The 11th BCC Thailand Open 2011 will be held from 11 to 17 April at the outstanding Dusit Thani Pattaya. With long experience hosting international events such as the Thailand Open Women’s Tennis Championship, and a pillarless floor space of up to 2,400 square metres, The Dusit Thani has both the facilities and the ability to make this year’s Thailand Open Chess Championship the best ever.
Seven-time World Chess Champion GM Anatoly Karpov and Richard A. Conn Jr., FIDE candidates for President and Deputy, dropped by briefly to Bangkok to meet TCA and BCC officials. Bangkok Chess Club wishes good luck for their election campaign, and is looking forward for “chessful” cooperation in the future.
Alexander Klemm in Conversation with Danish Grandmaster Sune Berg Hansen, winner of the Thailand Open Chess Championship 2010
Alexander Klemm: Congratulations for your winning this tournament. How did you prepare for it and what do you think about your performance?
Sune Berg Hansen: I didn’t make specific preparations for this tournament, I never do. But during the tournament I prepare a lot, which is the way I work nowadays, and of course I’m very happy about the result. It’s one of the best results of my career and the tournament was a wonderful experience.
A.K.: What do you think about the format of the tournament with two double rounds at the beginning? Did you have enough time to prepare?
S.B.H.: No, the early rounds you can’t really prepare, but that’s not really that important. The players you meet in the early rounds are not experienced international masters or grandmasters, so usually my normal play is good enough with these players. It’s tough opening with two double-rounds but in principle I’m not against double-rounds. When you play two double-rounds in a row it’s a bit like playing rabbit-chess, but it’s ok because it started the tournament off with a bang.
A.K. How do you like playing in Bangkok?
S.B.H.: I like the city, the people, the food, the hotel is nice and the organizers are friendly. The atmosphere is very good, and it is fun to play against so many nationalities. In the first round I played against a guy from Fiji, which is about the furthest you can go from Denmark. There are many Indians but no Russians, which is also funny. I definitely plan to play next year and maybe mix it up with a vacation in Thailand. Of course it’s very far from Denmark. It’s my first time in Thailand and I really like it.
A.K.: Before you came here you probably heard about the political unrests …?
S.B.H.: … yes, but it’s always more dramatic in the newspaper headlines. I remember I played a junior tournament in Riga in 1991, and on the day I took the plane Gorbachev got arrested on Krim, and when I arrived they were closing down the airport and tanks were rolling, but still it was a fun tournament and usually it’s not dangerous for tourists as long as they are careful. And here I saw a lot of demonstrators but they were very peaceful. If you are a bit careful you usually don’t get into trouble. Here in Thailand it’s civilized.
A.K.: Have you had a chance to visit some historic sites? Would you like to visit some other cities?
S.B.H.: Yes my girlfriend Christin Andersson [WIM from Sweden], who also played the tournament, and we saw the Royal Palace together. That was fantastic. And we saw the Chao Praya River. Some of my friends have recently moved to Thailand and I would like to visit them. They are professional poker players and have moved to Thailand because the climate is very nice, the people are friendly and of course it’s much cheaper than in the very expensive Denmark.
A.K.: Let’s talk about chess in Asia. Usually you play in Europe, while here you had a chance to play against and watch Asian players from many nations. Asian players from many nations are getting stronger and more players join the world’s best. China, Iran and India come to mind. What is your perspective of the increasing popularity of chess in Asia and the raising number of strong results by Asians.
S.B.H.: They are clearly developing a chess culture in those countries. Of course they have more players and tournaments now than they did in the past, some players have trainers, Russian trainers for instance, and they are influencing each other. Before, a player could be the only one in his village, but now they have some kind of chess community, and they are receiving a cultural chess education. They are not playing the way they did back in 1978 when we heard about China and chess, and when the Chinese player Liu Wenzhe played in a wild way to win against Jan Hein Donner, a Dutch GM, [Wenzhe-Donner, Buenos Aires, 1978 1. e4 d6 2. d4 Nf6 3. Nc3 g6 4. Be2 Bg7 5. g4 h6 6. h3 c5 7. d5 O-O 8. h4 e6 9. g5 hxg5 10. hxg5 Ne8 11. Qd3 exd5 12. Nxd5 Nc6 13. g3 Be6 14. Qh4 f5 15. Qh7+ Kf7 16. Qxg6+ Kxg6 17. Bh5+ Kh7 18. Bf7+ Bh6 19. g6+ Kg7 20. Bxh6+ 1-0], and people were talking about the Chinese and how they were playing differently. They had not had all that much training and “good” techniques and positional style, but you can see that nowadays there’s no difference between the way Indians play compared to how Russians play. It’s almost the same. Of course Viswanathan Anand had a tremendous influence on Asian chess. He is the world champion and probably the most famous sports-person in India. And in China, too, people are proud to be part of a chess community and they work together. It’s very serious.
