International open tournaments have taken many years to gain popularity in South-East Asia but are now becoming a common occurrence. Already in 2005, Brunei and Thailand have held international opens while in the next seven months, Malaysia, Singapore and New Zealand will all hold big open tournaments.
The arrival of discount airlines in Asia has been a big factor in the rise of the international opens, with airlines such as Air Asia and Tiger Air making it cheap and easy to travel between most South-East Asian cities. As a result, top players from the region are beginning to compete against each other on a regular basis, rather than just at Olympiads or Zonals.
The Bangkok Chess Club Open is probably the best organised of any of the Asian tournaments. Every second event is held outside Bangkok, at a Thai beach resort. This year the tournament moved to Cha-Am, a city 200kms south of Bangkok in a region which has been popular with past and current Thai kings and has many palaces and temples to prove it.
The spectacular playing hall at the Cha-Am Regent Hotel was the type of venue usually reserved for Category 20+ tournaments in Europe, with the bonus that between rounds players could, if they wished, enjoy a swim in the Gulf of Thailand, 50 metres from the playing hall.
The main disappointment for the organisers was the last-minute withdrawal of the entire contingent of players from Burma. The Burmese regularly hold massive internal tournaments, which has resulted in hugely inflated ratings for the best Burmese players, but are rarely permitted to travel to foreign tournaments. The Bangkok Open had usually been the exception, but a series of bombings in Rangoon in early May had led the government to withhold passports for foreign travel.
The tournament featured a large number of young Thai players, an encouraging development since it had previously been the case that most youngsters take up Thai chess and only convert to international chess later in life. One of the Thai juniors almost caused a major upset in the first round in Brahmawong/Rogers!
In the end, the foreign players outdistanced the locals, with Olympic veteran Wisuwat Theerapappisit finishing on 6 points. However the best Thai performance was probably given by Kannapon Srivachirawat, who was paired against three of the four GMs in the tournament and scored his first ever half point against a GM.
At the top of the table, the tournament turned into a three-horse race between the top three seeds. In the end, Singapores Wu Shaobin conceded one draw too many and finished third behind Filipino veteran Eugene Torre and this writer.
Torre, a former World Championship Candidate and the dominant Asian player of the 1970s, admitted that he had come to the tournament mostly to enjoy a beach holiday but he showed that he still had the desire and energy to outplay his opponents in important games. This writer had some nervous moments see the game above but did manage to pull off enough tricky finishes to take the Bangkok CC title on tiebreak.
BCC Open, Cha-Am, Thailand, leading final scores: =1.GM Rogers(Aus), GM Torre(Phi) 7.5/9; 3. GM Wu Shaobin(Sin) 7; =4.IM Shetty(Ind), GM Bakre(Ind), IM Nadera(Phi), Barbosa(Phi), Essing(Ger) 6.5.