Closing 2017 with 3 tournament wins
It is kinda late to post a happy new year-ish type of post but in my defence, it has taken me quite a bit of time to go through all of the games that I played in December. I very seldom participate in local events but somehow, I caught a chess bug and ended up playing every event that I could put my hands on!
The most important event was always going to be the National Championships as not only was it supposed to be a qualifying tournament for the Batumi Olympiad, it is also a platform for me to compete against good players. Singapore is a great country for many reasons but clearly chess isn't one of them as ambitious players like myself almost always have to go abroad if they want to compete with strong and international players.
The amazing building with a "boat" at the top is one of Singapore's most iconic building - Marina Bay Sands Hotel. Photo Credit: Mr. Chen Hao, my colleague from Lucence Diagnostics.
Cairnhill Open Championships 2017
Having not played any tournaments since August, I felt the need to play a warm-up event and fortunately, the annual Cairnhill Chess Festival was held just 2 weeks before the Nationals. At a fairly rapid time control of 45 mins per side and no increment, it was always going to take some time to get used to and my strategy was mainly to pressure my opponents from the onset and to avoid time pressure at all costs.
The first 3 rounds went rather smoothly and the first critical game was played in Round 4 against a well-known Filipino trainer who is based in Singapore, Nelson Villanueva. First, a nice little puzzle:
White to play and maintain the initiative
Spoilers alert - here's the game fragment:
I then fought IM Enrique Paciencia to a draw in a game where I had a clear positional edge in the middlegame but he defended doggedly and in the end held rather comfortably thanks to a rather poor technical display from me. I then managed to beat Roberto Suelo, another well-known Filipino trainer. In a typical King's Indian, Black played a little too defensively and locked up the entire kingside, allowing White to target the queenside at will. This is often a risky strategy as Black has no real counterplay and could be strategically lost if White could formulate a breakthrough. On the other hand, Black also has good chances at creating a fortress and I have seen games where Black has managed to hold despite being cramped in his own half.
Reaching the time scramble stage in the game Goh - Suelo, Cairnhill Open 2017
Puzzle 2: White to play. What is the most efficient way to engineer a breakthrough?
I found myself in the sole lead with 5.5/6 and was paired with Pok Wern Jian in the last round. From the Black side of the 4.Qc2 Nimzo Indian, I managed to get an opening edge but threw it away and was even lost at one particular juncture. Fortunately for me, I managed to save a draw and eventually won the tournament on tiebreaks. All credit to my opponent who fought well and gave me a real scare.
The results and a detailed tournament report can be seen on my good friend, Junior Tay's website here:
I was of course very happy at winning a tournament that I have never won before and it did serve well as a preparatory tournament for the Nationals. Many thanks to the organisers and arbiters for a very well planned and smooth event.
National Championships 2017
The Nationals were held from the 17th to 23rd of December. I have always wondered why this event is held closely to the holiday season where people generally prefer to take leave for a well-earned vacation rather than to spend a gruelling 4 hours playing chess every evening. 5 of the 9 rounds were played on weekdays, from 7pm to 11pm and this meant that many working adults had to spend a day at work, scramble for dinner after work and head to SCF's premises to spend the rest of the evening there. For instance, IM Terry Toh sent me a screenshot of him signing a 800 page document in his car when I was asking him for his whereabouts just before one of the weekday rounds started!
When you organise a National Championships with the intention of having it as the most prestigious event in the country as well as a major selection tournament, you want it to be organised with proper conditions for the players so that the quality of the games are not affected by extenuating circumstances. When one plans a schedule with back to back games from Monday - Friday, 7pm - 11pm and then plan a double round on the next day, it just causes the quality of the games to dip, especially to those who had to work in the day. Notably, the arbiters (Mr. Tan Tian Wah and Mr Chris Lim) both seemed exhausted themselves as they are also working adults!
I suppose I should point out that the students get a distinct advantage from this schedule given that December is the schools holidays. In general, you will want such an important event to have fair and equal conditions and that all the players will ideally get sufficient rest in between rounds. One or two double rounds here and there, a weekday here and there are acceptable but 5 weekday evenings sandwiched between 2 double rounds was a simply brutal schedule.
Fortunately, a group of players (all the working adults) were chatting about this to an SCF official and he promised to look into this and see if he could tweak the schedule to be one that is a little more even. Hopefully, next year's schedule will be a little more accomodating to the "oldies".
Anyway, sorry for going off tangent and back to the games.
