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My doubts about pursuing a difficult and often unrewarding career in medicine were tossed aside when my mentor Professor Lim Kok Ann admonished me and said, “Chess is for fun. You need a proper job to eat.”


Family patterns run deep. I was taught by dad (Dr Wong Yip Chong) not to eat the chess pieces at age three, and played my first tournament at age eight. My elder brothers preceded me in being chess champions (Dr Wong Meng Cheong, Western Australia Junior Champion 1977; Dr  Wong Meng Leong, Singapore National Champion 1985). I was fortunate to qualify to represent Singapore in the Asian Zonals in 1978 aged 14, enjoyed missing school and travelling, and have never looked back. Before joining medical school, I was a medium ranking chess player with a modest ELO rating of 2285 and an international master title from the World Chess Federation, and the honour of being the only Singaporean to win a World chess event (Asian Junior Championship 1979). My doubts about pursuing a difficult and often unrewarding career in medicine were tossed aside when my mentor Professor Lim Kok Ann admonished me and said, “Chess is for fun. You need a proper job to eat.” 

Many of my chess contemporaries are full-time players leading a nomadic lifestyle. Most players spend most of the year oblivious to suitcases and hotel rooms roaming from one tournament town to another. Others stay away from home to avoid being a tax resident. Unlike most, I have persisted in tournament chess part-time, by trying to get leave from school and work, and have over the years competed (and eaten) my way through Ito, Japan (sashimi), Vinkovci, Yugoslavia (zagrebski odrezak) (Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia), Sas-van-gent, Holland (salads), Sivakasi, India (mango chutney), Penang, Malaysia (Penang laksa), Lucerne, Switzerland (good scenery), Thessaloniki, Greece (ouzi), Oakham, England (lager/cider), Dubai, United Arab Emirates (nut, raisin & saffron flavoured rice), Sydney, Australia (kangaroo), Beijing, China (cold cuts & jellyfish in vinegar), Manila, Philippines (kamayan seafood) and Yerevan, Armenia (armenian kebabs). The drawback of the part-time status is that my theoretical knowledge is almost always outdated, as by the time I get to the next tournament, the openings have changed.

In the 1992 Manila Olympiad (World Team Championships), Singapore was seeded two below the middle of the list, pairing us with second seed England. Statistically we had an expectancy of 0.25 out of 4 (50% chance of drawing one game, and losing the other three). We had been in an upbeat mood having managed to muster three (Leslie Leow, Tan Lian Ann) of the then five international masters to the team, with our then National Champion, now also International Master, and final year NUS medical student Hsu Li Yang on third board. Leslie (son of Dr OC Leow) on first board had not arrived yet, so I was paired with world top-twenty Jonathan Speelman (GM, ELO 2610) who was formerly a mathematics professor at Oxford, eventually quitting to do something even more esoteric. Using theory from the pirc/modern opening book he wrote, my maverick streak beckoned to me to give the game my best shot.

I know that most of our readers will be able to follow the moves, as there are a number of formidable players in our fraternity. (Wong - Speelman, Manila (ol) 1992, Pirc: two knights) 1.d4 d6 2.e4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.Be3 c6 5.Qd2 Nbd 7 6.a4 Ng4 7.Bg5 h6 8.Bh4 Qa5 9.Be2 Ngf6 10.Nf3 Bg7 11.0-0 g5 12.Bg3 Nh5 13.b4 Qc7 14.a5 0-0 15.Ra3 Rb8 Nd1 Ndf6 17.e5 Ng3 18.fxg3 dxe5 19.Ne5 Be6 20.h4 Rbd8 21.Rd3 c5 22.bxc5 Rxd4 23.Rxd4 Qxe5 24.Nf2 Qxc5 25.hxg5 hxg5 26.Rb1 a6 Rb 7 Bd5 Rbb4 e5 29.Rbc4 Bxc4 30.Rxc4Qa3 31.Qg5 Qxa5 32.Nd3 Qb6 33.Kh2 e4 34.Nf4 a5 35.Rc5 Ra8 36.Rb5 Qc7 37.Rc5 Qd8 38.Bc4 (see diagram) I had just gone from twenty minutes left down to two, with Dr Speelman having seven, and in that seemingly endless few moments, I was hoping that my made-in-Singapore neural network was sufficiently supplemented by Asian discipline and determination - were my exhaustive calculations water-tight? Or would the grandmaster spin an unseen complication, and would I be the shame of the nation for letting him go? After 38...Qd7 39.Rf5. he appeared stunned, as the g4 square is covered andf6. f7 and g6 are weak. 39...Qd4 40.Nh5 Nh7 41.Qg6 Kh8 42.Rf7 Nf8 43.Qg4 e3 44.Qh3 Nh7 45.Ng7 Qc4 46.Ne6 Qe4 47.Ng5 and he graciously resigned. The full impact of the win came later. I had smiles from many of the Asian players, and felt their joy in knowing that Asian chess will be able to challenge the stranglehold that greater Europe has on the chess world in the past century.

Medicine has helped my chess, both in developing attention to detail, and in refining problem focussed analysis. Chess has in turn helped my psychiatry, in being reminded that there are alternative realities to be tested, and quite often one is wrong. Psychiatry has helped my medicine, by expanding the necessarily subjective psycho-social dimension of human suffering, and reinforcing the holistic approach.  

MBBS (S’pore), MRCPsych(UK)

Correspondence to:
2/F Yung Fung Shee Psychiatric Centre
79 Cha Kwo Ling Road, Kwun Tong, 
Kowlooon, Hong Kong