KUANTAN: One girl's passion for the ‘royal game’ has sparked a chess craze which is now sweeping through the once sleepy Kampung Buluh Nipis Orang Asli settlement in Bukit Ibam, Rompin.
Amy Halida Muin was first introduced to the game by her primary school teacher when she was in Standard Five and since then, there's been no turning back for the 16-year-old.
The SMK Muadzam Jaya student has represented the state four times between 2012 and 2016, and has been a regular at several open tournaments across Malaysia.
Amy Halida, from the Jakun tribe, said she owes her success to her teacher, Safri A. Razak, who introduced her to the game when she was 11 at SK Buluh Nipis, Muadzam Shah.
Safri took the effort to train her so that she could take part in competitions.
“My brother and I used to play chess occasionally at home but I never understood the game or took any interest. It was just a form of pastime. The teacher (Safri) spent between three to four hours daily to train me and tirelessly taught me tactics.
“I learned to enjoy the game and was a regular at chess competitions at school, district and state level. My first impression was chess is similar to dam (checkers).
“I never expected it to be such a competitive game with a huge international following," she said.
On April 23, she participated in the Pahang Open Chess tournament in Kuantan, where she led a team of 10 competitors from Kampung Buluh Nipis.
The youngest of five siblings, Amy Halida, who received the state-level ‘Anugerah Tunas Harapan’ award last year, said her success saw a growing popularity for the game in the settlement where most homes there now have the ubiquitous black and white chequered boards.
"I never expected it would turn into an obsession. Now you can often hear yells of "checkmate" in every corner of the village and I noticed that life for the young generation here revolves around chess.
"When I started to play, only a few took interest in the game as it was still new. Now everyone knows about the game. During school holidays or weekends, the young will challenge each other for chess games and this will keep them busy," she said.
Amy Halida said her success at school, district and state level has encouraged many of her friends to try emulate her footsteps, and try to go on to represent the state.
"Even SK Buluh Nipis has a chess club and more people are learning to play the game. No one expected the game to be famous especially in an Orang Asli village," she said, adding most of the chess terms are no longer alien to the students.
Amy Halida, whose parents are rubber tappers, said she has become selective about her tournaments this year as she will be sitting for her Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia examination next year and wants to focus on doing well.
Meanwhile, Safri said 70 percent of the pupils at SK Buluh Nipis here were no strangers to the game as he has been consistently coaching them and preparing them for tournaments.
“Amy had represented Pahang since she was in Standard Five. The school is proud to produce chess players and the game has a huge following in the village,” he said.
On April 23, Yayasan Pahang had also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Pahang Chess Association by pledging RM35,000 to be channeled annually between 2017 and 2019 to help develop the game throughout the state.
Tengku Puan Pahang Tunku Azizah Iskandariah, who was present during the Pahang Open chess tournament, witnessed the MoU signing ceremony.