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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?


  1. Hi Najib, I have written down some thoughts on my blog. Too long for comments here. It will be written in parts. Good questions.


  2. Najib,

    Though Malaysia has a vibrant chess-playing scene, it is still far from having a chess culture. That means having a large pool of people not just playing chess,but understanding it and appreciating it to want to support its growth.

    Singapore and Malaysia share common conditions of woe for chess professionalism. I have resigned to the fact that it would be better to breed a larger pool of people who can contribute to the country as professionals in their respective fields who derive their discipline and problem-solving ability from chess-playing. How do we attempt to keep their interest in chess, such that they become supporters and potential sponsors? Entice them to play but not in tournaments. Distinguished clubs located prestigious locations like KLCC, Royal Selangor and the country clubs. Set up a special league for them.

    Hence, chess should be promoted along the same lines as golf, in that its not just the physical swing, but the mental agility that distinguishes the successful individual. When the masses that understand this message grow, chess will be elevated in status such that sponsors will be heartened to fund a meaningful activity in growing the nation's brain pool.

    We need more Datuk Tans ...

  3. John, I think you should try to do something in Singapore before you try to tell us what to do here. We are fairly able to think for ourselves.

  4. John, I always felt chess has no borders. I'm sorry someone thinks you are muscling into his territory and he is feeling threatened.

  5. Hi John

    Dato Tan "generosity" covers both Malaysia and Singapore considering that Parkway in Singapore is just like Midvalley in KL. Dato Tan is also well known for his effort to start Chess in China way back when we were in primary schools.

    Anyway, whilst I agree that we need more Dato Tan, there will be a time when we need to be more "berdikari" and depend lesser and lesser to millionaires... sorry, billionaires like Dato Tan. At times, I am also resigned to the fact that "we have tried EVERYTHING!" but, there is always a hope.

    Chess has its own "smaller than niche" market but I believe, there is always ways to make it bigger. If we can turn it into a spectator sport, perhaps then it can be interesting with many following. If we were to teach kids in school and make it a compulsory curriculum, then maybe it can work. Maybe the game is too intelligent for most because it is a game where the ego is easily crushed without having to lift a fist.

    I think I am beginning to ramble...

  6. Hi Najib,
    Nice article...you got a point there, maybe we are not hungry enough...(btw if i am not mistaken, GM Susanto father's is a farmer and GM Wesley's father is a bus driver).

    Hi John Wong,
    "...larger pool, masses.."
    Somehow your comment above give me my 'aha' moment! Now i know what i should do!
    Keep on giving/sharing positive feedbacks!

    Best regards

  7. Actually, we havent tried everything. We havent tried bringing ourselves up without patronage. We havent tried changing our culture. We are just beginning the first steps.

    What we have seen is that patronage doesnt work. Look back. We have lots of history that tells us why.

  8. Thanks for clearing the air. What I meant by having more patrons is mainly in getting more enlightened support, without strings attached. Unfortunately, these patrons are becoming extinct. Take the case of the London sponsor for the World Championship who pulled out because Magnus is not going to be around. A real shame.

    I know that my comments will not be to everyone's ears. However, as Singapore and Malaysia share very common characteristics, what works for one country should be duplicable with some adjustments.

    To answer Raymond : Did we not bring the 2 past world champions to Singapore last year? Without major patronage as we managed to generate activities which were self-funding from the event and got generous sponsors in terms of venue. I believe that it does take a good team of volunteers who are willing to share networks and work towards realising the event rather than rely on those who look back into vested interests.

  9. Thank you for clarifying John. The term I would use is sponsorship. To me Patronage comes with strings. Read my posting tomorrow.

  10. Dear John,

    Keep up the good writing and the sharing of your chess knowledge across the Causeway. You are very much welcome onto our shore.

    A bit more revealation; your name is listed in the "list of chess players" to be invited onto the "long boat" ride into the the interior of Sarawak via the crocodile infested Sungai Ranjang. I had preiously hinted clearly the status of the second team member...

    $$$ Teams came in trios
    $$$ third member junior bios
    $$$ Leader must be Malaysian
    $$$ second member local or Asian

    Too bad our local infighting scene had scuttle the whole program. Crocodile tears, anybody?

  11. I follow a little of what you are saying Siew Fai. It makes me wonder whether its better to knife each other in the back when the lights are off and then pretend to pour tea for each other the moment the lights are back on. Or to sit down and talk over our differences so that the program gets the real backing it deserves. Just a thought.

