Tuesday, December 27, 2011

DAY 2 AT THE SIYC

Day 2 was rather eventful, with unexpected losses mixed with some tough wins. 

Adrian was the first to go down, then Sam. Mitchell managed a planned draw as his opponent didn't know how to navigate the intricacies of the Queen's Gambit and exchanged pieces to a draw.

In the afternoon, things turned for the better after I reminded them to slow down. Nicholas won his second game through sheer grit, zeroing his opponent through the crosshair in the endgame for a nice checkmate.  Adrian won through a neat sacrifice which got him the exchange and won with a backrank mating motif netting a piece but the opponent allowed the checkmate. Sam took the game in stride and ground down his opponent Jarrel who blundered towards the end of the 2nd hour.

Hopefully they will all settle in and let their talent shine through in the games tomorrow.



To lose a game in 8 moves then struggling till move 40 is not my idea of a game. I have stressed time and again knowing the lines to avoid any such mishaps, but I guess it does take a loss to truly jolt the mind to do something about memorising opening lines. Hopefully, they will recover in time.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Sunday, December 25, 2011

THOMSON CLUB CHAMPIONSHIP 2012

1.      The tournament is organized by the Thomson CCMC and the games shall be played according to the FIDE Laws of Chess for Rapid Chess (G/25). Players may choose to play in the SENIORS (no age limit) or  JUNIORS (Aged 12 and below) section.

2.      ELIGIBILITY : This tournament is open to members only. Players paying the entry fee shall be made members of the Chess Club and are entitled 1 year membership with immediate effect.

3.      VENUE : Thomson Community Club Hall, 194 Upper Thomson Road Singapore 574339

4.      PAIRING : Swiss System of  7 Rounds,  time control  25 minutes each side to finish.

5.      SCHEDULE: 15th January Sunday 10.00 am to 5.50 pm . Please report  by  9.30am. Walkover time for Round 1 is  25 minutes.  Prize  Giving Ceremony  at 6.30pm.

6.    PRIZES : A minimum of 5 prizes shall be given for each section. Tie breaks will resolve the placing of each prize winner. Merit prizes may be added if number of entries exceed 60.

  1. ENTRY FEE  : $10 for children aged 12 (as at 1st Jan 2012) and below, $18 for all others. Membership is complete only if you possess a valid PAssion Ezlink Card. PAssion Ezlink Card membership for those aged 18 to below 60 is at $12 for 5 years. Those aged below 18 or are 60 and  above pay $10 for 5 years membership.

8.      CLOSING DATE: There will be a limit of 100  first-paid entries received. All entries are to be submitted with entry fee and reach Thomson  CC  by , January 11  Wednesday  10pm. All cheque payments are to be crossed and made payable to “ Thomson CCMC”. DO NOT SEND CASH. 

9.      TIE BREAK :  The System of Tie Break shall be announced before the start of the Tournament. The Tournament Director’s decision on matters on the tournament shall be FINAL.

  1. The Organising Committee reserves the right to accept or reject any entry without assigning a reason. Rejected entries shall be fully refunded.


 For drivers, free parking is available Sunday  at Shunfu Blk 309-314 at the back of the CC. Enter via Shunfu Road along Marymount Road.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

2012 RESOLUTIONS?!

It's the time of year when plans are made for the forthcoming year ahead, reminding ourselves how we can improve upon the happenings past.

Looking back, some of the students have made significant strides in their performance, but will need the January SCF rating list for verification. Others have moved, though slower, but are surely playing better when I first worked with them.

My resolutions for my students for the New Year will be:

  1. To score minimum 4.5 pts /7  for all 7 rd Swiss tournaments they participate
  2. To ensure that they spend either 4 hours a week on chess-playing or equivalent of 50 puzzles a week, with   the cooperation from parents
  3. To help them gain about 30 rating points per tournament
  4. For the better students, they should prepare for the top 5 spots in the local major age-group tournaments.

Achievement in chess does spur confidence in the child, however we must always emphasise that all good results come from thorough preparation and hard work. To inspire the child to want that is not an easy task, as many of our cloistered youth do not hunger for success. It is therefore a challenge I set for myself as a trainer to find new ways of motivating students to excel.

