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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Of Going Back To Work - Not Chess

Its been slightly more than a year that I have been concentrating on chess with DATCC being my home base and along the way, organizing or helping to organize other events with fellow organizers and officials. The year 2011 started rather strongly but it went on a quiet mode somewhere mid year, and the last part of the year has provided a rather mix outcome. There were some frustrating times that I had to endure, but equally so, the few successes that I will cherish for a very long time.The year end also provided a surprise package for me when I was offered a short term task (that potentially can grow to a full term package) to work with a friend - something that has got nothing to do with chess at all. So, here I am, staring at a crossroad between chess - engaging in something that I love and passionate about, and my professional work - something that am good at doing and can help sustain my living.

It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that chess can't provide a good income to those who dare venture into it. It did make some organizers (in the west) to rake in handsome profits each year and some chess players do make it big to earn enough money for them to sustain a comfortable lifestyle but, overall, the percentage of success stories - dollar and cents, is still very minimal. In Malaysia, it is almost zero. Well, no doubt that there are people who does chess on a full time basis but still, most of them continue to hold another job on the side either as tuition teachers or a car insurance dealer, or free lance computer programmer. For me, the year 2011 was almost 100% chess and it was just enough to survive and it was tough. Despite it all, I like it very much. I like the fact that I plan my own time, set my own schedule, go where I want to go when I want to and for most of the time, I am able to work from home when I want to. I like the fact that I was "almost" my own boss - and that chess community is my real boss because without them, I would not have survived.... :)

But But after a while, the surrounding and the people got me thinking, and the future on the horizon, looks a little bleak and dark. There is a light somewhere but you are not sure whether the light is from a spotlight or the the sun.

Worried about the future of chess and my involvement in the sport that I love, out of the blue, a job offer came knocking on the door so.... a second light appears in the horizon and its apparent that this source of light is a bit more certain and stable. But although the blessing in the form of a job came and land on my lap, I am still unsure what to do next and for me, my heart and mind are stuck between my love for chess and my call for work. Do I accept the job? Do I stay with chess? Maybe, I can maintain both.... right?

For now, I am accepting the job since it is just a short term thingy. The challenge for now is trying to adjust myself to working with other people, and working from 9 to 5. The possibility of continuing is there but it all depends on the client but as I said earlier, I will deal with the short term employment that is being offered and let that settle first. As for the longer employment term, I will revisit that when the time comes as I may get a different job offer that is much better than what it is now. But regardless, should I stay with chess or do I take a different course of action and forego this short term employment?

It seems good to finally earn a stable living that chess is not able to offer - for now. Whether chess will be very big in the future or not, that I am not sure. No one can foretell the future but of course, we can gauge. For me, it can become big but it all depends on what we do now. There have been aggressive movement from different sectors in the country to invigorate local chess scene but, these efforts are still fragmented and each is in their own little silos. Whilst most are doing their bit to promote chess - in their smaller scale events, there are also a few that are rather vocal in convincing the local chess market at large that they have huge sponsors backing them up, they have money, sponsors and so on and so forth. But let us not talk about other efforts as that will be a totally different tale to tell - but I bet, its much more juicier to talk about. I'll save that for next time...

On my going back to work, I applaud Mas for his courage and also to Khairunissa (of Setia Chess Center) for going into chess on a full time basis when I, on the opposite side of the track, going out of chess and back into working life. Its not that chess can't pay but, the basic truth is, it just can't pay as well. But putting money aside, part of the reason for me to go back to work is all about taking a step back, review and decide. So, going back to work is actually more of a reviewing phase. Its like playing chess - a player who always plays Queens Pawn suddenly decide to play King's Gambit, not because he does not trust the Queen Pawn but because he can also win playing King's Gambit. And during that time, the player can review both the Queens Pawn and King's Gambit, ponder and decide what is the better plan moving forward. The phase where a player thinks "Maybe I should try something else and see if it can work!".

The funny thing about being so involved in chess is that it becomes an attraction that is so difficult to let go. I remembered a friend who warned me (in 2007) not to get too much involve in chess because he said that I am too passionate about it and that I tend to get carried away with it. To a certain extent, it was true. My going into chess and with DATCC was partly because of "I have to" and not "I want to" but after while, the "have to" became "the want MORE to". But as I get more involved in chess, I also realized where and how the money can be made. But I also realized that everyone else also have the same idea so the one that will differentiate one with the other is one's innovation, creativity, public relation and most importantly "you-know-who".

But, as I move into the corporate world, I am inevitably being dragged back into chess due to "unfinished business" or commitments that I had made prior to accepting my work. Most of it are related to chess projects and events that I have agreed to doing, host and managed hence, for the past 3 weeks, I have been moving in between chess and work. Running from office to DATCC and rushing back to office from DATCC. But work takes precedent and by the end of the 1st quarter, all the chess stuffs should clear with only one or two outstanding. And by that time as well, I should also be able to decide whether I should return to playing Queen Pawn or keep my King's Gambit, or perhaps, I should play both. But of course, event this past 3 weeks, I experienced how difficult it has been to juggle 2 things at the same time (on a short term) because I will end up working 7 days in a week. Unless the return is really REALLY superb, then I might think about it but then again, I prefer to have more time to myself than money because we can find money whereas time, is something used and would not be recovered.

For now, the mode is to steer slightly away from chess but at the same time, to keep all the options open - whether to attack on the Queen side or King side, or just to control the center. For now, its a wait and see phase while the chess cake (not cheese cake!) is being baked - see who the interested parties are, evaluate the decoration on the cake, the ingredient and people that will be served with the cake.

It will be an interesting cake but, its time to get back to work.... If you happen to be anywhere near PJ State area, call me up for tea! We can still talk chess.... and play a few rounds of blitz as long as it is done during lunch or tea breaks!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Of Organizing and Managing Events

As an organizer, the need to "exempt" or "disallow" certain group of players from playing in an event is not something strange nor new. This clause is widely used by organizers and host of any events, clubs, business houses, companies, etc. If you look at the movie stub for GSC or TGV, you can find the same clause printed on the ticket. And of course, if you have the time to look around at any clubhouse or read through an association constitution, you will probably find the same clause being displayed or printed for all to see. So, what is so strange about chess organizers including the same conditions for its event? In fact, for events organized at DATCC including the FIDE Seminar and National Closed event, the same clause was included but of course, there was no need to enforce the clause but given the right (or wrong situation), if it needs to be enforced, it will then be enforced.

It is very clear that the "barring" clause is primarily used to protect the organizer's interest, direction and most importantly, the organizer's or arbiter's "sanity". Whilst I would not go to the extent of branding these group of people as "trouble makers" - although some of them really are, I would probably refer them more as "those with different point of view which is usually unfavorable towards the organizer". So, does this clause actually "victimize" certain players or people from participating in an event? If the idea is seen as victimizing the player (or players), what about the organizers? Who is protecting their interest from being "victimized" by unwanted players, or players who have been known to cause trouble. I have seen organizers being the victim of complaints from the littlest of things and of the stupidest of nature. Some players are just looking to cause trouble and usually when the player is losing, the troubled caused become doubled and tripled. So, whilst it is easy to point players as seen to be victimized, what about the organizer that is being "victimized' by absurd and unnecessary complaints and issues? It is nice to see things from one perspective but what about the perspective of the other party?

Of course, the issue can be extended further - if the grudge is against the parents, why bar the children? If the the disagreement is against the tutor, why disallow the students? Maybe the phrase "birds of a feather flock together" comes into affect - if they are together, maybe they have the same idea. So, if we go by the simple rule of "prevention is better than cure", then most people would understand the need to ensure that a potential risk does not become an actual risk. Worse still is when the situation involves a chess player because a chess player train of thoughts is developed as such that the need to address a certain known risk is crucial before it worsen. We all know the classic Shakespearean tale of Romeo and Juliet where their parents (the Montague and the Capulet) are bitter sworn enemies. As the story goes, we all know that neither Romeo nor Juliet did anything wrong but because of the warring families, the children is branded the same as the family. And although Juliet father may have nothing against Romeo as a person, to him the family and Romeo are the same. So, if a parent saying that my child should not be banned because the issue is with me, then remember Romeo and Juliet....

Whilst it is indeed a shame having to disallow someone from playing in an event due to no mistake of his (or her), the rights of the organizers should not be questioned at all. No one should be forced to take in someone who is not wanted - for whatever reason the person may have. The way I see it, organizers are like host or house owners, and as the house owner, I have the right to invite or allow the persons that I like to my house, and disallow those whom I do not like. So, if your next door neighbor organize a "party of the decade" and welcome everyone from the same street except you to his party, do you want to cry foul and "insist" that you are allowed to join in the party? Unfair you may say? But as the host, I decide what is fair or unfair based on my condition and my prerogative. And if you do not like it, go find your own party. It sounds harsh and blunt but this is reality.

It is also like going traveling to a certain country and whilst you may not have the face of a terrorist, or even if you look like Brad Pitt, but the immigration person who handles your application for entry is "suspicious" of you, your application to enter the country can get rejected for the stupidest of reason - the immigration person "does not like your face". And there you are with you application to enter the country being rejected. And to make things worse, almost nothing in the world you can do that will make the immigration officer change his/her mind and allow you to enter the country. Of course you can appeal to the higher authority but if the higher authority concurs with the immigration person, there is zilch that you can do.

