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Monday, February 28, 2011

Our Local National Rating List....

Intrigued by the numbers shown by the FIDE rating list for our region, I tried to look at our own internal National Rating list which, as per the January release, had 8,506 players listed. I tried to go back as far as I can to compare the growth of our "internal chess community" and managed to get only as far back to April 2010, which is about 9 months ago. Fair enough... At least there is a start so here goes....

In April 2010, the National Rating list had 7,893 players and if we take the current numbers that we have from January 2011, we have expanded our chess community by 613 players in 9 months - approximately 68 players per month - and this seems to be very "good number". Looking deeper into the numbers again, we will see that 85% of these new players (or 522 of them) are school children and junior players, leaving us with only 91 senior or matured players that are over the schools age who are new in the rating list. There is nothing good or bad about this but it is rather encouraging to see that there are adults who into playing chess at a later "age" as it is usually popular amongst the kids (who continue playing into their adulthood). And to think that these "adults" did not participate in any chess events during their schooling days is rather "surprising".

The high number of young kids in the rating list is not at all surprising as these junior players may have been included in the rating list as a result of them playing in numerous MSS and Age group events that are being held on a regular basis all year round. After all, these junior events is considered as one of the major source of "chess population" in the country since chess is recognized as a sport in MSSM. Further, with many corporates eager to help and contribute to the cause of helping young and aspiring students to improve, it is rather easy to organize and find sponsors for junior chess events. Further, with the MSS structure covering both Malaysia, State and District levels, any annual MSS Malaysia event can easily produce between 300 and 400 players (consider 14 states sending a boy and girl team for both secondary and primary level, in team and individual events). And going down the State and district level, the numbers can easily increase by two or three fold.

As for MCF event, the annual NAG is always on the MCF yearly calendar and last year NAG event in Penang had more than 300 players in 6 age group categories for both the boys and girls. in fact, 200 to 300 players are the normal number of players playing in any NAG event since the last few years what more when the winners of these events are offered to represent the country in various junior and youth events all over the world. With these 2 major junior events being the main attraction for school children to get involved in chess, it is not surprising that our national rating list are populated by more active junior players than the senior ones

But, since the national rating list does not provide the number of "rated" games that each player play, it would be interesting to see how many games each of these new players have played in the last 9 months (regardless of they are junior or senior players) to see how active they have been. My bet is that these numbers would not be so high and that each new junior players would probably play in only 1 or 2 events - but maybe I am wrong.....

Looking at the same 613 new players that we have since April 2010, the average rating of these new players is 1,235 points which is a bit on the low side i.e. definitely from the beginner's or entry level. With so many junior players entering the rating list for the first time, this low number is not at all surprising. However, the huge numbers produced by MSS and NAG events does not necessary means that they are bad but... it would be best to look at the quality angle of it to make sure that success is achieved in both areas - quality as well as quantity.

Going back to the numbers, out of the 8,506 players that we have in the January 2011 rating list, there were no rating changes for 7,023 players. For calculation purposes, as it would be almost impossible to play in any event without experiencing any rating changes, we can probably assume that none of these 7,023 players (or 88% players from the 2010 April list) played in any event for the last 9 months. This is definitely a huge number of inactive players but then again, maybe they did play but none of the events that they played were sent for national rating purposes - both scenarios are equally likely to have happened. But as we are presented only with a limited data, we assume that they did not play in any event at all.

Out of that, we are left with 1,403 players who have played in a national rated event between April 2010 and January 2011 and out of that figure, a total of 1,044 players (or 70%) are junior players which again indicated how active our juniors are in playing local events compared to the senior players. Of course, this boils down to the same findings that we have in my earlier posting i.e. working people have to take leave, high entry fees, commitments, etc. These are of course some of the deterrent factor that limits senior players to play even in the local circuit compared to school children and junior players. What more, with more events tailored to the juniors, it is not surprising that they are more active than their senior counterpart.

The highest increase for 2010 (going into 2011) belongs to Iskandar Danial Adam who improved his rating point by more than 400 points. On the exact opposite, Nurislamurni Yahaya lost the most points with more tha 200 points going in the opposite direction. The average changes for each player whose rating changed in 2010 was 29 points.

What are the conclusions that we can observe?

