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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?


  1. I think we are slowly moving to a better place in Malaysian chess and if we can keep this up great things will come. Interesting stories though.

  2. Actually, the players in the US still have to bring their own sets to the tournaments. In fact, when I was there a few years back, I played against GM Jaan Ehlvest, and even he had to bring his own set and clock (well, we had to use his set since I did not know that I had to bring one).

    The story of me getting crushed is completely irrelevant but I think it is actually a great idea for players to bring their own sets. It will significantly lower the costs of running events (less missing pieces, less players banging on chess clocks, no need for storage and transportation of tonnes of chess sets and clocks, security issues, no need for players to rearrange the chess sets after their games etc.).

    I wonder if we are at that level yet.

  3. I think, the one of the more important aspect is the economics of things, and going beyond the surface.

    USCF makes, distributes and sell the sets (usually, the tournament requirement is to bring a "USCF approved sets" for the event), and the players buys them. It generates income for the Federation and with chess players having their own set, they consciously become a part of the chess community, a committed member to the community, a supporter, a contributor. A chess player that does not have a set and a clock at home is like a badminton player that does not have a shuttle and a racket at home.... Don't you think it is strange to have that? And to certain extent, does not actually helps or contributes to the growth of chess in the country... Don't you think so?

    And subconsciously, it makes the players wants to play more and more chess because.... he has his own set and own clock, and can set it up to play anytime, anywhere and with anybody!

  4. Self dependency is a good idea so long as the sets are of the standard tournament make. As for clocks, it is debatable as analog clocks can be doctored.

    But the main thing is in getting players to have ownership of the game equipment. It is good education for the younger players too. After all, we bring our rackets and shoes to the game right? It will definitely make organising a lot easier and less stressful.

    Encourage club activity to flourish by opening on weekday nights. The Oslo Chess Club is open everyday and anyone wanting to play there will need to pay a fee of $3 a head for the night till closing. I can see DATCC doing that. Or have lecture series by the IMs and charge a small door fee for refreshments.

    I think club activity needs to be emphasised before a strong chess culture can trive. Fortunately for the temperate countries, winters are best reserved for chess tournaments. For tropical countries like us, we don't have that luxury. Hence, it may not be necessary to have so many events, but few very-well run ones where the chess public knows what to expect - either a good prize fund, or the prospect of norms. In that manner, perhaps organisers can get together to pool resources to make bigger events for the benefit of local players.

  5. My friend John (since we go back a long way!!!)

    I like your last few sentence where organizers pool together to create a "huge" event, and fewer but well run events.

    As I had mentioned in my article above, in Malaysia, we have too many "rapid" events so, I think the move forward now is to create more "longer time" control events but not necessarily "classical" ones. The main idea is to create quality over quantity.... foster serious chess and not a faster game where luck sometimes plays a major role.

  6. Yes Najib, games with 1 hr per side or even 25min with 10 sec increment will be good to start. The tournament can be spread over 3 days (Friday night, 3 rounds Sat, 3 rounds Sun). We used to spend 3 weekends for a tournament in the 80's (when time control was 1.5hrs per side) but that's a luxury by today's standards.

    I believe that this will make studying chess (esp endgames) worthwhile and will raise the standard of chess played. Chess played with more ideas rather than just tactics will eventually grip the interested and awaken their creativity.

  7. I suggest you choose a different theme for your blog. Its all dark and depressing. You know, all of us are already miserable with our chess situation, this blog makes us want to commit suicide.

  8. Aiyah Jimmy

    Don't la be like that??! Ilham also used dark background but you never ask him to change his color.... Are the topics that I brought up really that depressing ah?? Maybe you should keep the Talian Nur number (15999) handy... Just in case....

    Ok lah.... I change karer... Can we vote for it ah??

  9. Hi Najib,

    I still preferred your first wallpaper...that old tv set, old telephone...a living room with lots of history and memory to tell...feel closer to that first wallpic...but this one oso nice! batik theme!

    Mine need black background coz mine space explorer...:)but thinking to change it oso on this 12Mac 2011...2010 Chess Odyssey first anniversary!

    hmm, to wat color ah?

    See you this Sunday!

  10. Laaa i thought it's blood spilling...rupanya corak batik...anyway i prefer this one then old one. Lighter and easier for my eye.

  11. looks like somebody spilled his blood all over your blog....

    Still I like this better than the old one :)