By Lim Chong
One of the aims of organising an internationally rated tournament is to provide local players with a chance to gain title norms.
In the past, rated tournaments were rare at the local level and our top players needed to go overseas, sometimes halfway round the globe, in search of the elusive international master norms.
Even rated players then complained that they faced the risk of being relegated to the inactive rating list because they did not have opportunities to take part in rated events.
Now the situation has improved and the country is able to host at least one or two internationally rated tournaments annually.
The latest example was the Kuala Lumpur Open 2010 with 12 grandmasters and 17 international masters, which offered a reasonable opportunity to go for norms.
But what came as a surprise was that some of our top players were not among the 20 Malaysian participants, already outnumbered by India with 23 players who seemed hungrier for norms.
Having such a useful event in our own backyard and finding some of our own top representatives missing from the line-up is rather baffling and disappointing. And ironical too, isn’t it?
One of those busy working hard to organise more playing opportunities for chess enthusiasts is veteran Jax Tham Tick Hong, who is also coach, arbiter and player, verily an all-in-one for chess.
He is known for his no-frills, value-for-money tournaments held twice a month at his Excel Chess Academy, basically comprising a six-round event using classical time controls and a 10-round rapid chess, held usually over the weekends.
As a player, Tham is not just there to make up the number but also to compete for the top prize. He is a proven asset to any team with his wide experience and deep knowledge of the game.
With his understanding and ability to make playable unusual opening moves, Tham can easily steer any game into unfamiliar territory, thus forcing his opponent to rely strictly on their chess skills rather than memorised variations.
Tham was in the pioneer group of national players to get international ratings. In addition to several rated tournaments locally, he played in two Commonwealth chess championships. He always played well against foreign players, including scoring a memorable win against 1983 Commonwealth champion Greg Hjorth of Australia.
There were occasional tournament victories and upsets against higher rated opponents but during an era dominated by Jimmy Liew, Christi Hon and Peter Long, it was tough for him to stand out.
Tham was forced to cut down on his chess activities due to career and later family commitments. Back in the boom days when many remisiers were driving around in BMWs, Tham’s attention was understandably on the Main Board rather than the chess board. And with four sons, one could say he really had his hands full.
But Tham was able to make a comeback to chess in 2000. And for the past two years, it has been full-time chess with the setting up of the Excel Chess Academy. He has trained a number of promising junior players for international competitions.
Tham himself started as a promising schoolboy player at La Salle Petaling Jaya where he picked up the game in Form Three. At that time, the school was bustling with chess activities and he was hanging out with schoolmates Peter Long, Francis Chin, Joseph Toh and Christopher Lee, all of whom went on to make their respective mark in chess.
Chin and Toh, being more senior, guided the group which became a formidable team, proving to be practically unbeatable at district, state and national school levels.
Tham recalled fondly the good times, learning chess from the senior players and playing in tournaments like the Selangor Open which was held at the school’s library. During school holidays, the chess players were taken by chess official Laurence How for trips to Ipoh and Penang for friendly games.
”We just loved to play and were not fearful of the senior national players,” Tham says in between conducting a chess session at a Petaling Jaya school this week.
Now his main objective is to provide a place for chess players to hang out as well as a venue for holding regular events.
“I am not dreaming of becoming an international master. I just want to impart my knowledge to the young players,” Tham says on his aspiration to create a conducive environment for junior players and guiding them on how to improve.
“I have told them that if they can draw or beat me, then they should be able to represent the country,” he says.
“If they want to go further, they must have the fire and passion,” he adds.
Yes, passion to play well, keep improving and at least make an attempt when an opportunity arises to advance further up the chess ladder.