A Chat with Singapore’s Youngest IM, Daniel H. Fernandez
by ICCF IM Junior Tay
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Among the Singaporean International Masters, only three players made their titles in their teens, Wong Meng Kong at 17 years of age (and GM at 36), Jason Goh at 15 and Daniel Howard Fernandez also at 15. Daniel blazed past his more fancied contemporaries in their quest for the IM title when he made his first two IM norms at the Sydney Opens 2009 and 2010. His final norm was attained via an impressive ELO 2532 performance at the KL Masters (21 April 2010). Let’s have a few words with Daniel…
IM Daniel Howard Fernandez at 39th Chess Olympiad
Photo © live tv apk
How did you pick up chess and when was that?
My father introduced me to chess back in Jan 2003 (8 years old) while I was living in the UK. I started off reading newspaper articles on chess of which there are many in the UK unlike here but did not acquire a set until my birthday three months later.
So how long did it take for you to get ‘good’ – say ELO 2000+ level?
My early progress was not great and I was constantly referred to at my club, even by those two years younger than me, as “the fat patzer”. It was not until maybe June 2007 that I achieved some reasonable standard mostly through the efforts of GM Wu Shaobin and then Watson Tay.
What did Wu and Watson do to make you improve so much?
Basically it was my pattern recognition that needed training in those years. Even when I was ranked 10th or below for my age group in Singapore, I never doubted that I had talent. What was needed was a reasonably long period of immersion in typical positions and plans which the coaches guided me to work on. I would urge any young players out there: Once you know how NOT to blunder a piece, you should start learning how to play positionally. It took two years of beating around the bush for me to realise this. Thinking schematically is the only way to make quantum leaps.
What I’m interested in is your path to IM title. How come you did it the unconventional way…playing Swiss Opens in Europe and Australia as opposed to the majority of the top juniors who mainly concentrate on ASEAN, ASIAN or local Intchess Master events?
Europe and to a lesser extent Australia are where the top GMs will play. Not since 2006 has a 2600 grandmaster come to Singapore to compete, although I need to give credit to all those who have tried to bring them. Also, it’s difficult to concentrate when you know that the whole purpose of a tournament is to get norms .which tends to be the case in ASEAN tournaments.
So you were essentially not playing for norms but trying to play good chess first?
That is what chess should be all about. I find it very meaningless to calculate…OK, I need a draw against Mr. ELO 2537 … or a win against Mr. ELO 2448…OK, why do we play chess if not to win? I’ve only made two fixed draws in my entire career, and those were for reasons of friendship in contexts where not too many points were at stake.
Any comments on your chess style? I notice you tend not to focus too much on the opening…and go all out henceforth.
Yes, memory was always my weak point. I’m almost ashamed of having so little theory and yet being an IM, but what does it matter if you have a broad chess erudition? Sometimes I deliberately play new openings- and quite aggressively too – just to boost my overall understanding.
What is your ultimate chess aim? Are you planning to go for the GM title like Wei Ming is working on now?
My ultimate chess aim, just like that of everyone in England who picks up chess as a kid, is to become world class – ELO 2700 at least. More immediately, probably in the next 2.5 years (i.e. comfortably before my A levels) I’m looking at the GM title, or at least a couple of norms and consistent 2450-2500 performances.
And how do you plan on doing that? Are you going to do the European/ Australasian trek again?
European only this time, but yes. Also, people have been almost “scolding” me for losing a stack of rating points. All that happened is I was trying too many experiments, as soon as I learn from that experience I can regain the points and go attempt to beat European GMs.
Oh ya…about that…Do you think your style worked against you in the Olympiad? (Daniel scored 3/10 vs 5 GMs, 3 IMs and 2 FMs) What do you reckon was the reason? The opposition, the experimentation or just bad form?
I believe the experimentation was the most major problem (although I wasn’t having great form either.) If you look at my Olympiad games, I played 1. f4, 1.Nf3 and 1. e4 d6 2. f4 in addition to three relatively normal White games. As Black, my main experiment was 1…g6, which I still don’t understand so well (so I might just go and relieve myself of some more points there :-))

The Olympiad was probably the first event where you get to play against so many GMs/IMs at a go…What do you reckon is the difference between a GM and IM?
GMs will never, ever lose from a better position. IMs such as myself are very vulnerable to slips and small tactical oversights due to our as yet immature sense of principle or chess truth.
Do you have any chess heroes?
Right now, I admire Petrosian for his incredible patience and will try to emulate him. In the past, I confined myself to such artistic maestri as Tal, Alekhine and Polgar (who I still admire for daring to “swim in the big pool.”)
Is there any chess literature or software you will recommend to the aspiring junior who hopes to make the big league?
Frankly, I don’t think much of modern software. But books – many:
Contours of the Endgame by Shereshevsky
Zurich 1953 by Bronstein
The Flexible French by Moskalenko (even if you have no intention of playing either 1. e4 or 1…e6)
Questions of Modern Chess Theory by Lipnitsky
Fire On Board II by Shirov (even if you have no intention of playing aggressive chess, he’s still the best grandmaster ever to share his innermost secrets in a widely published book.)
Just to name my favorites. Those were the ones that started me on the road to some kind of understanding of the principles. And I can say that from September 2008 till March 2010, those were the books I was reading seriously. Everything else was just for fun and skim reading.
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