Monday, October 25, 2010

A Recipe for Disaster

Some of you have questioned why I keep bothering with First GM despite his useless advice and ignorance. Here is one example why. I find myself uncomfortable and uneasy just sitting down and watching someone pretend to know how to play chess and trying to impart his "knowledge" upon the many chess players as "the way to go". This would have been fine if he allowed an active discussion by the public, but ever since he started deleting all the comments on his blog, he has become the epitome of what he preaches others not to be. Below is one of his recent articles and I have included my comments in bold to show why people should not take heed of his advice blindly. It shows how little he knows about chess.

What makes me the expert? Well, I am no expert. But at least I have played at the minimum 20 more years of chess than Raymond Siew. That should count for something. Listening to a bridge player (self-proclaimed expert at that too) and a mind coach on chess is like asking advice from your real estate agent about stock market investing. A definite recipe for disaster.

Competitors analysis-what is an opening?

Why and how do we analyse our competitors? Has this any bearing to openings? So many names, Ruy Lopez, Sicillian.....etc.etc.etc. What does it all mean? Read here. Actually an opening has no meaning until we see all 4 components of chess.

If this part does not already show you that he has no understanding of chess, don't worry. There are other examples later. Analyzing our competitors is not limited to openings. I will explain more on this later in the post.

Our opening repertoire is but an expression of who we are. What we like and dont like. For we are all gifted differently. And without competitors analysis that also has no meaning for in competition it is all relative. We may think we are good tactical players but our competitor may be better. But on the other hand we may be weak positional players but our competitor may be weaker relative to us. So detailed evaluation of our strength vs the competitors strength and our weaknesses compared to our competitor improves our understanding of who we are relative to who they are.

This is only partially true. It is one thing to have a pet opening. But any self-respecting chess player would have worked on understanding opening principles rather than just moves in an opening. Any GM can and will be able to play the best moves in any opening even if they have not read that in a book before simply because they understand the opening principles. But thinking on every move on the board is a waste of time. And within the time constraint of every game, an unprepared player is bound to miss some home-prepared ideas. That is why people prepare openings. A strong player who understands opening principles can most certainly fare well against any opening that he faces. The type of opening that one plays is not entirely dependent on his/her personality. It is used to achieve a preset objective prior to the game.

Note: I am assuming here that we are giving our best in every game of course. Because unless we are, the measurement is not accurate.

And this can change depending on time control. Not all openings are the right ones for the different time controls.

So when I see that even our senior players are sometimes one opening type players, I wonder how deep our understanding of chess really is? Can we build a house with just one hammer? I also wonder why we send our players to all these International competitions blind. They just do not know who they are fighting. What is the measure of our gap? Are we so afraid of our competitors that we dont even dare to measure them? Lest we have to awaken from our sleep?

Questioning the understanding of our senior players only because they stick to one opening is pure immaturity. The opening is just one stage of the game. In fact, it is only 1/3 of the game. Do not foreget about the middle-game and the endgame. It is as if these two parts do not require any understanding about the game at all. Playing an opening over and over again only deepens our understanding in that opening. We all know for a fact that novelties are found just about every other day. What this means is that, even if people have been playing the same opening for decades, new ideas still can be found. That is why, practice makes perfect.

Having a favorite opening does not mean the player does not know how to play other openings. But why get stuck on openings? Preparing against the opening of one particular player is simply too narrow. If you have acute observation skills, Kramnik did not only prepare against Kasparov's openings, but against Kasparov's personality as well. Kasparov is well-known for his novelties, but also for his aggressive chess. The Berlin Wall was meant to frustrate Kasparov, which worked to some extent. Of course, there are other factors involved. For a full detailed account of how Kasparov felt during the match, go ahead and read his book, "How Life Imitates Chess". Now, think about Anand vs Kramnik. The same thing happened. Anand completely outprepared Kramnik in their match. If you don't remember these, you can simply visit the Chessbase website and look at the comments made by Kasparov on those games.

Next, why do we send our players to international competitions blind? Simple. The underlying cause is simply the lack of resources. If the MCF requires the players to pay for their own fare to represent the country, it is using precious resources that could have been put into training and preparation. Plus, having a one week training camp is not called preparation. Do not kid ourselves. The second point is, most chess players do not even know how to prepare. Most of the chess players in Malaysia have the wrong chess books to learn openings. Worse, some even have the wrong approach. Now, I am sure you are going to bring in Rahman's coaching about how to prepare. Well, the players must first be willing to learn from their errors themselves. There is simply too much dependence on the chess coach these days.

Nonetheless, preparation is an on-going process and should happen all-year round. Preparing against your opponent's openings is just preparing for a small part of the game. If you have played chess long enough, you would be able to guess your opponent's personality and strength on the board itself through the moves that he/she makes. To push it further, you can even guess from the way the person moves the piece. You can see the confidence, or the nervousness, etc. It is all there. Being able to adjust your style of play as you play against your opponent is also part of preparation. That is real competitor analysis, not just openings.

Every detailed analysis of our competitor improves our understanding of chess; tells us what else we need to work on; who we are, who they are, relative to us and the time control. Openings have no meaning unless seen in that context. Unless of course we are playing kindergarden chess.

Openings can be seen from many other perspectives. Many of us employ it as a surprise tactic. This works some of the time. They are not the determinant of a player's personality. It does not determine who they are and what they like. Chess is a game of counter against counter. I will try to employ an idea to prevent you from getting your favorite position, and you will try to counter that. Then I work on countering your counter and the process goes on. It is not just a one dimensional process that you can prepare for at home just from reading opening books to understand your opponents.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Imagined Imagined Fears

If the concept of imagined fears is not confusing enough for you, try to think about imagined imagined fears. This means that you worry to much about your imagined fears that perhaps, you are imagining the fact that you have imagined fears. So, does this mean that your fears are real?

Anyhow, I feel obligated to say something about Raymond's latest post, especially since he pointed out to my blog suggestively about throwing around half-truths and what not. Let me just start out by saying that I have posted 3 comments on his blog requesting for clarification on his accusations of slander. Since he said that there is a law against slander, then I want to be on the right side of the law. If you are accussing me of slander, I deserve the right to know. But he deleted all 3 comments seeking clarification.

Why am I being so defensive? Let me pick out a few suggestive examples which I completely resent:

However in our Chess blog culture today we have many people hiding under the guise of pseudonyms or are simply anonymous. And under these guises they purport to be experts or have inside knowledge and then they cast aspersions on other peoples dignity and reputation.

While this statement may be true, the statement in itself is an accusation. Let me be clear about this. The Chess Ninja was not established as a means to hide myself. It is a means to represent the "voiceless" people in chess. It gives people the avenue to speak in a culture where speaking out is punished and not rewarded. Until that culture has changed, the Chess Ninja will always exist. Think of it as a club or association to speak out for the rights of chess players. This entity does not just belong to me. It belongs to all of us. The Chess Ninja is not a guise and I am not purporting to be an expert. I also do not want to hold the responsibility of having inside knowledge. What I do know is that I have had experience fighting for the victim before, and I am currently sharing that information to everyone so that this information is no longer "inside knowledge". It isn't inside knowledge anymore if everyone knows it, right?

