Eight-year-old crowned king of chess

Published: 27/03/2009 05:00


VietNamNet Bridge - Tran Minh Thang’s win at the World Youth Champs last year put capital chess back in the spotlight after nearly a decade of drought.

After nearly a decade of silence, Ha Noi chess returned to its place in the spotlight when eight-year-old Tran Minh Thang became the youngest world champion in the history of Ha Noi and Viet Nam chess.

At the 2008 World Youth Chess Championships, Thang beat out 94 other competitors in the U-8 category to win the gold. Viet Nam, which hosted the event, hoped to win at least one gold, but the young master’s victory was a surprise, which earned him a place as one of Viet Nam’s best athletes of 2008.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, Ha Noi was the country’s leading chess centre, boasting champions like Luu Duc Hai, Dang Tat Thang, Dang Vu Dung, Bui Vinh and Hoang Thanh Trang, one of the world’s top 20 women’s chess players.

Ha Noi chess began to decline when the city poured funds and focus into sports played at the Southeast Asian Games, where chess wasn’t an event until recent years.

As a result, coaches and managers moved to other cities and Ha Noi chess fell into a state of decline. In the decade preceding Thang’s victory, the capital hadn’t earned a single significant achievement, often not even sending competitors to national tournaments.

In 2005, leaders of the capital sport decided to reinvest in chess. Former national champion Dang Vu Dung, who had just returned home from Russia, was invited to coach the capital’s team.

Dung had plans to leave chess behind and open his own business, but after some hesitation, he accepted his mission: to reclaim a place on the podium for Ha Noi chess.

The State began pouring tens of thousands of dollars into revamping the sport. Talented players started attracting foreign experts. Chess began reorganising in every age group and connecting with foundations nationwide.

In 2008, Ha Noi returned to the fray, upsetting the order of Viet Nam chess. Capital youth players beat leading HCM City players to take the overall medal table at the National Youth Chess Tournament, with 20 gold medals, and the National Student Sport Games, with 11 golds.

Ha Noi chess was securely back on the podium the moment Thang was handed his gold in 2008. It was the only individual title Viet Nam earned at the world championships.

“Experts from countries, which had athletes competing in that event, agreed that Thang is a real talent. Thang is not only a precious gem of Ha Noi but also of the country,” said Dung.

“Thang’s capacity for chess is better than IGMs Son and Le Quang Liem, even though they are the same age. Thang plays chess stately and comprehensively, creatively and scientifically. I have never seen a boy as talented and passionate as Thang,” said the coach.

“If foreign coaches teach him methodical play, domestic coaches teach him a competitive spirit. Each teacher has his own methods, but he always imparts the best to Thang. Thang uses teachers’ lessons flexibly in every game.”

Ignatius Leong, general secretary of the World Chess Federation said: “Thang is a prospective talent, if he is trained well, he will be an international grand master and maybe more.”

Chairman of the board

Everyone who has met Thang agrees that the boy was born to play chess.

He was born in Dong Ngac commune, Tu Liem district, Ha Noi, to a poor family. Inspired by his brother and sister, Thang found his true passion in chess when he was only four, before he could even read and write.

When the boy’s talent became obvious, his parents Tran Van Thuan and Nguyen Thi Xuan began sending him to chess instructors. They decided to retire early so they could drive him back and forth to evening classes 20km from their house.

His talent was soon discovered by coaches in Ha Noi. The gifted and hard-working youngster dazzled coaches with a knowledge of over 100 sample chess games of world grand masters.

Thang participated in a regional tourney in Brunei at age six. He proved he wasn’t just tagging along two years ago at the Indonesia tournament, where he won gold and silver medals.

Thang has already collected more than 30 gold medals from national and international competitions.

Despite hours of study devoted to chess and competitions, Thang never neglected his studies at Dong Ngac Primary School.

“His studies have been interrupted because of continuos training and competition. However, teachers always create conditions for him to pursue his passion and give him make-up lessons for free,” said Pham Thi Nga, principal of Thang’s school.

“Thang is a very good student. He is agile, intelligent, industrious, and very easygoing.”

In April, Thang and other talented young masters will fly to Russia and Hungary, where the world’s top chess training centres are located, to learn methodical play with modern tactics.

“I will try my best to rank in world’s top 20 and become the country’s youngest IGM,” said Thang.


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