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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Of Organizing and Managing Events

As an organizer, the need to "exempt" or "disallow" certain group of players from playing in an event is not something strange nor new. This clause is widely used by organizers and host of any events, clubs, business houses, companies, etc. If you look at the movie stub for GSC or TGV, you can find the same clause printed on the ticket. And of course, if you have the time to look around at any clubhouse or read through an association constitution, you will probably find the same clause being displayed or printed for all to see. So, what is so strange about chess organizers including the same conditions for its event? In fact, for events organized at DATCC including the FIDE Seminar and National Closed event, the same clause was included but of course, there was no need to enforce the clause but given the right (or wrong situation), if it needs to be enforced, it will then be enforced.

It is very clear that the "barring" clause is primarily used to protect the organizer's interest, direction and most importantly, the organizer's or arbiter's "sanity". Whilst I would not go to the extent of branding these group of people as "trouble makers" - although some of them really are, I would probably refer them more as "those with different point of view which is usually unfavorable towards the organizer". So, does this clause actually "victimize" certain players or people from participating in an event? If the idea is seen as victimizing the player (or players), what about the organizers? Who is protecting their interest from being "victimized" by unwanted players, or players who have been known to cause trouble. I have seen organizers being the victim of complaints from the littlest of things and of the stupidest of nature. Some players are just looking to cause trouble and usually when the player is losing, the troubled caused become doubled and tripled. So, whilst it is easy to point players as seen to be victimized, what about the organizer that is being "victimized' by absurd and unnecessary complaints and issues? It is nice to see things from one perspective but what about the perspective of the other party?

Of course, the issue can be extended further - if the grudge is against the parents, why bar the children? If the the disagreement is against the tutor, why disallow the students? Maybe the phrase "birds of a feather flock together" comes into affect - if they are together, maybe they have the same idea. So, if we go by the simple rule of "prevention is better than cure", then most people would understand the need to ensure that a potential risk does not become an actual risk. Worse still is when the situation involves a chess player because a chess player train of thoughts is developed as such that the need to address a certain known risk is crucial before it worsen. We all know the classic Shakespearean tale of Romeo and Juliet where their parents (the Montague and the Capulet) are bitter sworn enemies. As the story goes, we all know that neither Romeo nor Juliet did anything wrong but because of the warring families, the children is branded the same as the family. And although Juliet father may have nothing against Romeo as a person, to him the family and Romeo are the same. So, if a parent saying that my child should not be banned because the issue is with me, then remember Romeo and Juliet....

Whilst it is indeed a shame having to disallow someone from playing in an event due to no mistake of his (or her), the rights of the organizers should not be questioned at all. No one should be forced to take in someone who is not wanted - for whatever reason the person may have. The way I see it, organizers are like host or house owners, and as the house owner, I have the right to invite or allow the persons that I like to my house, and disallow those whom I do not like. So, if your next door neighbor organize a "party of the decade" and welcome everyone from the same street except you to his party, do you want to cry foul and "insist" that you are allowed to join in the party? Unfair you may say? But as the host, I decide what is fair or unfair based on my condition and my prerogative. And if you do not like it, go find your own party. It sounds harsh and blunt but this is reality.

It is also like going traveling to a certain country and whilst you may not have the face of a terrorist, or even if you look like Brad Pitt, but the immigration person who handles your application for entry is "suspicious" of you, your application to enter the country can get rejected for the stupidest of reason - the immigration person "does not like your face". And there you are with you application to enter the country being rejected. And to make things worse, almost nothing in the world you can do that will make the immigration officer change his/her mind and allow you to enter the country. Of course you can appeal to the higher authority but if the higher authority concurs with the immigration person, there is zilch that you can do.

