Sunday, 18 May 2014

The Twenty Four From All Over Asia & Oceania

To start with there are eight of the ten ASEAN countries participating - Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Myanmar and Laos - and since the introduction of the plus (+) to the ASEAN+ Age-Group Chess Championships, our neighbours in Korea, Hong Kong, Macau and Chinese Taipei (the new Asian Dragons!), have enthusiastically been a big part of the party!

Our friends in Oceania, this time through Australia, New Zealand and Fiji, are once again participating, and for years now, also the ambitious title seeking players from India and China.

These have recently been joined (actually not so recently!) by players from Mongolia, even Russia and of course Kazakhstan (now very familiar faces), Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, Bangladesh, now even Afghanistan!

Why is Vietnam Dominating the ASEAN+ Age-Groups?

From a small event started 15 years ago by Ignatius Leong that brought together ten National Chess Federations in countries which are geographically neighbours and known collectively (and formally grouped together) as ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations), the ASEAN+ Age-Group Championships has grown to become almost unrecognisable today!

Like in the World Youth Championships, the categories are Open and Girls, for U-8, U-10, U-12, U-14, U-16, U-18 and U-20, but there is a difference in that the ASEAN+ Age-Groups also has an increasingly popular Seniors (50+) section.

In ASEAN, the chess powerhouses are Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia where players are essentially professional.

Probably the amateurs of Malaysia and Singapore often come next even if Thailand is catching up fast while Myanmar finds itself between the professionals and amateurs and the smallest in Brunei will soon have to worry about the likes of the new boys in Cambodia and Laos!

The ASEAN+ Age-Groups has however been seeing a pattern of dominance by Vietnam who year in year out also have the largest contingents, and this could perhaps be explained by the club structure prevalent there supported by the national grassroots sports infrastructure in place. But I also think that while not the best paying work (surprise?), even when compared to Philippines and Indonesia where player stipends are much better, in Vietnam, chess gets a lot of respect.

Where top players and national teams are concerned, as is well reflected in the FIDE Ratings, it is quite different as Philippines is ranked at 28 while Vietnam is only 41 and Indonesia even further away at 59, albeit out of 164 nations.

Yet both these top nations have world class, even future world champions, in Wesley So and Le Quang Liem respectively, so that is not the difference when talent grows up. For sure it is the Philippines with no less than 17 grandmasters that have the depth but Vietnam with smaller group of top players, just 7 grandmasters, over 4 boards are equally strong.

To me it just means that Vietnam, a nation of young people who have emerged economically in the last decade, will likely and increasingly keep losing their young talent to the realities faced by their counterparts in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Brunei.

A Record Twenty Four Countries Will Be in Macau

The 15th ASEAN+ Age-Group Chess Championships to be held in Macau from 3-12 June 2014 will see a new participation record with players from no less than 24 countries now confirmed taking part!

Expanded from the original grouping of 10 ASEAN countries, this long standing official FIDE regional event has for many years now surpassed the Asian Youth Chess Championships as the premier youth competition in Asia.

Last year's event held in Chiang Mai in Thailand was acclaimed by participants as the best they had ever participated in, for many even rivalling the best World Youth Chess Championships, and now for the first time it is not being held in an ASEAN country but in Macau, China, during the peak summer months at no less than the Cotai Sands Central (, so high expectations should still be met!

In recent years Vietnam has been the dominant force at the ASEAN Age-Groups, and once again they are well represented with 82 players in all categories, but this time China with their largest delegation ever is expected to mount a serious challenge with 36 players!

Other large delegations include Singapore with 50 players, Philippines with 47 players and Malaysia with 39 players.

The 15th ASEAN+ Age-Group Chess Championships is organised by the ASEAN Chess Confederation led by Ignatius Leong together with GXM and sponsorship from the Kasparov Chess Foundation Asia-Pacific and assistance from the Macau Chess Association and Macao Sports Development Board.