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[Alumni Interview] International Grandmaster in Chinese Chess Himson Wong Finds Joy in Competing Against Himself

International Grandmaster in Chinese Chess
Himson Wong Finds Joy in Competing Against Himself

Playing chess is a way to nurture one's mind. It enlightens one’s wisdom, character and inner growth. Wong Hok Him, Himson (06/UC/Electronic Engineering) has loved Chinese chess, or xiangqi, since he was a junior secondary student. After graduating with first-class honours from the Faculty of Engineering at CUHK, he chose for a different path to become a full-time Chinese chess player. This is certainly challenging, as the government does not provide financial support for chess athletes. Life is like a game of chess, changing with each move. Himson has a firm grasp of when to advance or retreat, to be content with the gains and losses, to take the wins and defeats with ease, and to realise that his real opponent is himself.

Life is like a game of chess, and the real opponent is oneself. In the process of constant self-improvement, Himson has found inner peace and joy.

Devotion to His Chess Dream after Graduating from University
Inspired by his father’s enthusiasm, Himson learned to play chess when he was in primary school. While passing by a park one day during his junior secondary school years, he saw two older citizens engaged in a game. He stopped and watched, unaware that the moment was life-changing. From then on, he would visit the park after school to learn from and compete with the seniors there. He quickly established a dominance until he encountered an experienced player nicknamed "Fa Tam". “He recognised my potential and brought me into the scene. He became my teacher and friend. He introduced me to the Yuen Long Chinese Chess Association, which enabled my skills to improve rapidly in a few years. I also began competing in public contests.”

In his maiden Hong Kong Chinese Chess Open Competition in 2000, the 16-year old Himson won the Individual Class B Tournament in astonishing fashion. In 2002, he represented Hong Kong in the Asian Xiangqi Championships and became first-runner up in the youth category, which gave him a great confidence boost.

Himson makes his first appearance on the competition stage at the age of 16, and won the championship at the Hong Kong Chinese Chess Open Competition’s Individual Class B Tournament.

While his classmates were busy seeking employment upon graduation, Himson had a different plan. "I still had an unfulfilled wish – to win the Hong Kong Chinese Chess Open Competition’s Class A Tournament. My best result in the university years was only the fifth place. I felt this surge of emotions within me, wanting to give my all to pursue this wish. I decided to follow my heart and temporarily put the job search aside, just focusing on practice. I worked part-time while pursuing my dream." His efforts paid off, achieving breakthrough results in his first Hong Kong Chinese Chess Open Competition Individual Tournament after fully immersing in practice. He improved to third place in the first year, and second place in the second year. In the third year, Himson thought the championship was within grasp, but he failed to reach the top four, dealing a blow to him. "My confidence wavered, and the opposition from my family and friends intensified. However, I persisted in my belief and chose to start anew. Finally, I overcame the obstacles and became the Champion of the Individual Tournament in the fourth year (2012)."

Unforgettable Victory over "Chess Number One" XU Yinchuan
As the reigning champion in Hong Kong, Himson began representing the city in international competitions. When asked about the most memorable game he played, he mentioned the victory against Xu Yinchuan, who had dominated the Chinese Chess scene for two decades. "I went to Germany for an international tournament about 10 years ago. In the semifinals, I faced XU Yinchuan, who was hailed as the top player in Chinese Chess in mainland China. In our previous games, I had only either tied or lost to him. Perhaps due to his momentary carelessness, I seized the opportunity and defeated him at this occasion. I was extremely excited. There is a saying in the chess community: It is easy to shake a mountain, but difficult to shake Xu Yinchuan! After the match, a grandmaster said to me, 'Beating Xu Yinchuan means the chess steps you move in your lifetime have not been in vain.'"

At the 6th Huai Yin Han Xin Cup Xiangqi International Masters Invitation In 2014, Himson (right) defeated XU Yinchuan (left), who had dominated the mainland chess scene at that time. This is Himson’s most memorable battle.

Himson has already joined the ranks of International Grandmaster in Chinese chess, with five Hong Kong championships under his belt and a top ranking locally. His runner-up result in the 2019 World Xiangqi Championship sets was best record in Hong Kong's history. Regarding how far he can go on his chess journey in the future, he said he would not set limits but only seeks to find inner peace and happiness. "Having been in the chess world for over 20 years, I still have the drive to continue because I see it as a pilgrim of self-pursuit, just like playing against oneself, where there is always room for improvement. The outcome of a competition is unpredictable, the strongest general cannot win every battle, as it is in a chess game. Losing a game may bring disappointment, but the process is more important than the result. Currently, I approach competitions with a calm mindset. As long as I keep improving, there will be unexpected rewards in the future."

Himson has achieved the best-ever results at the World Xiangqi Championship in 2019 for Hong Kong by winning the individual runner-up.

Benefits of First Asian Games Bronze Medal
In recent years, the application of artificial intelligence (AI) has become increasingly popular. Himson pointed out that AI can assist chess players in analyzing the game. By inputting data, it only takes a few seconds to analyze which side, red or black, has the advantage. However, he prefers real-life battles. "My training mode is 'learning through competition.' I often participate in competitions in mainland China and play against strong opponents to improve myself. A fierce competitive game can easily take four to five hours, with the brain constantly working. It requires a great deal of physical and mental stamina. That's why I engage in regular running exercises to enhance my physical fitness."

In the Asian Games last year, Himson won the Bronze Medal in the Xiangqi Mixed Team Event, earning a “zero breakthrough” in chess for the Hong Kong team. Himson believed the results would benefit the sports’ development. As more citizens are becoming aware that chess is considered as a sport, the government would hopefully allocate more resources to facilitate the growth of Chinese chess in Hong Kong.

While xiangqi is not a regular sport at the Asian Games, Himson represented Hong Kong in the competition and won the mixed team bronze medal, achieving a breakthrough for the Hong Kong chess team.

"CU Alumni Magazine" Video Interview: (Chinese only)

Published on "CU Alumni Magazine" Issue 117 by Alumni Affairs Office 2024

Read online: CU Alumni Magazine Issue 117 (Chinese Version Only)
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