Wednesday, May 23, 2012


It could only happen in Malaysian chess...

Malaysia number one player who is at the top of his game...and among the best in Asian...and in his best years...needs to work part time as a trader in morning market and as a taxi driver to make ends met.

This i guess is never happen in other sports such as squash, badminton or F1 etc, to see their number one who is head and shoulder above the competitors but needs to take odd jobs...even if it really happen in other sport, i imagined immediately we can see sports Minister, sports official quickly intervene to disburse much needed 'bantuan' so the sportsman can focus in what he/she's doing best...but it did not happened to Malaysian did not happened to IM Jimmy Liew.

That year is 1986, which we all know as the best year of Jimmy's career but what we all don't know is in between tournaments and trainings, Jimmy also become a trader at morning market and taxi driver. Fortunately it is only a short stint since Jimmy's found directing his chess pieces to go to squares to suit his whim and fancy are closer to his heart rather than he, himself being directed to go to place to suit his passenger's whim and fancy...and he prefers crowds to gather at his chess table rather than at his trading/business table.

In 1988 Jimmy Liew made a move from Penang to KL and together with Peter Long they formed PRO-CHESS. PRO-CHESS maybe a chess company but to me it is more like a chess factory that keeps churning out good chess players, one after another. Enter average player here, put the player on PRO-CHESS conveyor belts and click!turn the switch on and the conveyor belt starts moving... (in which along the journey Jimmy and Peter will plan, mould, knock, shape, spray and knock again the player with instructive chess lessons) and out from this factory...voila! a better player...much much better player!

Among players 'manufactured' by PRO-CHESS are...Samantha Lee, NM Ng Ee Vern, IM Wong Zi Jing, Chen Tien Yue, Geraldine Johns Putra. Successful in chess, successful in their respective careers. Enough said.

Jimmy's reputation as coach is well known. Jimmy do not have to shout out loudly about his abilities or his methods or his student's achievement etc...but chess community knows and a blessing to Malaysian chess because until today Jimmy still do a coaching on part time basis and among his student now are Li Tian, Olivia Madhavan etc.

OK, now let's continue with PRO-CHESS...Unfortunately this partnership could only lasted for about 2 to 3 years. In year 1991 the partnership ended due to some differences between Jimmy and Peter and both went their separate ways...

It must be around here, year 1991, Jimmy started to think hard whether chess can provide a comfortable life...will he be ok in 10 years, 20 years from now? Life, unfortunately, is not like a game of chess where there will always be another game. You make mistakes or blunder in chess, you can safely resign and start a new one where everything is reset to equal again but life is not like that... there is only one life...mistakes we made in life will stay with us for the rest of our life. No take new game.

Down with a hard, cold conclusion that professional chess in 90s' could not guarantee to lead to a life he desired...he started working as a programmer with small IT company...he also doing data entry on freelance basis and at night, three times a week, he attended night classes to further equip himself. Vintage Jimmy...once he set his focus on something, he will do his utmost to gain as much knowledge and skills as he can.

In 1996 he was asked, by virtue of his position as number one player in country...only player with rating of above 2300, to represent Malaysia again in 1996 Yerevan Olympiad and he did not disappoint, contributing 5 points on top board.

It is after Yerevan that Jimmy went into full retirement, concentrating on his corporate job at MNC Company...a company he joined shortly before Yerevan Olympiad but generous enough to allow him 2 to 3 weeks leave to represent Malaysia. It is a long retirement in which he only started playing again in 2003.



  1. I am very happy with your tribute - yes, Jimmy and I often disagree (even today) but never in disrespectful way or taking away his many achievements, so many you have documented well!
    On Pro-Chess, If I remember correctly, Jimmy was studying IT part time in this period and had graduated so it was indeed time to move on. I too had started to plan for life after chess and so had taken up a more demanding job with the regional office of a MNC... so not so much disagreement but a logical conclusion to a nice period with many successes.

  2. To put matters into perspective, Nicol is supported not because she is Malaysia's No.1, but because she is World No.1. Same thing with Chong Wei. Azlan and Beng Hee although not World No.1, was at one time or another Top 10 or 20 in the world.

    With bowling, lawn bowls, cycling, etc., all these sports have one or more world beaters in their line-up, some Olympic & Commonwealth Games medal hopefuls. That is why they are supported.

    And what was Jimmy's world ranking again in those days? or ranking among SEA players?

  3. To further add, Malaysia No.1 tennis players like V Selvam or Adam Malik and table tennis Malaysia No.1s were not supported by the government. All these players had to earn money from other sources to support their sports activities.

    In fact, Jimmy already had it good (compared to other sports) as he was supported from private sources (RM700 or so) per month for a period of time in the early 1980s. That is about RM2000 per month in today's money. He was given every opportunity together with Christi to play in GM tournaments (Asian GM Circuit, etc), with all expenses paid trips to take part, etc, and to get GM norms. Support stopped soon after he made his IM title. Possibly due to recession or also possibly the private sponsor finally concluded that Jimmy (& Christi) were not GM material. Not even anywhere near a GM norm after all those opportunities. Certainly not a world-beater like as he said or he say Mas said, about our current juniors.

  4. Mr Chess Malaysia,
    Anything to support your claim that I received RM700 per month. I think I should know better than you if I did get such support.

    You just recently signed up with Blogger just to make such comments? You really must be concerned with Malaysian chess.

  5. Hi Peter,
    Thanks for the input

    Hi Chess Malaysia,
    Interesting views.