I know that if anyone were to approach the MCF with such issues, their first and main stance would be to appear defensive and try to cover up their tracks. The Chess Ninja blog is meant to report facts as they are. It will not report anything if there is no evidence to back it up. It is on the onus of the MCF and other parties to show that they can run a clean and good business with the whole world watching them.

I have nothing to gain from exposing the wrongdoers and "casting aspersions" on their dignity and reputation. In fact, I feel obligated and responsible to tell the truth about the misdemeanors of the wrongdoers.

How can I sit back and let them get away with what they have done?

Here is another quote that seems to be directed at "some people" and no one in particular:

I think its about time this nonsense stops. All the lies, half truths and innuendos shot from the dark.

If you want to accuse someone of lying, then you come out and say it like a man. Point them out specifically. Raymond called for a stop of innuendos and that statement itself is a very suggestive innuendo and seemed to target at no one in particular. If you want to call someone a liar, you better be ready to prove it. Don't just lump a general group of people together.

So, Raymond, do not be afraid to let people speak out about you. You are truly afraid. Do not imagine your imagined fears. If you are on the right side of the law, then you have nothing to worry about. On the other hand, throwing cheap shots at my blog or any other blog is not going to get you anywhere. You have come to realize that less and less people are listening to you because you are afraid of being exposed for the fraud that you are. You are afraid that when it comes down to crunch time, you actually have so many gaps that you have left out, simply by connecting all the wrong dots.

This is what happens when you try to join too many dots too fast. Lashing out at other chess observers by deleting all their criticisms is just an expression of your inner child. Try to grow up a little bit. Don't just learn how to read and reason, but to accept criticism. It makes you stronger. Only when you see beyond your anger, you can grow. These are your very own preachings. Practice what you preach. Try to be a cook that eats his own cooking. Open your mind just as you wish others to open theirs.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Teamwork Cultivation

Replying to Anonymous.

You have pretty much hit it spot on. No doubt about it. The competitive spirit was what kept Penang chess strong. However, it was lost when the MSSM was taken away. The rivalry between CLHS and PFS lost a bit of meaning then, added on with the possible conflict of interest arising from Jonathan Chuah being in PFS while his father was the teacher adviser for CLHS.

When I say lack of structure, what it really means is that, although there was a strong culture of senior-junior mentorship, it was not a formal program as it basically relied on the seniors' prerogative to train the juniors. This culture was great back in the early 1990s when the seniors took the initiative to pass on their "knowledge" so to speak, but at some point, this competitive spirit moved to the individual level. PFS players stopped sharing with other PFS players, CLHS players stopped working together for fear of losing out to their own teammates. That was why there were no real strong chess players after Jonathan Chuah, until much later when Victor Hong and Evan Capel came along. Even then, these are just lone players who were not products of the mentorship culture, so they could not pass that along.

This was a unique culture in Penang but its lack of organization led to its demise. It is one thing to reminisce about the good old days, but we must also be open to why Penang is being overtaken by the Klang Valley. I, for one, do not agree that it is the amount of chess coaches or GMs that the KL people can pull in. You are most certainly right that the teamwork can create the synergy needed to achieve more as a group, be it among peers or rivals. But how do we achieve that once again?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Culture of Success

Anonymous asked about what success would entail.

From the choices you listed, the answer would be all of them, and none of them. As strange as it may seem to you, Malaysia as a country has always committed the mistakes of having "absolute" goals. When you set targets like, having a GM, becoming a top ASEAN country, having X number of chilren play chess, etc., you are making a mistake of being myopic. Why? Simple, because once you achieve them, the question is, what next? Everything will stop there. You have to create new goals and so on and so forth. You may ask, what is wrong with that? The problem with these goals is that, they are very superficial and can be attained through artificial means. We do not just want to achieve quantitative achievements, but quality ones as well. Let me explain.

If your target is to get a GM, it can be obtained through many ways, some good and some bad. For example, in some way, Malaysia has made this mistake. They threw a lot of money on just one player in hopes that he becomes a GM, which he failed. This means that all the resources have been wasted. Compare this to implementing an incentive-based system where every player who reaches 2400 in rating is given RM2,000 travel allowance for each tournament, and players with 2500 in rating will get full sponsorships in tournaments. This kind of system creates a more competitive environment to fish out a GM. This is not to say, I agree with you that getting a GM can be considered a success. My point is this: You can set goals, but how you get there is at least as important as where you want to go. The quality of success is important. Compare the 2 methods above. The first method, if that chosen player fails to get his GM, then all the money would have been wasted. In the second method, the incentive-based sponsorship will at least create a chess environment that is full of strong players even if we fail to find a GM.

That's why to me, I consider Malaysian chess a success when we can implement a system that encourages sustainable improvement. So the goals that we set should be goals on periodical improvements, rather than absolute goals. For example, the target is to add fifty 2200 rated players a year, twenty 2300 rated players a year, and five 2400 rated players a year. This way, when we can achieve these goals we provide a strong sustainable base for success. If you can add more and more strong players every year, the pyramid will build itself. You will keep pushing the strongest players upwards. Of course, this has to be combined with a merit-based system where the best player is rewarded the most. There is no room for cronyism. This is the kind of system that can ensure long term and sustainable success. All the other goals like being the best in ASEAN, getting a first GM, etc etc etc will come automatically. You don't even have to worry about it.

However, the caveat is this. It is not what I think that matters. What I proposed above is just one idea. The important takeaway from this is that our goals must build on the quality of our success.

That is why, if you look at the Singapore Budget 2010, the Singaporean government has targeted a productivity growth of 1.5% per year for the next 10 years. Then you compare with Malaysia's Budget 2011. Malaysia only knows how to target an income per capita level of USD16,000 by 2020. The important way to get there is to through productivity gains, but Malaysia is on its way down the downward spiral by trying to implement mega-projects all over again. This difference will be even more distinct in the next 5-10 years. Singapore's ingenious leaders have long understood the importance in the quality of its economic growth. Malaysia is only interested in the quantity of growth. If you want to increase GDP by RM12 billion, it is easy. Just build a crooked bridge to Jawa, no matter how useless the bridge is.

Remember, it is the quality of your growth that counts.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Culture of Chess

Replying to John.

Associating Malaysia with prestige is always a dangerous issue. Malaysia has been a nation of prestige-seeking for more than 30 years. Just think about the Petronas Twin Towers, our very own national car, Proton, etc, biggest this, tallest that, longest this and that.

