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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?

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