Monday, June 21, 2010

The importance of Asean

We are always crying about the lack of sponsors and the sponsors are looking at the lack of results to justify sponsorship. First GM set out to find the answers to this dilemma. So we sponsored the Asean training. Yes, you read correctly. The basic business principle is Air Asia is one of First GM's supporters and First GM was the sponsor for the training.

And so we sponsored Asean. Why? Simply because Asean offered the best hope of medals. Our reasoning went like this. If we cannot do well at Asean, we have slimmer chances at Asian and at World.

I was informed by Ignatius Leong that Singapore also follows this strategy, the players that do well at Asean are given the opportunity to play at Asian. The ones that stand out at Asian are then exposed to World. Makes sense to me and in a way validates our reasoning.

If you also think this makes sense, you may want to follow what we discovered when we sponsored the Asean training in my next few postings.


  1. Raymond,

    Though it is a commendable thought for our chess leaders to coax the players to gradually wade into deeper waters,in real life we all know that this approach is not going to work.

    When China took part in the 1978 Olympiad, they stunned and shocked the world. There is no gradual wading. They trained hard, sparred with the Russians and got the toughness to show the world that they are to be reckoned with.

    I don't think we need to convince parents that it takes a LOT OF HARD WORK, DEDICATION and committment on the players to reach these heights. The chief problem is in convincing them to do it. Trying to tell that to a 8-10 year old bred in the good life of Singapore and Malaysia is not going to do it.

    If we go by Mr Leong's hypothesis, you can see from the results of the recent ASEAN AG that only 1 from Singapore finished in the top 2. So what are we going to do? Ditch the rest and focus on this 1 player? If so, then why are they feeding false hope to the rest of the so-called development squad?

    In the Malaysian scenario, are we to say that Yeoh Li Tian and a 3 others are the only ones deserving to be funded? If so, does it mean that the rest who are playing should give up?

    This is my worry about starting chess tournaments for the very young (ie 10 and younger). I believe that FIDE has never organised such tournaments in the 80's and this trend only started in the 90's. If you have read GM Alex Vaisman's article on WHAT MAKES A GM, you will find the following quotes in the book Chess Instructor 2009:

    " All junior competitions are only a preparation for adult events. Take football, for example.

    In this respect, I cannot but mention FIDE policy regarding junior events. In order to MAKE MORE MONEY (bold letters mine) for itself, FIDE has now started running World Junior Chanpionships at even lower age-groups, now down to U-10 and even U-8. The FIDE officials do not care about the fact that such competitive burdens are undoubtedly HARMFUL for the development of young children. There is no other branch of sport that runs World Championships at such age levels..."

    Hence junior development should require time and long-term effort with a good management team to see to the sporting success of the players. Young players need good sparring partners, diligent work to analyse games lost and draw lessons from them on a regular and disciplined program. However, they should not be expected to blossom that soon. Only those who are prepared mentally for the long road ahead should consider embarking on the path of chess excellence.

  2. Hi John

    This is my take. I recognise your comment about the need for creative ideas to develop our young ones.

    I was recently asked about my views on Fide. My answer was and still is this. I am still trying to understand why we cannot develop a GM in Malaysia. Not so much the technical needs but the thinking issues behind the decision makers that act as roadblocks to further development. While I do take note of the paths the other Countries have taken, I believe that to solve our problem we have to look at the unique Malaysian perculiarities. A VP of the Thai Chess Association said it nicely in Subic Bay. "We can get the technical expertise, that is no problem. It's the mind set of our people that is the problem."

    So we need a Malaysian solution.

    As for the children this is my personal experience. My approach to my own son, Mark has been to let him make the decisions. In the beginning I acted as a shield to those that wanted to undermine him so that he could still enjoy the game. So he always had an option, chess or a career. It was only after Subic Bay and he is now 17, that he said to me that he could see himself dedicating his efforts to chess. To me, that is the crux. It's a long and tough journey. And so it must be his decision. He now has an understanding of what it takes. And he knows he will always have my support.

    We each need to make our own decisions, each parent and child. The Associations, Academies are merely meant to facilitate and not hinder. Ultimately the officials are not going to play; to take the stress of competition at a very high level. So we each need to see our roles. And that is not clear in the Malaysian context.