In round 1, I was paired with the promising junior player, Lee Jun Wei and we had a rather interesting and complicated battle that I was reasonably quite proud of:
In round 2, I had to face my fellow Chess Club Balestier member, IM Terry Toh. Terry last played the National Championships in 1995, an event he won a staggering 22 years ago when I was still 12! Being a practising lawyer, Terry has very little time for chess and it was a surprise that he decided to compete in this year's Nationals after a long period of inactivity. Rustiness was evident in his play but his strength and class will slowly but surely return if he chooses to get a few more games under his belt.
A very difficult game with IM Terry Toh
Our game was a rather exciting file even though it started with the rather quiet Giucco Piano which is another one of my pet openings. I'll bring you right to the action but before that, puzzle time!
White to play and diffuse Black's initiative
Battle of the Chess Club Balestiers
Here's the game fragment where I take you straight to the most critical juncture:
NM Olimpiu Urcan managed to capture the last part of the game here. If you felt that the atmosphere was tense from the video, its because it really was. In case you were wondering why I smiled towards the end of the clip, it was because IM Leslie Leow who was our team captain during the Tromso Olympiad happened to stroll in right at that moment. Leslie was based in the US and it was a very pleasant surprise to see him.
In round 3 and 4, I managed to win 2 relatively smooth games against Jordan Chow and Gavin Koh, 2 of our most promising juniors. They had a rough ride in this event but I hope the experience will at least pin point certain gaps in their chess knowledge and they will be able to move on from there.
I managed to trick Gavin Koh with a tactic in the game Goh - Koh, Singapore National Championships 2017
GM-elect Andrey Kvon, IM/WGM Irene Sukandar & IM Eric Rosen during a surprise visit to the SCF
In round 5, I was paired with my Baku Olympiad teammate, Benjamin Foo with the Black pieces. This was the first time that I got to play with him in a standard game and I understood that he was one of the most dangerous opponents in this field. After managing to secure a significant advantage, my woeful technical expertise was once against in full display:
In round 6, I took the White pieces against my main competitor, IM Tin Jingyao and the result was a rather swift and uneventful draw. I did not particularly feel very good about myself knowing that I did not really press him with the White pieces and that I might have to win the rest of the games given that Tin was tied with me at that particular juncture.
Heads in hands, IM Tin and I fought to a peaceful draw relatively quickly
After 6 rounds, 3 players were tied on 5/6: Tin, Paciencia and me. I then had the difficult task of winning with the Black pieces against Paciencia. Enrique was doing pretty well and he himself missed a rather simple win against Tin in the previous game. I was certain that Enrique will try to play an interesting game against me at least and fortunately for me, we managed to get a wild Grunfeld defence where the complications ended in my favour. But before I show the game, here's another puzzle: Black to play and how do you fight for the initiative? There are some concrete lines to work out.
And here's the game fragment:
Post mortem of Paciencia - Goh, Singapore National Championships 2017
In the meantime, Tin continued to win on demand which meant that both of us remained tied on 6/7 going into the last day. We both won our remaining 2 games and since we had identical tie-breaks, we made a joint decision to be co-champions rather than face the rather unappealing prospect of playing further tie-break games. It is of course rather annoying that a score of 8/9 and a TPR of 2550 was not enough to win the tournament outright but a lot of credit has to be given to Tin who displayed an incredible amount of resilience while faced with difficult positions.
And of course, I am extremely delighted and proud to be a 7-time Singapore Champion in standard chess. I guess only time will tell whether I can get even closer to IM Tan Lian Ann's amazing record as a 10-time winner?
Co-champions: me, IM Tin Jingyao and Mr. Christopher Lim, president of the Singapore Chess Federation
Once again, a big thank you to those who selflessly invested their time to organise this tournament. Also, a big shout out to IM Hsu Li Yang (aka the Legend), FM Ong Chong Ghee "Gheeri", Singapore's top trainer Junior Tay, Professor Lee Wang Sheng and NM Olimpiu Urcan who came to support the Chess Club Balestier members on more than one occasion - thank you guys for the support!
The full results of the tournament can be seen here: http://chess-results.com/tnr317742.aspx?lan=1
Christmas Day Rapid Tournament
And as if that wasn't enough, I decided to play a rapid tournament on the very next day. For some reason, the weekend rapid events organised by Asean Chess Academy led by Ignatius Leong did not get much publicity despite the attractive prizes on hand. Only 8 players showed up but some of them were pretty good as can be seen from the link here:
After a disastrous round 1 where I was crushed mercilessly by IM Liu Xiangyi, I proceeded to win the remaining 5 games and once again, finished in a tie for first. The time control is 20+0 so the quality of my games were significantly lower. However, there was one interesting position that is noteworthy.