Tuesday, June 12, 2007

1986 Chess Life Interview Confirms Truong's Early Career

While most of you were busy living productive lives, a storm was brewing in the USCF Issues forum over the legitimacy of candidate Paul Truong's claim to have won several Vietnamese national titles prior to his flight from that country at age 14. Since documentation from the period is hard to come by, some observers speculated that Paul was fabricating, or at least distorting, his Vietnamese chess career. (This is not to say that all questions are illegitimate, or that everyone who was asking the questions was doing so out of ill motive.)

This morning's blockbuster revelation is that in 1986, Chess Life Assistant Editor Randall Hough (yes, that Randy Hough, the sitting USCF Executive Board member) interviewed Life Master Kenneth Clayton about his encounters with Paul Truong in Saigon. According to the article,

At age eight, Paul won the closest thing that Vietnam had to a national championship by finishing behind only Clayton in a tournament at the sports club.

It appears that the Vietnamese members of Saigon's National Sports Center Chess Club considered the top finisher at a particular annual tournament to be their national champion. Clayton's account confirms what Paul stated elsewhere: he created an uproar on the Vietnamese chess scene by becoming their national champion at the age of 8. (Not that it was a big or important chess scene as the world of chess goes, of course.) Furthermore, I see no reason to question Paul's account of becoming national junior champ a few years earlier, and of retaining his title for 4 consecutive years following.

Some people are claiming that the lack of a formal Vietnamese sanctioning organization casts doubt on Paul's title claim. But I think we should view Paul's title in the light of other title claims in chess history. There was no formal world chess organization until 1924, but chess players everywhere consider Wilhelm Steinitz (1866-1894), Emmanuel Lasker (1894 - 1921) and Jose Capablanca (1921 - 1927) to be world champions. If you consider Steinitz, Lasker, and Capablanca to be world champions, why can you not consider Paul Truong to be a Vietnamese national champion?

If the South Vietnamese chess community saw fit to anoint the top finisher at one of their annual tournaments to be the national champion, I see no reason to dispute their view.

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