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Asia's chess factory: Vietnam trains its youngest to be world-class players

Vietnam adopted the old Soviet model and offers a monthly salary to children as young as 4 who excel in tournaments.

‘Human chess’ in Hanoi, played during celebrations of Lunar New Year in February, hint at Vietnam’s love of Chinese and Western versions of the game.


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Le Quang Liem cannot remember all the countries he's been to, but he can play chess with his eyes closed. For this, he says, you need to have an excellent memory – an ability to keep the position of all the pieces in your head.

This year the 19-year-old resident of Ho Chi Minh City – with a shy voice and big glasses – became the first person from Southeast Asia to win the Aeroflot Open in Moscow, widely regarded as the world's most difficult open chess competition.

Mr. Liem left Moscow with a $28,280 prize and a ticket to compete in an elite, invitation-only tournament in Dortmund, Germany, later this month, where he will play against a former world chess champion, among others. Another player from Vietnam tied for third place in the tournament, while the best American player landed in 20th place.

"What a shock to Russian chess fans to see dozens of their heroes surpassed by two Vietnamese teenagers!" exclaimed a Los Angeles Times writer in a story titled "Vietnamese Surprise in Moscow," while The New York Times named its article about the chess tournament, "Big Surprises in Europe."


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