As an organizer, I would like to run "trouble free" events. Sometimes when you have an array and a variety of players coming from all corners of the world, it is difficult to know the trouble makers from the trouble free players. But if you do know them, the right to exercise the clause can be used as to minimize unwanted issues to surface during the course of the tournament. I have seen organizers rejecting international participants (but very minimal) because they are known to be "trouble makers". But of course, the gracious host that we are, we can tolerate these "international" trouble makers because they are not permanently here in the country - they come, stay here for about 10 days and then they left. So, even if they have issues, it usually lingers for about 10 days and after that, it usually ends amicably. Even if it stretches for more than 10 days, the "heat" is not so hot because the players are far far away in another country. But imagine having to deal with a local player who is just a few hours drive away from you (at most) and someone that have the potential to haunt you for the next 365 days a year - in person, using the phone, via email, via SMS, via blog, and popping into your office and stalking you in your next event, and the next, and the next, etc.

In one event that I had arbitrated some time ago, the organizer asked me as to who should be invited for the event and I started to throw some names. Whilst there were no violent rejection towards most of the names, some names caused raised eyebrow. "I do not want controversies to shroud my event" was the automatic response that I got. Whilst no one was eventually "axed", I was advised to keep some of the identifiable "trouble makers" at bay and strap them on a very tight leash. Lucky me, the event went smoothly

On the other hand, sometimes a person just need to "understand" when and where he/she is not needed. The Malay saying "hidung tak mancung, pipi tersorong-sorong" - literally translated as "nose not pointy, cheek push push" comes into play which means, if you know you are not needed, then understand the situation by not pushing your luck

But all is not lost - one man's poison can be another man's cure and with that, a person maybe banned from one organizer but not necessarily from all organizers. But if more and more organizers are banning the same person, then it is very clear that there is something wrong with the player - or the group or people that the player is associated with. Of course, there is nothing wrong with the the organizers right? Like someone mentioned to me, if many people start to throw mud at someone, some mud is bound to stick e.g. when so many persons talk about the bad things that someone does, then some of it is bound to be true.... I have seen some players being banned by some associations but in most cases, different associations or organizations have their own set of names contained in their own "secret black book". Unless the black books become one giant black book, then something must be wrong somewhere - for the players of course!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Of Arbitering and Pairing....

Most tournament organizers nowadays use computer aided software to do pairings for the rounds. Whilst some small events may still use manual pairing, using pairing software will probably help the arbiter to do the pairing faster and more efficient (with less mistake). One thing for sure is that manual pairing usually opens more opportunities for arbiter to fix the pairing whereas using a pairing system may minimize the fixing but it does not lessen nor close the door for manipulation. But, to move from one system to the other does not mean an organizer is looking for loop holes to "control the pairing"

I believe we should look at things objectively and always think that there is "another side to the story". If we see someone with a gun, do we assume that he is about to kill someone, or is it because he wants to defend someone? Are we destructive (that it would destroy/cause harm/kill) or constructive (that it would build/develop/save)?

Changing from Swiss Manager to Swiss Perfect could simply happen because of economical reason. Swiss Perfect cost USD49 to purchase whereas Swiss Manager has a price tag of Euro199 (for the full version) and Euro99 (for the light version). In any event, Swiss Manager is much more expensive to own. On top of that, Swiss Perfect has a 30 days free trial period so, using it for small Non-Rated events is very practical. Unless there is an extensive use for FIDE Rated events, then it would be feasible to purchase the Swiss Manager but if not, why waste the extra money unless there is extra money to spend.

Looking at Swiss Manager and Swiss Perfect, one must understand that each system will use different "process" to arrive at a certain pairing. In a tournament where the number of players and their seeding are the same, each system/software may yield a different pairing for each round. But this does not mean the pairings are wrong or the system is flawed. It just means that each is using a different process and logical order but the most important thing is that the processes are "consistent" within each program. If Swiss Manager uses the same "process" to determine the pairing in Round 1, it will use the same logic for Round 7, 11 or 17, and so on. The pairing is only wrong if an event started off with a Swiss Manager system but ends using a Swiss Perfect system (or somewhere in the middle, another different system is being used) i.e. the system used was not consistent. Interesting to note that there is at least 2 popular Swiss Pairing process being used i.e. one which takes color (black and white) into account and the other which does not take colors into account when doing the pairing.