These prestige and glamorous achievements have come at huge costs to the country. Inciting such a "feel-good" environment is not only costly, but is also a myopic goal. It creates interest in the short run, but fails to address the long-term structural issues. I think you would agree that the fundamental issues have to come first. The foundation for Malaysian chess has to be strong, before we start creating a big hoo-hah and show off with big scale events. We must first lay the proper foundation. Just like you cannot construct the building first and then think about reinforcing the foundations as you build.

Chess in Malaysia is at a critical stage because it is at an all time low. You can do no wrong because any change can be considered an improvement. So it is time to lay down the proper foundation. Think about the kind of federation and environment you want to have in 5-10 years. Work towards that.

While organizing the K visits is a huge achievement that commanded a great deal of effort, the fruits of its labour is rather short term. This is by no means belittling your achievements. It is indeed an experience of a lifetime to bring the 2 ex-world champions here. I agree that publicity is important, but Malaysia is not at that stage yet. While publicity can popularize chess, what is more important is not to make chess "cool". Yes, becoming a chess hub can certainly bring in the coolness factor, but it is not the children that you need to convince. It is the parents. To make chess a national past time is just a part of it.

The more important issue is to create an awareness on why chess is beneficial to children. Nowadays, parents willingly send their children to piano lessons, Kumon math classes, ballet lessons and other such extracurricular activities. That is a good thing. It has evolved from the past where most parents prevent their children from pursuing extracurricular activities as they feel it might be a distraction. The question is, why not chess?

Among chess players, it goes without saying that the benefits of chess as a vehicle for developing intellectual competence are a given. But how do parents know this? I suppose in my limited capacity, I have yet to think of how to publicize the benefits of chess. But I strongly believe that this is the key way to create sustainable interest in chess. Not some big hoo-hah event. I am glad you brought up Bilbao. Yes, Bilbao is a chess city. The next question is, how many GMs does Bilbao have? No doubt, it creates interest and a spectacle, but is the interest in chess or in the event? Those are 2 very separate things. Just like football. Everyone loves to watch football, even in Malaysia. You can bring in teams like Manchester United, Arsenal and what not to Malaysia, but how does this improve the quality of football in Malaysia? The people's interests are in the event. Not in the game itself. We must focus on creating an interest in the game. The big events are just window-dressing.

Nonetheless, your point is most certainly valid when it comes to organizing events. Networking is crucial. But these micro-factors come later, after we have set the correct macro-landscape.

As for your query with regards to the multitude of tournaments, it is simply because of geographical reasons. While it is true that there are only 52 weeks, there are also 14 states in Malaysia. Having a tournament in KL and having a tournament in Penang attracts different groups of players. There is no shortage of players when it comes to events. In fact, I might even say that the spread of these events are good. These events keep the competitive spirit alive among states. The Penang-KL-Selangor rivalry has been going on for decades, although it has somewhat waned in recent times.

Nonetheless, I was lucky to have witnessed the following events that I would like to share:

In Penang, in the early 1990s, the only school to organize a chess open was Penang Free School. Now, many other schools have followed suit. I was informed that in the MSSPP (Penang State Schools Championship), there is a prize offered for "Best Overall School". This prize not only takes into account the best results during the tournament, but also awards points for schools that organize open tournaments, publish chess bulletins, etc. This encourages a positive chess culture.

I have personally participated in these tournaments that are 99% run by students. The chess association does assist in the logistics (i.e. providing arbiter, chess sets and clocks, etc). These are not small tournaments. The biggest of such tournaments I attended was one of the PFS Opens, with a grand total of over 250 participants. Penang is a small state, and a team of school students with the guidance of teachers and little help from the chess association managed to organize an event of such scale. That is impressive. This is the kind of culture that we should hope to inculcate, where the students not only benefit from playing the game, but learn other important skills from organizing these events, and publishing chess bulletins etc.

In short, to promote chess, we need to have the right culture and mindset. Organizing events, buying chess books etc. are just actions derived from the culture. We must first get that right. Only then, can the growth be sustainable.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

How To Spend the Moolah?

Agree with most of what Anonymous says.

Bringing foreigners to Malaysia is one thing, but bringing them to win our money in a rapid tournament is not worth it. Bear in mind that it is a rapid tournament. Also, RM14,000 does not have to be spent on chess tournaments. I am personally not a fan of allegros.

So how should we spend this money? For example, the RM14,000 can be used to build a useful chess library. You know how many chess books you can buy with RM14,000? That is per year. Then you can make the chess centre a popular hang out place, where people come and spar and read chess books. Strong players may even gather there for discussion and analysis. The benefits could be multiplied and this investment is long term in nature. The RM14,000 "lasts forever" because the books will always be there, instead of being in some foreigner's hands and spent on something else. Heck, it doesn't even have to be RM14,000. It can be RM4,000.

The serious tournaments should remain. The Malaysia Open, KL Open etc. I am not against that. Malaysians have every chance to play against foreign players then. Why need so many rapid events for foreigners?

Other ideas include, "chess scholarships". Organize several strong junior tournaments over the year and use that money as a sponsorship to the best 3 performers in these tournaments to go play in other countries (such as Vietnam, India, China, Philippines, Indonesia, Australia etc.).

I am sure many other people can come up with much better ideas to use the money. My supposedly weak mind has limited ideas. But the idea to keep the competitive spirit alive among juniors and seniors is this thing called meritocracy. As long as everyone can see the goal, they will be willing to work towards it. The current situation is a result of people moving the goal post all the time. Deserving players are not selected. Our national tournaments are treated lightly by our "senior" players. Most of them don't even take part. If you employ a system where results matter, people will work for it.

As for the neighboring countries, John has hit it spot on. The difference is the hunger. I already wrote about it. I couldn't believe a Vietnamese junior player would hammer out 2.5 hours of chess to win an opposite colored bishop ending. I can assure you that these kids have a lot more to lose than Malaysians/Singaporeans. To them, chess is their ticket to freedom. If they fail, they will just be some guy. We can always fall back on studies and other such things. But, that said, still, if the goals are clear and attainable, there will be people who will be willing to work for them. Right now, hard work does not seem to pay in the Malaysian chess scene. So the simple answer is, reward hard work!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Power of All

Replying to this.

When one person decides to protest the powers that be, it will be easy for the greater organization to just ignore that small fry.

I have time and again stressed that my goal is not to complain. I want everyone to know what is wrong in the chess arena. Because up until now, no one really knows. All they do is just play in "nice" tournaments. Raymond, to be honest, NO ONE knows about these fixed tournaments. How do we stop participating in them? Maybe it would be good if you can publish a list of fixed tournaments so that I do not make the mistake in joining them? By the way, that was sarcasm. I feel like I need to cue you when I am sarcastic now.

For change to happen, it definitely requires the support of more than one person. Heck, it would probably require the support of the majority. But the problem here is, the majority sees NOTHING WRONG with the current situation. Why? It is because they are not aware.