A.K.: I believe board-games have always been part of the culture in these Asian countries, but then they discovered international chess.
S.B.H. Yes, chess is called Shah, and I think this means “king” in India.
A.K.: Which places in Asia would you like to see, and have you played any other tournaments in Asia?
S.B.H. All of them. In Thailand I want to see Phuket. In China I want to go to Shanghai because I’ve heard it’s a vibrant metropolis now. I love big cities. I played the world championship in India in New Delhi in 2000, but I was eliminated in the first round. That was the only time I played in Asia but I definitely want to play more. When I play chess I try to make it to a sporting event that’s very interesting like the Olympiad or the World Championship. Alternatively, it should be an interesting country, a place I’d like to see.
A.K.: I have heard that you are a semi-professional chess player now and that you spend more time and energy on poker. How did this interest in poker come about?
S.B.H.: I’ve always played a little bit of poker, and then I discovered that you can play poker online. I never play live poker, I only play online, with my 30-inch monitor and my stats programs and I came to realize that there’s a lot more money in poker than there is in chess. In chess even when I was number 200 in the world and living in Denmark I could only make a very modest living from that position. In poker, however, if you are good enough, you can make a lot more and it’s fun. I think chess is the cleaner game because there are no variables, but poker is fun and it’s a very strategic game too.
A.K.: Is the mind of a chess player similar to that of poker player?
S.B.H.: Yes. I trained to become a good chess player and of course in that process I thought about how to learn and how to improve, and what you should focus on when you try to master the game. I took all of that when I started playing poker, so I was able to improve fast, although I’m already quite old, I’m in my late 30s now and I was in my mid-30s when I started. I changed my chess style also after I had started playing poker. Now I don’t play any openings on a regular basis. I choose the opening according to my opponent. If I think that this kind of opening or that kind of structure will not suit him, then I prepare it. And sometimes I even use six hours to prepare an opening I’ve never played before just to get a certain kind of position against an opponent. With white I open the game with knight to f3 or I play pawn to c4, d4 or e4, all to get my opponent into a position that is difficult for him. I think nobody has been doing this so drastically. Most people have their opening repertoire. With black I don’t have enough openings yet to follow this strategy so much. I’m still somewhat predictable but with white I do it and I’m doing it well.
A.K.: How about coaching? You could increase your income my coaching young players.
S.B.H.: Yes, I coach two talented Danish players and sometimes in the summer I’m part of a team that runs a chess camp for young Danish people, but I haven’t done any international coaching. At the moment I don’t have the time, maybe when I’m older.
A.K.: What are your plans for the next couple of days?
S.B.H.: Today we will go to the chess club to just hang out and talk with people. We didn’t have so much time to talk to the organizers. Tomorrow we’re flying to Dubai because we want to see the tallest building in the world. We’re regretting it a bit that we’re not staying in Thailand for five more days instead of going to Dubai but we will do that the next time.
A.K.: I hope that you have a safe journey home and that you come back next year. Thank you for the interview.
Alexander Klemm in conversation with Grandmaster Nigel Short
Alexander Klemm: Mr. Short, how did you prepare for the Thailand Open Chess Championship 2010?
Nigel Short: I didn’t prepare; I just showed up. When a lot of your opponents are much lower rated, you never know who you get to play, so I didn’t prepare at all, basically. I just came here. I enjoy playing here. It’s a nice, friendly tournament, not with a lot of sponsorship, but the guys know me and they try, that’s why I come here.
A.K.: Are you happy with your performance?
