He’s no Anatoly Karpov aspirant nor a Garry Kasparov wannabe.
Why should he? Nope, Teh Wee Zhun is a man of the times, and to him, Norwegian chess grandmaster Magnus Carlsen is the be all and end all of a sport he has completely immersed himself in.
In the truest spirit of Malaysia Boleh, Teh did the national colours proud late last year by earning third spot – bagging US$3,600 (RM16,000) for his efforts – in the Millionaire Chess competition, held annually in the United States. Like the many successes of our countrymen, he has placed Malaysia on the world chess map.
Chess players are accorded a global rating, and Teh took part in the under 2000 category, where more than 100 players eagerly competed. Rather than just hedge his bets on good fortune, Teh went into the contest primed and ready.
“I set a high target for myself … I wanted to be in the top four, so I had thoroughly prepared for it,” said the genial 23-year-old recently.
Getting ready involved sparring sessions with his buddy, FM (FIDE Master) Lim Zhuo Ren, a highly-respected exponent himself. Teh also subjected his game to online programmes which evaluate the effectiveness of a player’s moves, and even resorted to studying other players’ games to take his to the next level.
The 100-odd players in Teh’s category had to play seven rounds of chess each before being whittled down to four finalists in the competition, which was held in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in September last year. If that sounds like a cinch, the Subang Jaya denizen was quick to dispel any misconception; “Each game could last four to five hours.”
Despite the gruelling experience, he proudly revealed that he didn’t lose a single game on his way to third spot, though he drew two.
“I earned six out of seven points, which was great,” he said jubilantly, conceding that he was also close to a couple of near-death situations, though. “I was lucky that I managed to survive and draw those games. I had to make sure my moves were precise to get out of trouble.”
Millionaire Chess may only be into its third year, but Teh has already made two forays into the competition – its debut (in Las Vegas, Nevada) in 2014, and the third instalment last year. Two appearances at the competition has allowed him to suss out the kind of players present at these international events.
“Competitors come from diverse backgrounds, given the nationalities involved. But I have noticed that the Western players tend to look down at Asian competitors, though they are magnanimous in defeat,” he shared, looking chuffed.
Teh’s entry into the world of chess began when he was 15, when he observed friends who were national level players. “I would watch them and wonder how they had become that good.”
Amazement spurred him to take up the game himself, and before long, he was representing his school, SMK USJ 12 in Subang Jaya, where his alma mater came out tops in the district under the team category.
And like most chess players who begin tepidly, his first board was an entry level, magnet-based set. Yes, those foldable cheap ones which can house the chess pieces.
So, what are the benefits of playing chess?
According to Teh – and studies have proven this – playing the game contributes to the development of analytical, reasoning and calculating skills. “Many kids play chess because it will benefit their studies,” he said.
While nobody in his family plays the game, his circle of friends are avid players. He has a younger brother who is a national dodgeball player, and Teh himself, outside of the chess circuit, is an accomplished badminton player.
But it is his passion and accomplishments in the board game which have come to define him, something his university, Sunway University (which has actively sponsored his chess pursuit), is just as proud of.
“I attribute my success to my university. They sponsored every local tournament I took part in, and they also partially sponsored my trip to America,” said the Deloitte Malaysia employee, who serves the financial advisory services department.
Given the lofty position he’s currently in, Teh qualifies to give advice, and it all starts with getting things right; “Have the right attitude, have the right goals and go with the right preparations.”