But, it needs to be understood that system is used as a "tool" to aid the Arbiter in doing the Pairing and if the system produced glaring mistake or unjustified pairing, then the Arbiter has the right to overrule and correct the pairing. For all purposes, systems are not 100% perfect so when an irregular situation arises, the Arbiter has the right to change the pairing and this is where his/her pairing methodology needs to follow the correct logical sequence. An Arbiter who have experienced many events will probably be able to identify when a such situation occurs and what needs to be done. If the system (using its internal logic) causes a player to be paired glaringly unfavorable, then the arbiter must correct the situation.

But to learn using the Swiss Manager without learning how to do the pairing manually is very dangerous and illogical - as the saying goes "a little knowledge is very dangerous". Most people who does not understand how to do the pairing will usually take the easy way to just "blame" the system for not doing the pairing correctly. If a person had learned how to do the manual pairing, then it is very easy to check whether the system has made the correct pairing or otherwise. Its like using a calculator but not knowing how to do the calculation manually - "That's the numbers given by the calculator but I don't know how it got those numbers". Same like - "That's the pairing given by the system but I don't know why its like that".

So, before blaming that it is a fixed pairing, get some pairing cards and check the pairing manually. It is a good knowledge to learn hence a player, parents, organizer, coach, etc. can check and "feel" if the system is doing its job correctly instead of taking the easy way of "blaming it on the arbiter for fixing the pairing". But maybe, to certain people , ignorance is bliss therefore, it is easier to blame than to learn. On the same note, it is also sad to have sign up, organize or enroll in such a learning session but not learning anything out of it - and continue to be ignorant

But do take note that even after some sanity checking, the pairing may still feel incorrect. However, one must understand that there are certain exact elements of calculation where the pairing software can calculate much deeper compared to a human brain which may cause the "checking" to be inconclusive. The best way to gauge is to see if the pairing differs very much from the actual pairing or about the same and if it is about the same, or a logical explanation can be found, then it can be concluded that the pairing is correct.

When I did the Blitz Event in Cititel (and some of my smaller events in DATCC), I actually use a projector to perform the pairing sequence using Swiss Manager for people to see. If this method can eliminate the "thought that a pairing is being fixed" then maybe, this method can be use to perform the pairing but..... it may create other issues i.e. the arbiter may not be able to correct a glaring mistake because technically, the pairing has been "published".

In any case, I would like to think that Arbiters are doing their best to perform his/her job and trusting that the he/she will not manipulate the pairing to favor certain players. Why must I think that people are bad?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Of Parents and Players....

Chess players and their parents are elements of chess community that cannot be separated. Based on my observation, the degree of involvement towards their child's chess growth is dependent on how good and talented their child is. So in most cases I have seen, the more talented the kid is, the more intense parents involvement become. And the intensity may double or triple for parents who are more influential but of course, this does not happen ALL the time.

In most normal situation, the younger the child is the more protective the parents are but of course, we can't blame the parents for this. The child maybe too young (or the parents feel that they are still young) and parents are just doing what they instinctively know and feel best - which is to protect the child as much as they can. Of course, the protective element usually wane as the child grows older but, as the child gets better (and have the potential), the parents involvement can become more intense. However this time, not because the child needs protection but the child needs as much potential and opportunities offered to them in order to grow further. The protectiveness now moves towards the child's development to be the best they can be.

Usually, the protective boundary will end anyway - usually when the child (now a teenager) hits the college or university age, and even more, when the child (now a grown adult) hits the working age. Somewhere along the SPM-University-Working line, the intensity, the protective barrier, the involvement can disappear, and in some instances, can go off almost instantly like a candle light - a simple breeze and poof!!!!.... And the child nor the parent is never to be heard again within the chess community. There are a few current and past examples that can be quoted!

Of course, if you are looking at a family of 10 children, once the last child enters the college years, then the intensity (or insanity) will diminish with the last child. So, in the meantime, the chess community especially the organizers/officials, will have to deal with the first 10 children where the intensity was at the max.

As a parent myself (fortunately, none of my kids play chess... yet!), I can understand how most parents can get overly emotional when others are talking about or evaluating their kids - be it about the good things, and more if it were on the wrong things. Most parents are protective of their off spring and want to ensure that their kids receive the best of the best (of treatment) or at least, fairly treated. But then again, "fair" is very subjective and each parents may have their own interpretation of what fair is - "if my child don't get it, then it is not fair!"

