Since last year, I have been pestering some friends in MCF to organize a FIDE Arbiter seminar in KL to open up opportunities for me (and my fellow arbiters) to earn a valuable norm towards becoming a recognized FIDE Arbiter, and eventually, a step closer into becoming an International Arbiter (IA). As Malaysia had produced only one IA in Lim Tse Pin in the last 8 years, it is high time that we start to produce more IA to populate our "diminishing" talent. And prior to Lim Tse Pin (or was it after?), I believe the other person that made the rank was Quah Seng Sun (yup... the STAR writer). And since then, there were none....
Up to now, Malaysia only have a handful of International Arbiters but worse still, more than half of them are considered as inactive. The most active one still is Hamid Majid and on certain occasions, we can also see Lim Tse Pin and Ibrahim Yaacob conducting events but for most of the other IA, they are either no longer interested in arbitering chess events, or have been inactive for too long that they have forgotten some of the rules (or the rules have changes) and to some, they are just a bit too old to continue with the demanding role.
In fulfilling the requirements to become a FIDE Arbiter (or an IA), FIDE has made a ruling that attending (and passing) a FIDE Arbiter Seminar is a must requirement before any application can be considered or approved. As I have done many events except attending the seminar, I was really hoping that a FIDE seminar will be conducted here in KL to "complete" my application and requirement. As most seminars are conducted abroad, I find it challenging to stretch my finances to cover my traveling expenses (not to mention the traveling time, course fees and accommodation) in order to meet the requirements. And, to think that there is a chance I might still fail the exam, it was too a devastating scenario to contemplate. Imagine having to spend some "fortune" only to fail the exam. My thought was.... Even if I were to fail in Malaysia, at least my finances would remain "almost intact".
So, when MCF finally agreed to hold the seminar, I was really ecstatic and overjoyed. And I was not the only one with the same feeling as more and more local arbiters who have been doing events for the past few years beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. They can also now fulfill the "must" requirements and for that, local aspiring arbiters began to register for the seminar. Whilst not all the participants looked forward to becoming a "full arbiter", the one thing clear was that everyone wanted to learn and gain knowledge from this valuable experience. And whilst some of the attendees may have the ambition of going all the way to becoming an IA, a few were contented only to pass the exam and become an FA. Whatever our goals, motives and objectives that we had, the one thing common was that we were all the eager beavers - eager to learn, eager to share and eager to know....
It was indeed a worthwhile experience for the 23 of us who attended the seminar. For me, there were familiar faces but at the same time, there were also new faces and new friends to be made. Although the seminar started on a rather shaky ground - there were a few things that was not prepared, sorted and planned correctly but these were eventually overcame - the seminar continued, improved, progressed and ended on a very good note. Both lecturers - IA Bunawan and IA Ignatius, were familiar and experience in the topic that they delivered. Of course for Ignatius - who is also the FIDE Secretary General and a very experienced Arbiter - his input, anecdotes, stories, experiences, etc, was very valuable. For me, I was sure that most of us were awed at his immense knowledge on the subjects at hand - at least I was. To think that I have known Ignatius since 1990 (at that time, I was just a new comer and he was already a "somebody" in chess), it did not stop my amazement from realizing how good he is at what he does. A friend told me that I am lucky to have him as one of the lecturer and his words could not be truer...
One thing good about the seminar which Ignatius also noted, was the lively and healthy discussions that the group have. Almost everyone was actively involved and engaged when discussing or debating on a learning point. He (and Bunawan) was constantly hounded by each and every participants who kept asking questions. wanting answers and solutions at the end of every session. And between tea breaks, we can see hoards of participants swarming around the lecturer's table to ask questions and clarify issues. At the same time, the other participants will also break into smaller groups trying to understand some of the questions posed by the lecturers and debating on the points intently. Such was the interest that Ignatius himself were sometimes challenged by the group.
For me, I had a great time! There were new things learned and some of the "assumptions" that I had were cleared. Some of my previous understandings were corrected and while it was hard for me to accept that I had understood some of rules "in a different way", I am now more confident that I can do a better job. And the challenge now is to convince other people that the new understanding that I have learned is the correct one. More importantly, I also realized that I now have 22 other arbiter friends who can help me to "defend" my new understanding.
When the day for the exam finally came, I went in with full confidence. I told Ignatius that 4 hours allocated for the exam with 33 questions was too long (Ignatius told me that I can always opt for the shorter "time control"), but in the end, I was surprised that the timing was almost perfect. When I finished my last question, I had only 5 minutes left on the clock. Only 2 other persons sent earlier than me, and even then, it was only 5 or 10 minutes quicker.
The nerve wrecking situation came after the exam session ended when the soon-to-be-arbiters started to discuss about the answers (while Ignatius calmly marks the scores in the examination room). At the lunch table, almost everyone was going around asking "what was your answer for this", ".... and that" and so on. And again, discussion ensued on the corridors, over tea, coffee, while standing, while sitting, with everyone giving their inputs, opinions and "logical explanation". And then it dawned upon me... "My GOD! I might fail....."
As I had been one of the most experience Arbiter in the group - having run many major events in the last 3 years i.e. Malaysian Opens, National Closed, National Youth, National Age Group, GACC, Team Event, FIDE rated events and numerous weekend events, I can't imagine if I am unable to pass the exam. My heart sank.... And the pressure was intense. Not only that I have to pass, I also have to - to a certain extent - pass at the top of the class otherwise my credibility may also be at stake. How can I have the experience but lacking in knowledge.... Ignatius did mention that giving a bad decision does not mean that you are a bad Arbiter but..... this is an exam. Its between me and a sheet of paper, and the knowledge that I have learned. This is not a chess event....
I decided to tone down the pressure and said "Well, at least I can get a pass..." but still, can I not? I still can't imagine if I were to fail. Maybe I should get at least the top 2 placing? Or top 3? Or, maybe I should just try to beat Mok? I recalled that during some of the class exercises that we had, Mok seems to be doing better than me hence, I have a feeling that he might finish at the top of the class.
As we were going through the answers with Ignatius, I started to remember what I had answered in the questions and of course, I began to notice my points are getting lesser and lesser as I accumulate inaccurate or incomplete responses. It seems as though there were more points deducted than earned. My only hope was that I had counted the scores wrongly or had forgotten how I answered it "wrongly". After all was concluded (there were also some arguments on some of the answers given and I - with a few other attendees, were fighting for it because I know I was a "borderline" case), Ignatius finally sat, ready to announce the names of those who passed the exam.
When he mentioned the score for the highest pointer, I said to myself it couldn't be me... maybe it would be Mok. At that point, I would be contented if I can get a second placing or third... or pass. At least a pass.... But please, not fail.... Ignatius then continued to mention the name.....
"Najib Abdul Wahab" and the class followed with a clap... and for me, I was relieved! Can't imagine how relieved I was. At least, all the learning, the experience, the events that I have done, are paid off. At least, I solidify myself as one of the better and experienced arbiters (moving towards the best) considering that I have done many important events. And for that I was thankful. Mok who came in a close second challenged me to attend the FIDE Trainer event so that he can avenge his loss but Mok, for this one... I am the better Arbiter!
I am also happy to see Nik Farouqi rounding up the top three as he has been one of the better chess player who is leaning towards becoming an arbiter.
For me, the seminar was a great success and in one of the session, I did advice all the attendees to keep in touch with one another, and to continue sharing knowledge because each event and each arbiter will learn and experience different things. And as we exchange the knowledge and the learning, we all can become better arbiters faster.
Now, I am looking forward to submitting my FIDE Arbiter application and next in line... the IA title. My target.... by end of 2012 if not earlier.