As an organizer, I would like to run "trouble free" events. Sometimes when you have an array and a variety of players coming from all corners of the world, it is difficult to know the trouble makers from the trouble free players. But if you do know them, the right to exercise the clause can be used as to minimize unwanted issues to surface during the course of the tournament. I have seen organizers rejecting international participants (but very minimal) because they are known to be "trouble makers". But of course, the gracious host that we are, we can tolerate these "international" trouble makers because they are not permanently here in the country - they come, stay here for about 10 days and then they left. So, even if they have issues, it usually lingers for about 10 days and after that, it usually ends amicably. Even if it stretches for more than 10 days, the "heat" is not so hot because the players are far far away in another country. But imagine having to deal with a local player who is just a few hours drive away from you (at most) and someone that have the potential to haunt you for the next 365 days a year - in person, using the phone, via email, via SMS, via blog, and popping into your office and stalking you in your next event, and the next, and the next, etc.

In one event that I had arbitrated some time ago, the organizer asked me as to who should be invited for the event and I started to throw some names. Whilst there were no violent rejection towards most of the names, some names caused raised eyebrow. "I do not want controversies to shroud my event" was the automatic response that I got. Whilst no one was eventually "axed", I was advised to keep some of the identifiable "trouble makers" at bay and strap them on a very tight leash. Lucky me, the event went smoothly

On the other hand, sometimes a person just need to "understand" when and where he/she is not needed. The Malay saying "hidung tak mancung, pipi tersorong-sorong" - literally translated as "nose not pointy, cheek push push" comes into play which means, if you know you are not needed, then understand the situation by not pushing your luck

But all is not lost - one man's poison can be another man's cure and with that, a person maybe banned from one organizer but not necessarily from all organizers. But if more and more organizers are banning the same person, then it is very clear that there is something wrong with the player - or the group or people that the player is associated with. Of course, there is nothing wrong with the the organizers right? Like someone mentioned to me, if many people start to throw mud at someone, some mud is bound to stick e.g. when so many persons talk about the bad things that someone does, then some of it is bound to be true.... I have seen some players being banned by some associations but in most cases, different associations or organizations have their own set of names contained in their own "secret black book". Unless the black books become one giant black book, then something must be wrong somewhere - for the players of course!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Of Arbitering and Pairing....

Most tournament organizers nowadays use computer aided software to do pairings for the rounds. Whilst some small events may still use manual pairing, using pairing software will probably help the arbiter to do the pairing faster and more efficient (with less mistake). One thing for sure is that manual pairing usually opens more opportunities for arbiter to fix the pairing whereas using a pairing system may minimize the fixing but it does not lessen nor close the door for manipulation. But, to move from one system to the other does not mean an organizer is looking for loop holes to "control the pairing"

I believe we should look at things objectively and always think that there is "another side to the story". If we see someone with a gun, do we assume that he is about to kill someone, or is it because he wants to defend someone? Are we destructive (that it would destroy/cause harm/kill) or constructive (that it would build/develop/save)?

Changing from Swiss Manager to Swiss Perfect could simply happen because of economical reason. Swiss Perfect cost USD49 to purchase whereas Swiss Manager has a price tag of Euro199 (for the full version) and Euro99 (for the light version). In any event, Swiss Manager is much more expensive to own. On top of that, Swiss Perfect has a 30 days free trial period so, using it for small Non-Rated events is very practical. Unless there is an extensive use for FIDE Rated events, then it would be feasible to purchase the Swiss Manager but if not, why waste the extra money unless there is extra money to spend.

Looking at Swiss Manager and Swiss Perfect, one must understand that each system will use different "process" to arrive at a certain pairing. In a tournament where the number of players and their seeding are the same, each system/software may yield a different pairing for each round. But this does not mean the pairings are wrong or the system is flawed. It just means that each is using a different process and logical order but the most important thing is that the processes are "consistent" within each program. If Swiss Manager uses the same "process" to determine the pairing in Round 1, it will use the same logic for Round 7, 11 or 17, and so on. The pairing is only wrong if an event started off with a Swiss Manager system but ends using a Swiss Perfect system (or somewhere in the middle, another different system is being used) i.e. the system used was not consistent. Interesting to note that there is at least 2 popular Swiss Pairing process being used i.e. one which takes color (black and white) into account and the other which does not take colors into account when doing the pairing.

But, it needs to be understood that system is used as a "tool" to aid the Arbiter in doing the Pairing and if the system produced glaring mistake or unjustified pairing, then the Arbiter has the right to overrule and correct the pairing. For all purposes, systems are not 100% perfect so when an irregular situation arises, the Arbiter has the right to change the pairing and this is where his/her pairing methodology needs to follow the correct logical sequence. An Arbiter who have experienced many events will probably be able to identify when a such situation occurs and what needs to be done. If the system (using its internal logic) causes a player to be paired glaringly unfavorable, then the arbiter must correct the situation.

But to learn using the Swiss Manager without learning how to do the pairing manually is very dangerous and illogical - as the saying goes "a little knowledge is very dangerous". Most people who does not understand how to do the pairing will usually take the easy way to just "blame" the system for not doing the pairing correctly. If a person had learned how to do the manual pairing, then it is very easy to check whether the system has made the correct pairing or otherwise. Its like using a calculator but not knowing how to do the calculation manually - "That's the numbers given by the calculator but I don't know how it got those numbers". Same like - "That's the pairing given by the system but I don't know why its like that".

So, before blaming that it is a fixed pairing, get some pairing cards and check the pairing manually. It is a good knowledge to learn hence a player, parents, organizer, coach, etc. can check and "feel" if the system is doing its job correctly instead of taking the easy way of "blaming it on the arbiter for fixing the pairing". But maybe, to certain people , ignorance is bliss therefore, it is easier to blame than to learn. On the same note, it is also sad to have sign up, organize or enroll in such a learning session but not learning anything out of it - and continue to be ignorant

But do take note that even after some sanity checking, the pairing may still feel incorrect. However, one must understand that there are certain exact elements of calculation where the pairing software can calculate much deeper compared to a human brain which may cause the "checking" to be inconclusive. The best way to gauge is to see if the pairing differs very much from the actual pairing or about the same and if it is about the same, or a logical explanation can be found, then it can be concluded that the pairing is correct.

When I did the Blitz Event in Cititel (and some of my smaller events in DATCC), I actually use a projector to perform the pairing sequence using Swiss Manager for people to see. If this method can eliminate the "thought that a pairing is being fixed" then maybe, this method can be use to perform the pairing but..... it may create other issues i.e. the arbiter may not be able to correct a glaring mistake because technically, the pairing has been "published".

In any case, I would like to think that Arbiters are doing their best to perform his/her job and trusting that the he/she will not manipulate the pairing to favor certain players. Why must I think that people are bad?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Of Parents and Players....

Chess players and their parents are elements of chess community that cannot be separated. Based on my observation, the degree of involvement towards their child's chess growth is dependent on how good and talented their child is. So in most cases I have seen, the more talented the kid is, the more intense parents involvement become. And the intensity may double or triple for parents who are more influential but of course, this does not happen ALL the time.

In most normal situation, the younger the child is the more protective the parents are but of course, we can't blame the parents for this. The child maybe too young (or the parents feel that they are still young) and parents are just doing what they instinctively know and feel best - which is to protect the child as much as they can. Of course, the protective element usually wane as the child grows older but, as the child gets better (and have the potential), the parents involvement can become more intense. However this time, not because the child needs protection but the child needs as much potential and opportunities offered to them in order to grow further. The protectiveness now moves towards the child's development to be the best they can be.

Usually, the protective boundary will end anyway - usually when the child (now a teenager) hits the college or university age, and even more, when the child (now a grown adult) hits the working age. Somewhere along the SPM-University-Working line, the intensity, the protective barrier, the involvement can disappear, and in some instances, can go off almost instantly like a candle light - a simple breeze and poof!!!!.... And the child nor the parent is never to be heard again within the chess community. There are a few current and past examples that can be quoted!

Of course, if you are looking at a family of 10 children, once the last child enters the college years, then the intensity (or insanity) will diminish with the last child. So, in the meantime, the chess community especially the organizers/officials, will have to deal with the first 10 children where the intensity was at the max.

As a parent myself (fortunately, none of my kids play chess... yet!), I can understand how most parents can get overly emotional when others are talking about or evaluating their kids - be it about the good things, and more if it were on the wrong things. Most parents are protective of their off spring and want to ensure that their kids receive the best of the best (of treatment) or at least, fairly treated. But then again, "fair" is very subjective and each parents may have their own interpretation of what fair is - "if my child don't get it, then it is not fair!"

The joke is that, if chess organizers, players or officials can't stand the sight of or dealing with a chess parent, just wait until the child finishes school and once that happen, the parents will simply vanishes into the sunset. It may take some time but eventually, they will go off and the chess officials will remain - and probably dealing with another similar parents and the cycle restarts.

Most parents are good people but the natural protection instinct that they have towards their child sometimes turned them into something that we find difficult to comprehend. Like the saying goes "No matter how beautiful someone's child is, none is more beautiful than my own." In my opinion, it is not wrong for parents to behave as such but parents need also to understand and realize that there are due processes to many things. There are also elements of the child such as friendship, aspiration, emotion and competitiveness that need to be understood. There are also other demanding parents that need the same attention to be given to their child and there are other talented children whose parents may not be as intense but nonetheless, the child is very talented. So, who will "fight" for these children when their parents may not have the same passion, or is reluctant to fight for them?

