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When you think about chess, you probably see an image of old men sitting around a café whiling away the day over friendly competitions and cups of tea. But for Heng Chamnab, chess has been his ticket to travel around Asia and meet people from all around the world.
The 23-year-old’s chess career began when he agreed to play with an older man while they were watching football at a coffee house in 2003. He was unsuccessful in his first effort but, rather than give up on the pastime, he decided to devote himself to it. “I promised myself that I would challenge him and I began to play every day,” said the young chess champion.
Heng Chamnab, who is a skilled player in Khmer, Chinese and Western-style chess, joined a competition in 2008 where he beat out Cambodian counterparts to win the privilege of representing Cambodia in a chess competition in China with players from 32 other countries. He followed that up with a trip to Singapore to represent Cambodia in a 16-country tournament. Although he didn’t win either competition, he reached the semi-finals and says he will continue to improve his skills to prepare for future opportunities to assert his domination over chess players throughout the region.
“I was a bit disappointed but excited to meet chess champions from all over the world,” said Heng Chamnab, who is significantly younger than most of his competitors, most of whom are well over 30.
Chess is often compared to fighting a war, since players have to strategise many steps ahead when planning their attack, but the skills required to play chess have also been widely recognised as a good way of increasing your intellectual and problem-solving skills, and Heng Chamnab is no exception. “I have to move the chess pieces carefully and think 10 steps in advance to be aware of when I have to attack or withdraw,” he said.
Besides establishing himself as the county’s most promising chess player, Heng Chamnab is also a fourth-year student studying English literature at the Institute of Foreign Languages and fisheries at the Royal University of Agriculture. He says that despite his success playing chess, he hopes to start a career in fisheries or teaching English upon graduating next year.
But he will still work on becoming a chess champion. This November he will head off to China and Malaysia for this year’s regional Chinese chess tournaments. “I strongly hope that I will win now that I have had some experience,” he said.