The GM Zaw Win Lay Memorial Myanmar International Open Chess Championship took place in Yangon from November 23-30, 2014 and was very well received with 128 players representing 17 countries participating.
This included 28 titled players, 10 of whom are Grandmasters.
In 2011 the very first Myanmar International Open took place after many years of limited international engagement, both in chess and as a country, and it has taken another three long years before a second international open could be organised.
In the meantime, the South-East Asian Games took place last year where chess together with its other regional variants were also included as medal sports.
With a few sad exceptions (of course no one can please everyone!), the participants fully enjoyed participating as not only were the tournament conditions excellent and the competition good (isn’t that the point, to enjoy hard fought games with other strong players?) but Yangon has certainly seen a lot of positive development while to a large extent still managing to keep its traditional and old world charm largely intact especially since the organisers had taken some trouble to locate the tournament in the heart of the city at the Central Hotel on Bagyoke Aung Sang Road, the city’s main shopping district.
Our location was surrounded by numerous cafes with the renowned Scott’s Market and its hundreds of jewellery, handicraft and garment (also banks and money changers!) a stone’s throw away and most major attractions were less than a 10-minute stroll away.
This included the Sule Pagoda and the rest of the city’s main administrative and recreational areas on the way to the riverside.
Of course the must-see sight in Yangon is the Shwedagon Pagoda which could be seen from a distance, still unbelievably spectacular and surely one of the wonders of the world even if it is currently undergoing its annual cleaning.
In the end, Englishman Nigel Short and Russian Vladimir Belous were declared joint champions when both finished equal on points and the tie-break calculation showed two different results when done manually from the official Swiss Manager computer program!
But it was the three rounds after the rest day that changed everything with the results from rounds seven and eight throwing up upset after upset and until the dust finally settled at the end of the long day it was anyone’s guess as to who would eventually emerge the winner.
The third seeded Belous had drawn his games in rounds three, four and five to drop slightly off the leaderboard while Short crashed to a loss in the six round afternoon game of a testing three consecutive days of double rounds against India’s M.R. Venkatesh and it looked like the top seeded Sergei Tiviakov’s win over journeyman Serbian Grandmaster Stefan Djuric to take sole lead put him in the driving seat.
But the Dutch national team stalwart collapsed in unrecognisable fashion in rounds seven and eight after the rest day to completely drop out of contention, afterward admitting to me that he had not only underestimated his opponents and pushed too hard instead of accepting draws but perhaps the rest day should have not been spent seeing even more of Yangon!
After beating Tiviakov, the unfancied Arun Prasad who had played steadily and well throughout was the leader going into the last round and a draw would have been enough to become champion and he initially looked good in his game against Belous, almost certainly winning at one point but he was also visibly nervous throughout, pacing a great deal at the start and at the critical moment his level of play dropped and the Russian player, as he had done so very resourcefully in so many of his earlier games, took his chance with open hands.
The following are the main standings and all the prize winners:
1-2. Short, Belous 7.5/9; 3–7. Nguyen Duc Hoa, Arun Prasad, Venkatesh, Vishnu Prasanna, Tiviakov 7/9; 8-11. Jahongir Vakhidov, Zaw Oo, Fominyh, Djuric 6.5/9; 12-25. Nay Oo Kyaw Tun, Gong, Longsee Uaychai, Myint Han, Wynn Zaw Htun, Lee, Aung Aung Aung Myo Hliang, Zeyar, Htut Htut Than, Saeheng Boonsueb, Kyaw Lin Niang, Tn Tun zaw, Thu Han Soe, Myo Kyaw Hliang 6/9.