Some parents may say that their child is talented but does the child want to continue with chess as the direction for the future? Can a parent accept the fact when a trainer tells them in their faces that their child does not have the "umph" or the "interest" to further his/her passion in chess? Does the trainer themselves have the guts to tell that to a parent? If the child says "no, I do not want to play chess", would the parent comply? Perhaps the child is only interested to become a "normal" chess player rather than a "competitive" or "serious" chess player. And when the child has the opportunity to grow and play at the higher level, can a parent allow the child to travel alone with a coach to play in international events overseas? And when money becomes an issue, can a parent dig deep enough in their pocket to keep the child's dream (or is it the parent's dream) to become the best chess player in the country? Can the parent afford the coaching and training sessions, buying the books and software, going to events and tournaments, and doing the traveling? And if there are 10 children, which children will get a chance and which do not? Do the children draw lots?

With more and more parents becoming more well off, the desire to ensure that their child is "well equipped" for his/her life journey becomes a priority. Aside from chess, the kid will have to attend swimming classes, karate exams and piano grading sessions. And in some cases, language classes (like Mandarin or English) and religious classes also become additional requirements for the kids to acquire. This does not include the kids own desire to play internet online games, football, tennis or badminton. And somewhere between all these crazy schedules, the kids will need to attend tuition sessions to improve their math, science and geography. Whilst we may say "parents know best" but do the parents really know best?

And after all the arguments, the debates, the "accusations", miscommunications and intense competition not mentioning all the money, traveling, coaching, sleepless night endured by the parents from when the kid started picking up chess pieces until he/she reaches 17 or 18 years old, then suddenly..... off he/she goes into oblivion? And after all the schedule juggling, weaving across town to send the child to Yamaha piano class and rushing from office to the ABC Swimming Club for swimming lessons, and after all that, the kid just forgo chess? That does not seem to make sense, does it?

But don't get me wrong. Learning chess is not an issue but when all (or most of) the energy and resources are/were used to develop and promote a child to be a good/better player, why stop the effort midway? Why do some parents go through all the trouble only to "stop" a few years down the line?

It would be a waste of talent and whilst I agree that Chess - at its current situation (but there has been some improvement), may not be able to provide a good living for a player, who says that it won't in the future? Imagine if a child becomes the first Malaysian GM. Just because no one has been there before, that does not mean a player can't make a living out of chess. And event if you can't make it in Malaysia, who stops a Malaysian GM from making a living in Europe? or US? or Philippines?

So, how can we continue the chess population to make sure that good players do not "retire" and parents do not become overly "engrossed"? Do we instill a believe in our children that if you do not have a degree then your life is totally wasted? Does having a degree or going to college the only ultimatum? Why don't parents continue to show the same support and passion for their child chess growth as the child moves into college and working years and realize the dream that the parents themselves had coined to the child many years earlier during the child's development years - when the child first pick up the chess set. Otherwise, why invest and pour so much effort and time without gaining any return for the investments that have been put in?

Does this make sense?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Passing the Arbiter Examination....

Since last year, I have been pestering some friends in MCF to organize a FIDE Arbiter seminar in KL to open up opportunities for me (and my fellow arbiters) to earn a valuable norm towards becoming a recognized FIDE Arbiter, and eventually, a step closer into becoming an International Arbiter (IA). As Malaysia had produced only one IA in Lim Tse Pin in the last 8 years, it is high time that we start to produce more IA to populate our "diminishing" talent. And prior to Lim Tse Pin (or was it after?), I believe the other person that made the rank was Quah Seng Sun (yup... the STAR writer). And since then, there were none....

Up to now, Malaysia only have a handful of International Arbiters but worse still, more than half of them are considered as inactive. The most active one still is Hamid Majid and on certain occasions, we can also see Lim Tse Pin and Ibrahim Yaacob conducting events but for most of the other IA, they are either no longer interested in arbitering chess events, or have been inactive for too long that they have forgotten some of the rules (or the rules have changes) and to some, they are just a bit too old to continue with the demanding role.

In fulfilling the requirements to become a FIDE Arbiter (or an IA), FIDE has made a ruling that attending (and passing) a FIDE Arbiter Seminar is a must requirement before any application can be considered or approved. As I have done many events except attending the seminar, I was really hoping that a FIDE seminar will be conducted here in KL to "complete" my application and requirement. As most seminars are conducted abroad, I find it challenging to stretch my finances to cover my traveling expenses (not to mention the traveling time, course fees and accommodation) in order to meet the requirements. And, to think that there is a chance I might still fail the exam, it was too a devastating scenario to contemplate. Imagine having to spend some "fortune" only to fail the exam. My thought was.... Even if I were to fail in Malaysia, at least my finances would remain "almost intact".

So, when MCF finally agreed to hold the seminar, I was really ecstatic and overjoyed. And I was not the only one with the same feeling as more and more local arbiters who have been doing events for the past few years beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. They can also now fulfill the "must" requirements and for that, local aspiring arbiters began to register for the seminar. Whilst not all the participants looked forward to becoming a "full arbiter", the one thing clear was that everyone wanted to learn and gain knowledge from this valuable experience. And whilst some of the attendees may have the ambition of going all the way to becoming an IA, a few were contented only to pass the exam and become an FA. Whatever our goals, motives and objectives that we had, the one thing common was that we were all the eager beavers - eager to learn, eager to share and eager to know....

It was indeed a worthwhile experience for the 23 of us who attended the seminar. For me, there were familiar faces but at the same time, there were also new faces and new friends to be made. Although the seminar started on a rather shaky ground - there were a few things that was not prepared, sorted and planned correctly but these were eventually overcame - the seminar continued, improved, progressed and ended on a very good note. Both lecturers - IA Bunawan and IA Ignatius, were familiar and experience in the topic that they delivered. Of course for Ignatius - who is also the FIDE Secretary General and a very experienced Arbiter - his input, anecdotes, stories, experiences, etc, was very valuable. For me, I was sure that most of us were awed at his immense knowledge on the subjects at hand - at least I was. To think that I have known Ignatius since 1990 (at that time, I was just a new comer and he was already a "somebody" in chess), it did not stop my amazement from realizing how good he is at what he does. A friend told me that I am lucky to have him as one of the lecturer and his words could not be truer...

One thing good about the seminar which Ignatius also noted, was the lively and healthy discussions that the group have. Almost everyone was actively involved and engaged when discussing or debating on a learning point. He (and Bunawan) was constantly hounded by each and every participants who kept asking questions. wanting answers and solutions at the end of every session. And between tea breaks, we can see hoards of participants swarming around the lecturer's table to ask questions and clarify issues. At the same time, the other participants will also break into smaller groups trying to understand some of the questions posed by the lecturers and debating on the points intently. Such was the interest that Ignatius himself were sometimes challenged by the group.

For me, I had a great time! There were new things learned and some of the "assumptions" that I had were cleared. Some of my previous understandings were corrected and while it was hard for me to accept that I had understood some of rules "in a different way", I am now more confident that I can do a better job. And the challenge now is to convince other people that the new understanding that I have learned is the correct one. More importantly, I also realized that I now have 22 other arbiter friends who can help me to "defend" my new understanding.

When the day for the exam finally came, I went in with full confidence. I told Ignatius that 4 hours allocated for the exam with 33 questions was too long (Ignatius told me that I can always opt for the shorter "time control"), but in the end, I was surprised that the timing was almost perfect. When I finished my last question, I had only 5 minutes left on the clock. Only 2 other persons sent earlier than me, and even then, it was only 5 or 10 minutes quicker.

The nerve wrecking situation came after the exam session ended when the soon-to-be-arbiters started to discuss about the answers (while Ignatius calmly marks the scores in the examination room). At the lunch table, almost everyone was going around asking "what was your answer for this", ".... and that" and so on. And again, discussion ensued on the corridors, over tea, coffee, while standing, while sitting, with everyone giving their inputs, opinions and "logical explanation". And then it dawned upon me... "My GOD! I might fail....."

As I had been one of the most experience Arbiter in the group - having run many major events in the last 3 years i.e. Malaysian Opens, National Closed, National Youth, National Age Group, GACC, Team Event, FIDE rated events and numerous weekend events, I can't imagine if I am unable to pass the exam. My heart sank.... And the pressure was intense. Not only that I have to pass, I also have to - to a certain extent - pass at the top of the class otherwise my credibility may also be at stake. How can I have the experience but lacking in knowledge.... Ignatius did mention that giving a bad decision does not mean that you are a bad Arbiter but..... this is an exam. Its between me and a sheet of paper, and the knowledge that I have learned. This is not a chess event....

I decided to tone down the pressure and said "Well, at least I can get a pass..." but still, can I not? I still can't imagine if I were to fail. Maybe I should get at least the top 2 placing? Or top 3? Or, maybe I should just try to beat Mok? I recalled that during some of the class exercises that we had, Mok seems to be doing better than me hence, I have a feeling that he might finish at the top of the class.

As we were going through the answers with Ignatius, I started to remember what I had answered in the questions and of course, I began to notice my points are getting lesser and lesser as I accumulate inaccurate or incomplete responses. It seems as though there were more points deducted than earned. My only hope was that I had counted the scores wrongly or had forgotten how I answered it "wrongly". After all was concluded (there were also some arguments on some of the answers given and I - with a few other attendees, were fighting for it because I know I was a "borderline" case), Ignatius finally sat, ready to announce the names of those who passed the exam.