The joke is that, if chess organizers, players or officials can't stand the sight of or dealing with a chess parent, just wait until the child finishes school and once that happen, the parents will simply vanishes into the sunset. It may take some time but eventually, they will go off and the chess officials will remain - and probably dealing with another similar parents and the cycle restarts.

Most parents are good people but the natural protection instinct that they have towards their child sometimes turned them into something that we find difficult to comprehend. Like the saying goes "No matter how beautiful someone's child is, none is more beautiful than my own." In my opinion, it is not wrong for parents to behave as such but parents need also to understand and realize that there are due processes to many things. There are also elements of the child such as friendship, aspiration, emotion and competitiveness that need to be understood. There are also other demanding parents that need the same attention to be given to their child and there are other talented children whose parents may not be as intense but nonetheless, the child is very talented. So, who will "fight" for these children when their parents may not have the same passion, or is reluctant to fight for them?

Some parents may say that their child is talented but does the child want to continue with chess as the direction for the future? Can a parent accept the fact when a trainer tells them in their faces that their child does not have the "umph" or the "interest" to further his/her passion in chess? Does the trainer themselves have the guts to tell that to a parent? If the child says "no, I do not want to play chess", would the parent comply? Perhaps the child is only interested to become a "normal" chess player rather than a "competitive" or "serious" chess player. And when the child has the opportunity to grow and play at the higher level, can a parent allow the child to travel alone with a coach to play in international events overseas? And when money becomes an issue, can a parent dig deep enough in their pocket to keep the child's dream (or is it the parent's dream) to become the best chess player in the country? Can the parent afford the coaching and training sessions, buying the books and software, going to events and tournaments, and doing the traveling? And if there are 10 children, which children will get a chance and which do not? Do the children draw lots?

With more and more parents becoming more well off, the desire to ensure that their child is "well equipped" for his/her life journey becomes a priority. Aside from chess, the kid will have to attend swimming classes, karate exams and piano grading sessions. And in some cases, language classes (like Mandarin or English) and religious classes also become additional requirements for the kids to acquire. This does not include the kids own desire to play internet online games, football, tennis or badminton. And somewhere between all these crazy schedules, the kids will need to attend tuition sessions to improve their math, science and geography. Whilst we may say "parents know best" but do the parents really know best?

And after all the arguments, the debates, the "accusations", miscommunications and intense competition not mentioning all the money, traveling, coaching, sleepless night endured by the parents from when the kid started picking up chess pieces until he/she reaches 17 or 18 years old, then suddenly..... off he/she goes into oblivion? And after all the schedule juggling, weaving across town to send the child to Yamaha piano class and rushing from office to the ABC Swimming Club for swimming lessons, and after all that, the kid just forgo chess? That does not seem to make sense, does it?

But don't get me wrong. Learning chess is not an issue but when all (or most of) the energy and resources are/were used to develop and promote a child to be a good/better player, why stop the effort midway? Why do some parents go through all the trouble only to "stop" a few years down the line?

It would be a waste of talent and whilst I agree that Chess - at its current situation (but there has been some improvement), may not be able to provide a good living for a player, who says that it won't in the future? Imagine if a child becomes the first Malaysian GM. Just because no one has been there before, that does not mean a player can't make a living out of chess. And event if you can't make it in Malaysia, who stops a Malaysian GM from making a living in Europe? or US? or Philippines?

So, how can we continue the chess population to make sure that good players do not "retire" and parents do not become overly "engrossed"? Do we instill a believe in our children that if you do not have a degree then your life is totally wasted? Does having a degree or going to college the only ultimatum? Why don't parents continue to show the same support and passion for their child chess growth as the child moves into college and working years and realize the dream that the parents themselves had coined to the child many years earlier during the child's development years - when the child first pick up the chess set. Otherwise, why invest and pour so much effort and time without gaining any return for the investments that have been put in?

Does this make sense?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Passing the Arbiter Examination....

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.