Gong Gong says

This is a posthumous blog of our father's (Lim Kok Ann) life. When our father passed away on 8 March 2003, he left behind an unpublished autobiography. We'd like to celebrate his life by sharing his autobiography through this blog.


"I have dredged these anecdotes from memory just to pass the time; if they amuse my grandchildren their purpose will have been served; if they provide any instruction, it will be a happy coincidence; that they are disjointed is probably to be expected.

Aurora was the name of my grandfather’s house in Kulangsu.   Amoy, where I spent the first five or six years of my life.   I still have vivid memories of events that took place when I was barely three years old.

Lim Kok Ann
October 1996"

Saturday, November 08, 2008

3: 8 Prodigy

On returning to the department I plunged back into teaching and research but on visiting the Singapore Chess Club in the YMCA I was intrigued to learn that a young player had been thrashing all the adult players (this was before the world had heard of Bobby Fischer!). The prodigy was Tan Lian Ann, only 9 years old, and still in primary school. He had learned chess from his older brothers, Lian Quee and Lian Seng; was quite innocent of chess theory, but had great tactical ability, for he could see his way through mazes of calculations: I go there, and if he goes this way, I go that-a way, but if he goes that-a way, I go this-a way, and so on, rather like what modern chess computers do. I decided to teach him some elementary end-game techniques and opening theory and visited his home in Devonshire Road regularly.
At the age of 11, Lian Ann won the Singapore Championship and repeated this feat ten times in later years. In one of the rare occasions when both he and I took part in the SingaporeC hampionship, Lian Ann and I tied for the first place and I won the play-off for the title. I have never got over the suspicion that Lian Ann did not try too hard to win the match.

In 1963, when Lian Ann was only 15, 1 took him to Yugoslavia to contest the World Junior Championship for players under 20 years of age. Most of the participants were better players than I so I was hardly of use to Lian Ann as a coach, but luckily we found a good friend in Yugoslav International Master Nikola Karaklajic (pronounced Karaklaich). Nikola took a fancy to the little Singaporean and he showed him a few things he thought Lian Ann should know. In particular, Nik taught Lian Ann how to play the Centre Counter Defence, and Lian Ann adopted this defencewhenever he was given the chance to do so. “It was strange, “Nik commented later, ~‘that Lian Ann’s opponents had prepared for this defence, rightly guessing that Lian Ann had no other resource, yet once the game went beyond their preparations, Lian Ann often out-played his opponents.” In his first international tournament, Lian Ann qualified for the Final Group A of ten players, then finished in a tie for the 4th to 8th places. Many of his opponents in that event soon became grandmasters, notably the winner, Florin Gheorghiu of Rumania.

Lian Ann’s success as the leading Singapore player continued and he played Board 1 for Singapore in a number of Chess Olympiads with creditable results, the best of which was a victory over Czech Grandmaster Vastimil Hort. He also represented Singapore twice in our Zonal Championships, yielding the first place each time to Philippines’ Eugenio Torre, but qualifying for the Interzonal Tournament. These results gained Lian Ann the title of International Chess Master and the Runme Shaw Prize of $5,000. Runme also offered similar awards for the next four Singaporeans to become International Masters, and in due course, these prizes were collected in turn by Giam Choo Kwee, Lim Seng Hoo, Leslie Leow and Wong Meng Kong. In addition, Runme also offered to present the first Singapore Grandmaster with $20,000, which prize no one has ever got near to collecting. Runme’s magnanimity was shown by the following exchange between us on the occasion he made this offer.

“Mr. Shaw,” I said, “I am so sorry that every time we meet, I am asking you for money.”
“No need to apologise,” said Runme, “you are not asking money for yourself.”

It was my policy to emphasize to all young players in whom I took an interest that they should do well in their school work, otherwise to keep away from me. “First learn how to eat,” I told them, “then we can learn how to play.” Better to learn how to make a good living, I said, and be able to pay grandmasters to play for us, than to be a grandmaster living on hand-outs. This policy worked well with Lian Ann whose family was not well off. He took a degree in accountancy at the Singapore University, saved some money from his first job, then went into business as an agent for office materials. One day I asked him what his main line was and was disappointed that it was Tippex, a correcting fluid, a bottle of which lasted me for months.

“How can you make money,” 1 asked, “selling correcting fluid?” I was amazed when Lian Ann told me his monthly turnover was $50,000, for Tippex alone.
In a little over ten years Lian Ann was able to sponsor chess tournaments, and for a while was President of the Singapore Chess Federation. In this regard, Rosie commented that my chess proteges invariably qualified professionally and became men of good standing in the community. It is possible that they might have had more brilliant careers had they not been bewitched by chess, but I believe that none that I encouraged in chess was the worse off thereby

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