When he mentioned the score for the highest pointer, I said to myself it couldn't be me... maybe it would be Mok. At that point, I would be contented if I can get a second placing or third... or pass. At least a pass.... But please, not fail.... Ignatius then continued to mention the name.....

"Najib Abdul Wahab" and the class followed with a clap... and for me, I was relieved! Can't imagine how relieved I was. At least, all the learning, the experience, the events that I have done, are paid off. At least, I solidify myself as one of the better and experienced arbiters (moving towards the best) considering that I have done many important events. And for that I was thankful. Mok who came in a close second challenged me to attend the FIDE Trainer event so that he can avenge his loss but Mok, for this one... I am the better Arbiter!

I am also happy to see Nik Farouqi rounding up the top three as he has been one of the better chess player who is leaning towards becoming an arbiter.

For me, the seminar was a great success and in one of the session, I did advice all the attendees to keep in touch with one another, and to continue sharing knowledge because each event and each arbiter will learn and experience different things. And as we exchange the knowledge and the learning, we all can become better arbiters faster.

Now, I am looking forward to submitting my FIDE Arbiter application and next in line... the IA title. My target.... by end of 2012 if not earlier.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Triumph, Trials and Tribulations as Organizers

Organizing an event is not a simple task no matter what the level of the event maybe - be it a local event, club event, state event or even an international event. The challenges, demands and preparations faced by organizers for each level are somewhat similar but, the importance of each obstacle is heightened depending on the level of the event. Obviously, organizing an event of International level requires a more thorough and detailed approached whereas managing and preparing a local or club event allows room for a more relaxed environment.

Like in most other things in life, money plays a very important role hence, the first issue faced by most organizers - myself included, is finding or obtaining substantial funding to underwrite an event.

In most cases, events are organized where the funds are sponsored by companies or individuals. In most cases, a single donor would be enough to cover the expenses but in some, more than one donor is required to underwrite the costing of an event. A small weekend event can easily cost between RM 2,000 and RM 3,000 to run. The higher level the event is, the higher the costing would be, running up to hundred thousands of ringgit. This funding is used to cover the cost for providing prize fund, officials fees, rating fees, stationary charges including hall rental, equipments and the likes.

For a weekend event, the bulk of the costing goes to the prize fund but for running an international event, the main culprit would be preparing the venue and accommodation. Obviously, for international events, the place has to be comfortable preferably in hotels where the players' accommodation can also be catered for. If the sponsors are well established, the hotels also need to be of a certain level and not some 2 star hotel somewhere where the "genie goes kicking"

Looking at Malaysian Open and KLCA Open this year, the total prize fund given out by these two events is between RM40k and RM50k. But, if we look at the venue, a hotel ballroom can cost anything between RM7k to RM 15k per full day. Running a 5 day event with RM7k per day for the ballroom would easily chalked up RM 35k costing for the venue alone. As the event goes bigger and bigger (and more important), a bigger and better venue would be required and this will also add more cost for the organizer to think about. Ergo, whilst the big chunk of the costing goes to the prize fund, an almost bigger fund is required for the venue. And this cost is elevated as rooms/accommodations for selected players and officials need to be catered for - again, a few more thousands added.

Costing for officials and equipments are usually "negotiable" and rather reasonable. In a weekend event, an arbiter can be paid anywhere between RM100 and RM300 per day, depending on the size and importance of the event, and the arbiter's competency. And there are also organizers who double up as arbiters for their own event as such, the arbiter fees is somewhat absorbed. There are also "voluntary" arbiters - interested individuals who happen to be there (and wanting to gain experience) and I am sure, there are also individuals who are "forced" to become arbiters as part of their duties or responsibilities.

If we look at a full international events like Olympiad or other world level events, the Arbiters can receive a handsome remuneration including board and lodging taken care of by the organizers. Whatever it is, the costing for these officials are included in the entire budget and depending on the level or importance of the event, the cost of arbiters increase accordingly as the importance of the event increases as well.

Aside from the arbiters, the bigger the event is, the more "warm bodies" are required to help run the event i.e. runners, bulletin editors, secretariats, securities and dispatchers. With these added people, the organizer would need additional budgets to provide the "salary" for these additional assistants. Again, there will be some "voluntary" helpers that are more than willing to help but taking advantage of "free hands" generally should be avoided.

In some cases, organizers rely on the collection of entry fees to pay out the prize money and cover the running expenses of organizing an event. In the US. one of the method used was to provide a clause where a certain percentage of the entry fees collected goes back to fund the prize money, and the balance to be retained by the organizers as running cost. This method is not so popular here in Malaysia as most players would like to see a guaranteed prize money rather than a "what-might-be-prize-money". There were attempts to promote such events but most of the time, the response from the crowd has been very cold if not frozen!

Having sponsors mean that organizer has one less headache to think of i.e. how to manage the funding. Once an organizer has a solid backing from an organization (or someone) to make sure that the finance part is taken care of, then the other costing (if any) can be taken care of by the entry fee collected. In most cases, the profit and loss can come to about even with a bit more advantage on the plus side. But, these so called "profit" needs to be managed well for rainy days because as organizer move forward to create other events, there will be situation where no sponsors will come forward to provide any financial backing and the organizer is left at its own resources (and ingenuity) to manage the costing of the event.

But, as an event becomes more popular and regular, it can become a self supporting event able to finance itself. Again, the importance of the event, the level and the attraction (for players to have a reason to play in the event) plays a very important role in ensuring a successful event with minimal external financial support. As the event becomes more popular, it would only take minimal time before companies may start to take interest in the event and eventually becoming its sponsors.

I was told that the World Open held annually in Philadelphia can turn in huge profits based only on the number of entries that it received in every edition, but during the first few years of the event, the organizer was running the event at a loss. But, as the event continues year on, it become more popular as more and more players take part in the event. The event became known world over and attract chess players from all corners of the globe to participate in the event, and eventually attracting some sponsors as well.

Relating to my experience, whilst it may not be the World Open, all the events that I did was purely relying entry fees received from the players and participants. My first 2 events - the Renegade and Maverick, had impressive turnout and I did manage to get some profit out of it but the Warrior weekend was a letdown and it ran at a loss. I am not sure what the turn out will be for future events but I am hoping for the best.

Looking back at the previous events, Renegade success can be attributed to the fact that it was organized early in the year and Maverick was 2 weeks before the National Closed - there are some elements of "hunger" for players to take part in these events. On the other hand, the Warrior event was held during school exams week and in view of the coming MSSM, there were also a few selection events for the schools running during the same weekend. There were also weekend events ran 2 or 3 weekends prior to Warrior i.e. Ampang Chessmaster including events held in Perlis, Terengganu and also the Selangor Open hence, there could also be an element of "burnout" from the players - they just had too much chess to deal with. Anyway, events will go on and in view of the coming Puasa month and Raya celebration, the next weekend event should be sometime in September and I am hoping for more players to come and play - after all the celebration that all of us have had.

Organizing events has its ups and downs and there are plenty of rooms for improvement that can be learned from it. In most cases, players and parents continue to show their support despite some unfavorable incidences that may occur from time to time in the events. It is understandable that organizers - me included, are prone to make mistakes but, the most important thing is how we learn and move forward to improve the situation and not repeat the same mistake again. But, this is not a task for me alone because I do believe that both organizer and players, spectators, supporters and parents need to work together to improve the tournament condition in our country.

A friend of mind once said "I respect the players but I respect the organizers more because without the organizers, there would be no event for chess players to play in, and when there is no event, there is no rating and no title."

Thursday, March 31, 2011

And our first GM is.....

For the local chess community, most of us are waiting to see our very own GM, a Malaysian born GM, a local fella we can be proud of. Old, young, men, women, boy or girl is probably secondary.... We just want to have a GM we can call our own. But who would be our best bet to earn the coveted title? Will we be able to see one in this decade? Maybe sooner? Or maybe later?

Maybe, we should share our country vision - Wawasan 2020 and get a GM by then. I think 2020 is a bit too far off... Perhaps we should aim to get our own GM by 2015 at the latest. But is this a realistic objective for us to achieve? And who would be our best bet to claim the title of Malaysia's first GM.

Foremost, is it "mathematically" realistic to achieve that target? Let say we have identified and marked a prospective player with a reasonable 2000 FIDE rating points. So, in order for the player to achieve the GM title, he/she has to earn 500 points in 4 years, at an average rate of 125 points per year. Is this possible? One junior player did that by jumping from below 2000 points to above 2100 points in 1 year. This was done over a few FIDE rated events including the Malaysian Open, the National Closed and the KLCA open but, the higher the rating points a player has, the stronger tournament he/she needs to play in order to continue climbing at the "projected rate". Doing it in Malaysia alone - despite having the Malaysia Open, Penang Open, KL Open or any other open for that matter, may not be enough. With two major events going into extinction i.e. KLCA Open and Malaysia Open, the situation becomes more challenging than ever because, the player would have to travel abroad to achieve this feat... So, is it still possible and realistic considering the amount of time, money, traveling, study that needs to be put in? So, the better bet still lies amongst those who are already in the circa of 2300 FIDE rating because they are much nearer to the 2500 mark especially those who are established like our IMs and FMs. But the question then... are they HUNGRY for it?

Of course, if I say that is not possible for players below that rating point to earn a GM within the next 4 years, then I am seen as "negative". Well, I would rather say that I am being SMART about our objectives i.e. Specific, Measured, Attainable, Realistic and Time bound. As you know, there are a lot of people out there who are "eager" to twist and spin words around, right? Anyway....

