The battle of wits should be seen in the true spirit of team competition.

I HAVE been either an observer or participant in a chess team tournament for almost as long as I have been playing the game, and that’s going back a very long time.

Team tournaments can be fun, if you don’t take it too seriously. If you are in the game for the money, which isn’t much anyway since you are splitting the prize with the other members of the team, then of course you must be very serious about where you are going to place your next piece. That should be the attitude.

Win-win situation: A team competition is always about meeting people and being social about it, a reunion of sorts.

But if your intention is just to enjoy the camaraderie of friends and the mental wrestling with other people, then don’t you think that it is perfectly all right to allow yourself to be more casual with the way you play?

As for me, I’m way past being in full competitive mood. I don’t wear my full armour suit anymore. Maybe a protective codpiece in case I lose my sense of danger, but that’s about all. I leave all the serious posturing to the younger generations below me.

If they live for the thrill of “crushing” their opponent’s ego or “taming” them or whatever they call it nowadays, well and good. That’s their objective, their game plan, but it’s not mine anymore.

Since I only play whenever I feel like playing, I’m good humoured about the losing bit. If people can feel happy with winning, I can also feel happy with losing. There’s absolutely no problem with me. I don’t feel psychologically crushed, I don’t sulk or regret. Just make sure you don’t allow me half a chance in our game, though. I’ll still go after you.

I won’t say much about the Universiti Sains Malaysia’s annual team chess tournament that ended just last weekend except that it was a good show by the boys and girls who organised it.

At USM, the annual chess festival is part of its extracurricular activities. It contributes towards the students’ credit points. So the Bridge And Chess Club undertakes an individual tournament and a team tournament every year. I hear that this year, they will have a Chinese chess tournament as well, and it will be at the end of February.

A friend who just came back to playing chess after 10 years remarked that the crowd at the individual and team events was markedly different. Definitely, there should be less people at an individual competition but he also observed that while the players at the individual event were young – many of them in primary schools – the team competition attracted a lot more adult players.

Many of them had even come up from the Klang Valley for a weekend of chess. Was it about the money, I asked one of the competitors. I had noticed him at the USM events for the past three or four years.

Oh, definitely not, he had answered. Good if his team wins something, he said, but it was more about the fun of participating and meeting friends.

Curiously enough, some of his friends were from the Klang Valley, too! Imagine coming here to catch up with your friends back home!

Yes indeed, the USM chess fest has become a fixture on the local chess calendar. People are actually coming to play chess in this team competition regardless of the prize money.

Meeting friends, he had said. That goes to show exactly what I was talking about. A team competition is always about meeting people and being social about it, a reunion of sorts.

Nobody feels particularly threatened because in a team competition, sometimes the chances of meeting a “friendly” rival over the board can be remote. Their teams may meet each other but there are always enough chances that they won’t face one another if they are playing on different levels in their respective teams.

And even if they do, well, so what? Someone has to win, and someone has to lose. No point sulking over a loss. There will always be a next time.

Next week is Chinese New Year, so I’ll catch up with everyone in a fortnight’s time. But before I go, I just want to tell you that the Tata Steel chess tournament is presently going on. Inclusive of today, there are only three rounds remaining.

In case you are not familiar with this event, it has a very long history going back to 1938. It used to be called the Corus tournament (does it sound familiar?) and before that, the Hoogovens Wijk aan Zee, named after the Dutch seaside town of Wijk aan Zee.

Anyway, the Tata Steel chess tournament is a very strong event. There are three Grandmaster Groups, with 14 players each and each competitor playing against every other.

The world’s chess eyes are mainly focused on the Grandmaster Group A tournament. This year’s players include world champion Viswanathan Anand, former world champions Vladimir Kramnik and Ruslan Ponomariov, world top-ranked player Magnus Carlsen and other equally big names: Levon Aronian, Alexei Shirov, Alexander Grischuk, Anish Giri, Wang Hao and Hikaru Nakamura.

The Grandmaster Group B have players like Wesley So, Li Chao, Vlad Tkachiev, Luke Shane and Le Quang Liem. Meanwhile, the Grandmaster Group C, while featuring less known names, still have interesting participants like Katherina Lahno, Daniele Vocaturo and Mark Bluvshtein.

You can follow the live games and the fortunes of the players from the official Tata Steel Chess website,, from 8.30pm nightly. Do enjoy the games!

Up next

DATCC renegade chess: The Datuk Arthur Tan Chess Centre will organise the DATCC renegade rapid chess weekend at its Wilayah Complex premises in Kuala Lumpur this Sunday. Seven rounds, 25-minute time control games. Entry fees are RM15 (players under 12) and RM25 (all other players).

For inquiries, contact Najib Wahab (016-338 2542 or

Percawi chess: The Kuala Lumpur FT Chess Association (Percawi) will organise the Percawi City Day age group open (under-18 open and under-18 girls’ open) at the Pusat Kecemerlangan Sukan Cochrane in Kuala Lumpur on Feb 1. Six rounds, 30-minute time control games.

Entry fee is RM15, inclusive of one-year Percawi junior membership. Closing date is Jan 31. To register, contact Collin Madhaven (016-212 3578), Azwan (019-278 8471) or Najib Wahab (016-338 2542).

Cerdik chess: The Cerdik Catur Enterprise will organise its second Cerdik Catur tournament at the Datuk Arthur Tan Chess Centre, Wilayah Complex, Kuala Lumpur, on Feb 5. Seven rounds, 25-minute time control games.

Entry fees are RM25 (adults) and RM20 (schoolchildren). To register, contact Fadli Zakaria (014-231 2370 or