N.S.: I think it’s O.K. [2nd place with 7.5/9] I don’t think this was the best chess I’ve ever played. But 7.5, that’s quite a lot of points. I was disappointed in a couple of games. I had an edge against Sune Berg Hansen [1st place with 8/9]. I could have pressed him but unfortunately I played some inaccuracies – and that turns out to be the decisive game of the tournament. I think he played very well here.
A.K.: Is there pressure on you when you have to compete against players rated considerably lower than you? You risk a lot of your ELO points.
N.S.: It’s a difficulty to get a balance in those things. I played two very strong tournaments before coming here [the London Chess Classic in London/England followed by the Chorus Chess Tournament in Wijk aan Zee/The Netherlands] and didn’t win a game in either of them, so it’s actually nice to have six victories here and I take to remind myself that I can occasionally win some games. It’s one thing making a draw with black against Carlsen and Anand, having Kramnik under pressure, pressurizing Ivanchuk and holding Shirov with black, but at the end of the day when you go to those tournaments and you end up minus 3, it’s a bit of a depressing business.
A.K.: Since you are referring to the Chorus tournament, I watched your game against GM Jan Smeets live online. That was fun and exciting!
N.S.: Yes, I’ve never been so exhausted after a 14-move draw. It was full of tension. I hadn’t realized the game was so short until I signed the score sheet because it was tremendous drama. [Short-Smeets 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. d4 Nxe4 4. dxe5 Bc5 5. Bc4 Nxf2 6. Bxf7+ Kxf7 7. Qd5+ Kg6 8. Bg5 Qe8 9. Nh4+ Kxg5 10. Nd2 Kh6 11. Nf5+ Kg6 12. Nh4+ Kh6 13. Nf5+ Kg6 14. Nh4+ 1/2-1/2]
A.K.: Have you seen any young players at the Thailand Open who impressed you?
N.S.: [laughing] No.
A.K.: What about the Asian players?
N.S.: Nobody stuck out where I thought “wow”. I played this Indian kid. I don’t know how old he was, maybe 12 or 13. [Suri Vaibhav, India, born 1997, ELO 2347] Maybe he’ll be a promising player, maybe not, who knows. When you are 2300+ at such a young age you are doing fairly well.
A.K.: What do you think about the Thailand Open format when comparing it to last year’s tournament?
N.S.: It’s better. Look, quite honestly, it’s not chess, in my opinion, playing two rounds a day. You don’t play two games of football, you don’t play two games of cricket – two games of anything. It’s too exhausting. I saw the comments on the [Bangkok Chess Club] website, saying that these are the unimportant rounds. Well, they are the unimportant rounds if you are winning your games without any stress. [laughing] Last time it was not the case, this time it went very well for me. People don’t just roll over and die. You have to beat them and that requires some good moves! Even if there is a substantial ELO disparity. So, it is a vast improvement, but still, it has a knock-on effect. I was just talking to Simon Ansell [IM from England] and he was saying how problematic time control is. And he is right. Because at a certain point you are in perpetual time trouble …
A.K.: … in the endgame? …
N.S.: …and even at some point, it depends on how the game goes, it can happen in the middlegame. And you are just in perpetual time trouble. Now, why don’t they have a slower time-control? Because they’re playing two games a day. And if you give an extra half hour after move 40, then the rounds are too long. Why not having an extra hour added to the game. You get a better quality game. One of the reasons why I played this year was because it was in appreciation of the fact that they had at least improved the schedule. But there’s another aspect. Most people who come here are amateur players. A lot of them come here for a bit of chess, they like to play, they like and enjoy the atmosphere. And they come here for a bit of tourism. There are lots of people who come here from considerable distances. When you have to play two rounds a day, you can’t do tourism. The key is to have one game per day. I’m really a chess tourist, but even for me my rating is my livelihood. If my rating is over 2700 it makes a big difference to me. If I lose points – and I haven’t counted but I probably lost points, but probably not very many, ok, this I can afford, but if you lose a lot it’s very expensive.
A.K.: Do you prefer to play in a resort place such as Pattaya last year or in Bangkok?
N.S.: Actually I’m fairly agnostic on this. I think the venues have been very good. In Pattaya and here we’re playing somewhere nice, air-conditioned, light, there’s enough space, and all those things. So purely from the point of view of playing I like it. I like Bangkok but I’m happy to play somewhere else next year. If it’s Pattaya again, fine, but if it’s somewhere new I’ll be happy too.
