International Grandmaster Nguyen Ngoc Truong Son will make his debut as Vietnam's new top chess player in the 27th Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games 27) in Myanmar.

Son, the former world U10 champion, will take the lead after the nation's top seeded GM Le Quang Liem withdrew from the SEA Games to take part in the coming World Mind Games in China.

Vietnam will take part in seven of 18 chess categories in Myanmar, with Son shouldering hopes for up to two gold medals in the men's international blitz and rapid chess events. The Kien Giang GM ranked fourth at the blitz and 16th in rapid chess at this year's world championships.

Alongside Son, GMs Dao Thien Hai and Nguyen Duc Hoa will also take part in these events.

The team's biggest rival is So Wesley from the Philippines. The eighth youngest chess grandmaster in history is also ranked 30th in the world and expected to be the top seed at the SEA Games.

On the women's side, Vietnamese masters will look to consolidate momentum at the regional level. However, the absence of leading GM Nguyen Thi Mai Hung this year due to a training course in Hungary, will be a blow to the side.

Trio Pham Le Thao Nguyen, Nguyen Thi Thanh An and Hoang Thi Bao Tram carry strong hopes of bringing home gold this year.

Coach Lam Minh Chau, said Indonesia had recently made strides in improving their chances at this year's Games.

"Previously, Vietnam (women) were the strongest in ASEAN. However the Indonesian side has seen a strong ascendancy with Irine Kharisma, who is currently the top seed in the region. They present a strong challenge for us," Chau said.

He added that although the side faced difficulties in the current Games, he was optimistic the 13-member team would do its best to pocket up to four golds in blitz and rapid events. The team will also seek to assert their strengths in three other categories that are not well-known in Vietnam.

"It is difficult but we can top three golds. It is a way to assert our power in the region," Chau said.

The chess tournament is scheduled to take place from December 12-21 in Nay Pyi Taw. The eighteen events of chess comprise Myanmar's traditional style, ASEAN, and international chess as well as transfer chess and chess 960.

Transfer chess is a popular chess variant played on two chessboards by four players in teams of two. Normal chess rules apply, although captured pieces on one board are passed to players on the other board, who have the option of putting these pieces on their board. The game is played a high speed.

Chess 960 is a variant of chess that debuted in 1996 in Argentina. It employs the same board and pieces as standard chess; however, the starting position of the pieces on the players' home ranks is randomised. The random set-up renders the prospect of obtaining an advantage through the memorisation of opening lines impracticable, compelling players to rely on their talent and creativity.

Vietnamese athletes made a splash at the 2005 Games in the Philippines after claiming all eight titles. Commentators have even alleged that the epic victory scared the country's competitors into removing the sport from the proceeding two Games' list.

The sports return two years ago in Indonesia presented Vietnam with another opportunity to assert its dominance in six out of nine chess categories.-VNA