WHEN Yichen Han strolled into the Queen’s Hall on Saturday, he was like any other confident 11-year-old boy on a day out.

His demeanour showed nothing of the task which awaited him inside the prestigious Hexham venue.

The 11-year-old Chinese chess wonderkid was about to take on 17 of the district’s leading players – simultaneously.

The display was designed to follow the format of a famous exhibition game in 1922, which saw eight-year-old Polish prodigy Sammy Reshevsky take on several accomplished players.

Asked on Saturday if he’d taken on such a challenge previously,Yichen replied: “Not really.”

But he wasn’t fazed, for despite his age, Yichen had no reason for concern.

Last year, he defeated English grandmaster Mark Hebden, a man five decades his senior. He also lifted a UK junior title, and recorded highly placed finishes at both the European and world junior championships of 2018.

The youngster is a member of Forest Hall Chess Club in North Tyneside, which teamed up with Tynedale Chess Club to organise the event, in a bid to generate new interest in the game.

It certainly created much excitement and anticipation throughout the district’s chess scene.

Club players, who are used to competing in local leagues, were given the opportunity to pit themselves against one of the game’s greatest young stars.

They sat, patiently, at a table plan which had them looking in from the outside of a big square.

On the inside was Yichen, who played white. After making his opening move, he worked his way anti-clockwise from board to board.

Having played chess as a teenager, I was given the opportunity to be one of his 17 opponents.

And there was genuine tension in the opening stages of what was a unique event for the district.

Nobody wanted to make a mistake, and nobody wanted to be the first player to fall.

Relative novices, such as myself, were joined by county standard players, and there was pride at stake.

But there was no nervous shuffling or twitching from Yichen, who maintained his concentration for well over two hours, before all of the games were concluded.

For someone so young, he was methodical in his approach, quickly making a move, and then reassessing an entirely different scenario on the next board.

He was polite and courteous, and after finally cornering my king after 1hr 50m of play, my game was over.

Yichen called “check mate,” and held out his hand to offer a firm handshake.

Tynedale Chess Club’s Peter Crighton said: “As a player, you were expected to be ready to move by the time Yichen reached your board.

“The pressure intensified as time went on, because the last two or three players remaining had less time to think of their moves.”

Out of 17 games, Yichen lost only twice, to Tynedale players James Ross and Tim Wrigley. He won 12 and drew three of the contests.

Peter added: “It’s remarkable for a lad of his age to do that, because there were some good club players there.

“In chess grading terms, there were players who were not too far behind Yichen maybe six months or a year ago, but he’s getting better all the time.

“Yichen was a very pleasant young man and I was pleased that he did so well. Afterwards, the players spoke to him and he signed a few scorecards.

“It was the first time in a lot of years that we’ve had an event like this in the district.

“It really was a great day, and a big one for chess in this area.

“I just want to thank all involved for making it happen.”

Tynedale play in the South Tyne Chess league, and also the Northumberland Chess League.

New members are always welcome, and coaching opportunities are available for beginners.

For more information visit https://tynedalechess.wordpress.com/


Tynedale Chess Club’s Peter Crichton said: “Yichen is a wonderful young man and it was great to welcome him to Hexham.

“He took on 17 players, moving from board to board, and it was a fascinating day for all involved.

“There were some interested spectators, which was a good thing for local chess.”