It was August 1996, Jimmy Liew had been Malaysia’s undisputed chess No.1 for God knows how long. 16 years or more? It was also a time of “wonder boys” in Malaysian chess.
Led by 15-year old Mas Hafizulhelmi, National Champion for the last two years, there was Ng Ee Vern of the same age and Lim Yee Weng, one year younger. Just appearing on the scene, there was Lim Chuin Hoong (Ronnie), two years younger than Mas, and then we have the older taiko of this wonder group, Ooi Chern Ee. These wonder boys have been banging on the door of the Seniors for the last few years, not giving face to anyone that stood in their path, knocking them down one by one.
…….but there was still the No. 1 who, for years, hardly ever loses a game to another Malaysian player.
Finally, the match-up the Malaysian chess community has been waiting for two years:
The place - Wisma Belia in Kuala Lumpur.
The occasion - the Annual Merdeka Inter-Team competition, 1996 edition.
Mas Hafizulhelmi is meeting Jimmy Liew, both playing first board for their respective teams which have been paired.
You could hear the whispers, the excitement around the hall, the expectations. The old maestro (the ‘cheong-mun-yan’) against the upstart, symbol of the new generation.
Mas was playing for the Petronas Team (Ithink). (I cannot remember Jimmy’s team).
(They were playing in the Open Team category so Jimmy’s team could not have been Penang that year).
The game started and was equal for some time. The time control was 90 minutes each to the finish. They continue making their moves, and soon, Mas was up the exchange for a pawn and the old man (actually not so old lah, that time still qualify for U40 age-group) had to work hard to hold on for a draw.
The other players had finished their games and invariably made a bee-line to see the Jimmy-Mas game, gathering round the crowded table.
The game went into the endgame, both the players were down to their last minute. It was (I think) R v N & RP, Mas was pressuring, and moves were made lightning fast and hands banging the clocks (that time they don’t use digital clocks, so can bang down hard and make a lot of noise; you’re alright so long as the clock doesn’t break down.).
Suddenly, Mas pointed at the clock .……. the old maestro’s flag has dropped……Mas wins the game.
The hall erupted with applause. We have just seen Malaysian chess history in the making.
To many of us observers, that was a historic game. A changing of the guard, where the mantle of Malaysia’s No.1 chess player changed hands. Of course it was subjective. A relatively short time later, Mas consolidated his Malaysia’s No. 1 status with an IM title and overtaking Jimmy in the FIDE ratings.
Mas has held on to his status as Malaysia’s No.1 chess player ever since.
Note to Jimmy:
You don’t get angry with the above, ok. Anything I say wrong, you can correct. Almost everything up there is based on memory. I hope you don’t mind that I made up some bits where memory fails me or just to spruce up the story. But I remember clearly that you kept insisting after the game that the final position was drawn.
I was really at the scene watching the final moves of the Jimmy-Mas game. I was playing first board for Perak in the inter-state category. I think Ilhamuddin played for Terengganu who Perak met in the first round. I drew with Ghalam Sani after falling into a stalemate trap when I was in an absolutely winning position, and a young Ilham was watching that game.