It's Christmas today. And until New Year's day, the Al Ain Hilton and InterContinental hotels will be home to 30 teams participating in the first Asia Club Cup thanks to Sheikh Sultan Bin Khalifah Al-Nehyan, President of the Asia Chess Federation.
Frankly I am mentally and physically exhausted after almost non-stop travel including most recently attending the Chess Olympiad in Dresden followed by coaches seminars in Bali and Sri Lanka and then to return home to organise the KL Open Championship, so what do I do for rest but end up here in Al Ain, UAE as part of an quickly put together ASEAN team under the Club INTCHESS banner playing in the first Asia Club Cup!
I am the captain and Board 4 of a team that is surprisingly seeded eighth with GM Bui Vinh of Vietnam, IM Julio Catalino Sadorra of the Philippines, IM Tirto of Indonesia the "serious" players and owner Ignatius Leong of Singapore, like me, the old "patzers" trying to hold up the last board between us.
Our competition? Well, for example the top seeded Al Ain Chess Club has an average rating of 2679 and GM Li Chao of China is only the alternate! And in the second favourite team, GM Ghaem Maghami Ehsan is on second board for the Teheran Chess Club but is actually only the fourth ranked player on the team. We also have essentially the national teams of China, Philippines, Uzbekistan and Vietnam ranked third to sixth.
More relevantly, the team seeded above us, the Chennai Chess Club is well ahead of us with 4 IM's averaging 2432, and the Mongolian team just below us is not too different from their national side as well! So with me as the weak link (Ignatius Leong will only be around a few days), on paper at least we seem to have a chance and are of course hoping to win our group by finishing seventh!
Yes, the enduring optimism of chess players which often suspends reality! Such is the beauty of chess competition. And who knows, Christmas is a season of giving (and so some must be receiving!).