By Lim Chong
Looking at our current crop of chess youngsters, none is surely more promising than 10-year-old Yeoh Li Tian. He is not only increasingly making an impact presently but is also expected to be a significant factor in the future of Malaysian chess.
Since his return from a seven-week intensive training programme at the Beijing Chess Institute in China, Li Tian has been on a hot winning streak, doing very well in one tournament after another.
He finished first at Excel Chess Academy’s Thaipusam Rapid Chess Open and won the first leg of the Kuala Lumpur Grand Prix with a perfect score from six games. The excellent performance continued with a joint second place at Excel’s Chinese New Year Rapid Chess Open and playing for first board for Team AU at the University of Malaya’s Tun Zahiruddin College Chess Team Championship, he scored an unbeaten five-and-a-half points from six games.
Li Tian’s interest in chess got off to a good start when his father Yeoh Chin Seng, the 1993 national champion, started teaching him the moves when he was only three. Two years later, he had already started preparing for tournament play. He made an impact at the 2007 World Youth Chess Championship in Turkey when he ended fourth in the Under-8 category.
Chin Seng, currently ranked among the top 12 active players in the country, feels Li Tian is still making improvements, adding that the China programme has been useful in giving him a wider perspective and helping him to progress through self-study. He has also been sending Li Tian’s games to his friend Jimmy Liew Chee Meng for the international master’s expert analysis and advice.
While Li Tian is able to focus on chess during his free time, priority is still being given to his studies at SJKC Yuk Chai in Petaling Jaya where he is a Standard Five pupil. He is an above average student, according to his modest father.
At last week’s Chinese New Year Rapid, Li Tian showed added aggressiveness and fighting spirit in all his games. Right from the opening moves, he was always seeking the initiative for attacking prospects.
Experienced Jax Tham Tick Hong tried to confuse with his young opponent in the fourth round with some unorthodox opening moves but fell quickly to a well-coordinated attack.
Li Tian was staring at defeat in round seven against the underrated Alfred Ting Shih Chieh when his opponent managed to queen one of his pawns. However, the youngster did not give up and was resourceful enough to launch a remarkable attack that won the game. He described it as a “super duper lucky win”.
I myself was also given a taste of Li Tian’s tenacity when paired against him in the last round. Playing black, he launched a kingside attack by sacrificing his knight. Even with an extra piece, I was fortunate to hold on to a draw.
When Norway’s Magnus Carlsen became the world’s youngest grandmaster at the age of 13 in April 2004, his trainer, grandmaster Simen Agdestein, described it as “the result of a fine environment and mindful family”. At his age, Li Tian will continue to improve his chess performance if he retains interest. But how fast he progresses will also depend on the training, exposure and support that he is given.