International Chess Federation
Monday, 27 Jan 2020 20:00
Marking the centennial of Lim Kok Ann’s birth

(Photo: Singapore Chess: A History 1945-1990)

On January 27, 2020, Lim Kok Ann, a chess player from Singapore, the General Secretary of FIDE from 1982 untill 1988 would have celebrated his 100 anniversary.  

Lim Kok Ann is called one of the “Fathers of Asian chess” and rightly so.

For more than 50 years Lim Kok Ann relentlessly promoted chess in his native Singapore and the entire Asian continent. Having started with organizing the first chess championship in the history of Singapore back in 1949, he was gradually fulfilling his dream which he formulated as “a chessboard in every Singapore house”. When more than forty years later Singapore team debuted at Chess Olympiad, it had three IMs in its line-up. Lim Kok Ann won the first Singapore championship and then took the title two more times in 1960 and 1968.


Lim Kok Ann's achievements did not go unnoticed in the chess community – as a result, Florencio Compamanes appointed him the General Secretary of FIDE in 1982. Lim Kok Ann served in this position for six years, till 1988. None other than Lim Kok Ann created and published FIDE Handbook (you can find the current version on our site), which became his most important work. One of the areas the professor focused on was a well-known fifty-move rule. Despite his advanced age and status, Lim Kok Ann was no alien to spontaneous decisions sometimes – having made his mind to move to Switzerland to work for FIDE he simply asked his wife to pack their bags.

Not many people in the world of chess know about another side of Lim Kok Ann’s life. He was awarded the title of professor for his achievements in medicine. Back in 1957, a talented scientist, he revealed and isolated the virus which causes Asian flu.  He has worked beside future Nobel prize winners in the research laboratories all around the world, and later on, became the Dean of the Medical School of the University of Singapore. There is one medical achievement Lim Kok Ann was particularly proud of: when working at the Houston headquarters of the World Health Organization in 1959 he devised and implemented a new diagnostic procedure that simplified the identification of enteroviruses - viruses which cause enteritis.


In later life, Lim Kok Ann returned to Methodist faith, from which he distanced at some point, but continued to officiate at major chess events as Chief Arbiter. On March 8, 2003, Lim Kok Ann died of a heart attack; ironically, shortly after the infamous SARS epidemic broke out, one of the deceases the professor was fighting against his entire life.

When asked what chess had taught him in an interview in 1995, the professor said, “People compare chess with life. You prepare your forces, make split-second decisions, take risks and learn from defeat. All these are valuable lessons in life”.