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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....


  1. Najib,

    Isn't it quite ironic that the scenario you've described in Malaysian Chess is similar to that of Singapore's?

    There is a dire lack of sponsors in Singapore as well, resulting in SCF organised tournaments costing SGD60 which is about RM140! If this state of affairs continues, I guess the only way to go is for the main organisers to invest in a dedicated chess server (equipped with engine detection) and run tournaments online :-)

  2. Ha ha ha.... Good point John
    We can say that both Malaysia and Singapore, whilst they are separate countries now with different facade, share almost the same teething and little issues when it comes to chess.

    The only difference is that, we still do not have a GM, a Malaysian born GM.... It is not a question of whether we get there or not, its more of "when" will we get there....

  3. Hi Najib,

    Reminds me of Terengganu chess in 90's when we got full support from state government. Prize money is good and even if we take part in outstation tournament, everything is being taken care of...entrance fee, transportation, hotel, pocket money...we go there just to play chess! and yearly, we can nominate chess player as a candidate for Sportsman of the year!... good old days!

    Maybe, just maybe we need state and federal government to recognise chess as a sport. Perhaps only then we can see money pouring in into this game

    sad when we compared chess with our closest relative, Mr snooker (indoor game, strategy game, quiet environment, time controls etc) yet snooker is more success in attracting money and publicity...even though odds are so much against snooker ('underground' sport, totally no support at school, expensive, cannot play online etc)

    Maybe to get more money from sponsorship, MCF or government should 'tax' company that used chess pieces on their corporate advertisement to indicate good moves, strategy,planning etc yet they never really support the game...


  4. But snooker is also like car racing because not much brain work is needed to understand the game - use the stick to hit the white ball to hit the colored ball into one of the 6 pockets. Then when the player makes one shot and pocket 3 balls in 3 different corners, the crowd will clap.... and even if you do not know the rules of the game, the shot is still "spectacular"

    For chess, you make a queen sacrifice, then sack your rook, sack another bishop to mate your opponents king with a knight, and all the crowd can do is "ah" in silence.... and to those who don't understand the game, they would probably shrug their shoulder and wonder what was so spectacular about it, and walk away

    On the bright side, chess is a game for the intelligent and the selected few - such as us. A special breed of people with a hunger for the intellectuals.... *grin*