Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Chhoy Vira stuck in stalemate

Chhoy Vira stuck in stalemate

Chhoy Vira stuck in stalemate

Chhoy Vira makes a move during a friendly Cambodian chess game at the Rong Roeung Sea Lareach coffee shop Wednesday.

The Kingdom’s best Cambodian chess player yearns for better opponents after beating every local challenger and dreams of travelling abroad to play masters

CHHOY Vira became a legend amongst his peers in the world of Cambodian chess when he won the first-ever National Championships last year. For his efforts, the 30-year-old received a gold medal, and a cash prize of US$1,000.

Since then, Chhoy Vira has struggled to find local opponents who can challenge him and dreams of playing in regional and world tournaments. “This is not me being boastful, but I really want to play against real opponents,” he said. “Especially with chess players from ASEAN nations because I cannot step up to the world level directly.”

The champ is a regular at Rong Roeung Sea Lareach coffee shop near Tuol Kork market, a popular haunt for local chess masters. But in recent years, Chhoy Vira has played there infrequently, preferring to eat and drink and watch other people playing, rather than rattle off a succession of easy victories.

Chhoy Vira cannot find worthy opponents in non-human form either. “Chess computers were created by man,” he remarks. “They can calculate the next seven steps. But me, I can know what happens in the next eight steps.”

Cambodian chess, or ouk chaktrung, is similar to Western chess, with slight variants in rules and starting setup. The game dates back to the early Angkorian era in AD800, and can be seen depicted in bas reliefs on Angkorian temples such as Angkor Wat and the Bayon.

Chhoy Vira says fate played a role in introducting him to the game, after his family moved from Kampong Cham to Phnom Penh. “In 1994, when I was 14 years old, destiny sent me to meet my master, Ponlok,” he recalled. “We shared the same interests, and he accepted me to be his student.

“And one year later, we started together the mission to find chess players all across Phnom Penh,” he stated, adding that Ponlok had learnt the game from Master Lak, who had been awarded a golden medal in Cambodian chess during the Sangkum Reastr Niyum regime (1954-70) of Norodom Sihanouk. By 1999, Chhoy’s reputation as the man to beat in Cambodian chess was cemented.

Tragically, Master Ponlok died in a road accident in 2006. “I will always respect him, even if I beat him many times, because without him I could not have reached the success I have,” Chhoy Vira noted, with a smile.

Chhoy compares strategies in the game of chess to strategies of war battles. “When I play, I always consider myself as top leader in the Kingdom,” he reveals. “Sometimes, I have to put the fishes [pawns] in danger as we let some infantry die. And then, we try our best to destroy the military camp before killing the rival king.”

He also showed his admiration for the leadership of Prime Minister Hun Sen. “Like playing chess, [Hun Sen] led the country with a view to the future. He knew well the positive and negative steps to take in advance. So that’s why Cambodia has developed a lot under his direction.”

The Cambodian champion can play play other forms of chess, including Russian and international, but said he doesn’t like playing under Chinese rules. After clinching the title in 2008, Chhoy Vira formed a strong relationship with the National Olympic Committee (NOC) and the Cambodian Chess Federation. Vat Chamroeun, recently appointed general secretary of the NOC, wanted Chhoy Vira to form an association, with the objective of increasing the number of competitions of Cambodian chess, and helping locals reach international level.

“I really want the people of the world know the strength of Cambodian chess players, alongside ones from India, Bulgaria and Russia,” Chhoy Vira said. “I’m not saying I’m the best one, but I won’t hesitate if someone presents me with the opportunity to play against other champions in the world.”

Suy Sopheap is a friend of Chhoy Vira from the local chess circuit.

“I believe that Vira could gain victory in international tournaments,” Suy Sopheap said. “The way that he plays is so complicated, I don’t understand his methods. It’s difficult to find his weakness.”

Sea Lareach, owner of the chess coffee shop, appreciates the talents of Chhoy Vira. “When he plays, many people come to my shop,” he said.
However, playing chess is not a profession for Chhoy Vira, and following his graduation with a bachelor’s degree in accounting in 2006, he started work with his brother. Chhoy Vira remains happy to teach others who want to learn from him, suggesting that retention of knowledge also depends on the fate of the person.


  • Over $3M in traffic fines collected in two months

    Traffic police officers collected over $3 million in fines throughout the Kingdom during the past two months when officers strictly enforced the law in accordance with a May sub-decree, officials said. As incentives, law enforcement officers received between 200,000 and two million riel ($50 to $500) each. The figures

  • More than 10,000 workers suspended

    More than 10,000 workers at 18 factories in Svay Rieng province have been suspended because of Covid-19, said provincial deputy governor Ros Pharith. Home to 11 special economic zones, Pharith said Svay Rieng has not been spared as the pandemic takes a toll on the global economy. “There

  • Accused not treated equally, says CCHR

    The Cambodia Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) has urged the Court of Appeal to do more to ensure that an accused’s right to a fair trial is fully respected. In a bulletin released on Monday, the CCHR said it had monitored 273 cases at the

  • Investors’ $14.4M projects approved

    New investments from local and foreign sources continue to pour into Cambodia despite the Covid-19 pandemic remaining a lingering threat to regional and global economies. This comes as the Kingdom’s gross domestic product (GDP) is expected to contract between one and 2.9 per cent this

  • NagaWorld casinos set to reopen, schools to follow

    NAGACORP Ltd has requested that it be allowed to reopen its NagaWorld integrated resorts in Phnom Penh after the government recently approved casinos to operate again, provided they follow Covid-19 prevention measures set by the Ministry of Health. Mey Vann, the director-general of the Ministry

  • Rubber exports stretch 17%

    Cambodia exported 97,175 tonnes of natural rubber in the first five months of this year, surging 17 per cent compared to the same period last year as the Covid-19 pandemic stretches on, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries official Khuong Phalla told The Post on Thursday. Phalla,

  • ASEM supports Kingdom’s proposal to postpone meeting amid Covid

    The 13th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM13) scheduled to be held in Cambodia in November has been postponed until mid-2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation press statement released on Saturday said. The decision was made during a two-day meeting

  • Coffee maker roasted for producing fake product

    The Ministry of Interior’s Counter Counterfeit Committee will send a suspect to court on Monday after she allegedly roasted coffee mixed with soybeans and other ingredients, creating a product which could pose a high risk to consumers’ health. On the afternoon of July 2, the

  • Cash handout programme 80% complete

    Minister of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation Vong Soth confirmed on Thursday that the implementation of the Cash Transfer Programme For Poor and Vulnerable Households During Covid-19 had been implemented for more than 80% of the over 560,000 families. The programme was introduced one week ago.

  • Cambodia armed with money laundering laws

    Money laundering will now carry a penalty of up to five years in prison while those convicted of financing terrorists will be jailed for up to 20 years, according to new laws promulgated by King Norodom Sihamoni and seen by The Post on Thursday. Comprising nine