The Importance of Tahan Chess

The Importance of Tahan Chess

IM IM_Kgwm

White to play a "tahan" move

I managed to play in a rapid tournament yesterday and although I was the highest rated player in the field, I was not really expecting much given that the intention was really to shake off some rust, experiment with some new openings and basically to have some fun. Although there were only 8 players, the field was surprisingly decent, with IM Liu Xiangyi and my Pawngolins teammate, FM Andrey Terekhov in the mix. There were also a couple of promising junior players and decent non-master players.

My play was extremely shaky throughout. In the first round, I nearly blundered my queen away from a winning position against the tournament organiser, Ignatius Leong. Now, that would have sparked a fair bit of conspiracy theory! In round 2, I had to work really hard to win a rook ending with 2 pawns vs 1 pawn and then found my back to the wall against IM Liu Xiangyi in round 3. Before we look at the game though, I suppose I should spend a bit of time to explain the rather peculiar title of this article.

If you google the word "Tahan", you will see that this word belongs a larger group of words that are termed "Singlish", a form of English but with a slang that is uniquely Singapore. To "tahan" means to tolerate, or to handle it. This word can be used for situations (such as fatigue during a strenuous workout) or even for people (an annoying person, or a bossy superior).

Here's a typical conversation between 2 Singaporean soldiers in the middle of a marathon:

Soldier 1: Eh bro, you looked really shag (exhausted, or tired), you hosea bo (alright) ?

Soldier 2: Wah, the weather is very hot. Cannot tahan already!

Anyway, you get the idea. In chess, the ability to tahan means to stand resolute in the face of adversity, to resist against the fiercest attacks and to find the best resources under tremendous pressure. Those who know a bit of background of local chess will probably agree with me that there is no one better than IM Hsu Li Yang when it comes to tahan chess.


Li Yang is currently heading the Infectious Diseases department in Tan Tock Seng Hospital. He has not played competitively in a long time but when you play him in blitz, you will see that he is often extremely resourceful under the most threatening circumstances where most players would have collapsed easily. My wins against him in blitz are mainly due to blunders in severe time trouble, something that happens very often given that he is using an ipad to play online blitz but I often find myself struggling to breakthrough his resolute defence. 

I believe that all these blitz games paid off as I managed to tahan a perilous situation...

That was a narrow escape! 

In the last round, I was paired against Andrey where I needed to win my game in order to win the tournament outright. We arrived at the position given at the start of the article where White had to find a tahan move to defend against Black's dangerous threats. 

This is the critical position from the opening. White obviously has a serious problem to solve as his center is in danger of collapsing after a few timely exchanges. The d4 pawn is under severe pressure and Black's immediate threat is Rd8. How would you tahan this position?

Andrey sank into a long think and was not able to find the solution. I had also failed to find the solution during the game but not surprisingly, the machine immediately points out a simple way to defend. There is no fanciful tactic or subtle positional nuances. White simply has to find a 2-mover manoeuvre in order to hold his position after which it is clear that White has zero problems. Here's the solution:

And so I ended up winning the tournament despite some seriously dodgy play! 

I hope you have enjoyed this article and to end this off, here's a hilarious video of some foreigners attempting to speak and explain Singlish.

PS: The tournament I played is the Asean Chess Academy Rapid tournament. Now, I am fully aware of the political issues between Ignatius Leong and the SCF but I really cannot care less. I saw a good tournament with good players and a good prize fund and I see no reason not to compete in the event just because of some political disagreements between a few parties. 

If anyone is interested, you can visit the ACA's FB page. The next event will be held on 18th June and the prize fund is a cool $2,400.