  1. Again, we are seeing quantity over quality - a similar findings when we analyse our FIDE rating growth since 2001.
  2. Most of the active players are the junior players which are not at all surprising.
  3. 85% of all the new players included in the rating list are also junior players and again, this is not at all surprising.
  4. It seems that there are a lot of "dormant" players in the rating list. It would be interesting to see how many players in the list have not played in any chess game in the last 2-3 years.
  5. The entry level of new players averages at 1,285 points which is very low (considering that most of them are young players, the number are not surprising). Perhaps we should look at proper training and classes before we "throw" the new kids into a national rated event.
It is probably interesting to note that most of the top players i.e. Mas, Mok, Jimmy, Lim Yee Weng, Nicholas, Peter, Ng Tze Han, Yeoh Li Tian, Lim Zhuo Ren, are active in the national circuits.

Some of the findings needs more study and perhaps, the Rating administrator can provide more lights. Further, the national rating that we have seems to combine both rapid and classical time control as a single playing "strength". But, in view that we lack "longer time control" events and rating, the combined national rating list that we are currently using remains as the only benchmark that we can use... for now. At least, something is better than nothing...

Perhaps, if we can go further backwards and look at the rating list for 2008 or 2009, we can probably get a better picture on how our chess community has grown in the last 2-3 years. It would be great to look at that.

The rating list is a good indicator as to how our chess have improved locally but, the list must be maintained and include as many local events as possible to reflect the true strength (and activeness) of chess in the country. Players should be rewarded based on their achievement i.e. most improved, most gained in a single event, most games played, most events played. etc. to make the rating list a more acceptable and popular mode of ranking the local players.

Some kind of "quality" control must also be adopted to clear the list of duplicated names, inactive players, wrong spelling and so on. There are names which are noted as "Muhd Nabil Azman Hisham (not Azman Hisham's son)" which I find confusing as only the rating administrator would know who this person is. There is also another name "Tan Jun Hong (x Calvin)" and I kept wondering whether I am supposed to ask the person if he is "Calvin" or not. For the Malay names, it is a challenge trying to figure out if Mohd, Muhd, Mohammed, Muhammad, Mohamed, Mohamad, Mat, Md. or just the initial M. is the way to identify the player. And sometimes, event the players themselves are not sure which "Mohd" he had used to register his name. There was also a player who said his actual name is Mahamad and perhaps, some of the names used in the list were named out of assumptions rather than confirmations. Another challenge is whether to use Abd, Abdul or A, and adding a "dot" makes it even more challenging.

The best way is to use a unique identifier and whilst I/C is the best way to identify a person, it may create some uneasiness for some people as I/C can also be used in the wrong way if fallen to the wrong persons i.e. identity theft which is a very common crime in US where people stole other people's identity via a person's social security number.

Whatever it is, something needs to be done while the rating list is still in its "infant" stage because once the number hits thousands and hundreds of thousands, it will become a nightmare and instead of the list becoming very useful and informative, it can just become the opposite as the value can decrease as it becomes too complicated, without integrity, jumbled and confusing.

What say you?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Aerogramme from the past....

In the mid 80's, while I was studying in the States, I had the opportunity of joining the USCF - United States Chess Federation. I became a registered member in 1984 and continued playing chess until 1988 when I returned to Malaysia. Most of the chess items that I brought back i.e. books, trophies, chess notations including a NOVAG chess computer (it was one of the best in the market then) in one way or another, have been misplaced, lost, destroyed, sold or donated to. I believe my mom still keep some of the trophies back home albeit it now resides in the store and not the living room anymore. When I first played in the States, my rating shot up to almost 2100 USCF but when I left, it was circa 1900 (on the lower side of it *LOL*). Interesting to note that the USCF Magazine editor at that time was Larry Parr, and back in 2002, I was thrilled to learn that he is working here in Malaysia and having to meet him was, surreal! But of course, that is a totally different story....

Browsing through the USCF website, most chess clubs in US are still promoting the classical time control game. The only thing that has changed is, instead using the traditional 40/2 (40 moves in 2 hours, and 20 moves thereafter per hour), they are using the more regular and acceptable 90/30 (90 minutes plus 30 seconds increment per move). There are events with shorter time control i.e. 30 minutes, 35 minutes, etc, but still, the variety of available time control for players to play makes the circuit a bit more interesting. In contrast, most of Malaysian organizers (I am guilty as well....) are running amok with 25 minutes and rapid games almost everywhere and every weekend. Well, for this one, I have some plans to revive the longer time control games and would probably come up with some game plan once the National Closed is over. But, let me give some thought on that first and I will share the plans because..... that is a somewhat different idea to share. I think the main challenge to this is having to run events right up to late evening (3 rounds a day can extend the last round until as late as 11:00pm? I think in the past few years, most Malaysian organizers have done away with night games except when events are organized during weekdays where players have little choice but to start their game in the early evening)

So,back to my "old stories"....