My usual practice was to suspend coaching after the National Individuals for all P6s taking their PSLEs that year. However, as I examined their exam results, it appears that the extra time off chess training did not help in improving their scores. Rather, the students developed malaise/stress fatigue  in learning having too much time on their hands. So I am reviewing this practice.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

THE REALITIES OF SPONSORSHIP

In any sport or endeavour that requires sponsorship for its sustainability, the source of funds into the activity is usually limted.

Much depends on the popularity of the activity, its target audience base and most importantly endorsement from the powers that be.

In the context of chess, the problem of low sponsorship has inherently stifled the growth of the sport over the last 10 years. We have had it good during the 80s and 90s thanks to the generosity of Datuk Tan Chin Nam, a tycoon who is fervent about chess. It was he who sowed the seeds of China as a superpower in chess by sponsoring the Tan Chin Nam Cup in Beijing in the 90s. 

Apart from that, whatever sponsorship SCF collects ( during my tenure of office there) comes from the usual Lee or Tan Foundation, Singapore Pools (before SSC streamlined the funds transfer) and well-wishers who were once prominent chess-players in their youth.

I somehow get the notion that interested parties in the chess community ought to do something about the situation, but why shouldn't parents of chess-playing children take an interest in this matter? After all, with the local scene dominated with junior players, the health of the chess scene directly impacts the chess-playing prospects of their children.The reason why I cannot count on parents of chess-playing children as potential sponsors is the vested interest factor. Most will generally contribute to any shortfall in funding for an activity if it concerns their child, but no further. Most of them will not wait to get off the hot seat once their child stops playing. That is a reality.

The current pool of Life members who are active in chess unfortunately do not see eye to eye with the current SCF administration, so there's no likelihood of any sponsorship forthcoming from them. 

Hence it is an uphill task of raising funds, for which there is no immediate solution or fix. The Kasparov visit last year could have been a splendid opportunity kickstart the rise in profile of chess in Singapore, only to be marred in political quagmire because it was FIDE election year. Well, I suppose the current administration may wish to reconsider inviting Kasparov back in Singapore as he is actively championing scholastic chess education throughout Europe? His last visit was to Turkey. It's not FIDE election year after all in 2012..

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

SCF NEW TEAM 2012-2013

December 11 saw the formation of a mixed team of old and new chess officials stepping in to chart the course of Singapore Chess for the next 2 years.

With the unopposed nomination of Ignatius Leong, Ang Yao Hao (the son of former MP Ang Kok Peng)  was roped in as Vice President along with incumbent Shashi Jayakumar. Leonard Lau of Serangoon Chess Club volunteered to fill the hot seat of Treasurer. The other new Committee members (apart from Grace Leong) are Tony Tan, Jason Goh and Luke Leong. Both Jason and Luke would have to be co-opted as they were not present at the meeting.

I find it most amusing when some members in the AGM were indignant at the questions on matters relating to the accounts, remarking that it was a waste of time to go through details or perceived discrepancies. They felt that time should be given for the EXCO to convey new directions for chess with regard to their children who are currently active in chess.


Perhaps these parents were misinformed about the AGM? Anyone who knows about corporate workings would understand that an AGM is held where the current executive body reports on the workings of the organisation and must stand up to questions from members. Most of the time, the questions can be blunt but in earnest, necessary to ensure that the organisation is properly run. When members question the prudence of holding chess tournaments which historically run into losses, their main concerns are about the viability of the Federation should it become financially insolvent in the near future. When that happens, who would foot the bill for the Federation to continue as a going concern (which was pointed out by the Auditors present at the meeting)?

We've had many misconceptions clarified at the meeting, which came to light after much insisted demands from members from the floor. Members were not aware that the Federation had its IPC status suspended since 31 March 2011 and would be restored only if the accounts for FY2009 and 2010 were passed. The auditor and accountant  had verified at the AGM that all monies that were unaccounted for in FY2009 were tallied in FY2010. Hence, the presence of concerned Life Members ensured that the EXCO discharged its corporate responsibilities and proved to be a most effective watchdog of the SCF, albeit that their curt remarks were not welcomed by the incumbent EXCO.

