Friday, September 12, 2008

Time difference in the star

Rapid chess is played with a faster time control than the Open event.

THE last week of the Malaysian Chess Festival saw two events held. One was the Merdeka Open Team Chess Tournament and the other was the Yasser Seirawan simultaneous chess match.

A reader, SK Lee, wanted to know the difference between the Merdeka Open and the Merdeka Rapid Open chess tournaments. He asked: “How many Merdeka events are there? One, two, three?”

American grandmaster Yasser Seirawan giving some pointers before his simultaneous chess display at the Wilayah Complex in Kuala Lumpur.

Actually, there are two Merdeka team events every year. There used to be three but the third one has been incorporated into the Merdeka Open. And the Merdeka Open is a separate event from the Merdeka Rapid Open.

All these events used to be held at the same time but ever since the Malaysian Chess Federation came up with the idea of a Malaysian Chess Festival five years ago, the two Merdeka team events were split up so that they would open and close each year’s festival.

The Rapid Open tournament has a higher profile because it opens the festival. It’s very convenient for foreign chess players since they can take part in it before the Malaysia Open. You can call it a warm-up event, if you like.

On the other hand, the low key Merdeka Open comes at the tail-end of the festival. However, it is not without excitement. After all, it is a tournament that has seen 26 years of keen competition. In the past, I have described this event as the de facto national team chess championship.

The real difference between the two events is the time control. The Merdeka Rapid Open event, by its very name, means that the games are played with a fast time control of 25 minutes per game with 10 seconds added after every move. The time control for the Merdeka Open is 60 minutes per game plus an increment of 15 seconds after every move.

So the Open is played at a slower pace, which gives participants more time to ponder their moves. In theory, it is supposed to aid deeper thinking but I wonder if this true in practice. After all, it’s a popular notion that most people will generally fritter away their time no matter how long or short the time control may be. But that’s another story.

This year’s Merdeka Open team tournament was supposed to be a three-day, eight-round event. But at the last minute, it was shortened to two days because many players did not want to play on the first day of Ramadan. The rounds were also reduced to seven.

When a tournament becomes this short, it is like a 200-metre dash towards the finish line. Short enough for a winner to emerge but long enough for leaders to overtake one another in their mad dash to finish.

For example, Astro Malaysia was the clear cut leader at the end of the third round but it could not sustain its lead. In the fourth round, the Pelikan team beat Astro Malaysia to lead. But it was a lead which couldn’t be sustained because the Selangor team took over as tournament leaders after the fifth round.

Selangor opened up a one-point gap at the top by the end of the sixth round but again, an advantage of one point is really no advantage at all, not when it had to play its next closest rivals in the final round.

At the end, Selangor found that it could not hold back the Apocalypse Manila team and both teams finished the dash on equal points. However, the tie-break favoured the team from the Philippines as it walked off with the top prize. Selangor was left to ponder the unpredictable turn ofevents.

Yassir Seirawan

The other main event of the second week was the simultaneous chess display by the American grandmaster, Yasser Seirawan. He gave two displays here. The first was against all-comers, all 30 of them, in which he won 25 games, drew three and lost two.

The score may look flattering for the Malaysian side and suggests that it was a tough contest for Seirawan. But the American hardly broke a sweat. Nevertheless, the two games that he dropped only showed that despite his experience, it was still possible for him to make mistakes which our own players could exploit fully.

In fact, the last game of the evening was a long-drawn ending between Seirawan and Fariz Shafruddin, which lasted way past midnight. Fariz played well to out-wit the American in a delicate endgame.

Seirawan’s second display was a private clock simultaneous match against nine junior players. This time, Seirawan made no mistakes and did not drop a single game.

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