Wednesday, August 13, 2014

THOMSON CHESS CLUB SESSION AUGUST

For the remaining weeks in August, the Club shall be open and welcome all schoolchildren who wish to come Fridays from 730pm to practice and warm up before the National Inter-Schools competition on 31 August.

We should be able to cater up to 40 players, of course the equipment is supplied at a first-come-first-served basis, priority given to members. Please bring your own chess clocks if you fear that they are given out. We will have enough sets to go around.

See you all Friday!

Address:                  3rd Floor Classroom
                                Thomson Community Club,
                                194 Upper Thomson Rd
                                Singapore 574339

Directions:  http://www.streetdirectory.com/sg/thomson-community-club-cc/194-upper-thomson-road-574339/9151_101829.html

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

AFTERMATH

I think Nigel Short sums it pretty much in this short interview he gave to the local paper about the state of affairs that had occurred in the concluded FIDE Presidency Elections:

http://www.vgtv.no/#!/video/86186/sjakklegende-det-som-skjedde-i-dag-er-en-stor-tragedie

The sad fact is that the demon they were trying to exorcise is apparently mainly due to their past misdeed of breaking away from FIDE and creating the PCA to further their own interest. With the series of events from 1994 leading to the downfall of Campomanes, the void was filled in 1995 by Kirsan and since then the chess world has not seen the light of day.

In a certain way, the situation parodies what happens in the current local chess scene, where it is near impossible to upseat the incumbent owing to the rules that govern the electoral process. Membership is controlled and therefore no one can get a fair shot at it. Therefore, it would not be surprising to hear rumours that a new world body may be born should the disgruntled supporters of Team Kasparov decide that FIDE is beyond redemption. However, in Singapore this would not happen mainly because there is simply no one willing to take up the mantle to further the cause of chess for the betterment of posterity.

Now that all bets are off for the Kasparov Chess Foundation to invest further in chess for schools program here, we will have to fall back on our own resources to get things moving. The malaise that will follow for the next 4 years means that there is little hope of expecting positive changes in the chess world that can impact the way the authorities see the game here.

Nonetheless, I applaud Kasparov for taking a year off his life for this campaign and I hope he will continue his quest to bring back civility into the chess world, if not in FIDE, then through his own organisation. He will need to redeem himself of his past misdeeds which sadly haunted him on 11 August. Perhaps now, the scores are settled and a new day beckons. Hopefully, we get to see the same here in Singapore.

SAD DAY FOR CHESS

It was not to be.

The incumbent won 110 to 61.

Another sad day for the game.

Somehow the dollars speak more than action and direction again..wondering when we're going to dispel this aberration of democracy?

Monday, August 11, 2014

DAWN OF A NEW ERA? OR PERPETUAL DARKNESS..

It's D-Day for the 2 combatants (right, combatants) as they enter into the last leg of campaigning for the FIDE Presidency which will shape events globally for the chess scene over the next 4 years. Last time around, Garry Kasparov was cut off in mid-protest as he called out point of order in the proceedings only to be ignored. Today, I am sure he can no longer be ignored in Tromso.

What will a Garry Kasparov victory mean to the chess world, rather, to the local chess scene? Here are some of my views:

REJUVENATED INTEREST

I am sure that those who follow the campaign trail will know the promises that Garry has proclaimed in the event that he wins. It will be a Herculean task to galvanise the chess world and make sweeping reforms to the current processes which hinder growth in chess popularity. Implementing the six winning moves will take time but I certainly hope it will trickle down to Singaporean chess players' interests. This will be the opportune time to rekindle interest in chess among the adults and near retirees. Much manpower will also be needed should Garry decide to embark on selling the Chess-in-Schools program to the Ministry of Education, as there will be demand for chess trainers and coaches to teach the game in schools.

SCF should seriously consider organising events for adults to play without having the participation of the juniors, especially team events held over 2 days during the July-August period (where hotel ballrooms are available due to the Seventh month lull). All it takes is a good sponsor for the venue and manpower and I'm sure the prizes need not be exorbitant. The key is to inject the fun element for such events which will bring back the missing hordes that used to frequent tournaments over the 15-20 years. With the return of the adults into the scene, more chess clubs can flourish and attendances grow with sufficient numbers availing themselves to run them.

IMPROVED PLAYER LOGISTICS

By this I mean lowering the rating fees, the admin fees all FIDE rated players had to pay. If Team Kasparov's promise to have a universal rating system for all games played holds, then the fee to maintain this rating should be low and affordable to every player here. How about charging this fee separate from the entry fee for each tournament (which used to work while SCF had its rating system then) and should a player play more than 5 tournaments, he need not pay the fee for the remaining tournaments played till end of the calendar year?  Surely this will act as an incentive for more players to take up the game.