We can still achieve a GM from players who are on the rise but in order to continue providing the player(s) with a "better than average chance" to earn the coveted title, it seems inevitable that the player(s) has to travel abroad and participate in stronger events, probably around 6 events per year, and achieve good results in all these 6 events. Of course the more events he/she participated in, the better the chances of him/her to earn more points and norms, besides gaining the knowledge and experience. And with every poor results (there would probably be one or two along the way.... ), the player would have to make it up in additional events to replace the "lost points".

If playing in Europe sounds a bit too far (and expensive), there are a few events in our region that the player can look forward to playing i.e. Bangkok Open, Singapore Open, Continental Championship in Philippines, Campomanes Memorial, Australia Open, etc. but still, some international traveling is required.

But, there are still other supporting factors that needs to be taken into account because playing in events alone will not be enough. The player would need time, money and of course, the main spanner in the works - a good trainer/coach. And to top it all, the player also needs to have the desire to achieve and a supportive parents to help make the journey easier. But even though a player has all these, and I mean PLENTY of these, sometimes... just sometimes, he/she just don't have the talent to carry him pass the "victory line". Like it or not, lady luck sometimes have a very humorous way to convey her message across.... But let's not go too deep into that...

So, let us look at the pool of players that we have... Who would you put your money on? Or, do you think that our future GM is still running in diapers in somebody's house... of just maybe, our GM will come from one of our veteran players who decided to focus on chess once he/she has retired and go all the way for the GM title. FYI, I am surprised (and inspired) to learn that GM Wong Meng Kong of Singapore took more than 15 years to finally achieve his GM title... Maybe it would be me (since I am doing chess almost full time and can devote my time to learning chess....). So, who would be our GM, our first GM?

There are definitely a lot talented players amongst our juniors i.e. Lim Zhuo Ren, Sumant Subramaniam, Edward Lee, Timothy Capel , Mohd Nabil, and if we were to go more junior than these juniors, we would have Yeoh Li Tian and Subramanian Sivanesan. For the girls, we have Nabila and Najiha, Alia Anin, Tan Li Ting, Puteri Rifqah, Puteri Munajjah and Camelia. But, even the "older and seasoned" players also can still aim for the prestigious title such as IM Mas, IM Mok, FM Nicholas Chan and FM Ronnie Lim. But amongst these players, who would most likely be our GM? Well, I would probably not want to name any of them but based on observations....

IM Mas (and IM Mok - age may not be on his side), would still remain as the best persons to achieve this feat - considering their mathematical chances because they are less than 200 points away from the GM "bar line". Further, both Mas and Mok are clearly a league above everyone else.

I had the opportunity to see Mas grow from an aspiring junior to become Malaysia's strongest player. The support provided by his late father was immense and undivided - I knew his father as we hailed from the same school. His father would buy any and every chess books that he come across and work each book with Mas from page 1 to the end - such was his support and determination to make him what he is now. The late Cikgu Rahman (as I fondly called him) will, on almost every occasion whenever he is in KL, call me to ask if I have any books for sale - new, old, in whatever conditions and if he does not have it, he will probably buy it. And during Mas 2 year stint with GM Ian Rogers, Mas continued doing the same thing, train and learn chess as many hours as he can put in alas, he fell short of achieving his dream - our dream, to be Malaysia's first GM. But, the good thing is, the dream never fades and he is still eying for the title so, can he finally cross the "finish line"?

But, do we have our junior players who would read chess books after chess books like what Mas did? I assume.... most players are almost dependent on Chessbase, Rybka, Fritz and probably Shredder but, do our players read chess books? Hardbound, hard copy chess books, turning the pages leaf after leaf? Looking at the lines with a chess board on the side or does our chess players only look at the diagrams and "visualize" the moves on the board?

Mok, albeit age is not on his side, probably have a slightly better chance than Mas based on the simple fact that he is in chess almost on a full time basis. But balancing between teaching chess as a mean for living and playing chess by forgoing the teaching, is a difficult thing to juggle. Of course Mok would love to get his hands on the GM title (and earn much much more after he had done this) but the question is not whether he can or cannot, its whether he is willing or will not? That my friend, only Mok can tell you....

Maybe I should not name names but let us look at some of the characteristics that can probably "help" a player to achieve the feat.

For the girls (and we do have plenty of girls who can play well), if they have a brother (or father, cousins and even partners or spouses) who plays chess, and if they spar often, the girls will tend to play the game like the guys - aggressive, attacking, tactical chess. A lot of our stronger women players came from families where the entire family plays chess. If we look at the list of Women winners since 1990, all of them except sisters Eliza Hanum and Eliza Hanim, and Roslina Marmono (not sure about her?) who do not have brothers that play chess. 1990 Champion WIM Audrey had her younger brother Adrian Wong (who is a strong junior player) to spar with, WIM Siti Zulaikha had brother FM Johan Foudzi, sisters Khairunnisa and Nurul Huda had NM Kamalariffin and Mohd Khair to practice with, Alia has Anas, Shazwani has Zarul, Li Ting with Jun Feng, and Fong Mi Yen has brothers and a father to learn and practice with. Even the younger generations that we have now, most of the leading "girl" players have a brother that can play chess really well i.e. Nabila/Najiha have Mohd Nabil (and father Azman Hisham is also not an "easy meat"!), Puteri Rifqah/Munajjah have Syakir/Irfan. I am not saying that those without brothers do not have a chance but its just that they have to work a bit harder. For Eliza Hanum and Eliza Hanim, though they do not have brothers that play chess, a lot of the senior national players would spar with the girls whenever their father, Tuan Haji Ibrahim attends a chess event. Maybe, just maybe, we will be able to see a first WGM instead of our first full fledged GM.

For the GM title, imagine if the girls surpass the guys and took the title as well... It can happen. At one point, I think WIM Siti Zulaikha wanted to play in the Open Section of the National Closed but she did not. If she had, I am sure she can end up somewhere at the top of the list, or even a champion.... Imagine a lady National Champion amongst the guys.... Our very own version of Judith Polgar...

For the juniors, most of them rose to the height of their play just when they reached their 17th birthday and by then, they have SPM to deal with. And soon after, universities beckons, studies become more demanding, career comes, then "she" (or "he") appears, and the dating starts, love and before you know it, chess becomes a thing of the past. They may still play, and they are still strong but, the desire to excel becomes weaker. After all, they are still at the top of their game and can still give other players a good run for the money albeit the lack of playing..... So, chess becomes... a hobby....

One parent put it aptly (but not exactly) - "If my child can reach an IM level by 17, then I don't mind for my child to pursue chess full time and aim for the GM title". Money? "I will work for it because my child is not far off from the title". The parent continued "However, if my child can't reach that level by 17, then I need for my child to put chess on hold".

An example is GM Ziaur who attained his IM title just before he went to college. He studied for 4 years - taking something that is not too difficult i.e. Anthropology, and refocus on chess after graduating and achieve his GM title soon after. I think that is a good plan... Because when you have reached IM by 17, putting chess on hold to earn a degree is not too bad. Chess is like swimming - once you have mastered it, you will not forget how to do it as long as you take some time to "practice". But, can our players achieve the IM title by the time they are 17?

A player may have the right ingredient to excel in chess i.e. a family that plays "good" chess, and the child that enjoys playing chess but, but does the family have the resources to travel around the country and the world to pull it all together?

A player may have all the money in the world, a rich family and a supportive parents but, does the child has the desire to excel? Whilst the child can afford to travel to any events in the world, will the child want to be a chess champion? The child would probably think - "I can still travel to London or New York without becoming good in chess". Or, the child may also think "I can also learn to play the piano or take up tae kwan do and be good at that too". With so many "food on the table", the child may not have the desire to be a champion. But tell the child "You will become the FIRST GRANDMASTER in Malaysia, an achievement that NO ONE has ever done" then maybe the child would see the opportunity in a different light.

But maybe, just maybe, if we were to go into one of the poorest area in the country, meet one of the poorest child in the nation and tell him (or her), "I will teach you chess and if you become very good at it, you can travel the whole world, and be a very well known person, a celebrity and a rich person" then I am sure, we will get our nation's First Grandmaster.....

What say you?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Struggling for Survival ....

MCF has, on most occasions, had the generosity of DTCN to keep the chess movement alive in Malaysia. And during the late 80's and throughout the 90's, we also had the influence of Dato' Sabaruddin Chik, the Minster for Tourism at that time, who helped MCF in finding sponsors and running promotions for a lot of international and national events. We also had the help of Dato' Rosli of Bank Pertanian Malaysia (now Agro Bank) with rapid events that tours all over the country.... Alas, most if not all of them, had gone but mind you, they are not the only ones who had left the chess scene.......

I remembered in the late 80's where we had the Bank Rakyat Open and whilst Bank Rakyat building is still standing at the junction of Jalan Tangsi and Jalan Kuching, the chess part of it has closed for a very long time. And funny enough, across the street from Bank Rakyat was a building that used to be occupied by MAA (Melewar Group) who sponsored the MAA Allegro (later was replaced by Bank Pertanian Allegro) and they too are missing from the sponsorship list. For the MAA Allegro, the Allegro Finals were conducted at PWTC and the winners from all the other Allegro Legs around the country were invited to play in the final event.