So if the majority does not see the need for change, whatever revolutionary ideas or what you call "wish-lists" will never go through. My goal is not to complain. Your narrow mind has led you to that conclusion. I am spreading information so that EVERYONE knows where the problems lie. The majority MUST know what is wrong so that we can fight for change, together.

Even if you were to be able to implement change, without the support of the majority, it will sooner or later revert back to the same old rot that we were once in. The people's mindset must change first. Unless you employ a dictatorship, which basically means you can do whatever you want without the permission of the people, nothing will ever change. Hey wait, that sounds familiar.

Your call for individual empowerment only makes you sleep better at night. You can tell yourself, I did my best, and that's the best a man can do. Wrong! I am sure I do not need to educate you on how a team of individuals can accomplish more than the sum of its parts. I am now collecting this sum. I have a plan, and there is a long way to go before the combination is fully played out. I am fully aware of my role. What I am doing now is putting the pieces in the right squares. You are just the distraction.

You are just fighting your own battle without a real plan. You look at your position and tell yourself that you have a good bishop, even though you are playing 1 rook down. If you try too hard to focus on what has been done correctly and ignore what is wrong with the position, you would have failed in objectively evaluating your position. You cannot just "forget" that you are 1 rook down and play along.

As any practical chess player would tell you, you must first acknowledge the threats to your position. If you ignore your opponent's king side attack, and try to go for an all out attack on the queen side and hope that you beat your opponent before he mates you, then you are just playing like an amateur.

We (I suppose I need to be specific here, since you tend to be confused with who I am referring to. By "we", I mean the chess community.) are all still at the stage of assessing where we went wrong. Only the minority have honestly tackled this issue. No one is dwelling on the past. Do you dare challenge the saying, "Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it"? What you now know as history is only 7 short years in a grand scheme of events. Even if you want to focus on what we have done right, there is a lot more history to be examined than just the past 7 years. If you study China's history and only look at the past 32 years, you would have only seen how China has reformed and emerged as an economic power despite the small glitch in Tiananmen. But China's history is more than 5000 years-old. China has been an economic power before. What happened? We cannot afford this myopia. We must always have the bigger picture in mind.

You are like a history student who just took a glance at the past 32 years and forgot about how the 5000 years has formed the Chinese people as we know them today. But you want to go ahead and conquer the future. That is of utmost danger to the chess community. If the Chinese leaders believe they can become a "super-power" again and forget that even the mighty China was brought to its knees not more than 500 years ago, they will be bound to repeat their mistake.

Let go of your imagined fears. Do not be afraid of admitting mistakes. Find the right dots to join. Don't just keep joining dots blindly.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Natural Selection

This is Malaysia's selection process. It is only natural. That's how it has been done for years.

Jimmy, I was trying to be fair. Let me explain the specific example to you, this time, with evidence. Have a look at the cross table below. It is from the tournament that I was talking about, the NAG 2010 U-18 Boys:

Now, let's just assume the first 2 players declined. There is a tie from 3rd-5th place, each player scoring 4.5 points. First of all, should Izz be offered the place? The 4th and 5th placed players might complain. There should at least be a play-off. There is no reason why Izz is better than the other 2 players despite having a better tie-break. He did not even meet the 1st placed player. Heck, he did not even meet Mark or Nicholas. Is it his luck?

Now, let's say Izz declined the offer. Does Greg have the right to offer Mark the place? Just look at the cross table. Mark drew with Nicholas Chong in the last round. If you were to use the results of this NAG alone, Mark has not really proved to be better than Nicholas Chong. What would have happened if Mark accepted the offer and Nicholas were to protest? Nicholas' tie-break was penalized because he was paired with the 1st placed player, Ken Wei in the first round. This is by virtue of seeding, which is probably luck.

If Mark was offered the place, then Nicholas should be offered too. At least a play-off of some sort should be held. Or am I wrong? I am only trying to be fair. I have nothing to gain from this. I just hope for a transparent and fair selection process.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Laughing Stock

When you do a bad parody, the joke will be on you. Here is one example of a bad parody. And below is my reply to it.

I am sure your second class attempt at humor is appreciated by all. You have completely missed my sarcasm in pointing out that Hamid is a Grandmaster and that WE are playing blindfolded. When I said WE, I meant everyone in the chess community who has refused to see or ignored the facts.

An impersonation is good only when it accurately portrays the character that is being impersonated. While I have singled out Hamid, I have also talked about the culture of meritocracy and competitiveness that is crucial to chess development. The reason I singled out Hamid is because I have identified the root of the problem. Have you? You are just asking us to try this and that until we succeed.

I have provided the simplest and easily, the fairest solution of all. MERITOCRACY. I have talked about this again and again. Your ignorance and closed mind has shut out my main point. Why don't you ask Greg to implement a fully meritocratic solution, since you talk to him so much? Maybe you can help me pass along this message to him?

Is it REALLY so hard to reward your players based on their results? ALL OF YOU must be so stumped. If you select players for international tournaments through chess results, not only do you get all the strong players to participate in these tournaments, but you give everyone a chance to succeed. 2 things will be achieved from this.

1. You get a wider base of strong players because now, your culture has allowed "ANYONE and EVERYONE" the chance to succeed.

2. You get a larger incentive for the top-tier players to improve. Because now, they MUST stay ahead of the pack, lest they do not qualify to represent Malaysia.

This is a win-win scenario. But meritocracy is hampered by vested interests who hold key positions, i.e. people who call the shots. I find it disturbing that Greg has offered a 4th placed player from ONE single tournament a spot to represent Malaysia. Firstly, everyone knows that usually, the 4th placing is inaccurate as it is typically determined by tie-break, which is subject to luck quite often (via pairing, Bucholz etc). Secondly, the result of 4th placing was just from 1 tournament, despite it being the Nationals. So if a player is first in MSSM (which is arguably a much stronger tournament), consistently performing well in other local tournaments, but was pushed to 5th place by tie-break in the National Age-Group, he would have been excluded from a place to represent Malaysia. That is why, we need to fix a group of tournaments and make it public so that all potential players will have a fair go at it. The most consistent player should be selected to represent Malaysia. Why is this so hard?

People who perform well at many tournaments are not being selected to represent Malaysia. The selection criteria changes EVERY YEAR. Why don't you think about things carefully and FIX a criteria and PROMISE to use it for the next 3 years. Allow people to succeed within a proper system. I guarantee you, Malaysian chess will see success within 3-5 years.

The reason all the strong players have "failed" as you pointed out, is that they were not allowed to succeed. Most of them just moved on to greener pastures which frankly, makes more sense.

