Today, a few generations of Singaporean chess players made their way to the Olive Room in Metropolitan YMCA for the opening ceremony of the QCD-Prof Lim Kok Ann Grandmasters Invitational 2018 event. The sponsors, the press, masters and grandmasters, top juniors, chess convenors, members of the current and past Singapore Chess Federation Exco got together to witness the commencement of Singapore’ first GM norm event for 21 years.

 IM Chan Peng Kong, IM Tan Lian Ann, NM Choong Liong On, Watson Tay and FM Ignatius Leong

Feuds were forgotten (if temporarily), old acquaintances were renewed, former national champions and representatives of decades ago sparred with the current cream of Singapore youth chess (we knew the chess sets we put there would come in handy…).

IM Kevin Goh, CM Quek Suan Shiau, FM Ignatius Leong and Lim Chye Lye

CM Dr Shashi Jayakumar, FM Ashvin Sivakumar, NM Oey Liang Hien

The organizing chairman of the event, Dr Mark Liew started off with the opening address, thanking the guest of honour, Prof Lim’s daughter Stella Kon and his most prominent protégé, IM Tan Lian Ann and his wife Jane for gracing the occasion. His speech can be seen from the preceding post.

Following that, the emcee, Dexter Lee presented ‘Professor Lim Kok Ann, the man, his feats and his legacy’, a Powerpoint slideshow which details his endeavours which led the chess fraternity to name him ‘Father of Singapore Chess’.

Dexter Lee, Emcee of the Opening Ceremony, beginning the presentation

When I did the research for the slideshow, I was staggered by how much more Prof had done for Singapore Chess than I had realized. Here’s the text of the presentation.

(Start of Presentation Speech)

We would like to show you a presentation on what Professor Lim Kok Ann has done for Singapore chess.  His name is synonymous with local chess during my generation and the one before mine.  But some of you here probably know him by reputation only.  So let me take you down the garden path to explain why Prof Lim is considered the father of Singapore Chess.

Lim Kok Ann was born in Singapore and lived in Emerald Hill Road in his early years.  He was, however, brought up in the household of his grandfather, the illustrious Dr Lim Boon Keng in Amoy, China.

Dr Lim Boon Keng was then the President of the Amoy University. He wore many hats, as we all know.  He was a medical doctor, legislator, scholar, educator, entrepreneur, community leader, social reformer and philanthropist.

When Lim Kok Ann was 7 years old, he couldn’t speak a word of English but that didn’t stop him from learning quickly and he went on to win the first Seow Poh Leng medal for the top ACS student (given to the best O Level students).

He also received the prestigious Queen’s Scholarship in 1938, like his grandfather who achieved the feat in 1887.

Prof Lim married Rosie Seow (a great granddaughter of Tan Tok Seng and daughter of Seow Poh Leng) in 1942. She shared his passion for the arts and was an accomplished actress.

Prof Lim had an illustrious medical career. A news report quoted him as ‘a teacher who could make the subject clear, interesting and relevant to their needs’. He was also renowned as a Snooker whiz and of course, chess champion in the University.

The isolation of the Asian flu virus was a significant event in Prof’s illustrious professional career.   Prof, however, gave full credit to all who worked on his team as well as the health officer who drew his attention to the Asian Flu when it broke out.

Prof taught chess in Bartley Secondary where his wife was a school teacher then.  There, he devised the Bartley System of chess training in 1955.   Through Prof’s tireless promotion, it moved to other schools. He organized classes for school teachers on how to run chess clubs and conduct tournaments and chess found its place as an extra-curricular activity in Singapore schools.

Prof and his contemporaries, some of whom are present today, moved on to establish chess in the Community centres, starting with Kreta Ayer CC. Gradually, chess found its place in CCs such as Joo Chiat, MacPherson, Cairnhill, Kampung Kapor, Queenstown, Buona Vista, Kuo Chuan, Marine Parade, Bukit Panjang, Tiong  Bahru and Toa Payoh.