For the Labor Day event, we used to have the Southern Bank Labor Day event and that too has now become a memory of the past. Not only the event is now missing from the calendar, even the bank itself has gone missing after being swallowed by another bank.

In the earlier days, one of the more gracious and generous donor was Selangor Pewter who have been sponsoring most of the Selangor Open event (including a Junior event - if I am not mistaken) since the Open first started way back in the mid 70's but somehow, it seems that CAS has been having difficulty to get Selangor Pewter to continue with the sponsorship. Perhaps the interest in chess has diminished from the management of Selangor Pewter.

Another yearly event that is missing from or chess Calendar is the Kajang Chess event held at a clubhouse somewhere just outside of Kajang town (I forgot the name of the club?). Kajang Chess Club also used to host the first few editions of the Malaysia Open, and if you have seen the photo of the late Dato' Arthur Tan playing chess, you will probably notice that the photo was taken during one of his outings to Kajang.

And, there were also times when our National Closed was hosted by Parkroyal Hotel for a few consecutive years. It was indeed a "grand feeling" to have the event at one of the more prestigious hotel in KL, right at the edge of KL golden triangle and next to one of the more happening area in town - Bukit Bintang, the Bukit Beverly of KL (Beverly Hills that is... ).

During Dato Sabaruddin's first few years as the MCF President, I had the pleasure of playing on the Feri Muhibbah Chess Event where we depart from Kuantan, sailed across the South China Sea to Kota Kinabalu, Kuching, and Singapore before alighting at Port Klang. It was an amazing 1 week adventure where I also had the pleasure of beating Dato Sabaruddin on a golf putting game that we had on board the ship.

There were a few teams on board and if I am not mistaken, aside from my BSN team, there were also the Arab Malaysian Team and the Public Bank Team - 3 players per team with 1 reserve. At every port of call, all the Feri Muhibbah participants will join forces and play as a team against the local team from the docking city. The ship usually docks for one day before continuing its journey to the next port early the next day. It was indeed a memorable journey but the event never continued and the ferry services ceased after only 3 years in operations.

Although most of the sponsors have gone, there seems to be a new breed of sponsors coming in - albeit the amount may not be staggering or consistent, but of course, none can be compared to IGB who have become the major sponsor for the past 7 Malaysia Open. The total amount would have easily hit the 7 digit figures by now considering the prize money that it is offering and the cost of the venue accumulated over 7 years. So, aside from IGB, we also have Masterskill, ASTRO, AmBank (it was previously Chevrolet) and KLK but with the possibility that the Malaysia Open may be erased from the calendar (have you noticed that there is almost no news about the KLCA open as well?), these sponsors may also go missing before the year end. So, who is next, or what is next?

We are also beginning to see organizers who are striving by aiming small sponsorships for rapid events, and many others who are providing prize fund from self collection - a risk that may not pay off. However, most Universities like UIA, UKM, UPSI, UNIKL and UM, are able to conduct their events because of the strong support they received from their universities sporting unit - I am sure a small allocation is provided and combined with the entry fees that they received, they are able to put up a decent event and are able to survive. But these are considered small events and although these events helped to continue the growth of chess in Malaysia, the rate of which it will grow may not be as noticeable as we want it to be. Contributions are well and fine but, we need more, we need bigger events, but where is more going to come from?

On the national level, the current MCF committee is making some radical changes by taking a slightly different approach in conducting its event i.e. subcontracting it to another entity or organizations to run events. A smart move that indirectly allows MCF to take a "bigger" role in administering and developing chess in the country rather than be stuck in tedious and fickle issues that are synonymous with events organizing. Whether or not MCF (or the organizers) are able to profit out of these ventures is a separate issues but, the bigger issue is, how much further can we survive it this modus operandi continues? Imagine if organizers find it difficult to break even, would they they want to continue doing more events in the future? Whilst MCF can continue to "beg" for sponsorship, MCF has to come up with a business plan to improve its finances by other means and not be too dependent on sponsors. I am sure there are a lot of suggestions made to improve MCF finances (including one suggestion that I wrote 8 years ago) and I am sure some, if not all, have been taken up, improved and implemented albeit the results are not seen yet.

Sponsorships are fine but, sponsorships are hard to come by not because there aren't any out there but, for the most part of it, chess is an "intellectual" game and it is definitely not a spectator sport and that by itself is almost a full thumbs down. At the end of the day, sponsors want to see crowd in the number and chess, may not be able to pull that in. Of course, one can always appeal to the sponsors CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) but that too are usually taken up by the more needy sector i.e. government departments, orphanages, charities, etc. Further, MCF may not have the resources to "hunt" for these sponsorship as most of the committee members are in the committee on a voluntary basis. A very minimal amount of allowance is probably given to them, if any, but most of the time, they are paying for their own expenses (and would probably end up giving...). This is like the chicken and egg situation all over again. Even in the previous committee, because Dato' Tan, Dato' Sabaruddin and Dato' Rosli were there, most of the committee were .... ok ok ok.. that is a different story *LOL*

In order to make chess a more "spectator" sport, rapid events (and blitz) were popularized as attempts to make chess into a more entertaining event but still, you have to understand the game to appreciate the game. The least you need to know is how the pieces move and what is the objective of the game otherwise, the game will be all Latin and Greek to the spectator. Blitz events are very popular but sometimes, due to the very fast pace of the game, players tend to make "easy mistakes" and the game loses its beauty and lessen the quality. Rapid is a more acceptable mode of fusing the classical time control with faster playing pace as the quality part of the game remains almost intact albeit some "easy mistakes" can still be made in time scramble.

Let us take other sports that are easier to understand.

In comparison, Formula 1 is a very exciting spectator sport where you see "action" on the circuit where cars crash into one another, spinning, flying, burning, tumbling, etc. As for the sport itself, any Tom, Dick and Harry could understand the concept rather easily i.e. to be the fastest driver and the first one to reach the finish line without crashing! The thing is, Formula 1 is not as "easy" as what it seems to the layman's eye but because the concept of the race is very "easy" to understand, people can appreciate it quicker because you do not need to "study" the sport to understand the objective. In reality, Formula 1 is actually a very difficult and challenging sport. The weight of the fuel, the way the driver uses the brake, the angle of the downward force on the wing, the effectiveness of the pit crew, the compound and thread of the tires used, the pit stop timing, up to the racing line on the circuit are all very important but, spectators can ignore all these "little details" about the sport and still enjoy watching it. But for chess, if you do not know how the pawn moves, then that is it.... And to see a player uses more than 30 minute to make a move, spectator's would have fallen asleep waiting for the move. And of course, in a chess game, you have to be quiet.... You can't clap or pound on the "kompang" when a player has made a good move. I like Ilham's video where Kasparov gave "the look" to a spectator just because he glanced his board so, how to make it a spectator's sport?.... Of course, blitz and rapid tend to be a more "relaxed" form of competitive chess where "some noise" from the spectators are tolerable. Some years ago, I also organized a blitz event where I encouraged players to "talk and play" but still, in critical situations, both players tend to be quiet and went deep in thought, and spectators follow suit, and the only sound you can hear is the "clicking and clacking" of the chess clock. Some other forms of chess event such as simul events and blindfold chess may attract the crowd but, can it attract those who does not understand the game? Someone told me that the late GM Eduard Gufeld once said, "People like to go to circus and if you can turn chess into a circus show, then you can have the spectators". Do we have to resort to such?

I am not offering a solution as I am just looking at the current challenges and situation that we have. The effort to upgrade chess in the country needs the help of many people from many angle - the Federations, the players, the spectators, the sponsors, the media, the education department, etc. Educating the general public will be one of the bigger challenge and turning chess into a spectacular sport, is another.

The questions that boils down to you is; as a person who is involved in chess, have you looked in the mirror and ask yourself what have you done to help the chess community? Or are you easy to point out mistakes and shortcomings, nagging and complaining without making a real effort to help? Are you the ignorant type or simply the "don't care" type? Or are you in it for something else?

To quote JFK - Ask not what Chess can do for you but ask, what you can do for Chess....

Monday, February 28, 2011

Our Local National Rating List....

Intrigued by the numbers shown by the FIDE rating list for our region, I tried to look at our own internal National Rating list which, as per the January release, had 8,506 players listed. I tried to go back as far as I can to compare the growth of our "internal chess community" and managed to get only as far back to April 2010, which is about 9 months ago. Fair enough... At least there is a start so here goes....

In April 2010, the National Rating list had 7,893 players and if we take the current numbers that we have from January 2011, we have expanded our chess community by 613 players in 9 months - approximately 68 players per month - and this seems to be very "good number". Looking deeper into the numbers again, we will see that 85% of these new players (or 522 of them) are school children and junior players, leaving us with only 91 senior or matured players that are over the schools age who are new in the rating list. There is nothing good or bad about this but it is rather encouraging to see that there are adults who into playing chess at a later "age" as it is usually popular amongst the kids (who continue playing into their adulthood). And to think that these "adults" did not participate in any chess events during their schooling days is rather "surprising".

The high number of young kids in the rating list is not at all surprising as these junior players may have been included in the rating list as a result of them playing in numerous MSS and Age group events that are being held on a regular basis all year round. After all, these junior events is considered as one of the major source of "chess population" in the country since chess is recognized as a sport in MSSM. Further, with many corporates eager to help and contribute to the cause of helping young and aspiring students to improve, it is rather easy to organize and find sponsors for junior chess events. Further, with the MSS structure covering both Malaysia, State and District levels, any annual MSS Malaysia event can easily produce between 300 and 400 players (consider 14 states sending a boy and girl team for both secondary and primary level, in team and individual events). And going down the State and district level, the numbers can easily increase by two or three fold.