    Anyway still i believed should Jimmy been given support (or continued been given support) when he is an IM, so that could free his mind and his time from doing other than chess...maybe he has a good run to be a FGM.

  6. Oh dear.. not another fight.. thank you Ilham for keeping your cool.

  7. I am also wondering how you defined "among the best in Asia" Ilham? Was it at a time when there were no GM's in Asia? What is the basis of that accolade? How did Jimmy become the best when he never achieved a single GM norm??

  8. Hi Raymond,
    Jimmy once top ten in Asia (which include China, India, Philippine and Indonesia)... Of course there are gms in Asia at that time...Asian first gm is torre who become one in year 1974...

    There are others like gm Utut, anand too.

    I said 'among the best' and not the best.

  9. Is it just one tournament then? Don't we need consistency to be given that accolade or at least some objective basis like ranking etc?

  10. :)
    Jimmy is among Asian best by virtue of his rating at that time of elo 24++. Ofcourse this rating is obtained via many tough tourneys

    If to be base from one tournament than jimmy is once THE BEST IN ASIA. At Dubai Asian team, jimmy not only best board one player...he also the best overall player in this tourney...ahead of many gms and young anand too.

  11. :) So if I read you correctly, Jimmy was among the bestby virtue of his Elo rating at that time of 24++. So this infers that generally Elo ratings were very low at that time in Asia. And he is the best because of one tournament.

    Question. Is it possible that the sponsors pulled out because they were not convinced that the returns they were getting from that investment justified continued sponsoring? Maybe they saw more than just being ahead of young Anand?

  12. Hi Raymond,
    You are entitled to your own opinion and I am entitled to mine. Let's stop at that.

    On sponsorship, jimmy had clarified above that if it exist, he will be the first to know...meaning there is none such sponsorship...for this, I believe jimmy.

  13. well said ilham... well said jimmy... even better to stay cool like abdoss said... and even reply to those question...

    sometimes i just prefer to delete those 'constructive or destructive' opinion... well we all human... always 'blunder'... lower your rating... more 'blunder'... as simple as that... for i always 'blunder' too...

  14. I don't think Jimmy said that. He said he didn't receive the RM700. But he did not say anything about all expense trips paid by sponsors. Just trying to get a clear picture.

  15. Hi Ilham,
    When I was a junior, Christie was already declaring himself as a professional and from friend from Selangor's great rivals Penang, we heard about their new star Jimmy.
    Later when I came back from University I heard that Dato' Tan had challenged Malaysian chess to get our first IM and that was the big project then as there was only one real GM in Asia so IM was really something big!
    Penang has always been a very closed knit community and I am sure everyone chipped in where they could to help Jimmy but it wasn't much as everyone was just starting out in life and when Dato' Tan offered Jimmy a job to help him continue at chess he ended up doing a proper full-time job and so no easy ride here and anyway I know for a fact that it paid so badly he might as well have been jobless at home in Penang!
    Irregardless of all this, what was the situation then was that both Jimmy and Christie quickly proved themselves to be our top two players and being committed to try for the IM title, they were given every opportunity to play the events where there were chances to make IM norms and there was no where as many tournaments as they are today!.
    Any if anyone questions why, I believe that Mas has long enjoyed the same privilege by virtue of being our top player for many years and in the case of all there of these players (and there could be others too as I have a chess gap 1995-2008), it is also because they were able to go and play as needed and that is something many others simply would not because they were no prepared to make that kind of sacrifice in lieu of education or career.
    When we did Pro-Chess it is not like now where many people seem to be able to make a decent living teaching. It helped to be a player of a certain level and he had experience no one had at that time but certainly Jimmy was a good coach but he also used this time to further his studies and still had to play local events to win the extra money needed to keep going. On my end because I had some extra income from writing, some small business investments, etc., where possible I often taught the weekends when Jimmy played tournaments.
    Yes we all have friends who help out and sometimes a sponsor pays a ticket or so but really chess demands big sacrifices because there are bills to pay and while Dato' Tan did help, at the end of the day he always pursued his own projects (as was his right) but I will say his also believed that players needed to be hungry and to stay hungry and his way of doing it is something I have never understood.

  16. I think one of the other reasons we are not doing well Internationally is, besides robbing our own players of their confidence, it's that it is not reasonable to expect a player to do well as a high level all by himself. Ideally there should be a manager, coach and trainer together with the player so the player can stay focused on the board.

    But first we need to have proper selection to keep the players "hungry". By that I mean they must compete for the right of playing for the Country. But not hungry where they are living hand to mouth. I think that is where Dato's strategy is flawed.

  17. it is obvious that everytime Raymond Siew writes, he just wants to whack me. We cannot expect any objectivity from this man. The hate in his heart simply oozes out from every sentence he writes.

    I admire you, ilham, that you even bother to entertain him. I would not. Anyway his opinions do not matter to me.

  18. Back then, you cannot make a comfortable living playing chess. Christi tried as a coach, tournament organiser (including all the weird stuffs like Chess Marathon back in 87) but it was difficult. Not in the 80s and 90s, you simpley cannot make a living. Pro-Chess was an interesting experiment (shortly after Jimmy published his first book) but coupling of Jimmy and Peter was unlikely to last (the Odd Couple). Still I admired them that they gave it a shot and thank them for their contribution to the chess fraternity. When the smoke and egos have blown over, then will we truly appreciate Jimmy's contribution.