WHILE all eyes were focused on the SEA Games, local chess players as young as six took part in two Asian tournaments that saw Singapore crown its first international master (IM) in over 10 years.
Tin Jingyao, 15, became the second youngest ever Singaporean to attain the open age IM title, one step lower than the highest rank of grand master.
Jingyao, who ranked 30th in the world in the Under-16 age group before his latest achievement, is only a few months older than Jason Goh was when he won that title back in 2004.
Jingyao triumphed in the open under-20 division in the 16th Asean+ Age Group Chess Championships (AAG), achieving Singapore's first individual gold in that age category.
He told website Chessdom: "I am now 15 and have realistically until 18 to achieve the GM (grand master) title given the demands of school and then national service followed by university and I hope to be able to do this in the next one to two years."
The Singapore Chess Federation (SCF) made history itself by organising two major Asian international youth chess competitions back to back - the AAG from June 8 to yesterday, right after the 11th Asian Schools Chess Championships, from May 30 to June 8.
The more prestigious AAG attracted a record 448 participants from 16 countries, including China, India, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Australia and even Kazakhstan and Mongolia.
Singapore fielded 124 players from about 1,000 schoolchildren here who play chess competitively.
Players competed in three formats - standard, in which each player has 90 minutes to win the game, rapid (25 minutes) and "blitz" (five minutes).
Team Singapore came third in the overall medal tally with 11 gold medals, 11 silver and 22 bronze, behind powerhouse Vietnam (68 gold, 44 silver and 29 bronzes) and the Philippines (26 gold, 42 silver and 17 bronze).
Among the many fine performances, Singapore's Lee Qing Aun topped the Open Under-14 standard category, after nine gruelling rounds over 51/2 days, and helped his team to gold.
Noting the resurgence of chess among young Singaporeans in the last few years, SCF general secretary Lee Chien Earn, who is also Changi General Hospital's chief executive, said: "We are building a critical mass and grooming the next generation of chess champions. By 2020, we hope to get five to six new IMs."