As for MCF event, the annual NAG is always on the MCF yearly calendar and last year NAG event in Penang had more than 300 players in 6 age group categories for both the boys and girls. in fact, 200 to 300 players are the normal number of players playing in any NAG event since the last few years what more when the winners of these events are offered to represent the country in various junior and youth events all over the world. With these 2 major junior events being the main attraction for school children to get involved in chess, it is not surprising that our national rating list are populated by more active junior players than the senior ones

But, since the national rating list does not provide the number of "rated" games that each player play, it would be interesting to see how many games each of these new players have played in the last 9 months (regardless of they are junior or senior players) to see how active they have been. My bet is that these numbers would not be so high and that each new junior players would probably play in only 1 or 2 events - but maybe I am wrong.....

Looking at the same 613 new players that we have since April 2010, the average rating of these new players is 1,235 points which is a bit on the low side i.e. definitely from the beginner's or entry level. With so many junior players entering the rating list for the first time, this low number is not at all surprising. However, the huge numbers produced by MSS and NAG events does not necessary means that they are bad but... it would be best to look at the quality angle of it to make sure that success is achieved in both areas - quality as well as quantity.

Going back to the numbers, out of the 8,506 players that we have in the January 2011 rating list, there were no rating changes for 7,023 players. For calculation purposes, as it would be almost impossible to play in any event without experiencing any rating changes, we can probably assume that none of these 7,023 players (or 88% players from the 2010 April list) played in any event for the last 9 months. This is definitely a huge number of inactive players but then again, maybe they did play but none of the events that they played were sent for national rating purposes - both scenarios are equally likely to have happened. But as we are presented only with a limited data, we assume that they did not play in any event at all.

Out of that, we are left with 1,403 players who have played in a national rated event between April 2010 and January 2011 and out of that figure, a total of 1,044 players (or 70%) are junior players which again indicated how active our juniors are in playing local events compared to the senior players. Of course, this boils down to the same findings that we have in my earlier posting i.e. working people have to take leave, high entry fees, commitments, etc. These are of course some of the deterrent factor that limits senior players to play even in the local circuit compared to school children and junior players. What more, with more events tailored to the juniors, it is not surprising that they are more active than their senior counterpart.

The highest increase for 2010 (going into 2011) belongs to Iskandar Danial Adam who improved his rating point by more than 400 points. On the exact opposite, Nurislamurni Yahaya lost the most points with more tha 200 points going in the opposite direction. The average changes for each player whose rating changed in 2010 was 29 points.

What are the conclusions that we can observe?

  1. Again, we are seeing quantity over quality - a similar findings when we analyse our FIDE rating growth since 2001.
  2. Most of the active players are the junior players which are not at all surprising.
  3. 85% of all the new players included in the rating list are also junior players and again, this is not at all surprising.
  4. It seems that there are a lot of "dormant" players in the rating list. It would be interesting to see how many players in the list have not played in any chess game in the last 2-3 years.
  5. The entry level of new players averages at 1,285 points which is very low (considering that most of them are young players, the number are not surprising). Perhaps we should look at proper training and classes before we "throw" the new kids into a national rated event.
It is probably interesting to note that most of the top players i.e. Mas, Mok, Jimmy, Lim Yee Weng, Nicholas, Peter, Ng Tze Han, Yeoh Li Tian, Lim Zhuo Ren, are active in the national circuits.

Some of the findings needs more study and perhaps, the Rating administrator can provide more lights. Further, the national rating that we have seems to combine both rapid and classical time control as a single playing "strength". But, in view that we lack "longer time control" events and rating, the combined national rating list that we are currently using remains as the only benchmark that we can use... for now. At least, something is better than nothing...

Perhaps, if we can go further backwards and look at the rating list for 2008 or 2009, we can probably get a better picture on how our chess community has grown in the last 2-3 years. It would be great to look at that.

The rating list is a good indicator as to how our chess have improved locally but, the list must be maintained and include as many local events as possible to reflect the true strength (and activeness) of chess in the country. Players should be rewarded based on their achievement i.e. most improved, most gained in a single event, most games played, most events played. etc. to make the rating list a more acceptable and popular mode of ranking the local players.

Some kind of "quality" control must also be adopted to clear the list of duplicated names, inactive players, wrong spelling and so on. There are names which are noted as "Muhd Nabil Azman Hisham (not Azman Hisham's son)" which I find confusing as only the rating administrator would know who this person is. There is also another name "Tan Jun Hong (x Calvin)" and I kept wondering whether I am supposed to ask the person if he is "Calvin" or not. For the Malay names, it is a challenge trying to figure out if Mohd, Muhd, Mohammed, Muhammad, Mohamed, Mohamad, Mat, Md. or just the initial M. is the way to identify the player. And sometimes, event the players themselves are not sure which "Mohd" he had used to register his name. There was also a player who said his actual name is Mahamad and perhaps, some of the names used in the list were named out of assumptions rather than confirmations. Another challenge is whether to use Abd, Abdul or A, and adding a "dot" makes it even more challenging.

The best way is to use a unique identifier and whilst I/C is the best way to identify a person, it may create some uneasiness for some people as I/C can also be used in the wrong way if fallen to the wrong persons i.e. identity theft which is a very common crime in US where people stole other people's identity via a person's social security number.

Whatever it is, something needs to be done while the rating list is still in its "infant" stage because once the number hits thousands and hundreds of thousands, it will become a nightmare and instead of the list becoming very useful and informative, it can just become the opposite as the value can decrease as it becomes too complicated, without integrity, jumbled and confusing.

What say you?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Aerogramme from the past....

In the mid 80's, while I was studying in the States, I had the opportunity of joining the USCF - United States Chess Federation. I became a registered member in 1984 and continued playing chess until 1988 when I returned to Malaysia. Most of the chess items that I brought back i.e. books, trophies, chess notations including a NOVAG chess computer (it was one of the best in the market then) in one way or another, have been misplaced, lost, destroyed, sold or donated to. I believe my mom still keep some of the trophies back home albeit it now resides in the store and not the living room anymore. When I first played in the States, my rating shot up to almost 2100 USCF but when I left, it was circa 1900 (on the lower side of it *LOL*). Interesting to note that the USCF Magazine editor at that time was Larry Parr, and back in 2002, I was thrilled to learn that he is working here in Malaysia and having to meet him was, surreal! But of course, that is a totally different story....

Browsing through the USCF website, most chess clubs in US are still promoting the classical time control game. The only thing that has changed is, instead using the traditional 40/2 (40 moves in 2 hours, and 20 moves thereafter per hour), they are using the more regular and acceptable 90/30 (90 minutes plus 30 seconds increment per move). There are events with shorter time control i.e. 30 minutes, 35 minutes, etc, but still, the variety of available time control for players to play makes the circuit a bit more interesting. In contrast, most of Malaysian organizers (I am guilty as well....) are running amok with 25 minutes and rapid games almost everywhere and every weekend. Well, for this one, I have some plans to revive the longer time control games and would probably come up with some game plan once the National Closed is over. But, let me give some thought on that first and I will share the plans because..... that is a somewhat different idea to share. I think the main challenge to this is having to run events right up to late evening (3 rounds a day can extend the last round until as late as 11:00pm? I think in the past few years, most Malaysian organizers have done away with night games except when events are organized during weekdays where players have little choice but to start their game in the early evening)

So,back to my "old stories"....

In those earlier days that while I was active in the USCF circuit, I remembered some of the interesting "ideas" that I thought can be done in Malaysia. When I came back in 1988, I find it surprising that we have a different chess culture but without making any "comments", let me just describe a few:
  1. Chess players in the US comes to the tournament hall bringing their own chess and clocks. Before a game start, both player can decide whose clock and set to use. Of course if both players do not have a set to use, they can always borrow from the guy next door or the organizer can always rent the sets and clocks to them (Of course I had my own set and my own BHB clock!). In Malaysia, organizers prepare everything for the players including the recording sheet.... Pampered...
  2. In US, the USCF makes all kinds of chess items and accessories for their members (and non members) to purchase i.e. the sets, the books, the magazines, the pairing cards, the membership card, including trophies and medals! In short, anything and everything that can generate income to sustain its operations. In Malaysia.... Not that I do not want to start but, because there is none to start with... *grin*
  3. In US, members get a yearly subscription to its magazine - sent on time every time, and reminders to renew our membership. Once done, you are given a card (it was a mere paper card then - I am sure they have turned it into a "plastic" card). You have your name on the card, your registration number, your rating and your state (Mine was Texas and for your information, I was in Lubbock Texas where I was one of the pioneer group that started the chess club - well, that is a different story). Whenever the rating changes (usually every three months), a new card comes in the mailbox. In Malaysia.... ok ok ok... Let's not do the comparison.....
  4. Clubs were given a certificate which they display proudly when doing a tournament that the event is sanctioned by USCF.
  5. There is a list of "registered and qualified" arbiters listed by USCF
  6. Events were divided into rating category usually separated by 200 points so that players who are rated between 1800 and 2000 will only play against players of the same strength. Of course, player can always play in a higher category but not the lower ones. It provides an almost even chances for players to win and, it promotes improvement because players always wants to play in the "higher level" or the "next level". But of course, there are "sandbaggers" who try to manipulate the system. (You can ask IM Mok the meaning of "sandbaggers")
  7. Similarly, while I was in Lubbock, we use to have the "Fish trophy" which is given the higher rated player who is defeated by a lower rated player (with the widest margin). So, most of the higher rated player would not want to get beaten by the "weaker" counterpart otherwise, they will end up with the "Fish trophy" - similar to the "broom" award which created some hu ha in Selangor. (Actually, I wanted to add this prize to our weekend event... but I need to create an excel "formula" that can identify this immediately! Maybe I should just do....)
  8. There were some events that I took part in where the organizers "bundled" the entry fee and the hotel charges into a single payment so, you can stay at the hotel and play. And unless the club has its own premise, most events are being staged in a reasonably good hotel.
  9. I think I will stop at 8
30 years have past since I played in the states and it seems that, by reading the information and news from the USCF website, the "culture" and "business model" still continues to flourish rather well. The chess politics also exist (and I heard, it is worst than us here in Malaysia) but what interest me is the fact that the chess society is able to sustain, maintain and operates on its own. I am sure there are patrons, donors and sponsors which I consider as bonuses but, the fact remains that even without the patrons, donors and sponsors, the community can still continue to strive. But if we look at USCF, it all works in a complete cycle. I feel that what is happening there is that the chess community is able to complement one another and help the next link to form another part of the cycle. Its supposed to going round like a circle not going upwards or downwards like a pyramid.

