Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Playing Fields of Selangor Open

13 April 2013, Kuala Lumpur – The late Larry Parr had contributed to the Selangor Open memoirs by Lim  Chong. This article elucidates the 7th Selangor Open held way back in 1980 when IM Jimmy Liew made an impression on the local chess scene as it was written in 1998.

The Playing Fields of Selangor

By Larry Parr (1998)

Catur and I first became directly acquainted on the evening of August 22, 1980, at the 7th Selangor Open. Playing my first tournament game in several years, I pushed my e-pawn two squares and scored the full point in 18 moves after an opening that began 1. e4 c5 2. b3. I could not help thinking that catur, or chess as it’s played in Malaysia, is an easy game.

Boy, did I get that one wrong! None of us knew it at the time, but the 7th Selangor Open marked a coming of age – a competitive watershed – for chess in Malaysia. If foreign masters had won the first six Selangor Opens in a competition dating back to 1974, then a very young Jimmy Liew was about to become the first Malaysian to capture this country’s most prestigious – indeed, its de facto – national open title. He would score an undefeated 8-1 to finish a full point ahead of the two foreign runners-up, Singapore’s Chia Chee Seng and this writer, who also went undefeated.

The Selangor Open, which this year comes wrapped in a glittering 25th silver edition of numerous satellite events, emerged from the creative turmoil of the early 1970s following the deregistration of the old Malaysian Chess Association and the birth of the Malaysian Chess Federation. Fresh blood entered the ranks of chess leadership, and it somehow seemed natural that the energy and dedication of new MCF president Datuk Tan Chin Nam should also be expressed by leaders at the state level. Hence the 1st Selangor Open in 1974 and the 1st Penang Open shortly thereafter.

But as I was saying about the 7th Selangor Open: Not only did international master-to-be Liew win the event, he triumphed effortlessly. Going into the ninth and final round, he stood at 7.5-0.5 seventh round victory that spelled finis to foreign domination of a tournament that is rivalled in Malaysia only by the National Closed:


Jimmy Liew-Chia Chee Seng (Selangor Open 1980)

1. e4 d6 2. d4 Nf6 3. Nc3 g6 4. Bc4 Bg7 5. Qe2 0-0 6. Bf4 c6 7. Bb3 b5 8. 0-0-0 a5 9. a4 Ba6 10. Qf3 Nfd7 11. e5 bxa4 12. Nxa4 d5 13. h4 Bb5 14. h5 Bxa4 15. Bxa4 Nb6 16. Bb3 a4 17. Ba2 e6 18. Qh3 a3 19. b3 Qe7 20. hxg6 fxg6 21. Qxh7+ Kf7 22. Bh6 Rg8 23. Rd3 Qb4 24. Rf3+ Ke7 25. Bg5+ Black resigns. 0-1.



Figure 1 IM Jimmy Liew Chee Meng, Malaysia


Figure 2 White played 25. Bg5+ and black resigned.

In spite of the admirable attacking élan of Liew and other Malaysian players, one also noticed an interesting kind of ignorance in the opening and a fatal propensity to weaken squares in the ending.

Concerning the opening, many Malaysians back in the 1970s were already memorising the latest main lines of the trendiest openings. They were not, however, studying openings for understanding. As Black, I discovered that offbeat mixer debuts such as the Budapest Defence and Albin Counter Gambit cut a wide swath; and as White, the infamous Danish Gambit never once failed to confuse surprised opponents. Indeed, I played a Danish in the final round of the 1980 Selangor Open, defeating Indian master Ajai Choudhry, who would win the tournament the following year.

As for endings, fast times limits hit Malaysia 10 years before they came to bedevil the West. Most Malaysian players, I discovered, had never once in their chess career sat down to play a long, difficult endgame with slow secondary time controls. This absence of serious endgame practice showed over the board and helped this writer to save and even win several lost positions.

Still, I can testify that by 1980, winning a game against a good Malaysian player was no easy feat. My sense is that the early Selangor Opens, like the “playing fields of Eton”, were a training ground for young talent. Not only did the very best Malaysian players gather to test one another, but they also had the opportunity to meet foreign talent.

The list of winners of the first several Selangor fixtures includes Indonesian international master Dr Max Wotulo (three times), Filipino international master Luis Chiong and Russian attacking master K.K. Ivanov from the Soviet Embassy. Then, in 1983, English international master David Goodman would compete on the playing fields of Selangor. He imparted some valuable lessons, winning the tournament by a record margin of 1.5 points, scoring 8.5-0.5 (Mohd Noor Yahya got the draw).

The 1978 Selangor Open stands out as the strongest in the long series. Participants included IMs Chiong Rico Mascarinas from the Philippines; GM-to-be Murray Chandler from New Zealand; and IMs-to-be Craig Laird from New Zealand and Rafiq Khan from India.

The Malaysian contingent contained every top player except for Choo Min Wang, a two-time national champion and Malaysia’s first internationalist. I think Jimmy Liew’s supine loss to Mascarinas in this tournament, when compared with his hard-scrabble defence against strong American master Arthur Wang in the 1983 Selangor Open, tells a lot not only about his personal advancement but also a rising tide of tournament toughness that raised the level of most Malaysian chess ships.

To read more about the 40th Selangor Open 2013, please click here.