Friday, June 17, 2011

Why First GM is Stupid

I have been planning to write such an article for a while, but there was a serious lack of motivation on my part. For some strange reason, (actually, not so strange when you think about it), certain parties are obsessed about getting Malaysia's first GM by hook or by crook. What do we really get from a first GM?

1. Inspiration/Idol

Arguably, getting a GM in our country may inspire the younger generation to pursue the same dream. I even remember the days when the juniors aspire to be an IM like Jimmy Liew. With or without the crutches of the MCF, we did manage to get several IMs, but for the most part, it was through the personal efforts of the individual players.

Let us take a look at other sports. Many people say we need more "Nicol David"s or "Lee Chong Wei"s to inspire more juniors. Has that really happened? Other than Nicol, there are not many strong squash players around. I saw some potential in the Low sisters (Low Wee Wern and Low Wee Nee), who are also from Penang. But is this truly a product of inspiration from Nicol? Who else besides them? Don't you think that after being World No.1 for 3 years, it would already garner enough attention and publicity to create more champions?

What about badminton? Badminton is of a very different nature because even before the arrival of Lee Chong Wei, Malaysia was already a very prominent country in the sport. Those of you who are more senior will remember Eddy Choong, Tan Aik Huang, Ng Boon Bee, and the likes. The younger ones will remember the 1992 Thomas Cup win in Stadium Negara. All this happened before the arrival of Lee Chong Wei. You may ask, was Lee Chong Wei inspired by our past champions? Maybe. Look at China. They have player after player who are just as competitive.

But the real question is, why can't we be inspired by Champions of other countries? Yeah, they may not be Malaysians, but that does not mean they do not have qualities that we can emulate. In fact, some of them have to face much tougher obstacles than the ones in Malaysia.

So, I don't buy this hogwash about having an idol to inspire other Malaysians. We have idols all over the world and if you choose to close your minds to them, it is your own loss.

2. Something to be proud of

This is an even bigger bullshit than No.1. Many people preach the spirit of Malaysia Boleh when we see other Malaysians perform well in the international stage. I'd like to go back to the examples of Nicol and Chong Wei. If we take a hard and honest look at their achievements, we should be asking ourselves, is it really "Malaysia Boleh" or "Sendiri Boleh"? What has Malaysia done for those two in helping them achieve what they have today? The only thing Malaysia has given the both of them that is noteworthy is the biggest insult (my personal opinion), that is, by calling them Datuk. Why in the world would a decent young woman want to be called "Datuk" (Grandfather)? Lee Chong Wei is not even 30 years of age and he too, is being labelled a grandfather.

Another joke about this is that we as Malaysians, like to claim other people's success as our own. Nicol and Chong Wei's achievements are their own. We may have cheered them on in the stadium, or in front of our TV screens, but that is the extent of our achievements in squash and badminton. We have done NOTHING, and hence have NOTHING to be proud of. They are not products of the Malaysian system. They are the products of their very own hard work and dedication. This is the message that I hear Nicol David preach every morning on radio (Fly FM or Hitz FM or something).

Claiming to be proud of the success of one person is like claiming that Malaysia has the tallest twin towers in the world? What is the big deal? What good has it done for anyone? We want the biggest this, the longest that, the first this and that, all for the sake of ego-boosting. Look at Dubai. It boasts the tallest building in the world, but it almost went bankrupt trying to achieve that feat. Are we as individuals so devoid of personal achievements that we need to go out of our way to feel proud of someone else's achievements?

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 foresake 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 duely 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.

P/S: The strong language and provocative tone in this post is intentional. You Malaysians need to wake up and smell the coffee. I am open for debate on this subject and feel free to post in the comments section. As always, only vulgarities will not be tolerated.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

There Is More to Chess Training

After scouring the Malaysian chess blogosphere, it is hard to ignore the fact that the only consistent "source" for chess training tips comes from someone who does not play chess. Unfortunately, THIS does not count as chess training tips (Sorry Jimmy). But thankfully, the internet is a vast resource, and that is why I am able to share the following articles by IM Goh Weiming here:

1. This article mostly contains analyses of Weiming's own games and his thought processes during the tournament. The more subtle pointers included the weight that Weiming places on opening preparation. I am afraid I am not qualified to assess the strength of Weiming's play, but I think it is clear that he puts in a great deal of effort in opening preparation, not just prior to the tournament, but as a whole.

2. The second article, although classified as a book review, shows that training and preparation goes far beyond opening preparation. Many of us revel in the fact that we keep ourselves up to date with the latest novelties, but how many of us truly understand chess openings? A strong player would be able to play any opening based on understanding alone (Mok is one such example) but this is by no means discarding the importance of opening preparation. My point is that openings are not everything, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to this. One of the most foresaken part of training among players (based on anecdotal evidence) is in analysis. The main reason for this is that Malaysia has way too many rapid tournaments. To be "successful" in Malaysian chess simply does not require strong analytical skills. If I may be so bold, I would say it requires strong cheapo skills, and a lot of experience in time management (among other things).

So, the above articles are for those of you who are more serious in improving your chess. Be warned that it is unlikely to improve your results in rapid chess significantly, but it could help you in tournaments like the Malaysian Open or the KL Open. Of course, the key takeaway is not just in the contents of the articles, but in the methods of training.

P/S: It took me quite a while to go through the two articles in their entirety and even then, I still don't think I have fully benefitted from them. But then again, it could be due to my weak chess skills.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Way Forward

More stuff by Weiwen.

P/S: I am not receiving any compensation in any form whatsoever for this sharing. Nor am I doing this out of any request by any party.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Explaining Chess Success

To what extent can the population or GDP of a country explain its chess success? (pdf)

by Leung Weiwen

Just thought I'd share this interesting study by Weiwen, who is an undergraduate from our neighboring country, Singapore. Below is the abstract:

A country’s population and income can be invoked logically as factors linked to its chess success – measured by number of titled players or average chess ratings of its top ten players. But exactly how much do they contribute to its chess success? This study analyses World Chess Federation and economic data of chess playing countries. I find that depending on how “chess success” is defined, between 17% and 40% of a country’s chess success can be explained in terms of its population and GDP (adjusted for cost of living). Further, there are some countries that are much more successful than would be expected based on their population or GDP. Their training pipeline, national federation policies, and other aspects of their chess culture deserve some study.

Though I think that the study contains great breadth, it can probably be done a bit deeper. This was a cross-sectional study, which means that it was compared for one time period. To go deeper, perhaps the comparison can be done across time. The GDP data is easily available. Not sure if the data for ratings are that easily available, but I can't imagine that previous rating lists would be too difficult to find.

Also, another major concern that I have is that, the study compares the current GDP level with that of the current strengths of the playing nations. When in fact, I would imagine that the playing strengths could lag the GDP, meaning, in order to study the effects of wealth on chess, it would probably be better to take the GDP data from 3-10 years ago, because that could typically be how long it takes for chess talent to develop.

Another further study could also compare the relationship between improvement in the top players in the country with that country's growth in GDP, instead of the level of GDP. That is to study the CHANGE in the average rating of the top 10 players with the change in GDP over say, a 10-20 year period.

If anyone is ever interested in conducting a joint study like that with me, do let me know. If Weiwen ever reads this, it would be awesome if you wish to pursue this study further. I would be happy to contribute.