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.


  1. It may be the greatest friend as well as foe of a young Malaysian chess player is his parents. Have you come across a parent who FULLY encourages his child (with potential, of course) to concentrate fully on chess as a FULL TIME career? None that I can think of as of now. Will YCS ask YLT to drop out from school to play chess full-time? He is arguably one of the potential young players to reach GM level IF he keeps going without the distraction of school. But will his parents allow him to do so? QSS has rightly pointed out that nearly all our young IM's are fully qualified professionals. Could one of them have become Malaysia's FGM if he had solely concentrated on his chess career and forgone is studies?

  2. The first question you should ask is, why do we need a first GM in the first place? What Li Tian does and what Chin Seng encourages him to do is not Malaysia's problem.

    What is the point of having a GM as a target? The point is having a conducive environment for producing GMs. Then we don't have to focus our attention on just one "wonderkid" and put all our hopes and dreams on him. This has happened before, and it is called Mas (aka Proton).

  3. I thought the heading was intelligent enough but your rattling on Malaysia's socio-economic strategy while calling Thailand's economy as liberal sounds naive. So is the call for change of Malaysia's culture towards sports. It has never been and there will never be as there is no reason or impetus to be one.

  4. @anonymous above me

    all assertions but no explanation or justification. makes u sound very intelligent

  5. Interesting post.

    Maybe we don't have to import foreign GMs to play for our country. The current imported GMs in Singapore is not 'laku' (worth) anymore for their born country so they looks for small and weak chess country to earn some money.

    I think it would be better if we import them for coaching but not for playing in our national team because it will deprive places for local born talent.

    Singapore ( with the help of imported GMs) is better then us in current FIDE list but i hope the current performance of our youth players in Tarakan compare to the Singaporean will shows that we are actually better or at least not weaker then them.

    This is my personal opinion.


  6. 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.

    Also, you are being unfair in your comment about the ASEAN. The question that is begging to be asked is, did Singapore send their strongest players. I know Malaysia pretty much did. Just do some research on that. As an example look at Jingyao's performance in the U-20. He is only 10 years-old and he scored the same number of points and placed higher than our National Champion. Although this is just one tournament, but that indicates to you that Singapore is no longer aiming to trump at the ASEAN level. We are still trying very hard to be jaguh kampung.

  7. With or without imported GMs Singapore has never finished below Malaysia in any Olympiad. Put it another way, they have had enough locals in a first team to better any Malaysian team in the past. Most certainly if they had concentrated in the ASEAN, IMHO they would have put up a very good performance also.

  8. A Physics tutor can earn S$520k a year giving tuition in Singapore:

    Singapore parents feel that tuition is 'worth while', not just for school subjects but for enrichment activities. Chess lesson from an IM/GM probably still cheaper than Golf lessons.

    Recently, yet another 'chess tuition' centre has been set up in Singapore so the demand for trainers is still there.

    On the other hand, Singapore parents will likely scrutinise the trainer very carefully so just because you are a GM doesn't automatically mean that you will get a lot of students. High EQ and interpersonal skills are also important (there are numerous websites for parents to discuss which is the best tuition/enrichment course).