The right moves to reach the top


AIMING HIGH: Nguyễn Thiên Ngân (left) competing in a local chess tournament. She expects to be a Grandmaster before she is 20. Photo

Thanh Hà

An un-seeded teenager has added yet another gold to her rich collection of medals after triumphing at the recent National Chess Championships’ blitz chess contest in HCM City.

It was an amazing result for Nguyễn Thiên Ngân, 16, in an event that attracts the country’s best masters, who are all of world standard.

Ngân now has nearly 200 medals of all colours, including two golds she grabbed at the World Youth Rapid and Blitz Chess Championships in 2019 in Spain.

The rising star is part of a talented new generation of Vietnamese chess players making a mark at international tournaments.

A decade in the game

Born in the northern province of Thái Nguyên in 2005, Ngân was introduced to chess when she was five.

“A teacher at the kindergarten asked if anyone wanted to play chess,” her father Nguyễn Thành Công recalled. “Ngân had no idea what chess was, but still put her hand up. After two weeks of practice, we were told she has some ability and had quickly learned the pieces and the moves they could make.”

“Months later, when she was still in Grade 1, she joined the school team to compete at the Thái Nguyên City Sports Games 2011, and surprisingly won the 6-9 age group. It was her first-ever title.”

That summer, the little six-year-old took part in the National Junior Chess Championships, where she finished 30th. Far from disappointed, the result pushed her to spend more time and effort improving her play.

Công said that chess has given Ngân self-discipline and a sense of responsibility.

“She always plans out her day,” he said. “She has become accustomed to solving problems and only asks for support when there is no other option. And she becomes better and stronger after each loss.”

As chess is not that popular in Thái Nguyên and good players are few and far between, Công decided they would take the 200-km return trip to Hà Nội every weekend so that Ngân could attend classes by Grandmaster Bùi Vinh and compete in tournaments.

When she was in Grade 3, though, Công’s job meant he couldn’t go with her every weekend. So Ngân started taking the bus to the capital on her own.

“I was a bit scared at first because everyone on the bus was stranger,” she remembered. “But I told myself it would be okay.”

TAKING ON THE WORLD: Ngân (centre) at the Youth Rapid and Blitz Chess Championships in 2019, where she won two titles for Việt Nam. Photo

Six years on, she still regularly takes the bus to Hà Nội, leaving on Saturday and returning on Sunday. After classes and competitions, she spends Saturday night with relatives, family friends, or teammates.

At the National Sports Games in 2016, Ngân, then aged 11, grabbed a silver and a bronze. She also made the national team for the Southeast Asian Championships in the U12 category. Her gold was key to her receiving the ASEAN master title.

A year later she took bronze at the world youth championships.

“Ngân is special,” said Nguyễn Hồng Tuyên, her first coach. “She is independent, decisive, and smart. She competes in six or seven tournaments a year and always seems to win a medal.”

“She also has a unique sense of play that surprises me and other masters. She can change a situation in a game with just a few smart moves, and then checkmates her opponent. She has an ironclad mind and is confident. I’ve never ever seen her flinch.”

Coach Tuyên always thought Ngân could go far in chess but never imagined she would see the success she did at the age of 14. For her father, it was beyond his wildest dreams.

She picked up three golds, one silver, and one bronze at the Asian Youth Chess Championship in Sri Lanka in 2019, then won four titles at the Southeast Asian Youth Chess Championships in Myanmar.

With these results, she was awarded the Women’s FIDE Master title.

In September of the same year, she was among 14 Vietnamese players to travel to Spain for the Youth Rapid and Blitz Chess Championships.

After four days of competition, Ngân was champion in both the rapid and blitz game in the U14 category. Her defeated opponents included No 1 seed Van Foreest Machteld from the Netherlands and No 3 seed Liya Kurmangaliyeva from Kazakhstan.

“I couldn’t believe I was the best player and had won gold,” she said. “I was so proud to hear the national anthem and see the national flag being flown.”

Upon returning home, she was honoured with a Certificate of Merit from Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc.

And she was one of Thái Nguyên Province’s delegates at the 10th National Patriotic Emulation Congress in Hà Nội last December.

EFFORTS RECOGNISED: Ngân received a Certificate of Merit from the Prime Minister for her contribution to chess in Việt Nam. Photo

Grandmaster Vinh, who coaches Ngân in Hà Nội, appreciates her determination and sacrifice.

“It’s not easy for even an adult to star in a sport that involves travelling such long distances, but Ngân does it,” he said. “She always comes down to Hà Nội for my class, no matter how bad the weather is. She is hard-working and gives her best every time.

“I know she doesn’t have much time for her family and friends or other interests. She deserves every win that comes her way.”

“She needs more support,” he added, “to take part in international tournaments to improve her technique and ranking.”

Despite being busy with tournaments, which are held year round, Ngân has always kept up with her school studies.

A lover of literature, she hopes to become a journalist in the future, but before that she targets becoming an International Grandmaster before the age of 20. VNS

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