11 April 2012

Malaysia's No. 1 - Rewinding to 1996

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.

[End memoir]

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.

Another note:
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.


  1. You still posting at 10:30 PM? You gotta kidding me :)

  2. Today holiday no need to work. So still have some energy left.

    Anyway, read the article first and you'll see why I think it couldn't wait considering the Mas-Li Tian game tomorrow.

  3. Your memory has failed. The game did not end like that. I sac a piece in the opening. Never recovered after that. I was totally lost in the ending one knight down.

  4. Alright, I cannot recall whether I saw any part of the opening,

    I remember only the endgame position with R & N in it. So was it R & N v R with an additional a- or h-pawn for Mas in the final position?

    Yes, I thought you were completely lost. That was why I remember you insisting that the final position was drawn. Couldn't understand why you were insisting that a clearly lost position was drawn.

    However, I remember watching live, a game where you played the Black side of a French Tarrasch and you scrificed a N for 2P in the opening to get a mobile pawn centre. I cannot remember when or where though. Was that the Mas game?

    And did I get the year right? I was at the Merdeka event in both 1996 & 1997. Played in 1996 but only chaperoning the Perak junior team in 1997, and I was not sure whether your game with Mas was in 1996 or 1997, Just made a guess.

  5. It is disappointing that "old-man" Jimmy is still up there while, apart from Mas and perhaps Yee Weng, the others are no more (more or less). The main reason is due to professional commitments when they chooose career over chess. While I applaud Li Tian for his achievements in Brunei, I am inclined to opine that Jimmy, at his peak nearly 4 decades ago, would appear further up the leader board. With age on his side, Li Tian is now Malaysia's best GM hopeful. Hope he breaks the glass ceiling soon.

    Just a wake-up call to Mas. You are about to be over shadowed despite turning Pro. Step on the gas, man!

  6. Eddy, you got the game and year correct, except the ending part. Mas had R+N+2P v my R

    Anonymous, I take the "old man" part as compliment ok? :)

  7. Hi Eddy,
    1. I like to read your blog very much as it contains many interesting and hot topic about chess. I especially like your idea of promoting more long hour play amongst the juniors.

    2. I believe many chess friends like your blog too.

    3. Err..., ok Eddy, what i am trying to say is, you need not to create premature topic (previous post) to attract more traffic count.

    4. Fyi, tian read chessischess, you left comment there. So, soon you will have one extra count. :-)

    5. Back to the premature topic, my comment is (the game just started, it would not affect tian, nor IM Mas):

    It is long-long way to go, for the reason -
    tian has yet to be No. 1 at home!


    1. Chin Seng,
      Agreed on your last point.

      But let me quote Adams' comment during the recent Gibraltar tourney ... something on the lines that Hou Yifan's play has improved so much that her current rating cannot catch up with her rapid progress

      I believe Li Tian is in a similar situation right now

    2. Chin Seng, I have removed the "offensive premature topic". Hopefully Li Tian hasn't seen it yet. Regards.

    3. 1. Thanks, Eddy.
      2. And sorry for inconvenience / misunderstanding caused.
      3. Hi Anon, thx for kind words too.

  8. Jimmy, the 2P you mention is jogging memory. The position was winning for White but not so clearly as you mention. I think Mas had sacrificed his R some moves earlier to transpose into a winning N+2P v R endgame.

    I thought the final position was something like White: K-h4, N-g2(?), P-g4,h5 Black: K-d2(?), R-c5, with Black to move.(last moves were Rc5+, Kh4). The Black K was far away enough behind the White pawns and Black was harassing White with checks from the c-file. But White was winning since Black could not really stop White queening a pawn, and still have another pawn left if Black sacs RxQ.

    But it is your game, so you probably can recall more clearly.

    1. I have the game in my database. It is nothing like what you described. Black still has his rook. Maybe it was from another event.

    2. Then I probably confused that position with another game. I certainly cannot argue with your database. No way.

  9. Out of curiousity... if it was 1996, are you sure that Mas represented Petronas at that time? Definitely not working there unless Petronas "hired" him to play for their team. The epic encounter must have been Selangor (or Penang) playing against Kelantan.

    I am sure I was there at the event (playing for Johor) but can't recall - memory ain't what it used to be and... that was 16 years ago!

    1. Najib, it was not the inter-state category. Definitely the open team section. Cannot be sure about Mas' team. As you say, 16 years ago.

      However I remember Perak playing Johor in the inter-state category. I was on first board (black) losing to Teh Beng Teik who used the KIA against my French.

  10. Hah!!! Your memory is better than me.... I would have been playing for Johor at that time - perhaps on the lower board! The team would have been made of Beng Teik, Kok Liang, Siew Chong, Adran Yong and myself. Mohd Kamal Abdullah would have opt to play for PCMM.... Then again, I am just guessing - can't remember anything at all :(