Thursday, April 22, 2010

From Promising Schoolboy to Battle-Hardened Veteran

By Lim Chong

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Hard to imagine boyish-looking Mohamed Saprin Sabri is now a chess veteran with 25 years of playing experience. Seems like it was not so long ago when he was schoolboy making his debut in competitions and trying to show his mettle.

From early 1988, he started to gain the notice of the chess community when he appeared frequently among the prize winners. He was acknowledged as a promising talent.

For someone who has consistently been able to secure top placings in the events he played, Mohamed Saprin attributed the lack of consistency for him not having been able to advance further in chess, especially up to the international master level.

“It’s the main problem. On form, I often felt that I was able to match the higher rated opponents, including the international masters,” he said when met during the DATCC Chess League third round last week.

“But sometimes I made mistakes which I shouldn’t and these proved to be costly,” he lamented.

Known for his fighting spirit and hard work, Mohamed Saprin hardly ever gave up in a game unless the position was truly hopeless.

I recall an occasion when both of us were among those involved in a simultaneous match against the late Soviet grandmaster Eduard Gufeld. Mohamed Saprin was seated next to me and from the start, he managed to gain a small advantage and caused Gufeld various problems. At one stage, he was even a pawn up in a favourable position.

As the match progressed, a flustered Gufeld suddenly offered me a draw though he was having the better position. Of course, I gratefully accepted.

It turned out he wanted to give more attention to his young opponent at the next board in order not to risk an upset. Only in the endgame did Mohamed Saprin falter but he made the experienced grandmaster worked hard for the win.

At that time Mohamed Saprin was only 16 and a Form Four pupil of Sekolah Sri Ampang in Kuala Lumpur. He modestly admitted that he was not even the best chess player in his school then. But he was adventurous enough to continuously test himself in tough tournaments.

Basically self-taught, he worked hard to improve himself and played regularly with his schoolmates when not involved in competitions.

He studied chess books to understand the game better and developed his techniques. Though he could not afford to buy the books, he borrowed from the older players and friends. In his free time, he frequented the National Library to copy notes from the chess books available.

Even when studying at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia in Bangi, Mohamed Saprin was still able to play regularly and maintain his winning form. He even had the chance to take part in a few international competitions.

While covering information technology (IT) during my reporting days, Mohamed Saprin was one of those from the chess side that I came across regularly, especially at events like PC Fair where he would be checking out the latest products for his computer business.

After graduating, he had worked for a while for the government in the Inland Revenue Department. Being the enterprising character he is, he decided to venture out on his own to test his business skills.

“Going into business is quite similar like chess. You have to take many risks to win,” he said matter-of-factly.

It looks like he has made the right move as he managed to expand his business to two computer shops with 11 employees and a growing base of regular customers during the past 12 years. The only problem is that the shops are open seven days a week and he now has less time for chess.

Mohamed Saprin is one of those always willing to discuss and share ideas, and with his wide knowledge and experience, he is a useful contributor. From his observation, foreign junior players have an edge over their Malaysian counterparts as they are better grounded in the fundamentals, probably as a result of their systematic training programmes.

“However, our juniors are catching up with access to training materials and experienced coaches. It’s good to see more chess activities being held locally, especially those with the participation of titled players. This makes it easier to get international ratings and achieve further progress,” he said.

According to Mohamed Saprin, it is important for the junior players to get a good grasp of the basics and in developing their playing style, they should learn to work out things on their own.

“The computers cannot help much in this aspect. This is something they need to constantly improve on their own so that they can gain a better understanding,” he said.

And this useful advice comes from the battle-hardened chess veteran rather than one deeply involved in the computer business.

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