  3. John, maybe this explanation may be clearer. I was told by an MCF official that a reason why Asean was not supported was because, Ignatius Leong was going to make money out of it. This answer begs the question... Then why accept First GM's sponsorship in the first place knowing that the Asean initiative will be "sabotaged".

    We need to own our problem. Why should Malaysian strategy be determined by whether Ignatius makes money or not? We are Malaysia, not Singapore, China or anyone else. We forge our own road according to our own strengths and weaknesses. So the first step is to see ourselves clearly. Forget about the others. It is not important for now.

  4. Ah John,

    I was just informed that you are from Singapore. My mistake, wrong perspective. Relative to Malaysia, Singapore is ahead. Do not despair that you have only one player in the top 2. Rome wasnt built in a day. I do not know the actual conditions in Singapore but on superficial analysis, more thought have been given to chess development than we have here.
    I think your system on the whole works better. I was told you have an easier entry to National representation. Anyone who scores 50% in tournaments is eligible. That creates a bigger base. In Malaysia, only the top 4 are allowed. By comparing the systems my believe is that you have the better chance of creating a future champion. I also think both countries would do better if mind coaching as distinct from technical coaching is also embraced. But on the whole you are further up the learning curve.

    Also why worry whether Fide is making money or not? Fide needs to make money or it cant function. But care in nurturing young minds is very important and I take note of your concern.

  5. Raymond,

    FIDE in my opinion should not victimise the young children by organising world age-group competitions for U-8 and U-10 simply because children at that age are not equipped to handle the pressures of tournament conditions. That is the view of a veteran GM trainer, not mine.

    FIDE ought to think of ways to generate revenue from other means but exploiting the minds and aspirations of the parents is not something I agree to.

    Though in comparison Singapore shows to have a more structured system, it does not mean that it is better. We will still base the results as a gauge.

    China does not use such a system in their national squad - all selection to the elite is done through competitions and not dragging hundreds of hopefuls through a "program". The best are selected and honed through a vigorous routine of nothing else but chess throughout the day. Let's face it - can your see your son studying chess for 8 hours a day for the next 3 years? If so, then you need to get him a good trainer.

    All else said, we must also be level-headed to ask if the subject has what it takes to make it to the top. A GM title in my opinion is not a taking a walk from Singapore to KL, whereby determination and perseverence will ultimately see success. A quest for a GM title to me is more like climbing Everest or a trip to the Moon - many may fancy it but very few have what it takes to succeed. Talent unfortunately is something that is bestowed, not trained or perfected. For that, the performance at ASEAN competitions would serve as a guide whether the talent exists. If there is talent but not well trained, then Malaysia is correcting it by bringing in a GM to help. Let this program go on and see if it does help. If not, we can only conclude that the talent would have to be searched for again and not blame the system or the program. Talent is the key and must be identified first in any GM quest. The system and program should then be improved.

    If you trace the steps of Bobby Fischer, it is a case where talent outshines,outbeats and outlasts the system. Fischer only followed his own program and the system of USCF rallied behind him. Kasparov is similar but lucky in getting into a good program.In his later years the system (ie USSR Chess Fed) turned against him for he was challenging Karpov, their champion and Kasparov was against communism. Again, talent outshines and outlasts. Let us see the talent first.

    TO date I can only identify Yeoh Li Tian who has it. Can't say about the rest of the youths in Malaysia. Nicholas Chan is talented but needs the discipline to make it there. Mas in my opinion has passed his prime. So really it is up to the establishment to do everything to help them, while they have the drive and interest.

  6. In my opinion, it is not the competition that is damaging to young minds. It's the unrealistic expectations and wrong methods of training and coaching. You have opened up a huge topic but briefly, we have all seen children expected to win against unrealistic expections by parents who take the loss as a personal failure, parents that transfer their fears and inadequacies to the child instead of nurturing their natural enthusiasm. Trainers and coaches can sometimes do the same thing. Transfering technical knowledge to young minds is a very specialised skill. Not many can do that. And we also need to nurture, patience, focus, confidence and a strong fighting spirit. The talents are there. It's how we get them to excel that is the question.

  7. How?

    Firstly, give them role models. If none are available in Malaysia, look toward the Asian champions like Anand or even Wesley So. Someone from our region who can take on the Westerners.Inspire them.Many young Indians are taking up chess because of Anand.

    Second, develop good habits - Focus, dedication to the game, love of the game and necessity to work hard. These are the things a chess trainer should constantly repeat.

