A Chess Prodigy Rises to the Top in Malaysia

Malaysian chess phenom Poh Yu Tian, 15, studies his next move.

In Malaysian chess, one name shines brightly: Poh Yu Tian. At the age of 15, Yu Tian already tops the list of active players in this Southeast Asian country. 

The teenager’s commitment to mastering an intricate game has inspired young players across the country, including this reporter. I spoke with Yu Tian after he won a recent tournament in Penang, an island-state off the coast of Malaysia. I was among the competitors.  

“I’ve always been passionate about chess,” Yu Tian said. “I was drawn to the complexity of it. Eventually, I understood more about the game, allowing me to get better.” 


Jay with Poh Yu Tian at a chess tournament in Penang


Yu Tian began to study chess at the age of seven. When he was 13, he became the youngest person in Malaysia ever to qualify for a Fide Master (FM) title, the third-highest rank in chess. Conferred by the International Chess Federation, an FM title is based on tournament results. 

Yu Tian earned the distinction after defeating a 64-year-old Grandmaster. (Grandmaster is the highest level a chess player can achieve.) The youngster notched the victory in 2022, while representing Malaysia at the Chess Olympiad in India. 

“Playing for my country was a nerve-racking but also exciting experience,” Yu Tian said. “It’s important to prepare mentally and physically.” He does so by sleeping well, he said. He also swims and participates in other sports, including basketball. 

After his recent triumph in Penang, Yu Tian said that improving his skills is a top priority. “Victory is not just about winning,” he said. “To improve, you have to keep practicing and learning.” 

Now in pursuit of an International Master title, the second-highest level in chess, the teen strategist continues to follow his dreams. “I believe that with hard work and determination,” he said, “anything is possible.”



Top photo courtesy of Poh Yu Tian; bottom photo courtesy of the author