He also promoted chess tirelessly, going to schools, community centres, national libraries, country clubs and hotels to give talks, training games, lessons and game demonstrations.

Prof has taught chess in this very location…which was then known as the Chinese YMCA in 1946. In 1974, it was renamed Metropolitan YMCA. So you can see how appropriate this place is for a QCD-Prof Lim Kok Ann Grandmasters event.

Prof wrote hundreds of chess articles in the Straits times, the New Nation and The Singapore Free Press.  He used his columnist status to teach chess in a “Learn Chess” series spanning more than 60 weekly lessons over two years.

He also covered many chess interest articles from human chess pieces, postal chess, chess greats such as Fischer, Keres, Spassky, Karpov and even topics such as Sportsmanship and Hustling in chess.

Prof also used his articles to raise funds for tournaments, chess tours or simply to send a promising team or junior abroad to get international competition exposure.

Of course, tournament reports and results were chronicled. Prof also celebrated Singapore’s chess successes with the nation, especially when Tan Lian Ann came in 2nd in an Australian international open and when he became an international master and when Terence Wong came in 2nd in the World Cadets.

Prof stirred up chess interest with witty, catchy headlines for his articles… The left one has Prof indicating school chess champions get paid for neglecting their studies for chess.  The centre article, entitled “These chess players do not observe ‘Touch Move’ rule. , was about blind chess players (he went to the Singapore School for the Blind to teach them).

In the article on the right, instead of writing that our juniors are getting stronger, he chose to write there were fewer rabbits in schools today.

Prof also started the Singapore Chess Bulletin with his ‘kakis’ in 1963, and in every issue a different colour scheme and this magazine circulated for more than 15 years.

Apart from chess analysis, game scores, tournament results and rating lists, Prof’s sense of humour can be seen in the magazine advertisements.

For example, if you want to remain an ayam (or chicken) don’t read Australia’s Chess World.

To play like the Latvian chess wizard Tal, use Tiger Balm.

And…Invest in Chung Khiaw Bank as its cheques are as reliable as Tan Lian Ann’s checks on the chessboard.

Even right into his 70s, he could play at 2000+ ELO level.

In the above game against a future national champion, he unleashed a flank pawn sacrifice to wreck White’s centre, then punted an e4-clearance sacrifice to get an e5-knight outpost before sending all his troops to the kingside for the kill.

Prof also represented Singapore in 5 Chess Olympiads though he stood out in Nice as a non-playing 2nd reserve.

Prof also organised many local chess events – often as a one-man or one-family operation.

In local terms, we call this Prof Lim’s  ‘pao-kah-leow’ style of running local chess tournaments.

A Straits times article celebrating his 60 birthday noted that for a tournament in the 1950s…Prof Lim personally sent out the announcements, drew up the pairings, carried all the chess sets, clocks and score sheets to the venue.

Then, often helped by his wife and children, he arranged chairs and tables and told everyone where to sit, explained the rules, rang the starting and closing bells, answered all the queries, settled the disputes, collated the results, handed out all the prizes, and wrote the reports.

Incidentally, we got an email from his daughter, our Guest of Honour, Ms Stella Kon who reminisced about the very same thing in her email to us!

Methinks she can recall so well because she helped Prof to run the show back then.

In the 1970s, Prof started to extend his chess services beyond Singapore and Malaysia.

These are some of his most significant of his assignments.

He was FIDE Zone 10 President in the 1970s, appointed Chief Juror in the infamous Karpov vs Korchnoi Battle of Baguio World Championships match, served as FIDE General secretary in the 80s, and was appointed the Chief Arbiter of the 1992 Manila Chess Olympiad, whom many feel is the best chess Olympiad ever organized.

Prof nurtured, sponsored, chaperoned, gave training materials to, advised and played training matches with many young juniors and a number of them have gone on to attain titles.

If the players cannot go to the training centres, he will simply go to their homes armed with his chess set and books.

