When I came across the last round pairing for Round 9 of the Brunei event, no other pairing caught my eyes except the one on Board 7 between IM Mas and Yeoh Li Tian. The other pairings and other games, do not seem to interest me at all. The one that did, was the one that matters most.... The one that will decide - to a certain extent - the future "who is who" of chess in Malaysia. But of course, it is only a single game and a single game alone is not, and should not be the definitive measure whether Li Tian is better than Mas, or Mas still reigns well as Malaysia's numero uno. But still, it is a good gauge of the things to come. And we can't deny the fact that Yeoh Li Tian has arrived and is in the building!
A lot of people say that the fire in Mas has gone or dimmed. He is not as good as he used to be but then again, people also failed to see that he was not as active as before as well. He only quit his job middle of last year and from then on, began to refocus on his quest for chess stardom. Agreed that the rate of progress may not have been what he wanted, and what we expected but, the question remains in everyone's head is - does he still has that fire and determination to achieve a goal that has eluded him the past 10 years? Can he still do it? My answer..... (more like observation)
Within the Malaysian chess community, IM Mas is still a powerhouse - a force to be reckon with. In many local events, he simply breezes through - with minor hiccups here and there (like the game that he lost to Nik Farouqi) but then again, playing against someone that you know and are good friends with, is much tougher because they tend to know your style. I sincerely believe his theory alone is enough to blow anyone away. But becoming a "jaguh kampung" is not what Mas is looking to be and at the same time, I am sure Mas himself knows that time is not on his side. Moreover, with "Prince" Li Tian and other youngsters hot on his tail, he has to quickly find the way to break the finish line first. So, can he do it?
When Mas reached his peak rating of 2456 in 2001, the record showed that he was playing only 44 games the year before (2000) and only 25 games in 2001. There were no records in the FIDE website for the number of game played prior to 2000 but I know Mas played a lot then considering that he achieved his IM title in 1998 and it also covered the 2 years of Olympiad (1998 and 2000 which I believe he had represented the country). It was also after he concluded his SPM hence, I am sure he was very active at that time and the number of games that he played would have been much more than what the record showed....
In 2002, Mas rating dipped slightly to 2420 and it dipped again to 2397 in 2003. Between 2003 and 2005, he played less than 10 games a year and during this time, Mas rating stabilized at circa 2410 (due the inactivity). Towards the end of 2006, his rating dipped again to a low of 2382 (this is what inactivity does to your playing skills and rating - it dipped!) and continued to slide further down to a decade low of 2372 points by the end of 2007.
At the onset of the Tiger Project, Mas rating in January of 2008 was 2382 and in the next 2 years, he played more than 250 games and hitting a high of 2439 at the end of 2008 - almost back to where his peak was (again - when he is active, the rating rises and stabilize). When the project ended, he maintained his rating at circa 2420 until the end of 2011 (again, due to slight inactivity). After quitting his job in mid 2011 and coming back to chess, his rating dipped again to 2377 (the lowest now in the last 4 years) and with the Brunei event, his rating might drop again to circa 2360+, the lowest that it has been since 2000. It looks like a trend in motion and as we all know, this usually happens at the onset of him getting back into the "groove" of playing.... So, if history were to repeat itself (it usually does!), Mas could be on his uptrend pattern within the next couple of months - provided he continued playing as active as he was before.
Nonetheless, for many chess fans, the current trending for our Numero Uno does look a bit scary but, it is probably a bit too early to pull down the alarm and shake our head - it is not yet the end and perhaps more, it is only the beginning! Like the old saying goes, it is not over until the fat lady sings - and even if she does, go and shoot her so that we can continue! Of course, Mas has to pull back his resources and start playing well again and I am pretty darn sure that he can do that, and get back on track.
The Melaka event would be one event where Mas will have the opportunity to redeem himself and start going back to winning chess. And whilst we celebrate the crowning of our new Malaysian prince of chess in Yeoh Li Tian, the King still reigns because it ain't over until its over.... at least for now....