Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Full (Almost) Analysis of Senior vs Junior

(Edit: moved this post up to the top, since some fools have been complaining about the lack of counter proposals. Everything mentioned below is based on reasoning and argued with logic. There is no personal attack here. There is no personal vendetta. There are no threats of police report. There are and have been no slanderous remarks. This is pure logical argument that is not taken out of context by some idiots who love to focus on name-calling and labelling others to shoot down their ideas. There is no bullying in the Chess Ninja's website. Everyone is free to post comments here. Everyone even has the right to vote!!)

Since it is the in-thing these days to weigh in on the senior vs junior issue for a place in the Olympiad, I will attempt to apply an ounce of my critical ability to explain why such an idea is not useful.

1. In an already very divided chess environment, categorizing players as "juniors" and "seniors" are extremely divisive. There will be questions that need to be answered, such as, when does a player stop becoming a junior and move on to be a senior? Who gets to determine who are the junior players and who are qualified to be considered senior players? It is a fact that chess is not a game where seniority determines ones abilities. This is clearly seen with the World No. 1 being Magnus Carlsen, aged 20, and the World Champion, Vishy Anand, aged 41, more than double Carlsen's age. Vassily Ivanchuk, turning 42 this March, is easily one of the most active chess players in the World Top 10. His "old age" does not seem to be slowing him down.

So why divide our players into 2 camps? This would be akin to establishing a caste system which appears to be granting special privileges to elite groups. It would give the impression that "junior" players will stay as "junior" players for many years to come. How does one move from a beginner to "junior" player status? Can a player move into "senior" player status without ever being a "junior"? The question of social mobility then comes up.

2. This brings me to the second point. Such an event is at best, like a Gladiator fight in the Colosseum. Extremely exciting to watch, great entertainment, but serves almost no purpose otherwise. It totally takes away the spirit of meritocracy, especially when used for a selection. Organizing such an event to "prove a point", albeit a non-existent one, does not help chess at all, but divides the chess scene. Chess playing abilities are exhibited by consistent results, NOT one's fighting ability.

Just like football winners are determined by the team that scores the most goals. You can have a hardworking team that chases the ball all over the whole field without any real coordination and skill, but clearly that is a poor reflection of what competitiveness means. Competitiveness is much more than just fighting spirit on the board. It is just as much a fight off the board. What the juniors lack these days is the hard work off the board. Without consistent hard work, regardless of whatever system you use to select players, ANYONE will always be inferior. To bring the Gladiator analogy a little further, it would be like rounding up a group of peasants, throwing them into the Colosseum against an organized Roman army. Having a 3-5 day training camp isn't going to turn peasants into soldiers. Every player who wants to become strong has to hone his/her skills on a consistent basis.

3. I have and will always be against using one tournament as a basis for selection. In the past, I have already suggested the use of the National Closed, KL Open, Selangor Open, Penang Open, Malaysia Open etc as tournaments for selection. This would be an equivalent of the badminton's Super Series. The finer details would be the criteria to use. One suggestion would be to take the average score of players who play in at least 3 of the listed tournaments. Anyone who plays less than 3 of those tournaments automatically disqualifies himself from selection.

In ANY competition (or selection), there are 3 things that must be very clear.

(A) The Reward. This is easy enough. The reward is a place to represent Malaysia in the Olympiad.

(B) Rules. The selection criteria has to be very clear and transparent. What I suggested above is such a criteria. Of course I have yet to add in tie-breakers, but that can be arranged and be made clear. EVERY participant who wishes to represent Malaysia must have a clear idea on what behavior is "rewarded" and what behavior is "punished". Until today, I don't even know what is the actual selection criteria after playing chess for more than 20 years. One of my favorite descriptions is Ilham's comments on the 3-2-1 criteria (3 juniors, 2 seniors, 1 tourist).

(C) Referee. This is by far the most important requirement in ANY competition. Without an objective referee, the contest would fail. We need referees (and selection committees) who enforce the set rules and not change them every year or as and when they please. Any football fan can tell you the frustration of watching a football match with a biased referee. There should be minimal discretion in such matters UNTIL the MCF has regained its credibility. Then maybe we can consider something else.

The simple question I have is, why can't we use a merit-based system? What is wrong with using a circuit of tournaments to select players based on results and consistency?

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