So Raymond, I would appreciate it if you can just change "Hamid" to "lack of meritocracy" as the culprit. If this ONE simple thing cannot be implemented, then there is no hope for Malaysian chess, regardless of how many millions in sponsorship you can acquire. Try this ONE thing. Please, I beg you. Let the chess results speak for themselves.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Hiding in Broad Daylight: Transparency

Replying to mtheory:

Everyday I wish that what I said is not true. When little or no progress is shown for the past 20 years despite the "millions" that Raymond claims Dato Tan has showered the chess community, it is just too hard for me to swallow.

Replying to abdooss:

It is easy to suspect someone is on the take simply because of the lack of transparency. Granted, even the most prestigious auditing firms can be misled, but all necessary actions should be taken to prevent this. For example, publish the breakdown of the accounts on the MCF website.

Given what you said, I would like to point out that even the MACC's effectiveness is in question.
More importantly, many of the MCF's practices are "ONLY" borderline illegal but probably closer to unethical. Just to give you a few examples of the things that happen in broad daylight (never mind the under the table dealings yet):

1. Olympiad selection

The most obvious one is the Olympiad selection. Granted, super-sub Greg did manage to score a massive 66.7% but I am sure I do not need to say more about the shadiness of this year's Olympiad selection. Maybe Malaysia needs a really capable team captain. Mas and Mok are "obviously not qualified to be captains".

OK, maybe one slip-up is not good enough to bitch about the MCF. Let us examine some of the past Olympiads. In 2004, Malaysia was represented by Tan Vooi Giap (who?) who played a grand total of 1 game. In 2002, Greg was also playing. In 2000, there was Azahari Md Nor. In 1998, not only was Azahari in the team, guess what, Hamid too made it too!! In 1994, Sabar Hashim was in the team. I suppose it is a prevailing trend where the towel boys are included in the team list. I am almost sure someone will be quick to point out that in SOME years, we sent "legitimate" teams. For it to be truly legitimate, we need to lay out exactly is the criteria for the team selection? What must I do if I want to try to qualify? I am not talking about the lone spot offered by winning the National Closed. Even then, Evan Capel was not selected to play.

The fact that they can keep doing this again and again and again means that they are telling you, "You can't do anything about this!"

2. Free trip for officials

OK, this is a partial extension from No. 1. By virtue of selecting free-loaders, they get a free trip to whichever country. Now, what about the other international tournaments, especially the age-group tournaments? Often times, players are FORCED, I repeat, FORCED to fork out money to pay for the MCF officials to go along for the trip. I wish to emphasize on the word "forced" because the MCF officials will always tell you that you have two options. You can choose to pay the extra money for the officials, or you can choose not to go. How about I give you a choice? You can choose to show us the details of the accounts with your clothes on, or without your clothes on. How is that for transparency? And many times, these officials are plain tourists. Sometimes, the players only see them after they get off the plane and check into the hotel. After that, maybe you catch a glimpse of them once or twice during breakfast. Other than that, the next time you get to see them is when you check out and get on the plane to go home. Does that sound familiar to anyone of you? I suppose that is better than when these officials pretend to care about the games and "try" to coach the players. Oh wait, that happens too.

3. Hotel room allocation

In events like the Malaysian Open, we all know that the GMs and IMs are offered rooms at or near the playing venue. Now, I can't give you the exact number of rooms that were allocated, but let's just say that the number of hotel rooms were intentionally overbooked and the vacant rooms were "reserved" for God knows who. I was informed that these rooms were used as bargaining chips to gain "personal favors" among other personal benefits. I don't know about you, but is this even illegal? Probably not, especially this kind of thing is rampant in any organization. I suppose if that's the case, we can't blame the MCF. I guess I should thank them for not wasting the rooms. At least they put it to good use.

4. Over-billing

I guess this generally comes into the transparency issue. As Rationality pointed out, the exchange rate that the MCF has been using for the past few years has been USD1 = RM3.80. The exchange rate has not been USD1 to RM3.80 since 2005 when our 5th Prime Minister unpegged the RM. Just have a look at the chart. The data was obtained from the US Federal Reserve. Shocking? There are many other cases of over-billing but it is too unfortunate I cannot prove this without the proper accounts being made public. But neither can the MCF prove its innocence. I suppose everyone is innocent until proven guilty. I wonder how it works when someone hides the evidence.

So abdooss... what I have underlined here is really ONLY borderline illegal. Is it really wrongdoing? Hmmm... You tell me.

Friday, October 8, 2010

No Free Lunch

Replying to First GM.

It is NOT OK that the majority do not know what is going on. It is because of this lack of transparency that we are where we are today.

Let me share a personal story with you. For those in the know, you may know who I am after this story, or at least have some clue. I know a junior player, S, who obtained 2nd placing at the National Age Group some time back.

In the selection process for the Asian Junior tournament that year, the champion had declined to play for whatever reason, and the place was offered to the 3rd placed player, skipping out S who was actually tied for first place but only lost out in the playoff.

Needless to say, S' parents protested but by the time they had found out about it, the MCF had ALREADY submitted the registration and had "assumed" that S would not want to play because he had PMR exams coming. S had found out ONLY because one of the players selected for the Girls category had contacted S to ask if S was playing. S did not even know that the MCF was sending any players.

The joke of this is that the 3rd placed player was exactly the same age, and had PMR exams too. So clearly, the excuse was not valid.

Rumor has it, some MCF official or other (I will refrain from giving names since I have no way of proving this), and the parents of the 3rd placed player had a closer relationship (with a possibility of bribes involved (which may or may not be monetary, as that parent had let slip of such an occurrence during a conversation with other parents).

So now you see, whether they are the best tournament director or not, or whether they are the best secretaries or not, it doesn't matter when there is no integrity. How can a place to represent Malaysia be offered to someone discretely? Does this sound familiar to you? Did Greg tell the world he offered you and Mark a place?

To address what you said about Hamid and Greg being in positions that they are the best at, let me share a famous example with you. Remember Bernie Madoff? He is one of the most brilliant investors in our time. How did he cheat so many other brilliant people out of USD50 billion? This was made possible by his reputation of being great with money.

But just because he is good at what he does, does not mean it is good for everyone. What he lacked was integrity and the whole scheme was shrouded by a lack of transparency. No one knew what he was doing. None of his investors did. No one questioned him as long as he was promising great returns.

Back to Malaysian chess. Putting aside the argument that Hamid and Greg are doing a great job, how can you insist that they are still the right people for the job if there is a lack of integrity and transparency? This was clearly shown again in the selection for the Olympiad.

Now, to push it one step further, if you examine why they had shunned you when you requested for a post mortem as a sponsor, if you think carefully, and connect that dot, to this dot that I have just shown you, it will be clear as day.

You had "forgotten" to give them a cut of the sponsorship. That is why their attitude was utterly poor towards you. They got even more scared when you requested for a post mortem. Now do you understand? It is not because they are lazy to attend to your queries. People who have the capability to "single-handedly" organize the Malaysian Chess Festival have no room to be lazy. Now, the next question is, why do they bother working so hard? There is no such thing as a free lunch.