A.K.: Maybe next year’s tournament will be in Chiang Mai or Phuket …
N.S.: … That’d be fine with me, so I can see a bit more of the country.
A.K.: What is it that you like about Thailand and have you had a chance to travel in the country?
N.S.: Not a lot really. But the people are very friendly. It’s a fairly easy-going kind of place, the food is great, they give great massages here. When you come here for some relaxation, it’s a very easy and pleasant place to be, and most of the people seem to speak English, which is also great, so you will have few problems communicating in general.
A.K.: Surely you must have heard about the political unrests in Bangkok before you came here. Some people cancelled their participation because of them. Did the unrests worry you before you came here or have they affected you in any way?
N.S.: I was watching and I was keeping an eye on things, but you know, I played the Olympiad in Yerevan [Armenia, 1996], when they were attacking the parliament building and with tanks on the streets, THAT was scary. It was localized really. If you kept out of certain areas then you shouldn’t have any problems. It wasn’t directed against foreigners. If there were problems like that, then that would have been a concern. But this is a completely internal, political question and it doesn’t have anything to do with tourists.
A.K.: Let’s talk about chess in Asia. Last year you played against Chinese players, but unfortunately they are not here this year because they’re playing in the Chinese league. Still, you had considerable opposition from Indian players. Chinese, Indian and Iranian players are getting stronger and stronger. Why do you think that is and how are Asian players in general changing the face of chess?
N.S.: Don’t forget the Vietnamese! I mean it’s a steady process. If you go back to the early years of the last century, then there were only two areas for chess: Europe, which remains the center for chess, and the Americas, they have a lot of chess. Down in the South-Americas as well. Argentina. But Asia didn’t register very highly. I think the emergence of India and China in the world of chess has been one of the great developments. There are sort of localized powers. The Philippines has had some chess success, certainly since Eugene Torre and people the like since the 1970s. In Indonesia there’s some chess activity. Vietnam has come from almost nothing to being a fairly serious chess country.
A.K.: How did they do it?
N.S.: I don’t know the precise details, but they’re serious, there’s obviously some kind of government support, and it’s a little bit along the Chinese way, but on a smaller scale. GM Le Quang Liem won the Aeroflot Open [Moscow, Russia 2010] and the tournament in Kolkata [India 2009] which I played last year. It’s funny, I beat him at the Olympiad at Dresden [Germany 2008] and he scored fantastically well despite that. But he’s not the only one. There’s this development. I think it’s natural. The game is spreading further afield. It’s not so much the number of federations that are in FIDE because there’s a significant number of those member federations in which chess barely exists. Nevertheless, there’s a sort of gradual spreading. India, of course they have played chess forever but weren’t particular good at it. And China, where they just didn’t play chess. Their emergence has been one of the most significant developments in the game. Apart from computers of course.
A.K.: You coached the Iranian National Team in 2006 and 2007, and they did very well. Please tell me about that experience. Why did you coach them?
N.S.: Well, I got paid and I’ve got to make a living. I’m not employable in any other capacities, so I did that. It was interesting. No drink, no sex, that’s really one of the downsides of coaching in Iran. [laughing] [Iran won silver and bronze medals at the Asian Games in Doha, Qatar, 2006 and at the Asian Indoor Games in Macau 2007.]
A.K.: So would you consider coaching the Thai National Team?
N.S.: [laughing] Yes, I would, if they had some sponsorship, I’d do it. I don’t care about the level. I’m interested in the enthusiasm. If people reach higher levels that’s good, and if you can assist in raising the standards, then that’s great. Thailand is not about to become a chess powerhouse, but I’m sure if I were to come some people would benefit, there’s no question about it.
A.K.: Thailand has a handful of FMs. What do they have to do to improve their game?
