Kasparov promotes chess in Singapore
Following the successful organisation of Anatoly Karpov's visit to Singapore on 17 July 2010, the Chess is for Everybody (CES) movement in Singapore organized yet another ambitious, action-packed chess promotion programme on 15 August 2010 with the 13th World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov as the centre piece of attraction.
By Alvin Ong and Christopher Lim
It was Garry Kasparov’s first visit to Singapore at the invitation of his friends in Singapore and more than 1,000 enthusiastic chess fans attended the events, which were held at three different venues at Thomson Community Club (10am to 11.30am), Conrad Centennial Singapore Hotel (12pm to 2pm) and the Serangoon Gardens Country Club (3pm to 9pm). The events were supported by Hyflux, Quantum Law Corporation, Sea Blue, Cisco Systems USA and Flip Video. The event was also well covered by the local mainstream media and attracted even a renowned photographer, Russel Wong.
First Stop - Thomson Community Club
The Thomson Community Club hall was all ready for Kasparov’s arrival at 10.15am and the crowds started streaming in from 9am onwards. During registration, slips of numbered papers were given to those who came early for a subsequent surprise gift. Specially printed scorebooks commemorating the event were also handed out to those who came.
Special commemorative score books were given out to attendees at the Thomson event
Response was very encouraging with most of those who had registered turning up as well as many who just turned up on the day itself. As we believe that chess is for everybody, no one was turned away. In all, there were more than 250 people and the hall was fully filled up.
Enthusiastic chess fans arriving from 9am onwards
Garry Kasparov arrived at 1015hrs, and was met by Mr Wang Mong Lin, as Member of Parliament, Mr Hri Kumar, was not able to attend due to an overrun of his program. Mr Wang is currently the Divisional Director at the National Environment Agency, and is no stranger to chess, having helmed SCF and played a pivotal role in raising sufficient funds for SCF to have their current building at Bishan during his tenure. He is also currently the official International Correspondence Chess Federation (ICCF) delegate representing Singapore.
Grandmaster Kasparov welcomed by Mr Sng Jin Poh and Mr Wang Mong Lin
The crowd stood up to welcome Mr Kasparov as he entered the hall. Mr Sng Jin Poh, the Chairman of the Thomson Community Club Management Committee was also on hand to receive an autographed copy of Kasparov’s How Life Imitates Chess.
Kasparov presents his book to Mr Sng Jin Poh
Things quickly settled down and Kasparov began by explaining how pleased he was to be present in Singapore despite his tight schedule. And without much fanfare, he zoomed into the analysis of his famous game against Bulgarian Grandmaster Veselin Topalov at Wijk aan Zee in 1999, giving the background that he was not even originally supposed to be playing in that tournament. Despite being a last minute substitute, this was a tournament where he felt that he performed exceptionally well, pulling off a streak of seven victories in a row. Prior to this game, he had won three games in a row, and inspired by this win, he went on to win the next three games in succession, ending up as the winner of this tournament.
Kasparov explains his famous 1999 game against Topalov
When he completed his analysis, there was little doubt among the audience on why this was rated as one of the best attacking games ever in the annals of chess. The attention was then turned towards the audience during the Q & A sessions about this game as well as any other chess matters.
More than 250 chess fans eagerly awaiting arrival of Kasparov at Thomson Community Club
The drizzle outside not only did not dampen the enthusiastic questions that followed, rather it appeared that the continuous blessings from heaven spurred a likewise steady flow of questions from various members on the floor of all ages and nationalities.
Questions were raised on how he felt when he was 5-0 down in the first world championship match against Anatoly Karpov, and whether he had considered giving up. His very telling response was that he was fighting for his life in every game, taking every game on its own because he could not afford another defeat, and how as the marathon competition progressed, he grew in strength and confidence while Karpov waned. And when it was stopped at 5-3 in Karpov’s favour, the complexion of the game had turned entirely in his favour.
And comparisons were asked if the game of checkers and backgammon could ever be as beautiful as chess. GM Kasparov doubted that checkers could ever be because it could be completely analysed by a computer, whilst backgammon had an element of luck. However, he did highlight that Go was actually more complicated than chess with deep patterns to be recognized.