In those earlier days that while I was active in the USCF circuit, I remembered some of the interesting "ideas" that I thought can be done in Malaysia. When I came back in 1988, I find it surprising that we have a different chess culture but without making any "comments", let me just describe a few:
  1. Chess players in the US comes to the tournament hall bringing their own chess and clocks. Before a game start, both player can decide whose clock and set to use. Of course if both players do not have a set to use, they can always borrow from the guy next door or the organizer can always rent the sets and clocks to them (Of course I had my own set and my own BHB clock!). In Malaysia, organizers prepare everything for the players including the recording sheet.... Pampered...
  2. In US, the USCF makes all kinds of chess items and accessories for their members (and non members) to purchase i.e. the sets, the books, the magazines, the pairing cards, the membership card, including trophies and medals! In short, anything and everything that can generate income to sustain its operations. In Malaysia.... Not that I do not want to start but, because there is none to start with... *grin*
  3. In US, members get a yearly subscription to its magazine - sent on time every time, and reminders to renew our membership. Once done, you are given a card (it was a mere paper card then - I am sure they have turned it into a "plastic" card). You have your name on the card, your registration number, your rating and your state (Mine was Texas and for your information, I was in Lubbock Texas where I was one of the pioneer group that started the chess club - well, that is a different story). Whenever the rating changes (usually every three months), a new card comes in the mailbox. In Malaysia.... ok ok ok... Let's not do the comparison.....
  4. Clubs were given a certificate which they display proudly when doing a tournament that the event is sanctioned by USCF.
  5. There is a list of "registered and qualified" arbiters listed by USCF
  6. Events were divided into rating category usually separated by 200 points so that players who are rated between 1800 and 2000 will only play against players of the same strength. Of course, player can always play in a higher category but not the lower ones. It provides an almost even chances for players to win and, it promotes improvement because players always wants to play in the "higher level" or the "next level". But of course, there are "sandbaggers" who try to manipulate the system. (You can ask IM Mok the meaning of "sandbaggers")
  7. Similarly, while I was in Lubbock, we use to have the "Fish trophy" which is given the higher rated player who is defeated by a lower rated player (with the widest margin). So, most of the higher rated player would not want to get beaten by the "weaker" counterpart otherwise, they will end up with the "Fish trophy" - similar to the "broom" award which created some hu ha in Selangor. (Actually, I wanted to add this prize to our weekend event... but I need to create an excel "formula" that can identify this immediately! Maybe I should just do....)
  8. There were some events that I took part in where the organizers "bundled" the entry fee and the hotel charges into a single payment so, you can stay at the hotel and play. And unless the club has its own premise, most events are being staged in a reasonably good hotel.
  9. I think I will stop at 8
30 years have past since I played in the states and it seems that, by reading the information and news from the USCF website, the "culture" and "business model" still continues to flourish rather well. The chess politics also exist (and I heard, it is worst than us here in Malaysia) but what interest me is the fact that the chess society is able to sustain, maintain and operates on its own. I am sure there are patrons, donors and sponsors which I consider as bonuses but, the fact remains that even without the patrons, donors and sponsors, the community can still continue to strive. But if we look at USCF, it all works in a complete cycle. I feel that what is happening there is that the chess community is able to complement one another and help the next link to form another part of the cycle. Its supposed to going round like a circle not going upwards or downwards like a pyramid.

In Malaysia, the cycle seems to have gaps everywhere and failed to make a complete circle. Or am I seeing it differently?

What say you?

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?

Who are the most active players in Malaysia - FIDE wise?

It is very interesting to see the top 10 most active FIDE rated players in the country, and to see that it is led by a lady player, even the more interesting.

