“Nyin-di-ton-hab kab-lav”: 1st Laos International Open Chess Championship

By Edwin Lam Choong Wai


Laos is a landlocked nation located in the Indo-china sub-continent of South-east Asia. With no sea in sight, its 92,000 sq km of land is surrounded by Myanmar, China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.

While most of its boundaries with neighbouring China, Vietnam and Cambodia are made up of rugged mountains and highland plateaus, a total of 500 km in border lengths with Myanmar and Thailand actually runs parallel to the mighty Mekong river. As the Mekong snakes its way towards Cambodia, it passes by Vientiane, the capital city of Laos.

Vientiane had been made the capital or administrative city of successive kingdoms and governments. From its time as the capital of Lan Xang through to its establishment as an independent kingdom in the 1700s, its fall to the Siamese and thereafter its role as the administrative centre of the French, Vientiane has had a colourful and rich past.

Today, Vientiane is still the capital of political and economic power.

This January 2018, you are invited to visit Vientiane by the Laos Chess Federation (LCF) and play in the 1st ever Laos International Open Chess Championship! This inaugural international chess tournament, which will take place from the 2nd to the 8th of January 2018 (inclusive of arrival and departure dates), will also serve to kick-start activities and celebrations planned as part of Visit Laos Year 2018.

This is going to be a FIDE-rated event with 9 rounds of games and a time control of 90 minutes plus 30 seconds of increment per move for each player. There is a total prize money of US$ 10,200 up for grabs at the tournament, a point that will surely serve as music to the ears of the chess gladiators. The gladiators will do battle at the 5-star Don Chan Palace Hotel & Convention, which is located on the river bank of mighty Mekong that offers a nice view of both Vientiane and neighbouring Thailand.

“Wave” of Chess in Laos

For a country of 7 million people, chess was a relative unknown prior to the year 2011. This has changed in recent years with the increasing popularity of chess. Today, there are thousands of junior players who are actively involved in the game.

The “wave” of chess started with the establishment of the LCF in 2011.

(Caption: Chess in Schools)

Soon after the inception of LCF, the Ministry of Education and Sports gave their approval to the “Chess in Schools” program, which saw the incorporation of chess as part of the school’s curriculum. To-date, the program has been successfully implemented in all but two provinces.

(Caption: President of Laos Chess Federation, Dr. Inthirath Khammany, officiating a school’s chess tournament)

LCF, under the leadership of its President, Dr Inthirath Khammany, who is also the Minister of Energy and Mines, continued to push for further chess development. The LCF became a member of the Laos National Olympic Committee and with it, chess was included in the country’s National Games.

(Caption: 2012 marked the first time a Laotian junior chess tournament was held in schools)

This was followed by the acceptance of chess as a sport in the tri-annual National School Games. With its eye focused on junior chess development, the LCF in 2014 went on a learning visit to Singapore. A delegation, led by Dr. Khammany, visited the island state to learn about organizing school chess championships.

(Caption: Dr. Inthirath giving away prizes to the winners)

Two other milestones in 2015 were the organizations of its first-ever FIDE rated tournament as well as the FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar.

(Caption: John Inthava Vilavane, Gen-Sec of LCF (seated in the middle) at Laos’ 1st ever FIDE rated event)

(Caption: John Inthava Vilavane, Gen-Sec of LCF (seated third from left) at the FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar)

Both these efforts were led by the General Secretary of LCF, John Inthava Vilavane, whose organizational skills and hard work culminated in the birth of 8 FIDE-rated Laotian players as well as 14 qualified arbiters.


(Caption: Thousands of school children are now playing chess. The interest is so high that they’d play anywhere, anytime and even in any situation… including using bottle caps when they do not have actual chess pieces!)

Besides concerted efforts in schools, the LCF sees the value of bringing on a higher level of competition to the local players. With this in mind, the LCF made the decision to organize this 1st ever Laos International Open Chess Championship. This together with LCF’s other efforts to promote chess in schools will further accelerate the interests of students towards the game.

Come for the chess, stay for the rest!

Come for the chess and immerse yourself in multi-cultural Laos.

With its 149 ethnic groups together with Buddhism influences and the French way of life, Laotians are a melting pot of diversity. These diversities can be experienced either when you stand in awe of the 500-year old Donekeo Stupa or when you climb up the Patuxai Arc.

Architecture-aside, the diversities of Laos can also be lived through its festivities. Interestingly, as the world welcomes the new year of the Gregorian kind, members of the Hmong ethnicity celebrates Boun Kin Jieng, which is their ethnic’s New Year. It takes place between end-December to mid-January, hence coinciding nicely with the chess tournament. You can experience activities such as “Mar-khon throwing”, singing, dancing and bull fighting during the festivities.

Exploring beyond Vientiane will expose you to the best of nature in Laos. Head to Vang Vieng to try tubing! Tubing is about gliding down a river stream while sitting on just a rubber tube! Besides tubing, other attractions include trekking through Tham Jang Cave, kayaking down Xong River or bathing at Nam Song River. For those who want sedentary-paced activities, you can either visit handicraft villages or simply shop at the Tha Heua market.

With its historically rich, culturally diverse and naturally pure attractions, Laos can serve as a great chess vacation destination for you. As the locals here say, “Nyin-di-ton-hab kab-lav”, which means “Welcome to Laos” as they look forward to welcoming you to their lovely country.

Sign-up online for the Laos International Open Chess Championship!


About the author:

Edwin Lam Choong Wai is a chess player and author with a FIDE Standard rating of 1896 and a FIDE rapid rating of 1966. Based in Kuala Lumpur, he will soon launch an educational venture he co-founded with his parents in Malaysia. Prior to this, he spent the past 8 years mostly living and working in Singapore.