Now, if you can connect all the dots since the first time I posted on your blog regarding the Olympiad selection, I have always pushed for a system that will ALLOW our juniors to succeed, a system of meritocracy. You can get all the GMs in the world to train our juniors, but if their achievements are "overlooked", then our junior players will always be junior players.

If rent-seeking continues to be prevalent, NO SPONSORS will ever come in. Raymond Siew, do you see the whole picture now? Do you know why your sponsorship and efforts will NEVER be appreciated by these goons? Next time you want to sponsor the MCF, try offering to pay for the officials to follow along for the trip. Maybe add in a presidential suite booking. It could do wonders.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Gandhi's Checkmate

What passive resistance needs as called upon by FirstGM.

For the Gandhi gambit to work, there has to be 3 prerequisites.

1. Awareness
You cannot simply oppose for the reason of opposing. Your cause must be clear and agreeable to a significant group. Right now, "everyone" is complaining, but not everyone is complaining about the same thing. Some are complaining about the Olympiad selection, some about the gross mismanagement, some about the corruption etc. Someone needs to rally all these people under one umbrella.

2. A viable alternative

Once again, you can't oppose just for the sake of opposing. Say we throw out this current regime. What is our alternative? Who then will be in charge? What makes the new regime better than the current one? Even if there is an alternative, there will be doubts. The current administration has been there "forever". Will the new team have the experience to achieve success? What if the new team is worse?

To convince people, a structured and viable alternative has to be offered before you can kick out the old regime. No point kicking out the current leaders and leave a leadership vacuum in the MCF. If there is no one to take their place, then the old powers will simply return.

3. A win-win mentality

Right now, most people believe that there is too much to lose by opposing the authorities. For someone who has been suffering from this "oppression", it is easy to call for passive resistance. But you must be reminded that the majority of the chess community consists of "mediocre" chess players. The normal distribution applies to the playing level of all chess players. So, only the "high achievers" who hope to achieve something in Malaysian chess are upset by MCF's garbage.

The rest of the crowd, which I (for the lack of a better word) call "mediocres" simply play chess as a hobby. They do not seek to achieve more than the mere excitement of battling it over the black and white jungle. Why should they go and rile up the lion of the jungle and risk not being able to enjoy their past time. Do not ignore these people because they are the majority and this will be the group that can help kick out the old regime. The first and foremost question is, "What is in it for them?" If you cannot offer a win-win solution for this group (the majority), then passive resistance from a small group of people who can shout loudly, will be just pure noise.

This is why, opposing the MCF is a long and arduous process. These 3 prerequisites have to be fulfilled. This is why I have taken up the cause to rile up the public about the gross mismanagement that is going on. What I am doing is not mere complaining. Far from it. I am trying to raise awareness with regards to the rot that has been going on for too long in our backyard that now, it has stink up the whole neighborhood. I am trying to wake the neighborhood up.

Can you all wake up and smell the stink?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Lack of Hunger

This is in reply to John's comment. I find the message important enough to warrant a new post.

Totally agree that we lack the hunger. This lack of hunger in Malaysia is born out of 2 reasons. As you correctly pointed out, the first, is through complacency. That is pretty self-explanatory. On top of this complacency, Malaysians are also good at denying that they have fallen behind. All thanks to this spirit of Malaysia Boleh.

The second cause of this lack of hunger, is a more deeply rooted problem. This problem lies beyond the realm of chess, unfortunately. But to stick within the topic, I would like to point out that the lack of hunger is simply due to the complete absence of meritocracy. This socio-political issue has been going on for about 40 years and it has rooted itself in chess.

So much so that the powers that be have begun to believe that they can get away with anything. This is witnessed by the selection for Malaysia's Olympiad team. How dare the MCF select Gregory Lau to represent Malaysia in broad daylight. This is like rubbing mud in the chess players' faces and telling them that the MCF can select whoever they want, and there is nothing you can do about it.

You can play the best chess in the world, but I won't select you because I have my interests to take care of. So why should any of the chess players try, because their efforts may or may not be rewarded. Their fates are subject to the mercy of these almighty chess officials.

Let me recount a personal example. In my younger days, I had the great fortune of playing against a Vietnamese junior player and skipping all the details, we ended up in a position of opposite colored bishops with 5 pawns each. In any other case, it would have been a dead draw. I was really curious why he had refused the draw offer, and the game continued for another two and a half hours. Finally, I had succumbed to fatigue and overlooked a simple King penetration that led to my loss. Full credit to that guy's determination.

I was really curious as to why he had tried so hard for the win. Later, I found out that the Vietnamese government had promised USD1,000 to any player for a 3rd place finish, which could have only been achieved if he had won that game. I will always remember the hunger that was shown to me that day. I only wish that I had half the hunger in anything I do in my life.

The Harsh Reality

This is in reply to this and this.

Agreed. Let us also agree that we should not hide the harsh reality from the juniors. The obstacles that they are up against are brutally harsh. As if it is not enough that the competition is stiff.

The juniors need to understand that the local chess authorities are completely undependable. You should not expect ANYONE to support your chess "career". That is the harsh reality of the current situation.

Some of us may think that we are "protecting" our children by not letting them know about the harsh difficulties of life but that is going in the complete opposite direction. Frankly speaking, the juniors these days are "soft". I see parents accompanying them all over the place to play chess tournaments, including the MSSM. Now, the parents even book hotel rooms for the children during MSSM so that they can sleep comfortably etc. No doubt parental support is important, but if we keep protecting the kids from the harsh realities of life, when are they going to learn to face TRUE adversity?

Back in the day, most chess players HAVE to stay in the hostels with the rest of the team, and only 2 or 3 parents go along during the MSSM. The conditions of the hostels were shabby (probably worse than those at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi), but all the players grew from that hardship. There was only cold water in the common bathrooms. No fans in the hostels etc. Sometimes they would have to combat the bedbugs. This is what Chinese people call, "Eat bitter". When placed in such harsh conditions, these players would learn to find that other adversities are much more "manageable".

You can ask players in the olden days about who their coaches were. Many of them do not even have coaches. They all had to work hard on their own. Without the Internet, one of their main sources of chess information from the outside world was Quah Seng Sun's weekly article in the Star! Our children today are spoilt for choices in ways of helping themselves improve, yet they are not utilizing them. And whose fault is this? Whose fault is it that the children today only wait to be spoon fed by their so-called "coaches"? Somewhere along the way, we have developed a culture of dependence. If any of you junior players are reading this, why don't you do yourself a favor and go improve on your own for a little bit before you run to your coach again?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Hunt for Rationality

I just had to join in the excitement especially since Rationality has kindly hooked me up in his site without my asking. Well, like him (or her), I have chosen to wear a mask, although I really think a Guy Fawkes mask does seem to be way cooler.

