I like how Ilham has identified the selection process for Olympiad 2010 - 3 senior players, 2 junior players and 1 tourist. When it was some years ago, it was 4 players (by a selection process) and 2 (or was it 1), to be nominated by the President (or committee). I do not know what the selection process was in the 80's or 70's but I'm sure there were some kind of guidelines used to select the national squad. So, what is the best method to select the national team?
It seems that almost everyone agrees that "merit" is the best criteria for selection, and those who are active playing chess should be given the upper hand. Last year, one of the better players who are highly rated in the FIDE rating list wanted to play in the Olympiad but refused to play in the national closed event, or any qualification event due to other commitment. Of course, the committee said no but, what an audacious request? Some years ago, MCF stand was that it was better to send players who are young and inexperienced (or even weak players) to represent the country than allow good (but demanding) players the glory.
How do we categorize player who has merit? Winning or earning a good placement in the National Closed should be one of the merit category. The argument is, with so many "strong" players shying away from the event, should those playing in the event be considered at all? For one thing... why not? If strong players chose to shy away from the National Closed event, why should those playing be penalized for wanting to be in it, and eventually winning it? But, what would be the reason (or reasons) that the strong players do not want to play in the National Closed? Money? Time? Not challenging enough? Maybe its a combination of all, if not some of these reasons. Maybe they wanted recognition i.e. to be invited for the event (roll out the red carpets) or compensation for the time that they have to skip work to play in the event.
Most of the good players are also doing well in their working life ergo, weighing between playing chess (an interesting game but not so consistent income) and working (a stable and probably high monthly salary that can last a lifetime), is a no-brainer choice for most people. So, it is probably not their fault for not wanting to play. Of course, even if we were to give them compensation for the time that they have put in i.e. free entry fees, appearance fees, and so on, and if they were to win the event, can they actually take time off from work (for 2 weeks) and play for the country? Some may but most would probably prefer not to do that. The funny thing is, it does not seem like the strong players themselves are making it an issue (if they do, please enlighten me.... ), but more by others who are spinning the issue for reasons only best known to them. But let us not delve into that.... The main thing is, we are back to square one (plus half).
On the bright side, if the country's top players do play, we have a strong field of player playing in the National Closed but flip the coin, can they represent the country? My prognosis, we will probably end up choosing those who earned the 10th to 20th placing anyway to represent the country. But for the juniors, and first time country representatives, this is once in a lifetime experience to glamorize the resume. Since they would not miss it for the world, the lesser the strong players play, the better their chances are. Again, on the flip side of it, if the strong players do play, this is a chance for them to whoop their backside. Is there a workaround? Psst... I am not providing an answer but I am inviting comments *grin*
So we look at the second criteria - the FIDE rating list? So, we choose the top 10 players for selection but, are they active chess players? Do we consider those who play in mostly international events but less involvement in the local chess scene as "active"? But then again, most events in Malaysia are "rapid" events with very less FIDE approved time control. I can only name 4 major events and another 1 doubtful event to be held this year and they are: National Closed, Selangor Open, Penang Open, KLCA Open and the uncertain DATMO event. And out of those events, National Closed with the Selangor Open as a close second are the only 2 events that Malaysians may have a chance of finishing at the top. For the other 3 events, we can probably see foreigners filling up the top spots, and local stars bagging the "best Malaysian" award, or the consolation prizes.
So, it does not seem suitable to base the selection on FIDE rating as such, do we go back to our National Rating - which uses results based on mixing rapid and classical time control? In my opinion, classical rating and rapid rating may not be too much of a different. It is not like comparing it between apple and oranges. It is more like Sunkist orange and Mandarin orange. I mean, a good player is a good player regardless what the time control is - to a certain extent. But then again, not all local events are send for national rating calculation, and most of the 8000+ names in the national rating list are inactive, dormant or duplicates - I estimated only 25% of the names found in the rating list are active chess players. Or should we create a "National Chess Circuit" to promote more active participation from players of various strength? Or do we choose and identify events that can be used to "select" players?
Both options (or any other options for that matter) requires time, money and resources to run and manage it effectively. This would need another chapter to explain and share. Let us just stick to the selection process....
In summary, like in a chess game, having a plan is better than not having a plan. Similarly, having a selection process is better than not having any at all. It just needs to be refined, tuned and adjust as and when we go along. The argument may be - we have gone so far to start this process all over again, but at least, there a start, or a restart for improvement. Whilst there maybe an ideal way of selecting players, we are yet to find that one perfect way of going about doing so. If one event is not enough, how many events is needed? If there are not enough FIDE rating events, how many more do we need to organize? If FIDE rating is not reflective enough, can we use the National rating? If the definition of "active" is vague, let is table it and define it. If one tourist in the team is not enough, maybe we should have more tourists... (sorry Ilham!). But, whatever it is, there are criteria that needs to be weigh highly and those that needs to be looked at are; merit, activeness and commitment. Trying to please everyone is impossible and sometimes, you just have to bulldoze your way to make things right.
But give it time... and it will be ok as long as the improvement process is allowed to progress and continue in a healthy and productive manner.