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Friday, November 9, 2012

Of Nf6 Chess Masters 2012

The 2012 edition of the increasingly popular Nf6 chess event took off with a slight hiccup last night but, all is well and it ended well. With the massive traffic jam, heavy rain and many city dwellers taking the time to rush out of the city to celebrate the coming Deepavali and Awal Muharram celebration next week, it was a nightmare trying to get to the venue on time. Most players were able to make it just before 7:30pm but another stumbling block - the tables and chairs did not arrive due to the downpour. Some quick thinking and a bit of negotiation with the nearby Starbucks outlet, and the venue for the Masters shifted to the more comfortable (but erratically noisy) outlet. And to be fair to the younger juniors (who would probably need to get their early sleeping time), the Junior section started off first at 8:15pm while the Masters players gather the sets and clocks to move to the nearby famous outlet. 40 minutes later, after each player had ordered their teas, coffees and food - to be fair to the outlet, the players started off their games. And with the two sections divided apart, it was only logical for the Arbiter to station his table with the Junior section and leave the Senior players to temporary manage the event on the own (and a quick visit every now and then should do the trick). And as expected, the junior section concluded earlier and by 10:30pm, everything had been packed and there I was, ready to move to the more comfortable venue in the next office block. 

Things were rather quiet when I first stepped into Starbucks and as I managed to find a table on the upper level, moving as close as possible to the Nf6 playing group, I realized that the place has now been surrounded by groups of youngsters (probably university students or office colleagues) who turned the usually matured and reasonably tolerable noise level in Starbucks into your local "wet market" operated by kindies. Of course, something has got to give and while we had managed to get a more comfortable and better playing area, the noise level and crowd control was non existent as it was a public space where everyone and anyone can enter. The only consolation was that the crowd (and the noice that came with the crowd) came and went. Another point noted by most of the players taking part was that, in the usual case, once the game started and your mind become more focused, all the noise become oblivious and non existent but as one player aptly put, "Of course you won't hear anything when you are winning but if you are playing a losing game, even the sound of foot steps can become very VERY irritating!"

For the Masters series, it was rather disappointing to see Sumant Subramaniam having to take off from the event and trying to find a last minute replacement for a player with his rating and caliber would definitely be tough and challenging. The Nf6 Masters Series is already considered as the strongest individual local league ever set up by any organizer in recent years and it would be sad to see the average rating dropped if a higher rated player is not found. In stepped FM Johan Iskandar Foudzi, a powerful junior player in his days who had told me of his intention to return to competitive chess. A phone call from the organizer to Johan and voila.... a replacement was found. And the average rating of the players playing in the event increased! As mentioned by Kamaluddin Yusoff, the playing strength of this event is definitely much stronger than the recent National Closed.  So, can we crown the Nf6 Champion as "National Master"?

For the Junior section, there were some last minute request to change the schedule but after further negotiations and repositioning of the player's other activities, the list remains without any changes. Of the kids that are playing in this section, Faqih, Ming Xian and Ming Kang would probably be the most seasoned group of players playing. It will indeed be interesting to see how the three would fare against Ghaazi and Muqqri, who have been trained by their father Mohd Saprin, one of the more solid and steady players in his playing days (and still is!). Another junior player to watch is Gabriel Bick, an American student following his father who has been stationed here in KL. Shah Alam youngster Raja Bazil Bot is another rising player who has begun to play more actively in the local circuit and usually, with practice, it makes the player more mature. Whilst the three girls playing in the event are relatively newcomers to competitive chess, there might come a time where one or more of them, can spring surprises against their much experienced opponents. All in all, the Nf6 Juniors event would be a good training ground for them to enhance their playing skills and gaining valuable learning experience.

For Round 1 pairing, all the family members have been paired to play against each other to avoid controversies in the later rounds - a common practice used in many chess events. Both Saprin's sons, Muqqri and Ghaazi were paired against one another and so was Ming Xian and Ming Kang. Similarly in the Masters section, the father and son duo - Yeoh Li Tian and Yeoh Chin Seng, was also paired to play against one another. Although all the games ended in a draw, all were hard fought games which stretched to the limit. In one of the game that I witnessed between Ghaazi and Muqqri, the elder brother Ghaazi had a better position but was not able to find the win as it required him to sacrifice a pawn to open up a lane for his King to enter into enemy line. After moving his Rook and King a few times, an avoid risking the loss of a pawn, both player agreed to a draw on the 84th move.

The massive late evening jams caused 2 players in Norshafaah and Siti Aishah to forfeit their games in Round 1 of the Nf6 Juniors section. For the Masters section, playing the black pieces, Sarawakian Lim Kian Hwa created an upset by beating his higher rated opponent Ismail Ahmad on Board 2.

The remaining results from Round 1 for both Masters and Juniors Section are as follows:
Nf6 Juniors Section
Nf6 Masters Section
Returning to active duty, FM Johan Iskandar Foudzi (right) paired to play Zaidan Zulkipli (left)
Starbucks Taman Tun Dr Ismail - the alternative venue
Comfortably seated - with aircond and light music but uncontrollable noise from a nearby group
With coffee and tea, as the weapon of choice!
Focused despite the noise
No holds barred! The game between father and son ended in a draw after the 50th move.

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