutch grandmaster Jan Donner six months before. The Filipinos, although a young team were by no means a weak team as could be expected from their country and their later performances in the tournament.
Jakarta, after a disappointing first round, came back in force to down Kuala Lumpur 4-0 while Penang sneaked in a narrow 2 1/2-1 1/2 victory over the Hongkong B team. Guangzhou and Beijing agreed to a very early 2-2 result over their four boards but Shanghai, with Qi Jingxuan on first board, put up a remarkable fight before losing 1-3 to Singapore. Leslie Leow played very well in the end game to prevent the China number one from winning the full point.
Kuala Lumpur repeated Penang's performance in the second round by narrowly beating Hongkong B in the third round, but Penang lost narrowly to the Tokyo team here. The Bangkok team tasted the Beijing ducks in this round which shot the Chinese into the lead as Singapore and Metro Manila fought out to a draw. Jakarta was playing attacking chess all the way to down Guangzhou 3-1.
In round four, the four tournament leaders split the points equally among themselves and maintained the status quo. This round also saw a battle between Penang and Kuala Lumpur with the islanders notching a 2 1/2-1 1/2 victory. Jimmy Liew was quick to avenge his loss to Christi Hon in the national championship last year, while Eric Cheah saw to it that his win against Ramli Bahari last year was repeated.
Tokyo paid the price for fielding their lady player against Kuala Lumpur and lost 1-3. Penang could not meet the onslaught of the Bangkok team and lost by a similar margin. Meanwhile, the race for tournament leader hotted up with Jakarta scoring a decisive blow against Shanghai. Singapore's win from Hongkong A was narrower but Beijing and Metro Manila could only draw.
In the sixth round, Metro Manila went into joint lead with Beijing when the Filipinos crushed Tokyo almost totally. Beijng again dropped two points, this time against Jakarta. Singapore dropped back when Guangzhou drew with them. Meanwhile, Hongkong "A" took advantage in some lapses in the Penang defence while Kuala Lumpur drew with Bangkok.
The luck of the last round draw put Singapore against Kuala Lumpur when they could have been paired against Bangkok which was further up the tournament table. As it was, the Singaporeans created history by offering Kuala Lumpur no peace of mind at all. In the meantime, Penang salvaged half a point against Guangzhou.
The final results: Singapore 19 points; Metro Manila 18 1/2 points; Beijing 18 points; Jakarta 18 points; Guangzhou 16 1/2 points; Hongkong "A" 16 points; Shanghai 14 1/2 points; Bangkok 14 points; Tokyo 10 points; Penang 8 1/2 points; Hongkong "B" 6 points.
Although Shanghai had indecisive results during the tournament, their first board player, Qi Jingxuan, was the best performer. The Chinese number one was certainly in a class by himself, scoring six points from seven games. Although FIDE has yet to award him with a title, his playing strength is such that he was specially invited to participate in the Buenos Aires Invitational tournament where 75% of the field were grandmasters.