Chess Master Ryan Lei

Text:UM Reporter Charlotte Lin │  Photo:UM Reporter Lyon Tan, with some provided by the interviewee │  ISSUE88  April2019 MyUM

UM student Ryan Lei started playing Chinese chess at the age of ten under his father ’s influence.

Over the past nine years, he has won many awards in local and international competitions. He says, ‘Life is like a chess game. How do we become masters of a skill without neglecting other aspects of a full life? How do we effectively manage our time and sort out the priorities? Answers to these questions can be found in the chess game.’

Lei is a first-year student in the Faculty of Business Administration (FBA), a member of Ma Man Kei and Lo Pak Sam College (MLC), and a member of the Macao Chess Team. He has won the Macao Youth Chess Championships many times. Last year, he represented Macao at the World Chess Championship in Canada. ‘The first chess competition I participated in was in Malaysia. Over the past nine years, I’ve been to the United Kingdom, Canada, and Shanghai for competitions. I was ranked among the top eight both in the World Youth Chess Championship and in the Asian Youth Chess Championships,’ he says as he quickly sets up a chess board.

Ryan Lei (upper row, middle) is a member of the Macao Chess Team

A Four-Hour Marathon
When he first started learning chess, his teacher told him that the game was invented by the Chinese General Han Xin from the early Han dynasty to prepare his troops for the battle against Xiang Yu. Today, chess has become an intellectual sport that tests not only the player ’s intelligence but also his concentration. Lei’s longest chess game occurred at the World Chess Championship in Canada, which lasted more than four hours.

In 2017, Google DeepMind’s artificial-intelligence programme, AlphaGo, beat the world champion Lee Sedol. Actually, this was not the first time a machine beat a human opponent in a chess game. Eleven years earlier, in 2006, the super computer Langchao Tiansuo beat Xu Yinchuan, who was hailed as the best chess player in China. ‘Artificial intelligence is definitely getting better at chess, but I don’t think it will ever replace the human brain. It can help us improve our skills though,’ says Lei.

Ryan Lei has organised chess competitions at UM

Promoting Chess on Campus
When Lei first came to UM, he had difficulty finding anyone who shared his interest in chess. The people he met seemed to prefer more active interests, such as music and sports. Many people presume that playing chess is a sedentary activity where one just sits comfortably in front of a board. But Lei disagrees. Chess players expend far more energy, both mental and physical, than you can imagine, he explains, sometimes even more than the energy required for a physical sport. Lei hopes his enthusiasm will infect more people around him and help them experience ‘the flow’ one may experience when contemplating the next move in a chess game. ‘It’s an amazing feeling, where you feel your body is still, but your mind is active. Then you will understand that the chess game may look like a quiet pursuit but there is a lot of activity going on beneath the surface,’ he says. He has given lectures on the topic of chess and life in his RC. He founded the first Chinese chess interest group in the RC. He has also organised two large-scale chess competitions, one held in Lui Che Woo College, and the other jointly organised with Lui Che Woo College.

Ryan Lei has a wide range of interests

Applying Chess Principles in Real Life
Lei applies chess principles in real life. He explains, ‘In life as in chess, we are constantly faced with a lot of choices, so we must strike the right balance and try to make the best choice we can.’ When he first came to UM, he joined many student organisations, but later he found that he was spreading himself too thin, so he decided to sort out his priorities and spend his limited time and energy wisely, only on those activities that most suit him.

Ryan Lei believes chess principles can be applied to real life

In chess, one wrong move can cost you an entire game. That’s why it’s worth weighing the risks and benefits before making each move. Lei thinks the same principle can be applied to real-life decision-making processes. He says, ‘For instance, for a student about to graduate from high school in Macao, he or she may need to decide whether to pursue higher education in Macao or overseas. From an investment point of view, it might be riskier to study abroad because you need to invest more money and you can’t guarantee the return will be worth the investment. On the other hand, it might be less risky to study in Macao, but then you probably won’t have the same experience as if you study abroad. So different people need to evaluate based on their own unique circumstances.’

Ryan Lei (right) at the Asian Youth Chess Championships

A Rich College Life
In addition to playing chess, Lei is also a member of various student associations, including the FBA Students’ Association, the Entrepreneurship Society, his RC basketball team, and the English Salon. He also loves singing and is frequently invited to perform. Recently, he won a singing competition organised by his RC.