Thursday, September 9, 2010

CTEP for CAS 1996-2006

Thought I'd take this time to document one of my teaching joys, strangely, to my friends in Malaysia! It was a near 8 years but thoroughly worth mentioning.

 One day in 1996 Mr Peter Long called me to ask if I would be interested to train a group of juniors from Chess Association of Selangor for 4 days in Penang, as he was busy and could not do it. It was a tough time for me at work, as my company was going through a split and I had to manage the IT separation task for my department. But somehow the lure of teaching chess was too hard to resist, so I agreed. 

 I met up with Tse Pin and Jason, the coordinators for the CTEP (Chess Training for Excellence Program) in Penang in December with Mr Lee (Samantha Lee's dad) who was the chaperon. The trainees were Lim Yee Weng, Matthew Khor,Yow Keat Tong and Ng Ee Vern. They were selected for finishing tops in the CAS junior tournament in 1996 and were selected for the program to be conducted at Sandy Bay Resorts in Penang. Here's some shots of our sessions.


As there were only 4 days, I had to balance the training with some fun activities (including visiting Georgetown and exploring the great Penang food stalls). Thanks to Mr Lee who's from Penang, we had a good time and got excellent meals each day. Gurney Drive and McAlister Road was really different then in 1996-7. Plus there was a great Western place just opposite Looking Good (a mall, now gone).

As it was my first overseas teaching assignment, I was trying to find topics that would suit the 4 trainees who were quite different in strengths and styles. Hence I chose to study pawn structures in their openings and the plans they could adopt pending on how the pawn structure would change due to pawn advances and captures. Then the next day was about visualsation of squares and diagonals. Calculation and the thought process was also introduced. That concluded our program for 1996.
  

In 1997 not much changed, except that 3 new trainees joined in - Gerald Soh, Law Zhe Kang and Seto (sorry, can't remember his name). I introduced Jeremy Silman's imbalances into the training syllabus as I felt that the boys were good tactically but not positionally. Overall, I realised that there was little attention paid to openings how they are prepared. For the first time, we got hold of a computer and I also introduced ChessBase as a means of preparation for openings


I was very impressed with Zhe Kang, though not the most gifted,but he was the best student in the 4 days and diligently absorbed my lessons. At the end of the program, I awarded him my copy of Silman's "How to Reassess Your Chess" for being the best trainee.

As he is a doctor now, I guess he has little time for chess. But I am sure he will remember fondly the days we spent in Penang in 1997.


As my computer during the years 1998-1999 had crashed, I had no recollection of the CTEP then but in 2000, a fresh group was assembled and this time it was held in Seri Malaysia Genting. Among them were Marcus and Nicholas Chan, Fariz and Hafiz Shaffrudin, a young Zarul Shazwan, Yeoh Keong Lee,Abel Yap and Pok Wern Jian. This time I decided to look into their games and suggest a repertoire for each player that would suit their style of play. Visualisation of squares is a must - strangely, the guy who often got punished for getting the colour of the square wrong when I called out the name of the square was...Nicholas Chan! But he is the strongest FM today..hmm..The topic of Fighting, Surrendering or Holding the Centre was introduced along with attack against the King with pawns. Evenings were spent examing each player's games to work out a playable repertoire.


In 2002 the same syllabus was used to help Zach Han, Ernest  , Fong Yip Siang and the guys above minus Keong Lee. Additional topics include a study on How to Improve Tactics was covered followed by analysis of the student's games.

2003 saw Yeap Eng Chiam, Ezran, Sumant Subramaniam, Khairul and Faisal KZ, Aw Wai Onn joining the group. Eng Chiam was very strong tactically then for his age, having been taught well by his father. Sumant in my opinion was playing much too fast and skimping on his calculation, but nonetheless the boy was dedicated. Wai Onn was very enthusiastic, very keen to learn but somehow a little timid. Strangely, he was playing the Blackmar Diemer Gambit as White and often lost a pawn without knowing how to recover it.


Pity but I do not have any photos of my 2004 group - Chan Litt Bin, Eng Chiam, Sumant, Izz, Aw Wai Onn and Tan Ken Wei.

My last group was in 2006 with Tariq Amru, Ekwan, Tan Ken Wei, Chiang Ee John, Albert Ang,  Justin Way Ong, Low Jun Jian, Geenish.
My thoughts on this series of trainings? What is important was that I chose not to cover specific areas in the middlegame or endgame but rather, devise methods of preparation and training on visualisation and calculation such that the trainees can apply to their games and benefit from the methods. This year, when I am back at the Merdeka Tournament and saw many familiar faces, including a cheeky Sumant who tried to use Scholar's Mate on his ex-teacher even though it was a blitz game! Meanwhile Eng Chiam lost a rook against my longtime chess friend Jimmy for underestimating the wrath of the Pirc Defence. When I passed Ken Wei who just lost his rook to a double attack, he told me "Didn't do enough concentric square exercises lah!" There's still room to re-learn I guess. 