SPONSORSHIP  

What currently ails our local scene is the meagre prizes offered for chess events. We used to see tournaments with $1000 first prize and more during the heydays of the Christmas Festival in the late 70s and Cairnhill tournaments in the mid 90s. With bigger cash prizes, most adults would be enticed to try their luck and polish their skills to make a comeback. Again, if Team Kasparov were to channel funds to run sizable events here, I am sure the local institutions like the Tourism Board or Sports Council will respond in collaborating to make it an international spectacle. Having the Anand - Carlsen match in Singapore, or the World Youth  is a possibility which I believe will spark local media interest. These are exciting projects for the newly elected FIDE team to fulfil their program and what better place to do it in!

Everything hinges on the news over the next 12 hours as we await the fate of the FIDE Presidential Elections. Never since 1994 has the Elections been so hotly contested and so much is now at stake in the well-being of chess world. Will the world see a resurgence of chess interest or sink back to the doldrums, lets count the moments to the results...

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

CHESS TRAINING AS 2ND CAREER

Many former chess-playing friends of mine are reaching retiring stages of their careers. Some have also pondered whether they would be made redundant in time to come as the brutal attrition at the workplace continues at a punishing pace.

I have known at least 2 who have made chess-training their 2nd career option. One is Winston Williams, a former player for ACS and ex Singapore Police Inspector now residing in UK. The other is Marcus Chan, whom I had worked with for 2 years at the CTEP in Malaysia and now a FIDE-rated player. Marcus had switched careers quite early on the contrary but I am sure he has made serious consideration on this matter.

When I decided to become a trainer back in 2003, I had realised that my days in IT were numbered owing to the quick advances in technology which I would have trouble keeping up with. Moreover, my passion in teaching chess started way back in the 80s since my student days in RI which convinced me that I had the knack for this trade.

Since then I had been looking out for strong players who are near 50 or over to consider teaching the game as a career. I would recommend it to them mainly because there is a market for it. Often I received surprising remarks that it is possible to make a living on chess by well-meaning friends and acquaintances.

The fact is chess training itself is mainly a teaching job and one must have the patience, the desire to impart the knowledge without any condition. Hence it is not good for active players to go into it if they worry about grooming their potential competition. Besides, what's often taught in schools are basic knowledge of endgames and simple tactics. Only the private students demand more in-depth knowledge of the game.

Besides having the ability to be understood, the other tools of a chess trainer are a constant lookout for instructional material. There's quite a lot floating on the Internet and if one searches diligently, you can find some good ones which you can adopt as lesson plans. I have great respect for guys like Pete Tamburro and Dan Heisman who willingly share their knowledge and write very good books for club players to improve. Dan also has videos which any budding player should look at if he wants rapid improvement.

Knowledge of chessbase is a pre-requisite I believe. You can prepare your lessons there and use it as a lecture when delivering it in schools. Quite a lot of chessbase files are also available on the Net for use.

For those with children, why not try teach your kids something simple and see if they understand you? A good test would be to explain the Queen and King vs King checkmate. If you can get them to understand it within 1 hour, then you have what it takes to be a trainer. If not, go work on your presentation skills or try to simplify your explanation. It is challenging but attainable.

I welcome any questions of chess training especially those wanting to change careers. Sorry but I cannot share information on incomes online as it is sensitive.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

2014 : YEAR OF REFORMATION?

As SCF President seeks to reform chess at the world level by joining Team Kasparov, he will have his hands full from now till the August elections in Tromso. The chess world is holding its breath till then for the advent of long-awaited reforms to FIDE to reach out to the masses and gain bigger exposure for the royal game.

Yet however, there are also long-awaited and pressing reforms that need to be addressed at home should chess gain a bigger foothold locally. Though the SCF has aligned the Schools' competition into the format of the ECCA format, there remains a few other aspects that we in the chess community would like to see reformed:

NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP FORMAT

The current exclusivity of the National Championship, restricted to just players above 2400 (albeit with 2 wildcards) in my opinion should be rescinded. Even if it would cost some players their ELO points to play in the event. I do not think protecting the ELO points of the elite players would help the development of chess in the long-run. The fact is that budding Singaporean players from 2000-2300 ELO do not get a fair chance to play and try to improve themselves locally, causing them to seek their competition overseas which of course is a costly affair. The National Championship is one of the few standard-game tournaments held here and thus it should be at least open to anyone rated 2000 and above.

ENCOURAGE MORE ADULT PARTICIPATION

SCF should do more to organise competitions where only adults can play in - for the simple reason that not many of them would want to lose to juniors. Yes, I know it sounds silly but what can you do to FIDE-rated players who refuse to play kids in friendly games for fear of losing? Sad but if we need to revive the chess scene, we would need to encourage more adults to play by setting aside tournaments where their egos do not feel threatened. One of these could be the Inter-Team competitions which can be the continuation of the previous Inter-Clubs tournaments in the 80s-90s. In those days these tournaments do not see juniors participating. The casual format of gettting 4 adult players to form a team can persuade many a former player to take up the game and revive their interest, which can create opportunities to sponsorship of other similar events, Adults these days do not mind taking part in team events much like the Merdeka tournaments in KL which had grown to more than 100 teams taking part. I believe we can do the same here if we try. The ideal time control is perhaps 25 minutes with 5 sec increment so that the 7 round event can end in a day.

