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. 

THOMSON ADULTS LEAGUE JUNE TO SEPTEMBER

Looking for 9 adult players minimum to start an adults' league.

1  Time control is 1 hr per side

2  Attendance is not compulsory however we accumulate points by player.

3  All games will be counted from June 20 till September 5.

4  Each player can player the same opponent twice but with different colours each game.

5  Open to all Thomson CC Chess Club members aged 16 and above.

Interested players please whatsapp me at 97985479. You can join the club by registering with the CC at the counter on 1st Floor. Membership is $18 for those aged 12 and above, $10 for those below. You need to hold a valid Passioncard before you become a member.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

CONSTRUCTIVE POLITICS IN THE CHESS WORLD

I lament at the way the current chess politics are conducted by the incumbent to intimidate, smear and mug-sling. Despite spending 19 years at the helm, the current FIDE regime has failed to popularise the game to the masses and indeed it is time for change - for the better I hope.

Much of the turmoil surrounding the World Chess Championship has been the doing of Kasparov since his breakaway from FIDE in 1990-1, But he has admitted his mistake in the chess.com interview and is now wanting to redeem himself by advocating chess in education. As a player, it is not easy to forgive 22 years of chess turbulence but being a chess teacher, I am eagerly awaiting the developments that can bring light to the darkness that our game is shrouded in.

I am much in agreement of Kasparov's view that the chief way of revolutionising chess lies in its educational and other values to the young - the opening of minds, the stress on concentration and thought behind each decision, the ability to overcome adversity under pressure and most importantly, acccountability for one's decisions. Hence it is in this frame of mind that I chose to renew my faith in the man that once nearly destroyed the chess world with his introduction of Kirsan to the scene.

Hence, back home, it is also important that we re-examine what is currently needed to give the local chess scene a boost. Rather than focus on the shortcomings of the current SCF adminstration, I would think we should look at the big picture by supporting the cause to launch chess education into the Singapore education system. This can only happen if Kasparov succeeds in Tromso in August.

So no matter how deep emnity that can be among rivals and friends-turned-foes, we would need to repair fences and forge new alliances if we truly love our game and see it grow in the right direction. Let us not waste time in answering to people who are committed to misunderstand us. I am supporting the cause and not the person, for that my conscience is clear.

15TH ASEAN AGE-GROUP MACAU 2014

As I write in the wee hours, whiling my time till my departure at 6am, 2 things came to my mind surrounding the event - my students and their state of preparation for the tournament, plus my own in analysing their opponents' games based on what's available.

We had learnt a lot about the Vietnamese and the Filipinos from the last event in Chiangmai, so I cannot stress the importance of fitness enough to our own boys and girls. The Vietnamese do not display great strength in their games, but they do have fitness and patience on their side. They can make safe moves and wear down anyone past 4 hours of play. Hence we need to be most alert entering into the 3rd hour to ensure no big endgame blunders appear. Many also chose not to follow the book moves but relied on simple opening systems hoping to avoid book preparation. Our players therefore need to know their endgames well in order to match their opponents once pieces are exchanged on their behest. 

Our current diet of rapid chess does not help our juniors develop endgame skills as the endgames are often conducted with less than 5 minutes of play left, leaving one no time to strategise or plan. Hence I am advocating games to be played not from move 1 but from positions taken from famous endgame masterpieces where one gets to guess and execute the correct plan made by the winner. This will give the juniors exposure and practice in conducting their endgames.

THOMSON CHESS FIESTA

The Thomson Fiesta saw the birth of 3 new events spawned from the Thomson Cup International of previous years - The Thomson Cup Rapid that attracted 42 players, the Thomson Challengers that garnered 49 players and the Blitz that saw 42 participants, a large number made up of foreign players. This is perhaps the first event in CC chess competition history where incremental time control was used.

Perhaps the turnout was a little less desirable but nonetheless, it was a comfortable number in the hall and playing conditions were most conducive for some real chess fights. 

For those keen on the results of the Cup Rapid, you can find them here. Cyrus Low did not return to defend his title so Jarred Neubronner came in strong at 9/9 to take the title. For the Challengers, Ling Kay Soon resurfaced after a long absence to win with 7.5pts, giving a gracious draw to the top junior finishing at the top 5 positions, 10 year old Cheong Sue Lyn. I admired her feistiness in grinding out the point and hopefully this instinct will stand her in good stead at the coming Asean Age Group Championships in Macau next week.

       

The Blitz saw Robert Suello clinching top spot with 8pts out of 9. It was not possible to complete the stipulated 11 rounds as that would mean the ones playing later in the Cup Rapid would do without lunch as the round would start right after the event, Some amendments will have to be made in next year's edition to accomodate the players playing 2 events at the fiesta.

As I glanced at my students' games throughout the 2 days, I am also monitoring their play. 

 

I-Shiuan played some good games, especially his win against Edwin Lam, Jeremiah Xie and Jonathan Kow but somehow he succumbed to Sean Christian Goh unexpectedly. Despite the result, he showed maturity at the handling of the incremental time control and balanced it well. His brother I Shiang somehow lacked the discipline of watching for his opponents' threats at every move and often found himself material down due to 2 move tactics which should be detected had he learnt to use his time wisely. The same goes for Naython, with the only difference that Naython did manage to record his games and could recall where he went wrong. It is this difference that will determine who will take strides to self-improvement and better his results at the next outing. David though missing the first 4 rounds managed to score 4/5 together with Nash, while brother Jonathan also did reasonably well at 4.5 pts.


The final picture of all the prize winners with the Thomson CCMC Chairman Mr Sng Jin Poh. We thank the CCMC for their support of this annual event and will strive to improvement the details to make it even more conducive for good chess playing next year.