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.


  1. This year's S'pore team was represented by 3 juniors on Board 2,3 & 4. Their age 15-18.
    Malaysia is represented by 3 veterans age 40+.
    And they finish way above us.
    They have been sending juniors like Dominic Lo, Daniel Chan, Graham Chua over last 2 series.

  2. To add on.
    The womens team got it right. Alia's performace was stagnant the past few years, even lost the national crown to Li Ting. In the Olympiad, she get to show her real potential.
    Give juniors like Evan, Zhou Ren and Li Tian a chance to bench mark themselves.

  3. Don't forget that Singapore have GM Zhang Zhong ( a former Chinese player) playing first board. Zhang Zhong is a very strong GM 'import' by Singapore. Without Zhang Zhong i don't think Singapore will get good result.

    Having said that, i think we should not copy what Singapore has done which is to import already strong GM instead of giving local born player/talent to play.

  4. In this day and age, I would hardly consider age as a useful benchmark of what a "junior player" means.

    I would not call Magnus Carlsen a junior when he was 15-18. In my book, a junior player is one that is still below the playing level of the "senior players" and are still in need of exposure before they can contend at the "senior level".

    The "kids" that Singapore sent may be young in age, but Daniel Fernandez is an IM, albeit a 23+ IM, and FM Timothy Chan scored a 20 game IM norm (which means he is playing at IM level). As for Terry Chua, I suppose you could call him a junior player, and a very strong one at that.

    Just look at Indonesia. Do you remember Susanto Megaranto, Tirta Chandra and Taufik Halay when they wre "junior players"? They came over to the Merdeka Tournament and played in the Open section and whooped almost everyone. They were about 14 years-old at that time. Now, one of them is a GM, 2 are IMs. That is the kind of progress they have made. What about Malaysia?

    The issue here is not who we should have selected for the Olympiad. The issue is, why is the chess level in Malaysia so consistently bad. I suppose we can be optimistic about this. At least, we are consistent, even for all the wrong reasons.

  5. Guess I should say something since Singapore is mentioned.

    To set the record straight, Singapore was winning most of the Malaysia-Singapore matches in the 80's when it was inaugrated in 1984. However, we slumped during the 90's and only fought back after 1998. With the introduction of formalised training. things have improved.

    What is even amazing is that you have Peter Long who is a FIDE Trainer but yet not utilised in setting up the national training infrastructure? Interestingly, it was Peter who asked for my help in conducting the first CTEP for CAS! So maybe it is time to consolidate training resources to upgrade the level of chess training in Malaysia :-)

    Singapore did the right thing by sending younger players to be exposed in the last 2 Olympiads. That is only natural as our top adults have long given up playing chess in classical time controls, simply because they don't have the time to prepare. The few like IM Goh WeiMing will doggedly work on their game out of pure passion. Playing in the Merdeka would be a luxury for most of us adults.

    The present Singapore chess scene, though by Olympiad statistics looks good for Singapore, in essense it is quite pathetic as many of our events are attended mainly by children 14 years and younger. In that respect, I believe Malaysia has a more vibrant scene.

    In that sense, Malaysia's chess scene has greater potential to uncover more talents. It is up to the system to identify, nurture and groom them. Politics exist at every chess fratenity, there is no escape from that but so long as everyone agrees to lay down their differences for the common national interest, I am sure most problems can be solved.

  6. No question about your statistics. I guess I wasn't active in the 1980s. Thanks for setting the record straight. I did stand witness to the wins in the 1990s. But I am not trying to give the impression that Malaysia is better than Singapore. Far from that.

    If anything, I think there is much to be learnt. I only want to stress the point that Malaysians are so self-denying that they cannot accept that they have fallen behind. That is why they can never learn. It is sad to say that this is not only true in the chess scene, but throughout the country as well.