MORE ARBITERS

We would definitely require more arbiters to run so many events that it will be useful to conduct arbiter courses just before the National Age Group in November and have them officiate it. An estimated 8 to 10 more arbiters would be required to fill the gaps left by the previous generation of Mr Lim Chye Lye, Koh Sei Hian, George Wong, Tan Peng Huat and Douglas Wong who had served in the last 20 years.

NATIONAL SCHOOLS' CHAMPIONSHIPS

More needs to be done in the Schools' scene I feel as it is quite evident that many secondary schools are closing their chess clubs for lack of students joining. The reason? Most students who are representing their schools only get to play in 2 events a year and this is not sufficient to earn themselves CCA points for that activity. SCF can help either in creating more divisions amongst the schools to create more prize winners, or to create new competitions. Perhaps the National Schools' Blitz competition can be introduced ? It could then justify the trainers' costs if they had more competitions to prepare their students. Another one could be the National Schools' problem-solving competition or even 960 tournaments to allow more participation for the Secondary School students.

SELECTION

It is heartening to hear that there are steps taken to shortlist potential junior players to groom them for excellence, however I feel that it should be made known that those who are currently not in the National Junior Squad should also be considered in the shortlist. The terms can be spelt out to them and ultimately it is up to the player concerned to take up the offer and make adjustments to their training schedule with their personal coaches.

NATIONAL JUNIOR SQUAD AUDIT

As the program passed its 16th year from 1998, I feel it is high time an audit of the program is due. Some of the points of reference can be:

a. The efficacy of the program in terms of performance of students before and after they had joined, say over 4 terms.

b. Grading test results to track the students' progress in understanding of the materials taught

c. Feedback from students' on trainers' performance. Of course, the findings will be kept confidential and only used during performance appraisal.

Hopefully the EXCO can look into these points in their remaining year of office and make their due contribution to the local chess scene.


Friday, June 13, 2014

AAG 2014 STANDARD : AN ANALYSIS

The table of rankings for the various sections in the Standard category is compiled by me. Normally I exclude the U08 section as I believe real chess ability is perceivable at the U10 level and beyond. The results of the non-Asean countries are also excluded as I wanted a comparison of our performance against the rest of the ASEAN countries.

The legend shows those having played in last year's event in Chiangmai (perhaps in a lower age-group) as marked in bright blue, those playing for the first time in gold.


It is fair to say that the gold and silver medalists generally field no more than 1 first timer (with the exception of the Philippines in the Boys U12 and U16 and Girls U12). A bold move but it reaped dividends. Singapore had bronze meals in the Boys and Girls' U10 despite fielding 2 first-timers. Our lacklustre performance was in the U14 where we had an experienced team but finished 4th to Malaysia fielding 2 new players. The same goes for the U16 Boys where both Vietnam and Philippines had fielded 2 fresh faces but finished top 2 places. 

Fielding first timers often gives the element of surprise as there are little or no games that can be used for game and opening preparation. Of course, if the first timers are prepared well they can score heavily. 

My take on Team Singapore's performance is that for the U10-U14 category, we have started our preparations a little late. Our boys and girls in the U10-U14 do not have sufficient game practice in the Standard time-control and this is evident in the first 5 rounds where our players finished their games in little over an hour, despite warnings from the coaches. Another weakness was shown in their conduct of the endgames, where the Vietnamese and Filipinos do better in this department. Upon examing the game scores, I noticed that many of the top players here are content not to engage their opponents in tactics but play a safe middlegame, readily exchanging and start playing only upon reaching the endgame. In this department I find that our girls do not have the necessary strength to hold their opponents. 

More would need to be done in the weekly training at the NJS. My suggestion is to start gathering those interested in going for the tournament next year to start training at least 9 months before we head for the next edition in Ho Chi Minh city. For these players, 90 minute games per side would have to be worked into schedule and more importantly, not from move 1 but from endgame positions they've encountered. There's plenty of material from the games in Macao and Chiangmai to obtain those positions whereby players can improve upon their losses and play better. 

Though we have been preparing our kids on openings that their opponents use, I find that it does not do much to help them as their opponents generally avoid theoretical positions and tend to steer the game along positional lines. So my advice is that a lot more positional chess concepts would need to be covered in order to better prepare our players when encountering more quiet positions in their games.

Accompanying parents I feel play an important role in providing moral support and encouragement for everyone playing there, not just their own children. As first time parents to this event, it is important I believe not to make remarks on how impressive the Vietnamese and Filipinos are. Rather, we should always tell our own children that they are no worse and can do just as well if they set their hearts and minds to it. The other countries do not have the luxury of 7 coaches to help their players prepare for games, so surely we can do a lot better without having the psychological fear of them?

I must thank the wonderful team of Nisban, Tian Wah, May Hui, Hwee Khim and Dr Lee for great teamwork in administering the affairs of Team Singapore from the first of the event till its end. All who were there would agree that they have helped immensely in the settling down of all in Team Singapore and worked tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that the schedules are followed. Our players are well behaved generally so there were no incidents involving their behaviour.