Before I sign off, my thanks to Mrs Jackie Wong, Encik Shaffrudin, Norhana and the parents of all the boys who participated in the program. Most importantly, my heartfelt appreciation to  Tse Pin who tirelessly saw to the implementation of the longest junior training scheme that had spawned so many talents for Malaysia. 

Monday, September 6, 2010

51st NATIONAL INTER - SCHOOL TEAM CHAMPIONSHIPS

Another year has passed, and going by the records in the Primary School Open, Under 11 and Under 9 sections, Nanyang Primary has done well again. At a glance the winners  in each Primary School category:

BOYS
                  1st                           2nd                     3rd
Open       Nanyang Primary   North View Primary   ACS Primary A
Under 11   Nanyang Primary   ACS Primary A          SJI Junior A
Under 9   Nanyang Primary Tao Nan School A        ACS Jr A


GIRLS

Open       Nanyang Primary       Northland Primary A   Nan Hua Primary A
Under 11  Kheng Cheng Primary  MGPS                     Northland Primary A
Under 9   Northland Primary       Nanyang Primary A    RGS Primary A



The Nanyang teams were at least 2 game points over the runners-up, which indicates their strength and dominance. With a school system that's highly supportive of the game, plus a dedicated pool of parents willing to accomodate their children's schedules for chess learning, it is little wonder that they are dominating the school chess scene. For the U-11s, the team did not even need the services of FM Tin JinYao.

However, we see signs that the other schools can pull up their socks and give a better showing, eg ACS Primary ,Kheng Cheng Primary and SJI Junior. I would say that the chief factor that separates the boys from these schools to their Champion counterparts is the committment to playing rather than the amount of chess training received. My perception is that chess is exalted as a intectual game in NYPS while other schools see it as another CCA. What a major difference in motivation and morale! My fear is that in the following years to come, it may be well a foregone conclusion as to which school will yet again win the Primary Schools section. When that happens, many of the other schools may not see the point of taking part in school chess competitions should they end up as passengers year after year.

So can the playing field be levelled? Here are some of my ideas:

 HAVE  2  DIVISIONS

Like in football, why not have 2 divisions whereby the top 7 teams can play in Division 1 and the others in Division 2? The top 2 winners of Division 2 may be promoted to play in Division 1 and the bottom 2 of Division 1 can also be relegated to Division 2. 

This system in my view beats the Zonal system of prize allocation because it is based on merit and not location. It also allows the Division 2 and 3 teams some chance of garnering accolades which is also important for the schools that may be good but not reach the top. It will also encourage more teams to join as we can expand the number of teams in the top 7 if need be over 2 weekends instead of just 1. The main logistics are tables and chairs and equipment plus arbiters and helpers, not insurmountable issues in my opinion.

SCHEDULE THE COMPETITION IN END-JULY

This competition was traditionally scheduled during the last weekend of July or 1st weekend of August as long as I can remember. Over the last decade, it is now staged in end August or September. Why should it be changed? Setting the competition in September is totally unfair to schools with the majority of players who are in Primary 6 and would have to compromise their PSLE studies in order to prepare for it. Is the late staging really necessary?

If it is a question of finding a suitable venue, surely 1 year is long enough for the organisers to search and confirm a centrally located school for the purpose of hosting the competition, or in the last resort, pay for a sports stadium to host it. I am sure that the Sports Council will assist in whatever way to secure a venue.

With an event date that  is tailored to suit the needs of  teachers and students, there is no reason why there can't be more teams taking part and therefore more divisions which will see more teams taking honours, though it different categories. This will entice more schools to have chess clubs and aim towards excellenc, step by step from the lower divisions and moving up.

LONGER TIME CONTROLS

To decide a scholastic tournament on a time of control of 25 minutes per side seems ludicrous. In my time as a student, it was 1.5hrs per side and spread over 3 weekends. Now that's tough by today's standards. So what about 6 rounds, 2 weekends, 1 hour per side? The Secondary and Tertiary can take place on 2 Saturdays and the Primary sections over 2 Sundays. The Under 9s can have theirs in 25mins but certainly not the U11s and Open sections.

We need to make the game a little more serious at the school level or else, school principals may wonder why they should spend on chess training when much of the game can be decided less on strategic planning but more on tactics and luck? Is it any wonder that our students cannot match up with the rest of Asia when it comes to playing longer time-controls as we simply do not inculcate it even at school level?