Vietnam-US encounter: Truong & Clayton

Kenneth Clayton is perhaps known more for his legendary exploits in the DC/Maryland area, but there is a little-known history of his chess involvement during his tour of duty in Vietnam. Clayton was a computer specialist in Vietnam, but still had time to make a contribution in the embattled country.

Back in 1986,
Randall Hough interviewed Clayton in Saigon and asked about a young Vietnamese prodigy named Paul Truong. Truong had created a sensation by winning the equivalent of the national championship at age eight!! In addition, his claim of being 9-time Vietnamese champion has come under scrutiny since Truong is now running for an executive board position in the United States Chess Federation. Nevertheless, here is what was revealed in the interview with Clayton.

Ken Clayton, 1963 U.S. Amateur Champion

Life Master Kenneth Clayton

Excerpts from "Happy to be a USCF Member" by Randall Hough

Paul learned the moves in 1971 at age six from USCF master Kenneth Clayton, who was then working in Vietnam as a computer adviser. Paul and his father Tien, who spoke good English, used to visit a local sports club with a large swimming pool, billiards tables, and whatnot. But it was chess which attracted the lad. Recalls Clayton of the young boy:

"He was always attentive, retained what I taught him, possessed good nerves and evaluated positions objectively. I recall one game against a strong player, whom Paul defeated in an ending in which he used a Bishop to trap his opponent's Knight on the run of the board. Playing virtually a piece up, he just walked in with the King. He had seen a similar maneuver in one of my games."

At age eight, Paul won the closest thing that Vietnam had to a national championship by finishing behind only Clayton in a tournament at the sports club. "In our game," Clayton remembers, "I set some nice traps that he saw. I was finally able to wear him down positionally, but it was a real struggle." Clayton estimates that the eight-year-olds strength was in the class "A" range.

* * *

Actually, young Paul learned the moves from his father Tien at age five (and not from Clayton), but Truong credits Clayton with playing a major role in his chess development. On June 16th, Truong sent the following message to The Chess Drum about Ken Clayton:

"He is the most instrumental person in my chess career other than my father who took me to all the chess tournaments when I was young. It was quite a challenge because we could not communicate with each other except for hand signals and pointing things out on the chess board. I developed my playing style through him. In addition to chess, I learned how to properly act on and off the chess board. He is a class act. I am quite angry at some of the remarks people made about him because of politics and the election."

In the interview, Hough also supplied harrowing details of Truong's death-defying escape from Vietnam on a raft with his father. This story was featured in the September 1986 issue of Chess Life (26) and is a story of a person overcoming adversity in a tumultuous time. Clayton's legendary fervor for chess is well known in the DC/Maryland area, but what is not known is that his chess impact reached all the way into Vietnamů and back! Clayton has built bridges where one may have thought bridges could not be builtů between U.S. and Vietnam. It is yet another story we do not hear often enough.

Randall Hough's story can be found here.

Posted by The Chess Drum: 18 June 2007