by Stephen Cho
HOUSTON, Nov. 19 (Xinhua) -- In a significant moment for Xiangqi, an ancient Chinese board game, world-class competitors and enthusiasts are gathering in Houston, also known as the U.S. Space City, in Texas, for the commencement of the 18th World Xiangqi Championship on Sunday night.
Demonstrating the global appeal of Xiangqi, which is often referred to as Chinese chess, the prestigious event also represents the first time the tournament has been held on American soil.
"The tournament has been a bridge between the rich traditions of Xiangqi and the enthusiasm of American audiences," said Yushan Hu, Chairman of the Houston Xiangqi Association, when addressing the opening ceremony.
"It's heartening to see the cultural exchange and mutual respect among players and fans," he said.
Reflecting on the impact of the tournament, Texas Governor Greg Abbott highlighted the positive influence of Asian immigrants and Asian Americans on the cultural landscape of the Lone Star State.
"This event has not only showcased the excellence of Xiangqi but has also celebrated the diverse contributions of our communities," the governor said in a statement his office issued prior to the competition.
The week-long competition, together with the 4th World Youth Xiangqi Championship being held concurrently, attracts a total of 84 participants from 13 countries and regions, according to the organizers.
Following their victory in Kuching, Malaysia, two years ago, Team China this year is fielding three of its top national players - Meng Chen, Liu Huan, and Tang Sinan - to defend their championship title.
Particularly noteworthy is Meng Chen, a prominent figure in the game and currently holding the 3rd national ranking. As the championship nears its conclusion, Meng remains determined in his commitment to uphold Team China's legacy and compete for his first World Champion title on American soil.
"I will give my best, with the aim of bringing honor to my team and country in Houston," Meng told Xinhua in a short interview during the opening ceremony, showcasing the determination and competitive spirit that characterizes Xiangqi players worldwide.
In the current World Chess Championship, Team USA includes a non-Asian player, Olivier Tessier.
Having initially learned Korean Chess, Tessier made the switch to Chinese chess two years ago, discovering a profound interest in the game, he told Xinhua.
After a commendable performance in the Korean Chess Championship's round of 16, he voiced his resolve for the current championship, stating, "Despite the strong competition, I'll give it my best and enjoy the experience."
The World Xiangqi Federation (WXF), the American Xiangqi Association, the Houston Xiangqi Association, and the Houston Sports Authority are collaboratively hosting this significant event.
The results will be revealed on Nov. 24, and candidates from all groups are set to compete for the Rapid Championship on Nov. 25.
As stated on the Xiangqi.com website, Chinese chess dates back to at least 700 AD. Boasting over a billion players, it has evolved into a global game and attracted die-hard fans worldwide.
The inaugural World Xiangqi Championship took place in Singapore in 1990 and has been held biennially by the WXF since 1991. ■