Impressive is probably the correct word to use to describe the performance for most – if not all, of our youngsters in Greece. Of course, the two that stands out really well is Puteri Rifqah Fahada and Wong Yinn Loong with 6.5 and 6 points respectively after 9 rounds of play. Rifqah currently stands in the top 10 of her age group at number 9 whilst Yinn Loong is in the top 20 at number 18. The next 2 rounds will be crucial for them to continue their fine run and perhaps be the best in the WORLD at their respective age group. The situation looks a bit better for Rifqah to achieve glory as she is only 1 point behind leader Alexandra Obolentseva of Russia (so a catching up is within her grasp) whereas Yinn Loong will have an almost impossible feat to catch up with group leader Kirill Shecshenko of Ukraine who is 2 points ahead.
In the other age groups, both Nabila and Camilia also did well in their respective age group after securing a win to improve their score to 5.5 points each going into the 10th round. Nabila’s brother, Nabil also did well to earn a draw against a slightly higher rated player to improve his score to 5 points but sister Najiha succumb to lower rated Mariola Wozniak from Poland to remain at 4.5 points. There were good moments for the other players as well but 3 players – Faqih, Maisarah and Nur Islamurni, continue to struggle as the event goes into its penultimate round. Two more rounds to go and these will be crucial rounds for the leaders to maintain their lead, and for the other to improve their position. But in any case, all of them have done well in their respective age group and it is not an exaggeration to say that all these kids have given their best, and would have gained valuable experience in their quest to be the best in the game. I am sure they will return and all geared up to continue learning and improving their performances to conquer the same event (and other international events) in the coming years, including stamping their name in the local circuits against their much senior opponents.
As with most of the international level youth events that we participated in, be it around the region or out there somewhere in Europe, the younger players usually fare slightly better than their older counterparts – and this seems to be correct in the form of Rifqah and Yinn Loong. Their advantage is somewhat increase because with no rating points to “reflect” their strength, they have a slight psychological advantage over opponents who would find it disturbing trying to guess their weaknesses. At a young age, natural talent would usually rule a child’s playing strength and as they age, proper training and development should take place (which Malaysia continues to lack) to help enhance a child’s playing strength hence the reason, which I strongly believe, why most Malaysian players struggle when competing at international levels as they grow older. With an array of coaches, trainers and GM available at their disposal, a European child (we actually don’t have to go that far – we can look at our southern neighbor Singapore, or Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam as comparison) excel and improve at a much faster and better rate compared to our hopeful youngsters. Nonetheless, that is a different story and observation altogether… *smile*
And as pointed out by one of the parents whom I met at a local event some months ago, our youths usually perform much better in the earlier rounds compared to the later rounds. However, in the case of the ongoing World Youth Championship, this point is not entirely true. I believe, the availability of Ismail Ahmad (and Azman Hisham, and some other parents who are also chess players) in the team has helped the players with some kind of preparation – a coach is essential when competing at international level especially for kids who may not be able to comprehend the need for “direction”, assistance and evaluation. Usually, when most young players compete in International events (and usually with no ratings), the first 2 or 3 rounds are “observation” rounds where coaches (or accompanying parents and chaperons) evaluate and asses the strength of their possible contenders and prepare against them. And usually, with the lack of coaches and trainers following our young players, they succumb in the later rounds against a much better prepared opponent not because our players are not able to play, but they are not able to prepare well and as we all know, a small advantage gained in the openings can last a very long way.
So looking at our current youngsters, how would we rate their chances?
In round 10, Rifqah will be playing against Arnash Bauyrzhan of Kazakhstan who has a rating of 1899 but half a point behind her. At 6.5 points, she has only played only 1 opponent who is currently in the top 10 (Unrated Finland’s Zhou Qiyu in round 4) ant that encounter has resulted in a loss. On the other hand, her opponent had quite an impressive run including a draw against the current second placed Anna Maja Kazarian of Holland in the 4th round but losing to China’s Yuen Ye (currently 4th) in the following round. So who would win? I believe Rifqah is playing at the strength of 1800-2000 range and looking at her opponent, a drawn game is very likely. However, I give her opponent a slight advantage but if Rifqah is able to hold, then we may have – for the first time, our first top three U-10 girls in a world event.
Yinn Loong’s seeding has floated him to play against a lower pointer opponent, Slovenia’s Amon Nejc. Yinn Loong’s has only played against 2 rated players (circa 1500’s) with a loss and a draw and on the other hand, his opponent (who has a rating of 1571), does not do to well against players who are of higher points. Following his performance in previous other events, Yinn Loong playing strength should be in the range of 1600-1700 points and as such, based on rating strength alone, he should be able to hold for win in this match.
Both Nabila and Camilia will be playing against players who are higher rated than them but with the same points. Camilia (1744) will play against Bulgaria’s Volha Malatsilava (1842) who is coming out of 3 consecutive losses whilst Camelia had 2 consecutive victories. Volha has done well against opponents who are much lower rated than her whilst Camelia has had mixed results against those who are higher rated than her. Prediction? It will be very difficult for Camilia to continue her fine form and her opponent would definitely want to redeem herself after three straight losses. Camilia might be able to draw at best and winning will be very tough!
Nabila’s (1829) performance against higher rated players have not been impressive and to make things worse, her opponent Belarus Katsiaryna Beinenson (1921) has done well against lower rated players except on one occasion, losing to India’s G Lasya (rated 1883 currently with 5 points) in the 6th round. Going into this round, Nabila had 3 consecutive wins while her opponent lost to a higher rated player in the previous round. Although on paper it looks like Nabila may not survive this round, somehow or rather, a funny feeling says that she will continue her good run and triumph over her opponent.
On the other boards, the hope is that for all our players to continue to do well but players on the higher boards i.e. Nabil, Najiha, Aron and Amier Hamzah may find it difficult to continue their good run. Let’s hope for the best!