On a more serious note, I find it hard to not make a comment about this, but the point I address here is not about who Rationality is. That in itself, is completely pointless. The most important thing is about what Rationality is saying.

You have all been misled by the powers that be in the MCF that all is well in Malaysia. All is NOT WELL. Why are Malaysians in such denial? Why do we tell ourselves it is OK? All this Malaysia Boleh crap that is spewing around is ruining our competitive spirit. Let me just summarize the situation a little bit for some of you who are less informed.

1. Malaysia vs Singapore

Back in the day, in the early 1990s, the Malaysia vs Singapore matches were hardly even close. We used to be trashing them day and night, in almost every category. Now, we get to listen to Ignatius Leong boast about how Singapore does not want to play against Malaysia anymore because we are "too weak". And we are angry at Singapore for their arrogance. Whether that comment by Ignatius is warranted or otherwise, what he says is 100% true. With IMs mushrooming all over the place, Singapore has a right to refuse to play against Malaysia. In a small puny country with barely 5 million people, they have managed to grow and develop so many IMs and IM elects, not to mention, several GMs (not including the imported ones).

2. No money, no talk

OK, we hear the MCF officials and even parents talk about how Singaporeans are so rich and they can afford to hire GMs and such to coach their children. That's why they end up being so good. Is money the only problem? Even if so, is Malaysia really short of money? Let us just take a step back and look at our other neighbors. Anyone who reads the newspaper knows that Malaysia's income per capita is higher than Indonesia, Vietnam and Philippines. It has been so since our independence.

But mind you, these 3 countries have their very own GMs, and several at that. We can't even claim that we have a "potential" GM. If you look at the recent Olympiad result, Philippines is ranked 50, Vietnam is ranked 52, Singapore is ranked 58, Indonesia is ranked 67, and Malaysia is ranked 92!!!!! If this is not bad enough, Thailand, who sent a team with an average rating of 2256, finished only 1 place below us, with the same number of match points. All these countries who are "poorer" than us, are scoring better results than us, consistently. I will let you do your own research on that. So money is not the main problem.

So what then, is the real problem? Why is Malaysia such a great failure? Where did Malaysia go wrong? Are Malaysians just plain stupider than our neighbors? How can we live with ourselves pretending that nothing is wrong and our players have tried their best? We are all guilty of hiding our head in the sand with our butts held high if we do not see that something is wrong here.

Now, the difficult task here is, what is wrong with Malaysian chess? I have proved to you that our progress is dismal (to call it dismal is a praise), and it is not because Malaysians lack funding alone. Could it be something is not right with the chess environment? Could it be that the chess authorities are not doing enough?

Let me just venture into what being effective means. We keep spewing this junk about our players and officials having tried their best. But we never ask ourselves, what are they trying their best in? Are they doing the right things? So now you see, what Rationality has been saying, is merely rational.

There are always two components in achieving success. Doing the right thing, and doing things right. Trying your best can at best, lead to efficiency, which is doing things right. We often forget to ask, are they doing the right things? I will not blame the players on this. The role of a chess player is just to play good chess.

But what about the people in charge? Are they doing the right things? Have we put in place a system that allow GMs to be born? Or are we just going to keep throwing money at a "select group" of chess players until one of them becomes a GM? What have the Singaporeans, Indonesians, Vietnamese, and Filipinos done right that we have refused to see, or simply cannot see? Perhaps someone who knows why these countries succeed can shed some light with ALL OF US on this. How about Malaysia combine all their systems and call it the 1ASEAN system and produce more GMs than all these 4 countries combined?

It is precisely the mentality of the chess observers that think "they tried their best" that has led us to this exact point. Granted, it is not the chess players' fault. But can't you all see that the progress (if it can be called that at all) of chess in Malaysia is simply hopeless? SOMETHING IS WRONG AND WE ARE NOT SEEING IT!

Now, before any of you curse me for being unpatriotic, let me remind you that I am saying this because I love chess and I love Malaysia. I just can't bear to see the rot that has been destroying the game that I love in the country that I love. I weep for you, Malaysia.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Half-baked Chess Coaches

Replying to this.

The half-baked chess coaches that we have nowadays are hardly qualified to give any insights into the opening preparations of our junior players. Let's say a junior player is a specialist in the Sicilian Dragon. How is the coach going to know much, if at all, if he is a Caro-Kann player himself?

Will he be able to offer useful ideas in a short period of time? The coaches in Penang and Singapore can assist in positional understanding analysis. They do not assist in opening preparation, unless he (or she) is a specialist in that particular opening. In this day and age of opening databases, it is practical to work with the computer rather than a "self-proclaimed" coach.

All Boxed In (more replies)

More replies to this post.

You have once again managed to sidestep the issue and resorted to "name-calling" to completely dismiss another person's thought just because they are different from yours.

Do yourself a favor and try to accept different points of view. You keep asking others to open their minds but yours is completely shut. For someone who has no real experience in playing chess, you sure pretend like you know a lot. Your half-baked and pretentious ideas are confusing other chess players and are even more dangerous.

I sincerely hope that you do not impede the growth of the young chess players in Malaysia and I urge others to avoid your convoluted "techniques" which are harmful to a real chess player's growth.

I was merely suggesting that there is something to be gained from the adrenaline rush that sports players get. Why is your mind so closed?

In case your mind can't process what the issues at hand are, let me summarize it all for you:

Issue 1: Chess players think better when they are more comfortable, regardless of whether they dance or not.

Issue 2: Try not to interfere too much with a child's mind, lest they go haywire from trying to take care of too many things. Let a child grow from his own experiences. Don't box him in.

Your ability to connect dots is uncanny. How did you jump from "allowing independent growth" to go ahead and pick up some bad habits?

All Boxed In

This post is in reply to First GM's post here.

You are making the huge assumption that the mind works better when relaxed. From my personal experience as a player, I've seen players who think better with all neurons fired up, fully charged and ready to go.

The leg-shaking and dancing as you call it, keeps the adrenaline pumping. And as we all know, athletes perform better with the surge of adrenaline. Now, you may deny chess is as physical as it is mental, but that is highly debatable. If chess is not a sport, why have we been striving so hard to get chess recognized as an Olympic sport?

But science and technicalities aside, I think chess players think the best when they are the most comfortable. Be it with their legs shaking, legs folded, and the most notable habit of Kasparov, with his watch removed. Try not to interfere too much with a child's mind, lest they go haywire from trying to take care of too many things. Let a child grow from his own experiences. Don't box him in.

Pressure is not necessarily a bad thing. If you learn about Lee Chong Wei, his training when he was young was all pressure. "Rumor" has it that his family members were huge gamblers and being the talented young badminton player that he was, he was like the goose that laid the golden eggs for his family. He was put under tremendous pressure in games that involve bets of hundreds of thousands of dollars at a time. Because of such experiences, he has learned to steel his mind and not be fazed under pressure.