The questions further drifted towards his views on who would win the next world championship, and the succinct reply was that the competition first needed to be put in order. Kasparov went on to describe the strengths of the current top players, including grandmasters Anand, Carlsen and Kramnik.
As with any good speaker, there just wasn’t sufficient time during the Q & A, which was aptly concluded with a question from the emcee on how GM Kasparov was able to spend time on chess when he was about thirteen, as the current young chess players in Singapore found it a challenge to juggle with their studies. Perhaps the age mentioned was not too apt, because Kasparov remarked that he had already won two Russian junior titles by that age and was already a semi-professional.
With that, Kasparov gave away a set of his chess books to an early comer. It was then announced that all the other early comers would also be entitled to a set of similar books on teaching chess donated by GM Kasparov. As the lucky ones collected their books, we concluded the session at about 11.30 am and ferrying him to his next destination at Conrad Centennial Singapore Hotel.
Next Stop – Conrad Centennial Singapore Hotel
At the Conrad Centennial Singapore Hotel, Kasparov was slated to deliver a talk, participate in two exhibition blitz matches followed by a book signing session. A crowd of approximately three hundred chess and non-chess players eagerly waited with anticipation of Kasparov’s arrival into the ballroom.
Emcee Alvin Ong (far left) introducing Grandmaster Kasparov at Conrad Centennial Singapore Hotel
The emcee of the day, Mr. Alvin Ong proceeded to give a short introduction of Kasparov and the profile of the two Singapore top players, IM Goh Wei Ming and FM Timothy Chan.
Kasparov addressed the crowd with a short speech where he touched on the topics of the relevance of chess in life such as responsibility where one has to face the consequences, both good and bad, of the decisions that one make. He also feels that chess should be in the education curriculum and should be made available to as many children as possible.
Kasparov talks passionately about introducing chess in school curriculum
The audience was wowed by Kasparov at Conrad Centennial Singapore Hotel
IM Goh Wei Ming vs GM Garry Kasparov
The exhibition blitz matches commenced thereafter. First up was IM Goh Wei Ming, the Republic’s highest rated homegrown, active player. Goh with the white pieces started with 1.e4 to which Kasparov played his favourite Sicilian defence. Both sides developed their pieces quickly and Goh blundered with Bh6, after which Kasparov did not play the best move. After some missed opportunities probably due to his fatigue, Kasparov won.
GM Kasparov comtemplating his next move against IM Goh
GM Garry Kasparov vs FM Timothy Chan
Next up was FM Timothy Chan who just a couple of weeks ago managed to dominate the National Rapid Championship. Kasparov played the Scotch Game and Chan played well in the opening until he advanced his g-pawn too far into enemy’s territory. Kasparov managed to consolidate his White position and won the game.
Kasparov focuses on his game against FM Timothy Chan
And so, despite the inevitable jet lag and spending twelve hours on a flight next to a crying baby, Kasparov remained equally relentless as he steamrolled over two of Singapore’s top players. The crowd responded with thunderous applause as they managed to witness, and appreciate first hand, the determination, fighting spirit and ruthless streak that we have grown to associate with Garry Kasparov’s games.
A book signing session followed, with the crowd eager to obtain the famous persona’s autograph on their beloved chess books. Here, you can see people of all ages lining up which aptly demonstrates the fact that chess is a popular sport across all walks of life, chess and non-chess players alike.
A female chess fan brings a book for Kasparov's autograph
L-R Jimmy Ng, Luke Leong and Garry Kasparov
GM Zurab Azmaiparashvili poses with Jimmy Ng
Conrad Hotel General Manager, Mr Grafe present a memento to Kasparov
Final Stop – Serangoon Gardens Country Club
The day’s events continued as he was swiftly transferred to the Serangoon Gardens Country Club, Kensington Ballroom, where he would give a 22-board simultaneous chess exhibition. The organisers had prepared a surprise for the World Champion, a “theoretical novelty”, or should we say, “theatrical novelty” which was never seen before in a major chess event.
