When it comes to chess in Southeast Asia, most people think of that highly problematic Murray Head song, “One Night in Bangkok” from the 80s musical Chess, and chess queens might not excite you the way it would others. Last month, the Laos Chess Federation made a strong showing to change that perception, hosting the 1st Laos International Open from January 3rd to 7th in Vientiane.
Chess is an Asian strategy game over 1,500 years old, depicting the conflict between two rival armies, with each piece capable of unique moves to capture the other’s pieces. The goal is to place your opponent’s king into a situation where it is impossible for him to move safely, known as checkmate, from an Arabic term, shah mat, meaning “the King is dead” or “the King is helpless.” Today, it’s a game popular around the world, including Europe, Russia, the Middle East, and the US. Well-known players of the 20th century include Garry Kasparov and Bobby Fischer. Although chess is widely believed to have begun in India, India’s first modern Grandmaster, Viswanathan Anand, was crowned only 10 years ago!
The game has been popular for the skills it teaches in thinking ahead and understanding one’s options. Its virtues include teaching players to: think with both sides of their brain, use their imagination, be creative, problem-solve, strengthen memory skills, enhance reading skills, concentrate, and increase foresight; things that are valuable, to everyone. The New England Journal of Medicine has even found games like chess to be effective in preventing Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other mental health issues in elders.
For their first year, 70 players from 15 countries, including four grandmasters and four international masters competed in the Laos International Open. The 22-year old Armenian grandmaster Karen H. Girgoryan won the overall championship. He received his grandmaster ranking in 2013. Between 2007-2017, he won 60.6% of the games he played, making him a challenging opponent for many. Topping off the silver and bronze medals were two Vietnamese players.
The Lao Chess Federation began with the March 16th, 2010 authorization PM Instruction No. 486, and a little over a year later, the Lao Ministry of Education & Sport permitted the establishment of the “Laos Chess Federation” on November 3, 2011, Chess has spread widely since, and is now part of the Lao school curriculum, including the National Sport Academy. Organized chess events are presently played in 16 out of 18 provinces in Laos.
Among their plans for 2018, the Laos Chess Federation will convene their Chess Tournament Nationwide at the XI National Games in late 2018 in Xiengkhuang province. In September, they will send a team to the Chess Olympiad in Batumi. They will also train 4 Lao competitors to receive an FA title for the upcoming Laos Open events in 2018. To further advance the sport in Laos, they are also beginning to look for a trainer to teach chess at the National Sport Academy and Ministry of Education & Sport.
So, what about it, Little Laos on the Prairie readers? Will we one day see Lao American students competing in chess in Laos? For those of us based in Minnesota, there are definitely clubs and opportunities based in the Twin Cities, including the Chess Castle and the University of Minnesota’s Chess Club. The Fresno Chess Club has also been growing rapidly, although we don’t have any reports on how many Lao American players are actively participating there.
Share your stories about playing chess in the comments below!
Bryan Thao Worra, firstname.lastname@example.org