Thu, 27 Apr 2000

Zaw braces to fight top players at JAPFA

By Ivy Susanti

SANUR, Bali (JP): Being the only International Master (IM) in the 16th category JAPFA Classic International Chess Tournament does not frighten Zaw Win Lay.

With an elo rating of 2633, Zaw's name does not jump out of the list of competitors, comprising mostly top world champions with elo ratings ranging from 2510 to 2696. And the father of two has yet to prove himself at the tournament, being held at the Grand Bali Beach hotel from April 22 to May 2.

After four rounds, Zaw has earned 0.5 match points, the fewest of the nine world-class competitors.

"I'm in last place, but I must try my best and keep my fighting spirit," he told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday, which was an off day for the participants.

Zaw was pleased to be challenging chess' living legend, Grand Master Anatoly Karpov of Russia, who was the FIDE world champion from 1975 to 1985, and then again from 1993 to 1999.

"Karpov is my favorite chess player. I'm happy to be able to play here because I can meet world champions, including Karpov," he said.

For Zaw, Karpov is still the world champion, despite the fact that the 48-year-old relinquished his title to GM Alexander Khalifman at the 1999 FIDE world championship in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Karpov is known as the world's greatest chess player. He has won more than 140 large tournaments during his professional career and has his name in the Guinness Book of World Records. Zaw will face Karpov, whose elo rating is 2696, in the eighth round on Sunday.

Indonesia's top player GM Ruben Gunawan, who was present during the interview, said Zaw had copied Karpov's playing style, at which Zaw merely laughed.

Zaw was born in Pagokku, Myanmar, on Oct. 22, 1963, the ninth of 10 children. He picked up chess from one of his brothers.

"I love chess. My brother taught me how to play it, but he rarely plays. He's just an ordinary player," he said.

He said he taught himself the finer points of the game. "I have neither an adviser or a trainer. I learned the game myself through books."

Zaw is married to Daw Khin Hynn, 40, an elementary school teacher, and the couple have two daughters, Hai Mar Hynn Zaw, 9, and Ei Thunder Zaw, 5. "It was one of my sister who introduced me to Daw."

Zaw graduated from Mandalay University in 1985, where he studied history. He now works for Myanmar's Ministry of Agriculture. He said most chess players in his country were also farmers.

Zaw earned a Grand Master title after playing 24 matches in several GM norm tournaments, including the 1998 TMW GM Chess Tournament in Yangon, where he finished third, and the 1999 Yangon GM, where he placed first in the group event. However, FIDE has yet to ratify his title.

Although he has faced off against many top players, Zaw has never played in Europe or the United States.

There are currently four International Master in Myanmar, while Zaw is the only GM.


As the country's top chess player, Zaw is sponsored by Maung Maung Lwin, the managing director at Salwwin Co., Ltd., which also has a branch in Thailand.

"I don't regularly receive my allowance from the sponsor. It's the government who pays my salary," he said.

Zaw shied away from discussing politics. "I'm not interested in politics. Only sports."

Myanmar has been ruled by the military since 1962. The current regime, run by the State Law and Order Reconciliation Council, came to power in 1988 by suppressing an uprising against military rule, leaving thousands dead.

The government changed the name of the country from Burma to Myanmar in 1989 to acknowledge the country's non-Burmese ethnic groups, and renamed the capital Yangon.