    Third, learn from the best. Get them to study the games of the World Champions and be inspired by their play. If talented children cannot be inspired by the legacies of our great Predecessor world champions then they are certainly not the material or talent for greater heights. Leave them to their PSPs and computer games. Seek those who are inspired and understand chess beauty.

    A bigger base does not guarantee success. It just means spending more time to weed out the bad to distill what's good.

    Focussing on a small but good crop of players often brings dividends. Examine the seven players that John Collins (Bobby Fischer's unofficial teacher) collected and trained. Only 7 but they are magnificent. The good ones will spur each other on and will outdo each other to improve. Malaysia in the early 90's had a good crop of players like Greg Vijendran, Ng Ek Leong and Ek Teong, Chan Han Meng etc for the boys,Audrey Wong and Seto Wai Leng for the girls forming the Kumpulan Remaja. Sad that none of them chose to continue playing but I am sure they have good careers now. Thanks to chess.

    Malaysia has hosted its fair share of international tournaments over the years. Surely the young players are given opportunities to view the greats in action? If not, maybe its time for Malaysia to consider hosting the Olympiad. If that does not inspire the youth, I really don't know what else could.

    The quest for a GM seems to me a vicious cycle - you need the GM to inspire more to become one, yet you need more to try and fail before you get one who succeeds. So, short of discovering a super talent, this quest will be a long journey indeed.

    May I urge you perhaps to aim for grooming Malaysia's 1st chess multi-millionaire instead? Then maybe the first GM will be more realistic. At least, the funding and sponsorship for Malaysian Chess will continue.

  8. John

    You see things from the trainers perspective, in the classroom, away from the fray. There is another perspective to consider. For instance, during the National Close, I saw Lim Zhuo Ren play. He seemed extremely nervous throughout the tournament. And he subsequently crashed in his game against Nabil almost giving a free queen and needed to sacrifice a bishop to get out of the bind. What I see is this. He has yet to deal with his near success at National Close last year. It was a gruelling fight and I felt he made a few mistakes in his decision making at that time. If I were his Coach, I would have revisited all the decisions he made at that time. Distilled the lessons learnt and took steps to correct them in time for the next major event. I do not think that was done and so the trauma inflicted by the last National Close rose again and infected this one. So there is more to raising a champion. Tournaments are intense and can leave scars, if those are not dealt with the scars and fears accumulate and ultimately overwhelms the player no matter how talented. I have tried to bring this fact to the notice of many chess leaders and I hope some are considering these aspects of the game. There are so many more examples.

  9. Ray,

    U r right on your comment. Unfortunately, his trainer is only a technical trainer (just like most trainers in Malaysia) abeit a top-rated player himself. [Off course, there are some exception ones where u can c them churning out new players consistently over the years.]

    He will not understand where you come from and how he suppose to convey this sort of things back to his student.

    In short, many people out there actually do need you as mind coach but again if you know people like Zhuo Ren well, he may just say "R u kidding me?". How sad.

    One of the anon's writer.

  10. You have an amazing ability to pop up everywhere. Anyway what I discovered from the Asean training is that the coaching needs to start at a young age. I estimate around 12. After that, bad thinking habits are too well ingrained. With the U20 boys, I found that one was more receptive to my ideas before the tournament heated up. After that he just retreated back to his well established habits. The old habits are just too well ingrained.

    I think this has a bearing on why they do not do well after U12 in Malaysian experience. The bad habits are not addressed, the fears and traumas are not neutralised. And over time, they dont play well anymore. Yes, sad.

  11. Fyi, u r not the first person talking on mind coaching.

    From info I gathered in the past, several years ago Lim Tse Pin as Team Manager for World Age also talked about mind coaching where he tried to convince the group of parents where children are going to World Age Group (The year where Li Tian finished 4th in Under-08) to pay some extra to engage a Mind Coach to follow the contingent. Btw, there is another parent in Malaysian Chess who is an expert in the same subject field like you.

    However, no parents believe in it. What make it worse, parents back then don't even believe in a 3 months programme of both technical plus mind coaching before departing for the big event. Well, Tse Pin put it Malaysia is good for First half but purge like crazy in second half without both mind coaching and technical coaching in place. True to his word, that's what exactly happen to our better prospects in those big events until today.

    One of the anon's writer.