New Zealand chess flourishes with Papatoetoe Rapid Junior and Open
New Zealand has a chess scene that is still in its infancy. The country has only one grandmaster and six international masters, however, it is seeing an increase in the number of younger chess players. Almost all chess players are able to practice and improve their skills with the help of regional clubs. Each club with its own committee organises tournaments, sometimes amidst other clubs, and continue the cycle of introducing new players to the game. One such club in a suburb in Auckland called Paptoetoe held two tournaments on 2nd and 3rd December, one of them an Open category and the other a Junior section. Read on to find out more
As someone who is used to the mega-tournaments that take place in India like most of us are, I decided to visit the 7th Papatoetoe Junior Rapid to get a glimpse of the event myself. It was an astounding experience!
The chief organizer for the event and the current club president is CM Stan Yee, and the arbiters for the event were IA Keong Ang and NA Barry Hooton. Also present was the previous president of the club John McRae, who held the role for 30 years. I got a chance to speak with them and get an idea of how the club came to be and what the organizations aspirations are with the tournament. What they had to say certainly added a new dimension to how chess grows in New Zealand.
The winner of the event was Jin Yanbo, rated 1731, finishing with 5.5/6. He took home a cash prize and a trophy of $100 NZD (₹5,068 INR).
Chess has changed greatly since the birth of these chess clubs, but more so in the last 20 years. More veteran players at clubs become coaches for younger players to continue the cycle. Schools in nearby regions are prime areas for teaching chess, sometimes upto 100 players in each. Covid dramatically decreased club attendances to worrisome amounts, yet this year has seen a resurgence in player counts. The Papatoetoe club reports 87 entries in the last weekend, up from the 50 or so entries that were common during and after COVID.
"One of the things I miss the most about the clubs, " says John, "are some of the competitions with neighbouring clubs, such as Hamilton and Te Awamutu. This was in the mid '70s to 1982, when they were stopped." Unfortunately, the stint meant fewer visitors from the south, however, the scene with northern clubs, especially Auckland, is growing stronger by the day.
One such example is FM Alphaeus Ang, who defeated IM Russell John Dive in the Open category. He is one of the stronger players in recent years in the region, with a great chance to become an IM in the eyes of the organizers. Naturally, with younger talents and more players, the prize funds have also increased at tournaments, with prizes up to $350 NZD for the winner, aside from category prize winners.
Overall, it put chess into a smaller context than I usually see it. It is an appreciable effort taken by the organizers to encourage more players in a welcoming environment. We hope that New Zealand continues to see a spread in the love for chess and see a wave of new chess players. The link to the results and more information on the chess club can be found here.