Rank Name FIDE Games Local Games Local Events
1 Nur, Nabila Azman Hisham 1845 58 36 4
2 Lim, Yee-Weng 2248 49 0 0
3 Ismail, Ahmad 1991 47 45 5
4 Lee, Kim Han Edward 2144 45 27 3
5 Mas, Hafizulhelmi 2423 45 9 1
6 Mohamed, Abdul Haq 2096 43 18 2
7 Nur, Najiha Hisham 1791 43 36 4
8 Chan, Nicholas 2375 42 18 2
9 Azman Hisham, Mohd Nabil 2029 41 45 5
10 Nik, Nik Ahmad Farouqi 2066 40 36 4
11 Amier, Hamzah B. Mohd Zuhri 1743 38 27 3
12 Che Hassan, Abdullah 2080 38 27 3
13 Haslindah, Ruslan 1661 38 27 3
14 Lee, Kah Meng Elgin 1936 37 27 3
15 Tan, Jun Feng 1854 37 27 3
16 Yeoh, Li Tian 2122 36 45 5
17 Yusof, Kamaluddin 2060 36 27 3
18 Tan, Ken Wei 2022 35 27 3
19 Mok, Tze-Meng 2394 33 9 1
20 Ting, Shih Chieh Alfred 1799 32 36 4
(Note: The local games are estimated at 9 games per event played in Malaysia so if a player played in 2 FIDE rated events in Malaysia, the estimate is that he/she had played 18 FIDE rated games. The listing provided by FIDE does not indicate the events that the player played so an estimate was used.)

The list is led by WCM Nur Nabil Azman Hisham who played 58 games of which 36 games are estimated to be played locally (as she had played in 4 local FIDE rated events). Since Nur Nabila had represented the country in various Junior events, it is not surprising that she played a lot of FIDE rated games.

Even without playing a single FIDE rated game in Malaysia, IM Lim Yee Weng still managed to get to the second spot with 49 games.

Ismail Ahmad is one of the 3 most active player playing in the local FIDE rated events in the country (together with Yeoh Li Tian and Mohd Nabil Azman Hisham) and it clearly shows that even with minimal playing abroad, Ismail can still chalk up the number of FIDE rated games that he has played in 2010.

Edward Lee next in 4 spot and our number 1 player in the country, IM Mas Hafizul is at 5th spot with 45 FIDE rated games (some of which were from the Olympiad) but with only 1 FIDE rated event played locally.

It was rather surprising to see Mohammed Haq at the 6th spot as he only played in 2 local FIDE rated events but he did play in the UKM Masters event and the DATCC League which may gave contributed to the high number.

At 7th spot is Nur Nabila younger sister, Nur Najiha followed by FM Nicholas Chan at number 8, and Nabila/Najiha brother Mohd Nabil at the 9th spot, and Kelantanese Nik Ahmad Farouqi rounding up the 10th spot.

Yeoh Li Tian, together with Mohd Nabil and Ismail Ahmad, are the most active players playing in our local FIDE Rated circuit and all 3 are listed in the top 20 of the most active players.

Surprising enough, 8 of our top 10 FIDE rated players have played at least one rated FIDE game in 2010 - the only 2 missing being 2nd seed IM Wong Zi Jing and FM Anas Nazreen both of whom are studying abroad. The least active in the top 10 is Ng Tze Han (seeded 9) with only 6 games to show for.

From the top 10 players, IM Mas is the most active with 45 games, followed by FM Nicholas Chan at 42 games, IM Mok Tze Meng at 33 games, IM Jimmy Liew with 29 games and FM Peter Long at 28 games. IM Lim Yee Weng (ranked 15th) is the most active top 20 players in Malaysia with 49 games.

Based in these figures alone, I can safely say that MCF can use the FIDE rating list as part of the selection criteria to select players to represent the country because these players, albeit their lack of participation in the local circuit, do have enough FIDE rated games to boost their credibility (and still maintain being at the top of our list).

Some of the other surprising active FIDE list that are in the top 30 are:
  1. Kamalariffin Wahiduddin
  2. Cheah Cheok Fung
  3. Alfred Ting
  4. Ahmad Fadzil Nayan
  5. Low Jun Keat
  6. Tan Ken Wei
  7. Kamaluddin Yusoff
  8. Abdullah Che Hassan
Except for Cheah Cheok Fung (who played in the Philippines), the others only concentrated their participation in the local circuit (correct me if I am wrong).

We seem to have a great mix of players who play in the local and international FIDE rated games but we need to merge those who are active in the international field to play more in the local circuit to help pass around and share "the knowledge"

So, what can we do?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Titled Players - How do we fare?

Out of the 7 countries around our region i.e. Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, Thailand, Vietnam and Philippines, we alongside Brunei and Thailand are the only 3 countries who are yet to produce a GM. Philippines leads our region with 12 GM, followed by Vietnam with 7 GM, Indonesia with 5 GM and our southern neighbor Singapore with 3 GM. So, how are we progressing in producing our very own GM for Malaysia?

