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Prawns & Pawns in Singapore Print E-mail
By Linda Inouye   
August 22, 2007
Karen Payne and Emily Lau also contributed to this article.

Photo Cathy Rogers
Rushing from hotels through the humid, busy streets of Singapore, players from 24 countries crowd the colorful playing hall of the Asean Chess Academy. The World Youth Under 16 Olympiad (August 4-12) is underway. The U.S.A. brought two teams:

Team 1:
Christian Tanaka, Orange County, CA
Robert Lau, Hawaii
Jared Tan, Orange County, CA
Eric Zhang, Irvine, CA

Team 2:
Vincent Huang, Orange County, CA
Cheston Gunawan, Arcadia, CA
Ryan Polsky, Los Angeles, CA
Michael Ambartsoumian, Glendale, CA

It is exciting to be playing in Singapore. A few months earlier, a few Southern California families (some with ties to Singapore) heard of the Olympiad, and, with the permission of USCF Scholastic Director Jerry Nash, organized the teams to travel together. We all thank Jerry Nash for this incredible opportunity! Head coach of AAA Chess Club in Los Angeles, Armen Ambartsoumian, was recruited as team coach.

Singapore was a gracious host and the tournament was well-run. Thirty four teams played ten rounds over seven days. A typical day consisted of rounds at 9 AM and 4:30 PM with teams bused between the hotels and playing hall for each round. With dinner at nine followed by preparation, our days were long and challenging.

In the first round, USA lost to number two seed India, but we worked our way back up the charts with four match wins in a row over South Africa, Sri Lanka 2, Sri Lanka 1, and Iceland. On Day 4, USA had a close match (1.5-2.5) with host Singapore and a 3-1 win over Malaysia.

August 9th was a rest day for the chess players as Singapore celebrated its National Day, commemorating the country's independence achieved in 1965. Some of the families ventured to Sentosa Island for a little R&R. The boys were still in their competitive mode as they have fun racing each other downhill on the luge. We saw dugongs and other amazing sea creatures at Underwater World, before taking a cable car ride back to Singapore. Sticky from heat and humidity, we were relieved to arrive at air-conditioned Vivo City, the newest of Singapore's glittering shopping malls. Our wonderful "host mom" introduced us to a vast array of local Singaporean and Asian specialties - fish paste wrapped in leaves, chili crab, chicken rice, nasi padang, roti prata, noodles, satay, and, prawns and more prawns.

First place team from India. Photo Cathy Rogers.

The next day, it was back to the boards, to challenge the strong Iranian team on table 6. We lost but bounced back with a win over Australia 2. On the final day, crowds of spectators and dignitaries gather to watch the top tables. India wins gold with 28 points, edging top seed Hungary by just one half point. The Philippines, led by the Olympiad's highest rated player, 13-year old International Master Wesley So (FIDE 2516), takes bronze with 25.5 points.

Following a hard fought draw against another Singapore team, we finish with six match wins, one draw and three losses. Only the top four teams (India, Hungary, Philippines, and Uzbekistan) have more match points than we do. On total game points, USA 1 with 21.5 points finishes 14th out of 34 teams. USA 2 finishes with 17.5 points.

Christian Tanaka and Robert Lau in Singapore. Photos Cathy Rogers.

In individual board competition, the USA's Christian Tanaka (6.5/10) and Robert Lau (6.5/10) finish 7th and 6th, respectively, on boards 1 and 2. Here is a game from each of them:



Maryland high school student Shinsaku Uesugi (6/10), playing for the Japanese team, finishes 9th on board 1.

Beyond competing over the board, the US players enjoy meeting chess peers from around the world, engaging in friendly skittles games and conversation with everyone from Korean youngsters to an Australian all-girls team to players from England. We all loved the diversity of cultures and the amazing spices and food in clean, beautiful Singapore. Even in the midst of such an intense schedule, Robert Lau said, "I don't want this to end.