That is why he is a class above the rest in Malaysia. But to be the best in the world, that is another thing completely.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Micro Management

Trying to over-tweak any kind of management is a symptom of trying to micro-manage at the macro level. I do not pretend to know how to run a chess association or manage any kind of establishment. I also can't speculate on what the job of the MCF is and what the chess academies should be doing.  I believe every establishment is set up with their own objectives. If someone wants to set up a chess academy with the main goal of profit-making, so be it. As long as we ensure that that academy competes on fair grounds. I have nothing against that.  I also don't know enough about the right or wrong people in any association. I am not affiliated with any party, but I support the fairest policies, and anyone who has the will to implement them.

This is nothing personal, but while your views are very easily agreed with, I find them too idealistic. Who gets to determine who the "right" people are? It is very easy to say we need to get the "right" people in place. Even if we do get these so-called "right" people in place, who is to say they will not turn bad after they get into office?  What I propose is to get the right SYSTEM in place. Throw in a performance-based system for the MCF. Set performance targets for the whole committee. Let the whole boat sink and swim together. Just ask for simple targets like:  1. Add 10 2300+ rated chess players per year  2. Add 1 IM by the end of 3-5 years.  3. Obtain full-sponsorship for the Chess Olympiad Team  Of course, these are just some examples of concrete performance targets.

Let the committee themselves set the targets they want to achieve by the end of their term in office. If they cannot even meet their own targets, the voters will know how to vote them off. It is as simple as that. If you consistently fail to perform your targets which are set by yourselves, no less, then you are either very bad at setting targets, or you are just plain lousy at meeting them.  I wish I can say that all this is common sense, but as the great Voltaire quipped, "Common sense is not so common".

The Fool and His Money

Thanks for the feedback John and Jimmy. I have the great fortune (or misfortune) of being born patient. It is almost amazing how thick Raymond's skull is.

Nonetheless, I feel very obligated to expose whatever untruths that he is spreading. What both of you say is true. But whatever attention that he gets, sooner or later, the fool will be exposed. As they say, "the fool and his money are soon parted". Whatever attention he gains, once he is exposed for the fraud that he is, he will lose all his "fans". I believe the people in the chess scene are wise enough to decide which statements make more sense. I suppose I am more optimistic by nature.

I suppose both of you may not agree with my methods, but I think most of us blog for our own satisfaction. So garnering more visitors or attention is not really our main goals, although it would make us feel a bit happier, knowing that people are listening to what we say. We just play our minuscule part in this vast world to contribute whatever small part that we can in hopes of giving back what we have taken from this earth.

It is my deepest wish and hope that in my life time, I can see the chess scene in Malaysia cleaned up. The dirt has been here for too long and shouting with a small voice isn't going to do much. I admire Jimmy's courage to stake his name in his opinions.

My hidden identity is not because of the lack of courage. I could not care less about my chess playing career at this stage of my life. But if I am "just another chess player", whatever I say is just another complain, which the MCF or any other authority can ignore with their deaf ears. I hope to create a symbol and a voice that represents something bigger, a "force" if you will, to gear up for a transformation. I am new in this chess blogging scene. But really, for more than 20 years, this ugliness in the current regime has reigned supreme and if any progress is to be made in Malaysia, something big has to remove the roots that have grown so deep. As one player and observer, I am a small voice. But the idea of "The Chess Ninja" serves the bigger purpose of cleaning up the chess scene.

So guys, please forgive me in advance for my naivete, foolhardiness, and ideals.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Too Much Thinking

Technical knowledge will always be a large part of chess. I would say that technical knowledge is probably about 50% of your success in chess, and the other 50% is everything else.

Now this "everything else" category is huge. You can call them whatever name you want in your writings, joining the dots and what not. The names for these things don't matter. But being good in thinking does not automatically qualify you to become a good chess player. You can teach some brilliant scientist chess, but he is not going to be a GM overnight.

Like you said, "external factors" have to be assimilated with your chess skill. The broader the base of your chess skill, the more factors you can use to combine with your skill. That is why I don't agree with you that the importance of technical skills diminish.

Believe it or not, I have won many of my games through non-chess techniques. I will give 2 examples of non-chess techniques:

1. I noticed that my opponent felt a bit cold in the playing hall because he forgot his jacket or something. Even before my first move, I had already decided I will play a long, drawn out game to "capitalize" on my tiny advantage. While you may think this is unethical or "not chess-like" but this is how you win any battle. Sun Tzu would have been proud. My opponent failed to come to the tournament prepared with a jacket and he deserves to lose if he does not take the tournament seriously enough to prepare for everything, including the playing environment.

2. Very often, I play "the opponent" instead of the game. That is why playing in many tournaments is important. You learn more and more about your opponents. This is almost the opposite of what any chess coach would teach you. At the beginner's level, if you know your opponent is a tactical player, you can choose to play a positional game etc. But to apply it at a very advanced level, you have to understand your opponent's personality. Even better, you can read your opponent's behavior. For example, it will help to notice if your opponent is excited, or exasperated, or tired, etc. A good chess player can and will exploit that. I can't tell you what each of those emotions entail because you must combine your observations with what is going on on the board to formulate an interpretation. Of course, at the start, you may misread signals, but like anything else, you just get better with practice.

These are just some of the ways of thinking beyond the chess board. Kasparov's book goes into much more detail about these external factors, which is why I highly recommend it. One of the examples he gave was how he played right into Kramnik's "trap" of employing the Berlin Wall against Kasparov during their World Championship match.

Even with this said, you cannot simply say that knowing how to think will automatically make your chess better. There are many ways of thinking. Chess requires one of the specific ways. You can easily claim that you can strive to master ALL ways of thinking, but let us be realistic. You can pick a top physicist with a high IQ and what not and teach him chess, he would still need a lot more than "basic understanding" to play at a competitive level.

But definitely, if you talk about the rate of improvement, then any additional "topping" will help you improve faster. The rate of improvement is a function of a lot of things. You can never hold everything else constant, so there will never be empirical proof of your methods. But I dare say that a more hardworking player has a better chance of improving faster than a player who can think better.

As a final word, I just want to throw it out there that over-thinking about thinking is not going to help Mark progress. You can continue to believe in your methods, but in attempt to formalize "thinking", you have placed it inside a square box. You must allow thinking to steer its own course. Just as an example, consider a professional 9-ball pool player. I think it is safe to say that shooting accuracy in pool is a function of shot power and angle, both of which are mathematical concepts. But if you were to ask that professional pool player about these concepts, he would tell you that he doesn't use them. The way he knows how hard or at what angle to aim his cue ball comes from practice, and practice only.

Similarly, a chess player will hone his thinking skills in a "unique chess kind of way" if you let it. Build on your chess, but stay flexible in applying everything else in life to your chess. If you allow it, you can use practically everything around you, as shown by my examples. Don't get bogged down by formal ideas.