Thursday, March 25, 2010

Early Success, Late Comeback

By Lim Chong


Mohd Kamal Abdullah burst into the chess scene in the 1980s like a blazing comet, sweeping aside the challenges of established national players to make his way to the top.

One of his remarkable results was winning the 1988 National Individual Championship, becoming the youngest then to become national master at 18. He was also the first Malay to win the title, an achievement which many had expected from the more experienced Mohd Noor Yahya.

The championship that year saw the presence of almost all the country’s top players like Jimmy Liew, Christi Hon, Eric Cheah and Peter Long, as well as Mohd Noor and national women’s champion Audrey Wong. They certainly did not make it easy for the up-and-coming Mohd Kamal.

Playing in the 1988 Olympiad in Thessaloniki, Greece, as second reserve, Mohd Kamal gained the best results among the Malaysian team members with 4.5 points from seven games, with four wins, one draw and two losses. He narrowly missed the board six medal prize by half a point. The Malaysian team ended 58th out of 107 teams with 27.5 points.

Mohd Kamal also went on to play at the 1990 Olympiad in Novi Sad, Yugoslavia, and 1992 Olympiad in Manila, the Philippines, but could not surpass his fine achievement in the first.
Picking up the game relatively late at the age of 14 after learning the moves from his older brother, Mohd Kamal was able to improve fast after joining the school’s chess club. But with no good player to coach him, he had to rely on chess books to improve his knowledge and playing regularly in tournaments enabled him to make a leap in playing strength.

Very quickly, he was able to make an impact in local competitions and opponents began to take notice of him. Articulate, considerate and well-groomed, he was one of the few who played wearing a tie. Oh yes, he was good-looking too, attracting a following of female admirers. Possessing an easy-going demeanour, Mohd Kamal favoured aggressive responses like the Sicilian Dragon and King’s Indian Defence which suited his attacking style of play.

Though given opportunities to participate in international competitions like the Olympiads, Asian Zonals and Asian Team Championships, Mohd Kamal was not able to raise his playing strength to move to the next level, an affliction unfortunately common among our national players. But he benefited from the coaching of the late grandmaster Eduard Gufeld from Georgia when he was in the national team.

As studies and then work increasingly took priority, Mohd Kamal started to play less and less, and then gradually withdrew from the chess scene. But he caused a surprise by making a strong comeback in 2007 and went on to score some excellent results in the next two years, including the 2008 Sarawak Open in which he was placed first ahead of 76 players, including some from Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore. And in the 2008 National Individual Championship, he scored an encouraging 5.5 points from nine rounds and was placed 14th.

On the reason for his comeback, he told Collin Madhavan in an interview that he felt he still had some unfinished business. “I will always have this little voice at the back of my head telling me that my journey in chess will not be complete without that (GM) title,” he said then.

But following his commendable comeback performances, Mohd Kamal has been missing in action for the past two years for reasons unknown.

Is he capable of making another comeback? The answer can only come from Mohd Kamal himself.

Here’s a game played at the 1989 Selangor Pewter Open which Mohd Kamal considered as one of his best efforts, together with some notes by him.

Sicilian Defence Mok Tze Meng-Mohd Kamal Abdullah

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 g6 6. Be3 Bg7 7. f3 Nc6 8. Bc4 Bd7 9. Qd2 a5!?
Catching Mok, my teammate at the recent Asian Team Championship, by surprise. This move was introduced by German grandmaster Robert Huebner two years ago. Black prepares a pawn storm on White if he castles on the queenside. Mok took 25 minutes to figure out his next move and decided on “castling into it”.
10. 0-0-0 0-0 11. h4 Rc8 12. Bb3 Nxd4 13. Bxd4 b5! 14. a4?
Better was e5 with the idea of breaking the weakness on d7.
14….bxa4! 15. Nxa4 Bxa4 16. Bxa4 Rc4! 17. Bxf6 Rxa4!
Black sacrifices the exchange to get a winning attack on White’s king.
18. b3 Bxf6 19. bxa4 Qb6 20. Qd3 Rc8 21. Rde1 Rc3 22. Qb5 Qd4 23. h5! Bg5+ 24. Qxg5 Ra3 25. Qb5 Ra1+ 26. Qb1 Qxa4 27. Kd2 Qd4+ 28. Ke2 Qc4+ 29. Kd2 Rxb1 30. Rxb1 gxh5 31. Rxh5 e5! 32. Rg5+ Kf8 33. Rb8+ Ke7 34. Rgg8 a4 35. g4 h6 36. Rh8 a3 37. g5 hxg5 38. Rbe8+ Kf6 39. Rh6+ Kg7 40. Reh8 g4 White resigns. 0-1

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