14 April 2012

Brunei Open: Watershed Event (updated)

The just completed Brunei looks like it is going to be a watershed event for Malaysian chess. It is not clear yet but I am betting my credibility that its significance will unfold in coming months (not years) and quickly become clear to knowledgeable followers of Malaysian chess.

I have been observing Malaysian junior chess for some 11 years now, but I could not readily recall a Malaysian junior winning against a GM at classical chess.  During this period, just a draw by a junior (U20) against a GM or even only against an IM would have been big enough news. So I did some research, and the following were the only GM wins by Malaysian junior chess players I could find in the Big Database in the last 20 years:

1997 - Ronnie against Suradiradja (2250), Jakarta (update based on info from Ronnie - see comments)
1999 – Mas against Ian Rogers (2618) at Saintly Cup, Sydney (Round-robin)
2000 – Mas against Ardiansyah (2396) at Wah Seong IM Tournament, Penang (Round-robin)
2003 – Nicholas against Dzhumaev (2495) at Asian Team Championship, India (International Team)

And in the Brunei Open 2012, we have:
2012 – Yit Ho against Bitoon (2455) in Round 1 (International Swiss Open)
2012 – Li Tian against Barbosa (2585) in Round 4 (International Swiss Open)

To put the Brunei wins into perspective (and assuming the data is complete), Yit Ho became only the 3rd Malaysian junior in the last 20 years (maybe even ever) to beat a GM. One day later, Li Tian became the 4th Malaysian junior to achieve that feat, and also the youngest ever Malaysian to do so.

To provide an even greater perspective, wonder boys like Chern Ee, Ee Vern, Yee Weng, Chuin Hoong and Jonathan did not manage a single GM win between them, in their junior days.
(However, I cannot be sure whether this feat was achieved by big names such as Jimmy, Christi, Peter, Eric, Ek Leong, Kamal or Mok in their junior days since my research did not go back that far or whether the necessary data is readily available).

Other firsts from Brunei were that these wins were achieved in an International Swiss Open event and we have two Malaysian juniors winning against two different GMs in the same event. (And if I may say so, another first was that the GM wins were from an event where the two boys’ participation was paid entirely from the respective Papas’ money).

What This Means?
I am sensing that these wins will lead to a change of how our current junior chess players are viewed by the general Malaysian chess community. I have long held the following views –

1) That our top juniors of recent years are not inferior to the top juniors of the 1990s.

2) That it is more difficult to win the National Closed than it was in the 1990s.

3) That the top juniors of the 1990s had much better opportunities to progress such as sponsored participation in Olympiads, Asian Team Championships and Asian Cities, opportunities denied to our current batch of juniors for various reasons.

4) That the general standard of play has gone up in the last 10 years, that is 2500 & 2400 in 2012 is generally stronger than 2500 & 2400 in the year 2000.

5) That the gap between our best juniors and senior national players are not nearly as big as indicated by the current difference in official ratings.

Perhaps the Brunei wins, in some ways, help promote these views.

The wins by Yit Ho and Li Tian would also have given much confidence to other Malaysian junior players, especially Yit Ho’s win. After all, Yit Ho is not generally regarded as among the strongest Malaysian juniors. Thus, other juniors will be thinking, "if Yit Ho can do it, so can I". They would then be able to take this newfound confidence into their games against much higher rated opponents and do well.

I hope my prognosis is correct and I look forward to seeing accelerated progress from the current and future batches of Malaysian junior chess players.