By Lim Chong
If Dr Nicholas Chan looks like a chess player in a hurry, he is. Time is not on his side as he attempts to join the country’s elite group of international masters.
Having completed his five-year medical studies, he will soon be required to undergo a two-year housemanship, followed by another two years of government service.
With these commitments, he is not certain whether he can still find the time to continue his advancement in chess.
Already with one international master norm, Chan needs to secure two more norms for the international master title.
He just missed an IM norm by a heart-breaking half-point at the recent Kuala Lumpur Open after putting up an impressive performance, the best among the Malaysian participants. He then took part in the Kuala Lumpur Masters which followed immediately after but ended with a disastrous score.
Chan could not explain how he overlooked relatively simple combinations in some of his games, though a possible factor was mental fatigue. The pressure of needing to be at his best in every game in two tough consecutive tournaments probably took its toll.
Time is not a luxury for Chan. During his studies at Manipal College in India, there was hardly any time for chess. He was only able to take part in the chess event at the SEA Games.
Still, Chan is keen to attempt for the IM title, as stated by him when met during the DATCC Chess League on Wednesday. He wants to see how far he can go in chess and knows he has to be resourceful in finding the time.
Chan also feels that he has been making progress in his game for the past year. In the chess league, his seventh round game with IM Mas Hafizulhelmi Agus Rahman, the country’s top rated player, ended in a draw though he had a favourable position with the black pieces.
Chan had lost to Mas Hafizulhelmi in the final of the Malaysian Masters last year. The score then was a rather one-sided 3.5 to 0.5 from four games. But Chan was able to beat IM Lim Yee Weng in the semi-final and national champion Evan Timothy Capel in the first round.
Advancing to the Malaysian Masters final was an achievement, considering he had been preoccupied with his medical studies in recent years.
With a risk-taking style that makes him pushed hard in every game, Chan employs an aggressive opening repertoire which includes the Sicilian Defence against e4 and Modern Benoni against d4.
His score in this year’s Selangor Open was an unbeaten 7.5 points from nine rounds, and even more impressive was that in the same event last year, he finished with eight points from nine games. Thus, he remained unbeaten in one of the country’s top tournaments for over two years.
Talented, modest and friendly, 24-year-old Chan is a role model in being able to combine academic excellence with chess prowess. Through his results, he has shown that it is possible to excel in both areas with hard work, discipline and resourcefulness.
Having been a FIDE Master for seven years, Chan is currently the country’s strongest player without the international master title. He is a two-time representative to SEA Games, having won the bronze medal in the team and individual events in Hanoi in 2004. He is also looking for a chance to play in the SEA Games this year which will be hosted by Indonesia in Jakarta.
From young, Chan already showed his promise, coming up quickly from the junior ranks. As he made further progress in competitions, he was also known as “Rapid King” for thinking fast and playing quickly.
After quietly improving himself in junior events, Chan played as a 13-year-old in the national individual championship in 2000 and caused a surprise by finishing among the top four.
For his chess ambition, Chan can look to Singapore’s Dr Wong Meng Kong for inspiration. Wong, also a medical doctor, took about 20 years to become his country’s first homegrown grandmaster after gaining the international master title.
Singapore Chess Federation’s president Ignatius Leong, who is also general secretary of the World Chess Federation (FIDE), said Wong had to work hard and made sacrifices for five years despite work and family commitments to finally become a grandmaster in 2000.
After the Kuala Lumpur Open this year, a news agency had wrongly reported Chan as becoming Malaysia’s first grandmaster. Many of us realised it was too good to be true but somehow, it did not sound totally implausible. Perhaps, in time to come, it may prove to be prophetic.
Here is the interesting encounter between Chan, playing for Kam Mah, and Mas Hafizulhelmi, representing Sea Horse, in the seventh round of the DATCC Chess League which ended in a hard-fought draw.
Benoni Defence Mas Hafilzulhelmi-Nicholas Chan 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. d5 e6 4. Nc3 exd5 5. cxd5 Bd6 6. g3 a6 7. a4 Qe7 8. Bg2 Bc7 9. Nf3 d6 10. 0-0 0-0 11. Nd2 Nbd7 12. e4 Rb8 13. a5 Ne5 14. Qc2 Bd7 15. f4 Ng6 16. Nc4 Rfe8 17. b3 Bb5 18. Bd2 Qd8 19. Qa2 Re7 20.Rfe1 Qd7 21. Qc2 Qd8 22. Nxb5 axb5 23. Ne3 Ra8 24. Nf5 Rd7 25. b4 cxb4 26. Qb2 Bxa5 27. h3 b3 28. Bxa5 Rxa5 29. Qxb3 Qb6+ 30. Kh2 h5 31. Qb2 Rxa1 32. Rxa1 h4 33. g4 Nxf4 34. Nxg7 Kxg7 35. g5 Kh7 36. Qxf6 Ng6 37. e5 Qe3 38. e6 fxe6 39. dxe6 Re7 40. Rb1 Rxe6 41. Qf7+ Kh8 42. Rf1 b4 43. Rf3 Qe5+ 44. Kh1 d5 45. Rf6 Rxf6 46. gxf6 Qe1+ 47. Kh2 Qg3+ 48. Kh1 Nf4 49. Qf8+ Kh7 50. Qf7+ Kh6 51. Qf8+ Kh7 52. Qf7+ Kh6 53. Qf8+ Kh7 Draw agreed.
Based on the post-mortem analysis between the two players, a possible winning continuation was 54. Qf7+ Kh6 55. Qf8+ Kg5 56. Qg7+ Ng6 57. f7 Qe1+ 57. Kh2 Qf2 to stop the white pawn from queening. Black can then concentrate on promoting one of his extra pawns.