Kasparov with Serangoon Gardens Country Club officials
As Kasparov made his entrance to the playing arena, he was visibly startled by the sudden appearance of a SWAT team, all dressed up with rifles, gas masks and intimidating physiques. The four members of the SWAT team proceeded to escort the champion to his seat, in the midst of the “smoke” created by dry ice, an effect more commonly used in Chinese horror movies or pop idols’ concerts than the appearance of a chess champion. Concurrently, a cultural drum beating performance rattled the crowd (and the champion himself) for approximately two minutes. Of course, the organisers have staged everything, including the hiring of four Mediacorp actors to act as Kasparov’s bodyguards. A sensational and bizarre welcome for Kasparov and one I’m sure he will not forget in a hurry.
Kasparov appeared dazed but amused with the reception he received and recalled an encounter he experienced in another simultaneous exhibition years ago. Then, with the crowd approximately four times the capacity of the Kensington Ballroom and “much less disciplined”, the organisers had to seek the military to escort him in order for him to make his exit. He was also visibly impressed with the enthusiasm of the local chess community, and remarked that it was amazing that both Karpov and Kasparov have visited the same country promoting chess in less than a month.
SWAT Team escorts Kasparov to the stage
The beat of the drums welcomes Kasparov to Serangoon Gardens Country Club
SGCC Vice President Anthony Lim has the honor of playing a symbolic match against Kasparov
Kasparov graciously offers Anthony Lim a draw despite a better position
A final surprise was in store for Kasparov as he proceeded to annihilate his opponents in the simultaneous exhibition. Mr. Jimmy Ng explained that since the Chess King is here in Singapore, it is only fitting if he is paired with a Chess Queen to accompany him to the exhibition tables. And the identity of the Queen? WFM Liu Yang of course, who was accepted by Anatoly Karpov as a disciple in his visit last month.
Chess queen WFM Liu Yang escorts chess king GM Kasparov
Before the exhibition simul began, Kasparov surveyed all 22 opponents, scrutinising the names on each board and the player’s Elo, which was indicated at the side of the board. One wonders if he was memorising the profile of each player, taking special notice of anyone who might upset his apple cart and deny him of a perfect score. Kasparov’s long time friend and second, Zurab Azmaiparashvili who is based in Singapore as a chess trainer was duly requested to join him in the patrol. Clearly, despite this being a simultaneous match, Kasparov was never going to take it lightly and was intent to win all his games.
Kasparov and his good friend Zurab survey the 22 players prior to the start of the simul
Garry Kasparov's first opponent was against Timothy Chan (not to be confused with FM Timothy Chan)
Kasparov pits against 22 players at SGCC
True enough, Kasparov crushed all twenty-two opponents before him within three hours with decisive, and at times, immensely powerful play. In the game viewer below you'll find some highlights.
Game viewer by ChessTempo
After the exhibition, a forty-minute press conference was held followed by a dinner, which was attended by over two hundred people. Midway through the dinner, Kasparov gave a talk based on his book How life imitates Chess, a book that according to Kasparov has been translated into twenty different languages. Kasparov emphasised that life is much more complicated than the game of chess but there are certain concepts and principles that one can relate to in life. For example, one of the most important things that Kasparov learnt from the game is his objectivity. By acknowledging one’s strengths and weaknesses, a person can then work on ways to capitalize on his strengths, and making his weaknesses less obvious.
Kasparov responding to a question at the press conference
Visibly tired but with his usual charm and grace, Kasparov sportingly continued to sign autographs and take pictures with his adoring fans. Kasparov then left in the same whirl-wind manner of his arrival by taking the 11.05pm flight back to Europe where he rejoins his family for a much needed holiday. His stay has been short but clearly, it will be a long time before the fans of the royal game forget what has been a memorable day.
Singapore chess fans will remember this day for a very long time. A chess parent Mr Tan agreed, "I am sure that my son will remember this unique and special event for a lifetime. How often does an eleven-year-old get a chance to come face to face with a world champion in the game that he loves? This is a great success by CES for bringing a world level event to the common Singaporean chess player and fan”.
About the contributors
Alvin Ong is a co-founder of CES, a social chess player and has a FIDE rating of 2231. He works for a major healthcare group in Singapore.
Christopher Lim is an active chess volunteer and has been an arbiter in several local chess tournaments. He works for a major IT services company in Singapore.
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