Thursday, March 18, 2010

Enter the woman master

By Lim Chong



It’s nice to see some of our top female players getting attention in the ongoing Malaysian Women Masters 2010, the first of what is expected to be an annual series. Though there was some controversy over the selection of participants, what’s more important is that the event provides an additional avenue for the players to make their mark.

It was in 1985 when Malaysian chess, in particular our women’s chess, received an unexpected boost when Audrey Wong Su Yi gained the international woman master title, a first for the country. This came just one year after Jimmy Liew Chee Meng became the country’s first international master.

Though it has been more than 20 years since Audrey last played, was recently reminded of her by a press release that I came across during the course of work. It was from Cagamas Berhad, the National Mortgage Corporation, naming her as its new chief risk officer and stating that she has 16 years of banking experience. Nothing about her chess achievements.

When we met two years ago at a birthday dinner for Malaysian Chess Federation (MCF) honorary life president Datuk Tan Chin Nam, our conversation focused more on her risk management work rather than chess. However, she did raise the issue of her name missing from the World Chess Federation (FIDE) list of title-holders. The matter has since been resolved and she is confirmed as an international woman master.

Audrey gained the title at the Asian Girls Under-20 1985 Championship which was held in Adelaide, Australia. Though not yet 16, she was selected based on her promise and potential as well as good performance in tournaments she had played.

She got off to a sensational start by winning her first 10 games in the 13-round tournament. Then tension and anxiety set in and she could only secure 1.5 points from the remaining three games. Still, it was enough for first place but she had to share the championship title with Abhyankar Anupama from India. Both were awarded the WIM title.

Audrey’s achievement was made possible with the presence of Peter Long Chay Boon at the championship as coach. Whatever opinion one may have of Long, he has been and still is undeniably an excellent coach, especially with junior players.

However, after rising to become the country’s top woman player, Audrey became increasingly less and less involved in chess as studies and then work took priority. Now, she is longer involved in competitive chess though she has been known to represent her employer at inter-company events.

Coming from a chess family, Audrey started to be interested in chess from the age of five after watching her elder brother Andrew played with her cousin. Her younger brother Adrian also excelled in chess and made his mark as a junior player and her supportive parents have been involved as chess officials for many years.

Audrey made an immediate impact when she took part in the 10thSelangor Open in 1983, scoring five points from nine rounds. It marked the start of her chess career.

One of the highlights was her rivalry with Geraldine Johns Putra, an attacking player always willing to take risks for tactical possibilities. Audrey was more the strategic player, opting to increase her positional advantage through careful play, aided by her intuitive sense where the chess pieces should go. Two contrasting styles, two strong-willed players and their encounters were always fascinating to watch.

Geraldine, now a corporate lawyer specialising in helping companies to do business in China, was also in the news recently when her London-based firm decided to sponsor the Australian Junior Chess League. In her announcement, she said: “As someone who has benefited tremendously from chess as a junior, I feel privileged to be in a position to do something for Australian juniors today.”

Apparently, Geraldine’s heart is now with Australia though she had received a lot of attention when she was with Malaysian chess, leading some to even complain that she was “MCF’s favourite player”.

It looks unlikely that Audrey will make her way back to competitive chess but she has left a strong legacy for a new generation of women chess players to carry on.

Here’s a rare “clash of champions” between Audrey and the country’s top player then. Though a blitz game held as part of a chess carnival, Liew was very impressed by Audrey’s effective style.

Modern Benoni Audey Wong-Jimmy Liew: 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. d5 e6 4. Nc3 exd5 5. cxd5 d6 6. e4 g6 7. Nf3 Bg7 8. Bd3 0-0 9. 0-0 a6 10. a4 Re8 11. Re1 Bg4 12. h3 Bxf3 13. Qxf3 Nbd7 14. Bf4 Ne5 15. Qe3 Nfd7 16. Bxe5!? Nxe5 17. f4 Nxd3 18. Qxd3 Rc8 19. Rad1 c4 20. Qg3 f5? 21. e5 b5 22. axb5 axb5 23. Kh1 b4?? 24. Nb5 dxe5 25. fxe5 Ra8 26. d6 Ra2 27. Nc7 Rf8 28. e6 and Black lost on time. 1-0.

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