Sun, 24 Nov 2002

Cerdas, star of the chess world

Musthofid, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Upon arriving at the reception area of the arrivals hall at Soekarno-Hatta Airport last Monday evening, Cerdas Barus, 41, who was seen walking at the front row of the national chess team, exclaimed,"petah! petah."

He repeated the word a few times, with his hand pointing to a black bag in his trolley. The welcome crowd, which included TV and media reporters, could not make out what he meant until his hands felt inside the bag and took out a trophy.

It turned out that what Cerdas had meant to say was "pecah", which means "broken".

The medal, which had been awarded to Cerdas as the best scoring player on board three at the Chess Olympiad in Bled, Slovenia, had a fracture on one side of its square-shaped plinth.

"It fell during our transit in Ljubljana and got broken," Kristianus Liem, a team official, said by way of explanation.

Although he showed a bit of unhappiness, overall Cerdas was enchanted. He gleefully acceded to requests for TV filming and photography, his hands busily being shaken in congratulation.

Cerdas is a gifted chess player and unique too, for apart from his flair at the chessboard, he is disabled, with a speech defect.

Communicating with him, one finds it hard to depend only on oral interaction. When he speaks, it is more like stammering. Body language must be relied on to help understand him or make oneself understood.

Knowledge about him can only be obtained through someone else, be they a player colleague or family member.

In his 40s, Cerdas is, of course, not a rising star on whom hopes for achievement can totally rely. But he appeared to have the capacity to make himself a star, as he did in Bled, Slovenia.

Cerdas was indeed the star of the Indonesian chess team, which participated at the Chess Olympiad from Oct. 24 through Nov. 10.

He collected 8.5 points from 10 rounds after winning seven and drawing three games, while the team, which comprised five players, finished in a moderate position with an overall 30 points.

The point collection has also ensured Cerdas has improved his current rating of 2479 to a level that earns him the title Grand Master.

Following the previous running of the biennial chess event, Cerdas has maintained the gold tradition of Indonesia after Utut Adianto, who is the country's number-one ace and whom the team did not play, won his gold medal on board one in Istanbul, Turkey.

Cerdas is a resilient player, according to Kristianus. "He does not lose his grip easily when under pressure. Such a quality somehow gives assurance to the rest of the team," Kristianus said.

Born on Jan. 1, 1961, in Kabanjahe, about 80 kilometers west of Medan, capital of North Sumatra province, Cerdas began to play chess seriously at the age of 15.

His first national tournament was in Bandung, West Java, in 1982 and five years later he was the champion in Palu, Central Sulawesi, a feat repeated in 1999 and 2002.

In between, he changed allegiance in 1992 from his native North Sumatra to his place of work, Jakarta.

He has entered the chess Olympiad seven times, starting in 1984. Only this year did he gain recognizably high status.

"I'm happy," he said about his achievement, as interpreted by Salor Sitanggang, a national player who is also a fellow Batak (native of North Sumatra).

Like every other player, Cerdas spends a few hours per day sharpening up his skills. "On returning from the office, he will practice for two to two-and-a-half hours every day. He will stay up late, until dawn, at times," Nurhayati Ginting, Cerdas' wife, told The Jakarta Post.

Though it is far from satisfying, Nurhayati, who has borne him three sons, said that they enjoyed the financial rewards from Cerdas' chess.

The 2002 season has seen Cerdas put in an impressive performance in a number of local tournaments, and on each occasion he was entitled to a reasonable financial prize. He also played well when other locals were unable to at an international tournament in Surabaya.

His chess skill has enabled him to work at state bank BNI, which exempts Cerdas from having to go to the office every day without fear of losing salary.

His speech defect seems to have been more than compensated for by his mental agility at the chessboard.