Philippines had the first Asian GM in the form of Eugenio Torre who was once ranked as one of the top 20 GM in the world during the mid 80's. Now, Philippines have another top player in GM Wesley So who is ranked 64th in the world, the strongest GM in our ASEAN region.

Vietnam with 7 GM can boast having GM Le Quang Liem as their top GM and currently ranked 79th in the world, separated only by a mere 9 points different between GM Le and GM So. But with the current good run shown by GM Le, his new ranking may end up higher than GM So in the next FIDE rating list release

Indonesia is 3rd in our regional ranking with 5 GM lead by GM Megaranto Susanto. Whilst GM Utut Adianto is no longer playing chess (as he is now concentrating his work as an Indonesian politician), he is considered to be Indonesia all-time highest rated player and was once considered as one of the world grandmasters that broke the 2600 FIDE rating barrier. Of course, the Super GM barrier no stands at 2700 but for an Asian player, it was an outstanding feat which he was able to achieve in the mid 90's.

Singapore with 3 GM, two of which are "imported GM", can still boast having GM Wong Meng Kong as their very own GM. GM Wong earned the IM title in 1980 and achieved the GM title in 1999, a 19 year journey to finally add the prestigious title to his name.

So, where do we stand?

We are still behind in producing titled players in the country and are yet to produce our very own GM. In 2001, we have 5 titled players to boast (2 IM, 2 FM and 1 WIM). 10 years have passed and we have improved it with 17 titled players (5 IM, 7FM, 2 WIM and 3 WFM) - a 240% increase. Comparatively, is this a good progress (taking into account that we are still yet to produce a GM)?

Here are the figures for our region based on titled players each country have in 2001 and comparing it to what each country has now (based on January 2011 list)

2011 2001 Change Rate
MAS 17 5 12 240%
INA 44 33 11 33%
PHI 61 28 33 118%
SIN 44 15 29 193%
VIE 68 16 52 325%
BRU 1 0 1 100%
THA 6 3 3 100%

Based on the figure above, we are ranked second behind Vietnam which continue to be very aggressive in producing quality chess players. Again, it is beyond any doubt that we are also very aggressive at participating and increasing our numbers but.... the same question arise - whilst we have the quantity, do we have the quality? Can we not only increase the numbers and improve on the quality as well?

Let us look at the countries who already have GMs in our region i.e. Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia and Singapore.

Indonesia is the only country who have maintained its number of GM - 5 GM in 2001 and 5 GM in January 2011. Singapore continue to "import" foreign GM increasing its tally from 2 GM in 2001 to 3 GM in 2011. Vietnam had 3 GM in 2001 and in 10 years, it has increased its number to 7 including producing a world class player in GM Le Quang Liem. And the leader Philippines had 3 GM in 2001 and quadrupled its number to 12 GM in 2011 including another strong GM in GM Wesley So.

So, how can we improve the quality of chess in our country? The numbers are sufficient but the quality seems to be lacking. We definitely need help but how, where and what kind of help do we need? Where can we seek help? If having a GM can generate more quality players in the country, how can we move a step closer to producing our own GM? If this is not possible, can we synergize our effort with our neighboring country and "lean on their resources" to create our own GM?

What say you?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Malaysia - Within the Region....

I was lucky enough to have save some of the earlier rating list from 2001 until 2011 with the exception of 2005. Somehow, I did not download any rating list for 2005 but I guess, the balance 10 years that I have, should be ample for me to come up with some "analysis" which I can share with fellow chess players. The analysis covers our "performance" in comparison with fellow countries within the region i.e. Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, Brunei, Thailand and Vietnam.

Interesting to note that in Jan 2001 , we were ranked 4th behind Indonesia, Philippines and Singapore in terms of the number of FIDE rated players that we have in the country. Indonesia had 118 players, Philippines 97 players, Singapore 61 and we were next at 60 - only 1 shy from Singapore. 10 years have passed and we are now ranked 2nd with 293 players in the list, behind Philippines who has 330 players. Vietnam is now 3rd in the list with 256 players, Singapore 191 players and Indonesia is now ranked 5th with 190 players. From these number alone, we could probably say that we have made quite a significant progress in populating more FIDE rated players in the country. Without a doubt, we have the numbers but do we have the quality?