More often than not, he will just fund their trips (and their parents’) to overseas events from his own pocket,.

Among those Prof had helped are IM Tan Lian Ann, GM Wong Meng Kong, FM Jeremy Lim, IM Hsu Li Yang, IM Leslie Leow, NM Pang Kwok Leong, WFM Yip Fong Ling, FM Mark Chan, IM Goh Wei Ming, just to name a few of the hundreds.

According to his daughter Stella, Prof had also raised millions of dollars for Singapore chess.

The funds came firstly from his grandfather Lim Boon Keng in the early years.

Subsequently, Singapore’s chess funds were garnered through Prof’s contacts such as ST Lee, Datuk Tan Chin Tuan, Lien Yin Chow (OUB), Dato Aw Cheng Chye, Dato Robin Loh.

Big brand names such as Yuen Hwa (HICEE), National (Mashushita), Green Spot, Chung Khiaw Bank, Yeo Hiap Seng and Eu Aun Tong (Tiger Balm) were featured in Singapore’s chess magazines, bulletins, campaign pamplets.

It is our hope that the chess fraternity will, just as in this event, contribute to chess excellence by putting aside funds for future Invitational Master and Grandmaster events.

Apart from the very generous donation from the Lim family to continue his chess legacy of helping Singapore’s promising young masters, Prof’s grandson, Bernard Carleton Lim has initiated a PUBXCHESS meetup for chessers interested in a pint or two, networking and blitz matches. It is now into its 22nd edition.

We are sure Prof would have approved of this initiative as you can see him filling his glass of stout midway thru a Marathon Chess festival.

Thank you for your time. Now, we would like to present a token of our appreciation to the Lim family for extending Prof’s chess legacy into the 21st century and, hopefully, beyond.

Sources for presentation material: Singapore Chess, A History, 1945-1990 (Dr S.Jayakumar and O.Urcan), NewspaperSg website archives, Stella Kon and Giam Choo Kwee.

(End of Presentation Speech)

SCF President Christopher Lim and Dr Mark Liew presenting a plaque of appreciation to Stella

A tribute plaque to thank the Lim family for continuing Prof Lim’s legacy (by co-sponsoring the event) was presented to Ms Stella Kon by Mark and Singapore Chess Federation President Chris Lim.


Stella Kon, our Guest of Honour sharing with us Prof’s involvement in chess from a daughter’s perpective


Stella addressed the crowd and indicated she was touched by the presentation and that she remembered how Prof painstakingly put together chess sets for the blind with its raised and lowered squares as well as helping Prof with set up the event in the 50s. She also recalled him helping the Chinese women’s team with training requirements when he was already in his 70s.

It was refreshment time for the audience as the GM norm event participants made their way back to the Palm Room to begin Round 1.  But chess players being chess players, gravitated towards the chessboards and it was heartening to see our young talents pit their wits against their older contemporaries.

NM Choong Liong On vs FM Ashvin Sivakumar

Dexter Lee vs Zachary Chia

Dr Nithiananthan vs Siew Kaixin

FM Ong Chong Ghee

FM Ignatius Leong vs CM Goh Zihan

We would like to end this article with a Prof Lim Kok Ann quote pointed out by Dexter at the end of the presentation – “Singapore’s welfare and survival depends on our own intellectual and social skills­ not manpower numbers but on brain power. Moreover, mere technological know­how would not be sufficient, you need wisdom too. A chess player learns to develop his mental skills wisdom comes from within by interaction with other chess players”.

Today, we saw a social gathering of the chess fraternity (from  kids of 9 years  to those in their 70s)  coming together to commemorate the feats of a great Singapore chess legend and fittingly, they matched their wits over the chessboards before making their way to witness Round 1 of the first GM norm event in Singapore for two decades.

Dexter Lee and GM Timur Gareyev

IM Tan Lian Ann, Stella Kon and NM Choong Liong On

WIM Gong Qianyun, IM Irine Sukandar and IM Goh Wei Ming