  12. Dear Raymond,

    What is this? I had made it very clear I do not get involve in your fight. Can’t you understand neutrality? I had previously prequalified my interest solely on matters involving sponsorship-I will take a stand. I do not pull out knives. Should my stand on dos and don’ts on sponsorship appear to side one or the other, just tough luck to the person feeling the heat!

    Do remember I had maintained that it is your inexperience in the public interest domain that led you into being accused of many things unbecoming of a gentleman. At no time did I ever accuse you of any wrongdoing. I had noticed since you did a half-hearted apology to IM Mas (even though the chess community is the one that own this apology to), things have quiet down. I also did see you making an attempt to make some clearer and more defined declarations. Rightly done or not, well, it is a good sign and I sincerely thought you are doing a positive image repositioning. That really gives me confidence that I can go on “a re-engagement” on the suspended audacious chess program. But your civility does not even last ten days! Suddenly, you go on another rampage and “pull out a knife” on crucial links to the outside world. Asian chess players’ involvement in the program was made known much earlier and it is only fair I have to defend that part of the program from going into collateral damage.

    To make my point that I do appreciate the peace and calm over the last 10 days, here is simply three matters that show your inexperience (which I could have lambasted you there and then, and “halted the peace” on the spot). Hope you learn from it and move on to become truly one of us; the genuine chess people.

    1) The apology to IM Mas.

    He is in Team Malaysia. You accused him, you accused the team. And the team represents us, Malaysian. When an apology is due, it is the Malaysian chess public that deserve that apology.

    Does it make any difference if IM Mas is playing in an individual event? The answer is no! You still have to apologize to the Malaysia chess public! IM Mas has become an iconic player to us; in many “chess ways”, he becomes our “public property”. You still need to apologize to the Malaysian chess public for bringing disrepute to the game, soiled IM Mas reputation and damaged our Malaysian image.

  13. 2) The Ringgit 2 Million Fallacy.

    You keep talking up the RM2M and think that once the money is in, you will get the things going your way. Wrong! There are moral hazards. Try living on a bad image and when the money rolls in, the SECOND WORST thing of a boycott is on hand. Don’t live on the fallacy that all is well when you come in with the money. People are not obliged to show you support. People can turn away! That is precisely why I have to “expose” myself and seek harmony among the chess public. I could have maintained obscurity and dump the chess program onto the “laps of chess players” believing that they will lap up the Ringgits unquestionably! It does not work that way. Of public interest events needed more care, respect and due diligence than commercial activities. Relearn your ethical behaviours and that shall get you into better shape.

    What is the worst? The people ride on the sponsorship and then bad mouthing it! Good example is the Asean bundled-unbundled initiatives. What a big mess it had become and it is the Achilles heels you wish you had not inherited.

    3) You and “the burden to work with” PICA.

    If you did not write wrongly on the PICA saga, the picture you have painted has clearly indicated you “could not take the burden to work with PICA”. If the sponsor had indicated they would like to work with PICA and Dato’ Tan had sent you in, why did you not take up the burden to work with PICA. If you could not take the burden to work with PICA, you should have walked away. Instead, your commercial experience tells you to preempt the meeting and start a negotiation behind PICA’s back.

    If you are pitching a business deal and hijack a meeting with the prospective client much earlier than your competitors, you are playing it smart (provided you did not bribe somebody to have that meeting take place). However, in a “of public interest domain”, you are playing games behind somebody’s back! A definitely no-no. My Bahasa may not be that good; I think at the teh tarik stall, they call this (a) “main belakang”, (b) “main dari belakang”, (c) “main dua belah” or (d) “talam dua belah” – (a),(b),(c),(d) –one of them must be the correct Bahasa version. And when things don’t work out the way you think it should have, you accuse PICA for incompetence! You have forgotten the fact that an association has rules to follow, the check & balances to adhere to and the collective committee decision to be made.

    Apology to Najib: I am very sorry your blog get the wrong attention here.

    You had started a wonderful blog and reflected a lot of the past and touch the relevance of the present; a relevant subject in which I wish I have the time to add on some other interesting stories. Life can have its little surprises. If I can catch some free time, maybe I can stand before the interested parties on how to go about securing sponsorship for their chess endeavours. Not all sponsorship needed to be big. For example, I had just concluded a 5-years commitment from a local business to send one Seremban Community Chess team to the Merdeka Team Championship. That should keep the Seremban chess group going for the next five years (I am keeping my finger cross that without Dato’ Tan support, the championship will go on).