In Malaysia, the cycle seems to have gaps everywhere and failed to make a complete circle. Or am I seeing it differently?

What say you?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Too Much Food on the Table....

There are too much food on table that the food name chess is not something that we are force to eat. There are football, tennis and golf on the table; there are lawyers, doctors and engineers on the table; there are silver spoons and crystal plates; there are satin sheets on the table with chandelier on top. In short, there are too many other things that are more interesting than chess that a person can choose other items that can provide a better future, a better career, a better salary, a better living. So why should he/she chooses chess?

Chess is definitely a hit in Vietnam. As per my previous writing, the growth of strong chess players in Vietnam in the last 10 years is the highest in the region, increasing by more than 300%, doubling the number of GMs that they have from 3 to 7. But why does the Vietnamese became very good in chess?

My theory - just a theory - is that being good in chess open doors for many Vietnamese to enjoy a good life, to be known and to be rich. It is their ticket out of poverty. Similarly, in Philippines and Indonesia, there are chess players who hustle other chess players to earn additional income by gambling on the street side. In short, being good in chess provides them a mean to survive. For Malaysians, being good in chess, for now, offers another past time that is almost certain to take a back seat once the door opens up for them to enroll in university to become a lawyer, a doctor or an engineer. For Malaysians, without chess, they can still go abroad for vacation, get a good job locally (or abroad) and still has the chance to drive a car. In Malaysia, there are other interesting sports such as soccer and hockey, and badminton where sponsors come in and literally throw in money even though we may not do well on the international platform.

So, how can we make chess interesting? How can we put more salt, pepper, colors, taste, sugar, icing on the cake to make chess the food of choice on the table? Where is the career path for Malaysian Chess players? What happened if and when they become good? Can it provide a mean for them to survive and help to put food on the table?

At one point, we had the assistance of the Ministry of Tourism (under Dato Sabaruddin Chik) and the generous contribution from Dato Tan Chin Nam but sadly, one has left the chess scene almost a decade ago and the other, is almost out the door. But still, with the amount of money that has been poured into Malaysian chess with the help of these 2 MCF presidents, our chess standards are still mediocre. Maybe, there is just too much food on the table....

With more and more Malaysians have improved their living status, the attractiveness of chess seem destined to diminish. Only the chess players from the chess community can put a stop to this. Most of strong juniors have and will leave the scene the moment they take up a career but if we can provide a means for them to continue life by playing chess, only then the option of playing chess as a career, instead of working (or doing both at the same time) can become more available and attractive.

Without a doubt, the life span of a Malaysian chess player is at peak during their schools years. Most likely, parents that very passionate and vocal about the growth of their children in chess, usually disappear once their children have left the scene. But the interesting fact remains that chess parents keeps on changing from years to years but maybe along the way, we will meet a parent that will say "Go ahead! Make your chess!"

It is inevitable that once a chess playing kid reach the college level, their interest in chess usually diminish and once they start having a job, chess becomes more of a past time game, but more drastically, chess ends up as a postcard from the past. According to a study in US, the percentage of attrition is about 90% for a student to stop playing chess once they leave school. I assume, the percentage would probably be about the same in Malaysia. But in Malaysia, is the reason children stop playing chess is because of the pressure received from the family i.e. to be more focused on an assured career? Maybe the parents realize the value of chess deteriorates as the child gets older... Whilst it is a very good game to get the mind going, an excellent game to learn self disciplined, promote patience and enhance sense of logic, at the end of the day going into adulthood, chess does not seem to be able to maintain survival. But what if chess can provide the child a good life, a productive life? There are some in Malaysia who are surviving on chess (albeit a bit of struggle) but, why can’t chess be more attractive and become one of the better choices that the kids can pursue as adults, as a career? Maybe not lucrative one but at least an enjoyable and comfortable one. Who does not want to work doing something they love and get paid for it? Imagine you as a chess player being paid to play chess, learn chess, teach chess, manage, organize, and win chess tournaments. You may be a manager in a high paying job with your own room but, do you think you would like being a Manager? The money may be good but the work pressure, the yelling and screaming customers? Not to mention the workers issues, balancing the profit and loss, and having to work at the company's time and not managing your own time?

If a child can peak, and become a GM in his teens (like GM Anand said that if you cannot become a GM by 16 or 17 years old, then forget about chess), then probably the child’s career in chess becomes more apparent, more clear, and perhaps, they can continue to sustain life as a professional chess player well into their adult life - because they started early. Then the next question comes…. is there any parents that are willing to invest in their child early school life and train the child to be a GM by the age of 17 just like what the Polgars achieved? And once they become a GM, can the chess environment in Malaysia allows a chess GM to continue to survive and make a living as professional chess players? So, the same topic repeats – having a better education can carry a person a long way but not chess. But is this a true and ultimate statement? It is probably true in certain parts of the world that a chess player can make a comfortable living but, why can’t it be true here in Malaysia well? Just because it has never happened in Malaysia before does not mean that it is destined to fail? So parents, come and invest and if an excellent plan can be drawn, the ROI will be achieved when your child is 17 - Malaysia's first GM!!!

Whilst most parents understand and appreciate the value of chess as a tool that can help mold their children with positive attributes and teaches them the values of life, most parents would probably realize that it is about it that chess can do. Whilst most parents are proud and happy to see that their child is doing well in chess, when if come to proper education, university and a good job, how many parents would actually say “Forget books. Let’s go for chess.” Maybe because no one has done it before and succeed but, what if one person who decide to take the other way and out of sheer hard work, become successful at it? Are you willing to be that first person to path the way and prove the others wrong? Come on… take a chance….

One thing good about chess is that the parents know the learning that their children have gained from playing chess will remain throughout the child's life albeit they may not play the game anymore. But in countries like Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia even China and India, whilst it may not provide much food on the table, chess can at least provide them some food. Whilst they may not be able to have a career, chess can still provide them some kind work, a mean to move on, a mean to survive.

Even if we look at most of our talented youngsters nowadays, most of them also learn something else other than chess. Aside from playing chess, I am sure most of our youngsters also learn to play the piano, swimming, karate, practice badminton, football, etc. Maybe parents should just focus on one thing – chess and not anything else at all. Still, we need to add value to the game. The value of swimming is that you can save yourself from drowning. The value of karate, you can use it for self defense. The value of piano is that the child can impress the girl next door with Forest Gump music score and get the girl to fall head over heels for him. Can you imagine the same for chess? But then again, imagine if the child becomes the first ever Malaysia Grandmaster – the highlight, the glamour and the image? Imagine if the boy becomes as good as Gary Kasparov and as eccentric as Bobby Fischer (or both)… Imagine being known around the world over. I assume Jimmy Choo, the world famous shoe designer from Malaysia, was probably laughed at and ridiculed when he started designing shoes at the back of his kampong house. People would probably say “why you design shoes? Just go and buy the Bata ones….” But now, look who is laughing… I am waiting for our first GM (again, not that blog) to laugh at those before him and say "Tu lah... sapa suruh you tak try?"

The question remains on how we improve the value of chess as a preferred food or choice on the table? It needs a good chef, a good kitchen, excellent ingredient and a good supporting kitchen staff.

Someone told me that having a first local GM can create the interest and increase the value of chess but.... can it do that? Just a GM to stir a national interest… Having our first GM (not the blog site ... ha ha ha) will definitely create a boom but, can the boom be sustained or will it become just like any other fad, a momentary sense of excitement? Chess will probably flourish but, can we sustain the excitement and momentum to take it further to the next step? We need to add more spices and flavor – from the normal Coke to Vanilla Coke. Once we have a GM, we will all roll over in joy but from then, the journey would probably just started because we need to continue with the momentum, because most hypes are illusions that can fade very easily. Maybe what we need is a Malaysian Bobby Fischer because I believe Fischer's uniqueness have been able to influence the growth of chess in America even till today....

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a simple step. But, who wants to be the first one to boldly go where no Malaysian chess player (or parents) has gone before.... ? Would you?