In 2015, he failed to qualify. Last year, he didn’t place. But this year, Heng Saody was crowned the nation’s new “King of Chess.”
Wearing golden headgear and an Angkorian-inspired costume, Mr. Saody, 24, defeated his 40-year-old opponent Bin Keaseng in the final round of the national chess tournament during the annual Angkor Sangkranta New Year festival in Siem Reap City on Sunday.
The new champion, who started playing Cambodian chess, a variant of the game, at the age of 15, triumphed in a one-hour televised match watched by a few hundred spectators and played on a raised platform near Angkor Wat that was designed to look like a giant chessboard.
Despite his previous losses, Mr. Saody, of Kandal province, said he was determined to keep competing, drawing on his practice in Phnom Penh coffee shops over the years and lessons from two mentors.
“My opponent was very smart and good, but because of my strategy, I defeated him,” he said. Mr. Saody was one of the two youngest players to ever win the national competition thanks to the smart outmaneuvering of his older opponents, said Vath Chamroeun, secretary-general of the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia (NOCC), one of the contest’s organizers.
“His strategy to beat his opponents was very fast and he’s very clever to change his strategy,” Mr. Chamroeun said, adding that all competitors had improved their techniques from previous years.
Two-time champion Chheav Bora first won in 2014 at the age of 24, and won again the following year.
The national chess championship has been held annually since 2008. This year, about 160 players took part in the tournament’s qualifying round, with the top eight contestants battling it out in Siem Reap City from Friday to Sunday.
Hoy Souna, last year’s champion, was knocked out during the qualifiers in Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium earlier this month.
The NOCC awarded $3,000 in prize money to Mr. Saody, $2,000 to Mr. Keaseng of Kratie province as the runner-up, and $1,000 to third-place winner, Chhoy Vira of Phnom Penh, Mr. Chamroeun said.
Prime Minister Hun Sen also gave the top three winners $5,000, $3,000 and $1,000, respectively.