By Lim Chong
Through the years Malaysian chess has seen the emergence of groups of promising junior players. How long can they sustain their interest and how far can they go before other priorities take over is always a question mark.
From the past junior ranks we have seen players like Mas Hafizulhelmi Agus Rahman, Lim Yee Weng and Wong Zi Jing managing to fulfil part of their promise by becoming international masters. And we also have players with so much potential like Gregory Vijandran who just gave up playing in order to pursue further studies.
In the current crop of promising players aged below 18, most are certainly not short of talent but without a systematic junior training programme, their advancement very much depends on their initiatives and hard work .
Among them is Lim Zhuo-Ren whom the focus is on this week because we share the same surname and both of us come from Klang (OK, just kidding!). Actually, he has regularly been doing well with a series of impressive performances. Having suffered two crashing defeats against him, I noticed that his playing style is different from most junior players who usually go all out for tactical opportunities.
Zhuo-Ren adopts a strategic and patient approach, accumulating small advantages as the game progresses, and constantly pressing and probing for weaknesses. He is also confident of his defensive and endgame techniques.
Playing rather fast, he is usually ahead of his opponent on time. This is useful in rapid games but in longer time controls, he faces the risk of overlooking better alternatives.
His playing style is probably influenced by the games of former world champions Anatoly Karpov and Tigran Petrosian and chess legend Aron Nimzowitsch which he finds most memorable.
“I do like some of their games. I think that is because I like the element of squeezing and making my opponents suffocate. And that is also the way I play but because I’m still quite young, sometimes I do play tactical, dynamic chess but depending on the position,” he says.
Against grandmaster Ziaur Rahman of Bangladesh at the DATCC Chess League last Wednesday, Zhuo-Ren discarded his usual cautious approach and opted for an all-out attacking game. Though a pawn down at one stage, he sacrificed yet another pawn for active play. It was not enough to pressure his experienced and much higher rated opponent who then steered the game towards a comfortable win. Perhaps, a useful lesson can be gathered from this encounter.
Zhuo-Ren, who will be turning 18 at the end of this month, recently started his Cambridge A Level Programme at Taylor’s College in Subang Jaya. He started learning chess at seven after his father taught him the moves. At nine, his father enrolled him in a chess club and this was where he met his mentor “Mr Mok”, who turned out to be international master Mok Tze Meng.
“Mr Mok really helped me a lot, especially in understanding the game,” says the grateful youngster.
Zhuo-Ren played his first tournament at 10 in an age group event and ended in second place with RM60 prize. Two years later, he took part in the National Age Group (NAG) 2004 and finished in 30 plus placing. It was at this stage that he became more serious in chess and improved with coaching under Mok.
Playing regularly, he managed to beat many top juniors and this increased his interest and enthusiasm for the game. For the age group events, he counted winning the MSSM (Malaysian Schools Sports Championship) 2009 and NAG Finals 2006 and 2007 as among his best achievements.
It looked like smooth sailing all the way but here comes the heart-breaking chapter. At the 2009 National Individual Championship, Zhuo-Ren got off to a perfect start by winning his first six games. It was not easy as he was on board one and faced tough opponents in every round. In round seven, he was tired and despite an inferior position arising from a mistake in the opening, he battled to gain a hard-earned draw.
Facing the experienced Kamalluddin Yusof in round eight, he considered himself lucky to salvage a draw from a lost position. Meeting him in the final round was national master Edward Lee Kim Han, the 2008 national champion. Needing just a draw for the title, Zhuo-Ren crumbled under severe pressure in the endgame and suffered his first loss in the competition. The result forced a play-off among four players and the title was subsequently won by Evan Timothy Capel.
Devastated by the outcome, Zhuo-Ren cried and thought of quitting the game. But thanks to his parents and friends, he managed to get over the heart-breaking loss.
“I do not know if I am stronger now but what I do know is that I have accepted the loss and I will not let it affect me. It did teach me to bounce back from defeat. You can’t teach that, it is for you to learn and experience yourself,” he says in response to a question.
Right now Zhuo-Ren is taking things one step at a time, aiming for the national master title before thinking about future ambitions.
“That is my goal for chess this year, a national master title and a chance to play in Malaysian Masters which would be a good learning experience,” he adds.
As his study workload increases, Zhuo-Ren will have to constantly juggle between its demands and chess. Hopefully, this chapter of his life will end on a happy note for him.
In tournaments, Zhuo-Ren has beaten strong players like Mok, Ian Udani and Abdullah Che Hassan but here is his personal favourite, a game in which he still remembers the ending position fondly. It was played at the MSSM 2007 in the Under-15 Boys Group and though the scoresheet is lost, he tries to reconstruct the moves the best he can. His opponent, following an opening inaccuracy, was on the defensive throughout the game.
Slav Defence Lim Zhuo-Ren-Evan Timothy Capel
1. Nf3 d5 2. d4 c6 3. c4 e6 4. g3 Nf6 5. Bg2 dxc4 6. a4 a6?! 7. a5 Be7 8. Nc3 Nbd7 9. Nd2 0-0
White regains the pawn with a better position and Black’s dark squares are weak, especially b6 due to 6….a6?!
10. Nxc4 Re8 11. e3 Nf8 12. 0-0 Bd7
White controls a lot of space and Black’s pieces are passively placed. With active pieces and control of the centre, White focuses on gaining more central squares and completing development of his minor pieces.
13. e4 Ng6 14. Be3 Qb8 15. Qb3 Bd8 16. Rfd1 Ne7 17. Bf4 Bc7 18. Bxc7 Qxc7
With the natural defender of the dark squares gone, White quickly seizes the initiative by increasing the pressure on the dark squares on Black’s queenside, and also prevents his freeing moves c5 and e5.
19. Na4 Nc8 20. Qc3 Rb8 21. b4 Qd8 22. f4 Qe7
White overprotects the c5 and 35 squares to prevent any freeing moves, and then brings
his last piece into play
23. Rac1 Qf8 24. Ncb6 Nxb6 25. Nxb6 Rbd8 26. Qc5 Qe7 27.h3 Qxc5 28. dxc5 h5 29. Rd3 Kf8 30. Rcd1 Re7
White has complete control of d-file, and his knight is placed actively. He now tries to gain space on the kingside.
31. Bf3 g6 32. g4 Ke8 33.g5 Nh7 34.f5 e5 35.f6 Re6 36. h4 Nf8 37. Kf2 Nh7 38. Kg3 Nf8
Black’s pieces can’t move…ultimate zugzwang! Let’s take a look at the king, it cannot move. Next the rook on e6 can go to e7, d6 or xf6 where it would just be taken by a rook or pawn. The other rook can move to c8, b8 or a8 in which the d7 bishop dies. The same can be said of the knight. If the bishop moves, Rd8 is instant mate As for black’s pawns they are all fixed. Any move wins, but White wanted more.
39. Bg2 Rb8 40. Bh3 Rd8 41. Kg2 Rb8 42. Nxd7
Black resigns. 1-0.