Monday, June 4, 2012

Why First GM is Stupid? - Part 2

First of all, heartiest congratulations to Goh Weiming on his second GM norm.

Just wanted to get the pleasantries out of the way before I "defile" Weiming's achievements. Let it be known that Weiming is one of the hardest working players I know. I don't know many people, though. But let's just say I know enough. Because of his work ethic, self-belief and immense motivation, it is safe for me to say that I will take each and every word he has to say about chess with respect and great thought. He is gunning for the coveted GM title without expecting any favors from anyone. But he does have a lot of support from his friends and family, which I think is reflective of the kind of upright character that he is.

So, enough brown-nosing, and on with the point of this post. I read Weiming's post this morning and what he said really resonated with a point I was trying to make many many months ago. He said this (emphasis mine):
I will also like to emphasize just how critical GM Zhang Zhong's inclusion in the team is. He is truly a remarkable player given that he had not played a competitive game since May 2011 (Zonals, had to teach at his chess club, look after his 2 kids and still managed to hold his own easily against active top players like Sasikiran (2720) and Wang Yue (2690) and a few other 2500+ players.

One characteristic of his play is the amount of grit and determination he displays in each game. A simple illustration is his game against Kazakhstan GM Rinat Djumabayev, where he was close to losing but fought on gallantly, making it difficult for his opponent to consolidate each turn. His opponent eventually cracked and allowed Zhang Zhong to save the draw. I don't care what a lot of people are saying about foreign talents, people like Zhang Zhong and Wu Shaobin are role models and locals have a lot to learn from them.
Many of us don't understand the value of foreign GMs. We are so caught up in the "Malaysia Boleh" bullshit that was served to us by the 4th Prime Minister that we think that getting any foreign help in our achievements in anyway is belittling to our own achievements. Why is that so? Nicol David has a foreign coach. Does that make her achievement any less notable?

This brings us back to my point about why trying to get a first GM in Malaysia is stupid (I will only share the relevant point here. You can read more in the actual post in the link provided):
3. What is wrong with importing a GM?

Very often, we look over to our neighbour, Singapore, and mock them for importing GMs to fill their roster. Let me pose this question, can Malaysia even attract a GM to play for Malaysia if it wanted to? Why not? Are we too poor to pay for a GM? Maybe, maybe not. If we look at it deeper again, we will understand that Singapore (good or bad), has a system that attracts talent. This is not only in chess, but in all areas in Singapore (in sports, in the workplace etc). Why don't you ask, why do the GMs want to play for Singapore so willingly, that they are willing to forsake their own country? Is it purely because of money? Or is it because Singapore recognizes their talent?

Let us consider a hypothetical situation. In fact, this is as real as it gets. As we all know, Malaysia is suffering from severe brain drain. Our best minds are leaving us for greener pastures. It is not just the money, but the quality of life, the  recognition etc. Now, who is to say, if we do end up getting our first GM or super GM after years of struggle, that he/she won't just move to another country to play for that particular country? It happens everywhere, even to Super GMs. Sergey Karjakin now plays for Russia instead of his home country, Ukraine. Gata Kamsky plays for the US, Boris Gelfand plays for Israel. So there is nothing wrong if Zhang Zhong plays for Singapore. It happens. So what's going to stop Malaysia's first GM from NOT playing for Malaysia?

So, we come back to the point of attracting foreign GMs to play for Malaysia. If we have the culture and environment to attract foreign GMs, then only we have the capability to keep our very own GM, if he/she ever comes by. If not, who is to say that the GM won't leave Malaysia? Brain drain is a reality. Singapore has foreign GMs and those GMs have helped their locals to improve.

This is like the story of Proton. We insist on having our own national car (like having our own first GM), but at what cost? Just like we pushed so hard for Mas to become a GM, but he has failed, just like Proton has.

Look at our neighbour, Thailand. They do not have their own national car manufacturer. But Thailand is the 3rd largest car exporter in Asia (if I am not mistaken, only behind Japan and Korea). How many cars does Malaysia export? Thailand has a robust and resilient automobile manufacturing industry thanks to its liberal economy. Conversely, Malaysians are all suffering because we have to pay huge import and excise duties for purchasing foreign cars to subsidize Proton. Otherwise, you have to buy the low quality Proton cars. Thank god for Perodua (which intelligently collaborated with Daihatsu). Do we not see this similarity in the chess scene in Malaysia? Are we going to keep focusing on subsidizing one or two people (with potential) to become a GM at the cost of everyone else?

Whether it is Yeap Eng Chiam, or Yeoh Li Tian, or Teh De Zen, or Tan Li Ting or whoever the next top junior is, the goal should not be to focus on individuals. The goal should be to focus on creating a culture that promotes excellence, and recognizes achievement. That is of utmost importance. If talents and achievements are duly recognized without bias, I can assure you that the GM will come automatically. We don't have to subsidize them.

In short, this goal of striving so hard to get a first GM is utterly stupid. We need the right environment to grow a GM and so far, I have not seen anything close. Hopefully, I will be proven wrong someday.
 And here is more from the comments of the same post:
I am not talking about importing GMs to play for Malaysia. Importing GMs to win medals is just as stupid (Think Chelsea and Real Madrid compared with Barcelona (who develop their own talent)).

I am talking about creating the environment to attract GMs. It doesn't matter if the GMs are here to play or to coach, but as long as they remain in Malaysia for a sustained period of time, they will contribute to chess in whatever way. Paying a GM to coach is one thing, but in the case of Malaysia, if the GM has no incentive to stay here for a prolonged period (due to unsuitable environment etc), then we also have to pay for his expenses and lodging, which adds to the cost.

If the GM believes he is able to set up a residence here (i.e. can live in our environment and create a livelihood), then he/she may be more willing to forego the living expenses portion, which is usually the substantial part of the cost.

Another point is that the level of chess now is not as important as the rate of improvement. Having the right environment quickens the pace of improvement. Even if we are behind Singapore now, if we are improving at a faster rate, we will overtake them sooner or later.
This first GM dream is entirely shiok sendiri. Don't you think it's time to go achieve something with your own life?

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