Battle of the sexes at int'l chess open in Vietnam

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The decision by the organizers of the HDBank Cup, an international chess tournament in Ho Chi Minh City, to allow pairings between male and female players has provided for some electric match-ups.

One of the most interesting pair-ups on the first day of the contest on January 4 was a clash between Pham Le Thao Nguyen and her boyfriend Nguyen Ngoc Truong Son, who won the Under-10 world championship in Spain in 2000.

Table No.2, where Grandmaster Son (Elo rating 2628) played against Nguyen (Elo rating 2343), became the center of attention right from the beginning of the competition, which was held at the Rex Hotel in downtown Ho Chi Minh City.

Some players gently ribbed Son on his pairing. "Don't go easy on your girlfriend," they said, as Son just smiled and Nguyen looked shyly at her boyfriend.

Son and Nguyen then put on their game faces and went to battle. Nguyen launched a number of dangerous attacks, putting Son in a difficult position several times.

Surprisingly, the match ended in a tie, a moral victory for the underdog Nguyen.

Another highly-anticipated clash will be the match between Nguyen Thi Thanh An and her husband, Tong Thai Hung.

Although they didn't meet in the first round, Thanh An said it is likely that she will eventually play against her husband.

The couple sent their child to stay with Thanh An's mother for the duration of the event.

An, who won the women's title at the Southeast Asian Individual championships in Singapore last month, said the match will be "very interesting."

"I practice playing chess with my husband often, and we understand our strengths and weaknesses very well. This will be the first time we'll meet at an international tournament."

Apart from these two matches, there will be some other interesting match-ups between members of the Vietnamese national team.

On the men's side are Grandmaster Le Quang Liem (Elo rating 2689, ranked 44th in the world), Truong Son, Cao Sang and Anh Dung, while Thanh An, Thao Nguyen and 16-year-old Mai Hung are on the women's side.

Mai Hung won the women's gold medal at the sixth national physical training and sports tournament that ended in Da Nang late last month.

On the first day of the HDBank Cup, Mai Hung (Elo rating 2266) upset Nguyen Anh Dung (Elo rating 2508).

Another surprise came from Vietnamese female player Hong An (Elo rating 2006) when she defeated Southeast Asia's number one female player Sukandar Irine Kharisma from Indonesia.

With an Elo rating of 2382, Sukandar Kharisma is the highest ranked female player at the event.

The HDBank Cup is officially sanctioned by the world chess federation, FIDE. This year's tournament attracted 30 Vietnamese players and 35 foreign players from China, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Ukraine, South Africa and the Philippines.

The players are set to play nine round-robin games before the event ends on Sunday January 9.

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