N.S.: They need practice. There’s no substitute for playing on a regular basis. It’s not enough if you play two tournaments a year. You just can’t do it. And when you have a limited pool of players, you know that this or that guy plays a certain way and you can change your strategy for him. But then the moment you move on to a bigger stage this sort of local knowledge isn’t necessarily going to help you, so you need a sort of wider experience. That’s one of the things. And a bit of coaching. People have jobs, they have demands on their time, but those who are enthusiastic can put aside a little bit of time. It’s surprising what can be done. One of my Iranian girls said to me: “Nigel, I’m at the university doing a degree. Now I’ve got some free time and would like to study chess. What should I do?” I gave her some little tasks. She asked how much she should study, and I said two hours a day. Of course I could have told her to study six hours, which she would have done on the first and possibly on the second day, and by the end of the week she would have given up. She did it and she wrote down all the answers. There were some things wrong of course, and yeah. We then went to the Dubai Open. This isn’t a particularly young player. She was in her mid-20s at that time with 2017 ELO. In Dubai she lost in the last round but nevertheless made a 2430 ELO performance, the best result of her career easily. For what, sixty hours of work I think. Directed. – Directed! – She’s never going to be Judith Polgar. That’s alright. There’s only ONE Judith Polgar. People can do a lot more, they can do an awful lot more, if they’re helped, they’re interested, prepared to work, and if they’re sent in the right direction, things can be done very clearly. That was one of my successes. I wasn’t even coaching, I wasn’t around at the time, I just suggested what she should do, and she did it and it paid off extremely well.
A.K.: You have played chess tournaments in many countries, but is there still a place, maybe here in Asia, where you would like to play, maybe for the first time?
N.S.: I’m one of these guys who is prepared to visit any country on earth. So the answer is yes, I would. As far as tournaments are concerned, not every place has tournaments. But in Asia I’ve been to a lot of places. I’ve been to the Philippines, Japan, South Korea, Brunei. I’ve been to Cambodia, Laos, China. I love China, I really enjoy going there. It’s a very exciting country, pulsating, you can feel the energy of the place. – Burma! Maybe I should go to Burma! My grandfather was in Burma in the war fighting the Japanese. I might have some cousins there [laughing]. All those months in the jungle, you know.
A.K.: George Orwell was in Burma …
N.S.: …Burmese Days!…
A.K.: …and he wrote the short-story Shooting an Elephant …
N.S.: … You know the joke, Orwell wrote three books on Burma: Burmese Days, Animal Farm and 1984 [laughing]. Actually, I brought Burmese Days with me, which I intended to read because I’d like to … ok … I’m in a different country now but somehow in the geographical area. I have it but wasn’t quite in the mood for reading here.
A.K.: Will you come back next year?
N.S.: I’d say there’s a fair chance. I won’t say definitely, but I basically like the people and it’s a nice environment. As you know this year was weaker than it was in Pattaya but I also think they’ve done incredible things on a tiny budget. This event started very small and extended and extended. There’s only so much you can do without increasing the budget. If you want to go to the next level, raise it. It needs some more dosh [money]. Where it will come from, if it will come, is another matter. But I like the enthusiasm, the warmth and the energy, and I like the fact that these are amateur players trying to put on a good event. I was here a couple of times before and have given simuls at the Stock Exchange and the British club. They were enjoyable experiences. There is this connection, and I feel that the people are my friends.
A.K.: I hope you will come back next year. Thank you for your time.
GM Sune Berg Hansen won yet again while second placed GM Nigel Short drew, so Hansen is a full point clear at 7.5/8. A final-round draw will be sufficient to secure top prize, but with a win Hansen may achieve the magical 2600 rating – let’s see if he goes for it.
5 players share 3rd place with 6/8: IM Sunil Mokal Prathamesh, GM Dzhumaev Marat, IM Lahiri Atanu, IM Ansell Simon and IM Ashwin Jayaram.
In the challenger group, leaders Joel Pacuribot will play Andrew Horton-Kitchlew in the final round.
Stephane Reinert, local player Issara Vitithum and WFM Swati Mahota are half a point behind with 5/6.
The atmosphere is incredibly concentrated at this stage of the tournament. Mokal Sunil held GM Short to a second draw, while GM Hansen storms into a half point lead with a fine win over IM Atanu Lahiri.
The Indian junior Suri Vaibhav continues his remarkable performance with a win over Siyuan Shen of China, so he is one of 5 players chasing Hansen, with 5/6 points. Perhaps Suri will achieve his final IM norm.
In the Challenger group, defending champion Andrew Horton-Kitchlew, Frenchman Stephane Reinert and unrated Joel Pacuribot share first place with 4/4.