Based on the Jan 2011 rating list (for the period between November/December 2011), we were the most active country in the region with 84 of our players (or 29% of that 293 players that we have in the rating list) played at least 1 FIDE rated event. This is more than double of our closest rival Philippines who had only 38 players playing at least a FIDE rated game during the same period. Singapore was next at 28 followed by Vietnam at 26. Indonesia had only 2 players playing at least one FIDE rated game during the same period. I doubt the figures would include the Singapore Chess Festival but even if it did, I am sure we would still lead as there were also quite a substantial number of Malaysians playing in the event. Well it seems that we are also one of the more active country in the region.

What about strength?

Based on the various rating period since 2001 - rating list was published at least once a quarterly between 2001 and 2004 but since 2009, it has been published at least once every 2 months - let us look how we fare as a country. For calculation purposes, the "strength" of the country is based on the average rating of its top 20 players - inactive or otherwise.

Since 2001, we have always been ranked at 5th place behind Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines and Singapore - but not necessarily in that order, and in front of Thailand and Brunei - again, not necessarily in that order,

There was once in 2006 that Brunei went on top but we would remain at number 5. Our lowest average of the top 20 players was in 2001 when we were at 2274 points (and during that time, IM Mas Hafizul rating was more than 2450!) but even now, we are only averaging 2292 - an 18 points increase in 10 years. But, 3 other countries continued to improve their average:
  1. Philippines who is the top country in the region, improved its rating points by almost 50 points during the same period.
  2. Vietnam showed the most improvement with 83 points increased from 2364.7 in 2001 to 2447.8 in 2011.
  3. Brunei increased their rating strength by 58 points during the same period from 2197 in 2001 to 2255 in 2011
  4. Singapore also increased their strength by 32 points from 2352 in 2001 to 2384 in 2011
Only two other countries fare worse than us and they are:
  1. Indonesia's average dropped by more than 4 points in 10 years from 2412 in 2001 to 2408 in 2011
  2. Thailand dropped by 12 points from 2228 in 2001 to 2216 in 2011
The top country in our region has always been Philippines and since 2008, Vietnam has overtaken Indonesia for the second spot. The average difference between Philippines and Vietnam is 41 points and Vietnam and Indonesia, 40 points. Singapore is 24 points behind Indonesia and we came in 5th, and guess what.... we are 92 points behind Singapore, almost 200 points behind Philippines.

Whilst we may argue that Singapore's average is being inflated by "unnaturalized" citizens, the island state city can still brag of having produced their own GM in Wong Meng Kong, and IM Goh is also making some kind of commitment to try and reach for the GM title. And whilst similar things can be said for Brunei, for having GM Vakhidov under their payroll, at the rate they are going, it would probably not be long before they overtake us as well.

In terms of player activeness, prior to the rating list that was released in Jan 2011, our most active player played 23 FIDE rated games (Mohd Nabil Azman Hisham) but Philippines most active player played 39 FIDE rated games with Vietname at 22 games ad Singapore 21 games.

It seems that we have been able to create the opportunities to increase more FIDE rated players in the country, and our players are quite active participating in FIDE rated events as well but, whilst we do have the quantity, we seem to be lacking the quality. So, how do we address this?

What say you?

Next: Who is the most active FIDE player in Malaysia 2010? And the "quality" behind the numbers of FIDE rated players that we have in country.

Friday, February 18, 2011

FIDE Rated Events in Malaysia

Based on in 2010 (from the records that I have – let me know if I am wrong), there were 10 major FIDE rated events organized in Malaysia and they were:
  1. KLCA Open
  2. Selangor Open
  3. National Championship (Open)
  4. National Championship (Women)
  5. Malaysia Open
  6. Ambank Challenge
  7. Penang Open
  8. Penang Challenge
  9. GACC (Open)
  10. GACC (Women)

There were 3 other FIDE rated events organized but not included in the equation and they are the DATCC Team League, the DATCC FIDE Rated Weekend and the Ng6 FIDE Rated Individual League.

8 events out of the 10 listed were organized concurrently (or has gender limitation) as such, it would be impossible for players to play in both events simultaneously. These events are Malaysia Open and Ambank Challenge, Penang Open and Penang Challenge, National Open and National Women, and GACC Open and GACC Women. Only Selangor Open and KLCA Open were the 2 stand alone events which do not offer any side events.