    John, just to inform you, the situation is no different in Malaysia. Personally, I find it much worse. If you were to play more often in Malaysia, you will notice that most of our events are attended by kids as well. This is a result of the mushrooming of so-called coaches all over the place. They run it almost like a pyramid scheme. This is scary. In most rapid events, typically, 60-70% of the participants are schoolchildren. Their participation is encouraged by these coaches.

    The vibrancy that you mention is only seen in this white elephant of an event called the Malaysian Chess Festival. Just the Merdeka Team Rapid alone, if you look at the top 3 prizes, this year, none of them were won by pure Malaysian teams. That sums up to a prize money of RM12,000. Imagine what you could have done for Malaysian chess with that kind of money. This money is siphoned out to foreigners who will spend it for their own benefit. Not for the Malaysian chess players.

    There is no clear direction for Malaysian chess. Granted, it is a nice event to play in. But it brings little benefit to the players. Most of us treat it like a gathering of friends. It is an expensive price to pay for a social event like that.

  7. I have to take issue here about benefitting foreigners in an international event.

    The sole purpose inviting foreigners into local competitions is to incite the spirit of competition. Knowing full well that they may stand a better chance of winning the top prizes, it is really up to the locals to benchmark themselves year after year against these competition. In time to come, the local players will benefit by crossing swords with better players, learn from the games and improve themselves.

    I don't think the Malaysian Team Rapid should be used as an example, because you certainly have the best Malaysian players all choosing to play alongside friends or other associated links. The foreigners generally spot the loophole by bringing in strong unrated players in the last 2 boards to tilt the balance. This can be improved by setting the default rating for unrated foreign players higher.

    When Malaysians get the opportunity to play against the best players in Asia thanks to the Malaysian Open, they truly have Dato Tan to thank.Serious players should avail themselves for this rather than spend too much time collecting cari-makan money in the weekend Swisses, if they wish to improve their standings. But then again, it is up to each individual to evaluate which would be more important - getting the higher FIDE rating (what does that do really??) or make a few extra bucks.

    One way to tone down the negative effects of having too many kids into competition is to remove the age-group prizes, but give rating group prizes instead. In this way, you will establish meritocracy in chess by respecting the chief instrument of measure - the rating. Of course, this would mean that there should be measures taken to update the new ratings computed after every tournament into the rating database more frequently, something I am sure can be done in today's hi-tech environment. I have seen it done way back in 1989 when I was in Norway.

    Yes, I'm afraid Singapore and Malaysia do share the common malaise between establishing a healthy chess scene vs chess excellence. However, things need not be mutually exclusive in that having the vibrant chess scene with lots of weekend Swisses will bring down the performance of the top players. In any case, the challenge for the top players is to seek competition elsewhere in the region like the Bangkok Open, Philippines, Australia and so on if they choose to further their chess prowess.

  8. Agree with what John says about the Merdeka. If it is too costly to send everyone to competitions abroad for overseas exposure, might as well bring the strong foreigners here.

    Moreover, what is wrong with spending on a social chess event? You think the RM14k will be better spent on weekend allegros or Malaysian-only events? Most of the strong Malaysian players (barring the "professional" ones) do not depend on prize money as their primary, secondary or even side income. The social aspect may be a greater attraction for some of them to show up.

    Bear in mind the one thing that really separates Malaysia/Singapore from the poorer Asean nations is the opportunity cost of pursuing chess as full-time career. Once a promising player peaks, most likely it is when they get started on their careers. Regardless of what anyone can do about it, until the day that chess can pay your bills, this will remain the reality for chess in Malaysia.

    It is actually good to popularize the game at school level. Every once in a while, someone good shows up, and with proper support to flourish. Until the time he needs to work. Then we start all over again. With a larger base, it is more likely to discover such talents. I would think tournaments full of school children would be considered vibrant.

    But for any talented child to progress to a strong level, they need "role models" they can look up to. May I suggest that this is where the "senior" players come in. The question is, how do you keep these senior players in the scene and not drift away?

    This is a structural problem that I'm afraid changing the political situation or indulging in psycho-analysis ("inner child?!") won't alter the current state of affairs.