Based on the 10 events, the following figures were arrived:

111 20 18%
71 70 99%
94 94 100%
44 44 100%
133 26 20%
52 42 81%
71 42 59%
109 103 94%
110 69 63%
50 28 56%

845 538 64%

If we were to take out the Malaysian only events (National Events), challenger events (Ambank and Penang) and the GACC events (due to entry limitation), we arrive at the following figures:

71 70 99%
111 20 18%
133 26 20%
71 42 59%

386 158 41%

The above indicated that the number of local players playing in a true International event organized in our own home soil counts for only 41% - less than half the number of foreigners playing. Interesting to note that the events with the higher prize money attract more foreigners where as the events with lower prize money attracts the local players. Perhaps our players do not have the confidence to compete with the “big boys” or is the entry fees being the main deterrent factor?

Looking at the same 10 events, the total number of Malaysians playing in these events is 394 players as some of them get around to playing in more than 1 event. But, out of the 394 players, only 92 players (or 23% which is less than a quarter of the pool) played in more than 1 event. The breakdown is as follows:

Players playing in 5 events
3 1%
Players playing in 4 events
9 2%
Players playing in 3 events
25 6%
Players playing in 2 events
55 14%
Players playing in only 1 event
302 77%

As we can see, the really active players in the local FIDE circuit only accounts for less than 1% of the total number of Malaysian players playing. If active participation is one of the criteria to select players to represent the country, we would only have a handful of candidates to choose from. If the minimum requirement is to participate in at least 3 events, then we would only have 37 players to be considered for the National squad but, are any of these players worthy to don our National color? Just because they are active in the local FIDE circuit does not mean that they are good but, if we were to flip the coin, at least these players are dedicated to the game. And their active participation indicated their passion for the game so another question arises – do passion and dedication make up for lack of strength?

We also have to consider players who are actively playing in FIDE events abroad but somehow, does not play actively in the country so, do we shortlist them for the selection process as well? I am sure most of us are aware that there are a few players who, on their own accord, participated in international FIDE events elsewhere such as students and working Malaysians abroad. There are also players, whom by virtue of being chosen to play for Malaysia for a particular year, therefore their participation in FIDE events are definitely inflated (automatically) compared to those who were not selected to play abroad.

With only a handful of FIDE rated events for Malaysian players to play locally, it seems that the players who have the opportunity to play abroad (either they were chosen to play, or they pay to play) have the upper hand to improve their FIDE rating and subsequently their own Malaysian ranking – creating a more realistic chance to get to the top of Malaysia FIDE rating list. So, what about those who are not fortunate enough to travel, or is talented but due to lack of FIDE rated events in the country, are not able to improve their FIDE rating?

For the junior squad, certain junior players seem to monopolize the international event by representing the country in various events in the span of one year – the same names seem to make the regional, continental and international events. Perhaps they really deserve to play in these events as such, so be it. But what about those who want to play in FIDE rated events without having to travel, or having to be selected to play in a FIDE Rated event? But, even the 4 FIDE rated events that we have, we seem to have trouble getting the players to play so…. do we create more FIDE rated events so that the players can play? Or do we wait until a lot of Malaysian players playing in FIDE Rated event and then we create more events? This seems to be a mind boggling case between the chicken and the egg – which should be the first one?

As an association, in order to create progress and to ensure a reasonable pool of players is always available to represent the country, opportunities must also be created at home (as the first step) for further improvement. As a player, in order to promote progress, the player has to support the FIDE rated events – it take two to tango, and two hands to clap. If our own players are not playing in our own FIDE rated events, and organizes fail to create FIDE rated events, how are we to progress in our game, and to raise the bar of our players?

What do you think?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

SELECTION PROCESS - The Challenges....

Issues regarding the selection process seem to be one of the hotter issues being discussed recently over the blog. There was also a comment raised that the selection process should not be based on a single event but should be based on several events. If this is so, the events used for the selection must also be FIDE rated events using classical time control as it would be “inconsistent” to use rapid events for this purpose. But, is this process practical and doable? Do we have enough FIDE rated events to have a reasonable pool of players for a proper selection process? Are the FIDE rated events strong enough to be used as selection criteria?

In organizing FIDE rated events, the main challenge is time. It is without a doubt that rapid events are much more popular than classical FIDE rated events as the time taken to complete a tournament is much less. In most cases, rapid events are over within 1 day (2 days at most) and can be done over a single weekend, almost nullify the need to request for leave or off day for working adults. On top of that, the entry fees are reasonably cheap, less stressful and fun. For FIDE Rated event, the tournament can last up to a maximum of 2 weeks or at least 4 days – 2 rounds a day with 7 rounds minimum. To make things worse, the entry fees are a bit on the high side, very demanding (as it requires good preparation), stressful and almost always, a player who is working may have to request for leave and approval (and applying for one) may not be as easy as it seems. So, for most working adults, there is a need to consider taking leave to participate in a FIDE Rated events, and if they are selected to represent the country in an International, another set of long leave needs to be applied. With most companies providing only a limited number of leaves for their employees, two long leaves for chess does not seem like a favorable option considering that leaves may also be needed for family outings, Raya, Chinese New Year, school holidays, first day of school, marriage, etc. which are more important than chess.

For the organizers, the main challenge is to get sponsors for the event, and financing a FIDE r rated event is not as cheap as one would imagine. Four days rental for a decent playing hall can run into thousands and payment for arbiters and tournament helpers (depending on how big the event is), can also be rather substantial. This does not include the cost to prepare or rent sets and clocks, stationary items and other additional cost such as transport (to transfer/rent tables, chairs and equipments), board and lodging. And board and lodging are also issues for most outstation players who plan to play in any FIDE rated event. And the longer the event goes, the cost continue to increase. And managing a FIDE rated event is not a simple walk in the park especially having to manage foreigners and international GM and IM who can be fickle minded, not to mention some local players who can also be quite a pain.

But let us not look at the issues faced by the organizers as we can assume that the finance part of it (in organizing events) is taken care of. Further, the issues faced by the organizers are of a different nature than the issues faced by the players. Whether the number of players actually hit 100 or 200 or 300, or only 10 players, the event has to go on. The main thing is to get the players to play. And if the suggestion of selecting players that are active in the local FIDE circuit is to be used as one the selection criteria, do we have the number of players to play in FIDE Rated events? Do players will start coming in the hundreds to play in these FIDE rated events? At the same time, how many FIDE events does a player need to play in order to be considered? Interesting to note that if a player needs to take at least 3 days off to play in one FIDE rated event, 3 events will cost a working adult 9 leave days which is almost half of the total leave allocated for a year. And if he has to play abroad, another 5 to 10 days leave is required with the balance to be divided between families, trips, vacations, festivities – certainly not much to spare with!

One of the ways to populate the country with FIDE rated events is to have each affiliate (or State) to organize their own FIDE rated event – at least one per year but, are the affiliates or states active or resourceful enough to organize their own FIDE Rated event? Can they mobilize their forces to find sponsors, venue and officials to conduct their own FIDE Rated event? Some affiliates have criticized MCF for not being active enough to help the affiliates but, are the affiliates making any attempts to help themselves? Maybe some do but what about the others? What about states that do not have any chess association? To whom the burden of organizing a FIDE rated event should fall onto? And, would the event be able to attract strong players to participate?

In the absence of FIDE rated event, what is the best way to conduct the selection? Some of the ideas that can be used are:

  1. Snce National Closed is one of the “must” event, this should be the main event used for selection in the absence of other events
  2. Since there is a lack of FIDE Rated event, other non-FIDE events with shorter time control (but with increment – to imitate the “FIDE environment) can and should be organized as substitute events. These events can also be organized over a shorter period i.e. 7 rounds instead of 9, to be played over 2 days (or 3 days the most).
  3. Since the National Rating reflects a player’s activeness in the local circuit, selection should also be based on the National Rating ranking
  4. However, in view that the National Rating is based on both rapid and classical time, a separate rating needs to be prepared to reflect player’s performance in events mentioned in no. 2)
  5. Since FIDE rating list is a good indicator for international references (as to reflect the player’s strength compared to other players around the globe), the usage of the FIDE rating list should be continued except for the players who have been marked as inactive by FIDE.
  6. And players should commit to a training camp (if it cannot be done during weekdays, at least during the weekend) for a certain period before being considered for the National squad and attendance should play a major role. Training session should contain proper training material, syllabus, references and should not only be based on chess as a subject but should cover other subjects as well such as psychology, team building and other sporting activities
  7. But, all in all, a final selection series should also be based one or more round robin event in order to choose the best of the best.

    These are just suggestions and I am sure more guidelines can be added. Some takes time to materialize but a few (such as number 1, 5, 6 and 7) can be implemented almost immediately.

    What do you think?