As for the parents of chess-playing children joining the EXCO, please be mindful that you are in it to serve chess in Singapore - that is, all chessplayers and not just junior chess (although the current chess scene is predominately junior in nature). Hence all age groups should be given due attention. The sharp drop of affiliates, little sponsorship, high fees for SCF organised activities, reduction of  SCF tournaments are a cause for concern. Hopefully, they would get their act together to improve matters in 2012, perhaps starting with a improved National Championship 2012?

Monday, December 12, 2011

YOUTH RATING RAPID CHESS TOURNAMENT

Shi Hao and Hui Ling took part in this and did very well. Shi Hao scored 5.5/7 (losing only to Tyler Lian in the first round) and came in first  while Hui Ling came in 4th in their category.

Training coupled with practice to reinforce their knowledge is by far the best way to achieve rapid progress, which is measured by their rating performance ( 1473 for Shi Hao and 1361 for Hui Ling).

Oliver Cheok took part in the above 1400 and scored 5th position with 4.5, losing to Tommy Tan and Aloysius Chia.

Monday, November 28, 2011

TOA PAYOH WEST CC TOURNAMENT RESULTS

Here's the results for the Toa Payoh West CC Tournament

 Under 13  Here   Under 7   Here    Under 8  Here   Under 9  Here 
               
  and of course,  the OPEN is already published here                

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

TRAINING DAY

We've started the first of our 8 training days for the coming Singapore International Youth Tournament. It lasts 4 hours per session (designed to stretch the players to cope with the first 4 hours of play). Quite a fair bit done with vision drills, followed by solving tons of 2-3 move tactics.

I'm harnessing the wisdom of Michael De La Maza and Dan Heisman, thanks to their insights I've incorporated their advice on working on chess-playing ability rather than stuffing more chess knowledge at this point. Training Day 2 promises to be gruelling, with more puzzles, more intense visualisation tasks ahead.

Sorry but there will be no photos as the competitors's names and faces are confidential at this point.

Players who have done well were rewarded with a good bowl of lotus root soup with rice plus kit kat too between breaks. Not a dull moment !

Thursday, November 10, 2011

JUNIOR CHESS PROMOTION - DOES IT HELP ?

Lately there was talk of a group of parents wanting to appeal to the MOE for chess to recognise as an official sport.

Though I commend the noble effort of the group, some doubts linger in my mind:

How does having more children playing chess raise the stature of the game here in Singapore?

How does it increase the popularity of the game here? Will chess be as popular as that in Indonesia, India and other countries?

Here is my opinion. Throughout the countries that are promoting chess from age 6 onwards, we have several institutions like Chess-in-the-Schools program, the Susan Polgar academy in the US, while in the UK Michael Basman and Malcolm Pein also championed the Chess in Schools & Communities project. Lately we have Kasparov starting Chess for Schools in the EU. The Scholastic chess ( chess in primary and secondary school) model is being seen as the most likely model to propagate chess interest amongst the populace.

Sadly, the results of these noble efforts do not commensurate. The situation is quite the same in the countries that have chess in school programs -  the high dropout rate, little focus  on the children's  chess well-being after they've grown out of the game, lack of well-funded activities to stimulate the child's interest once they realise that chess is not about winning trophies and looking good for mum and dad while the picture is taken. When the success of winning disappears, so does the enthusiasm.

Witness the shrinking of secondary schools offering chess as a CCA, notable ones like ACS Baker have closed and some are following suit owing to poor attendences. However, this is mainly due to the school's policy on branding chess as a non-core CCA, which I hope MOE will overhaul for the benefit of our flagging chess community.


If we are to study how chess flourished in the old Soviet Union, where it was Lenin who fashioned the use of chess to keep the population mentally active, some lessons can be learnt. A good junior program taught by strong player/coaches in the Palace of Young Pioneers (much like our community clubs), competitions with Grandmasters in the White Rook tournament where a team from a republic pits itself against a known Grandmaster in a simultaneous match. After that, there's lots of activities in the form of chess clubs where enthusiasts meet to share their interests, stories, analysis of games and what not. When these adults get into positions in high places, it is only natural that they become prospective officials and sponsors for the game, continuing the funding for such chess activites thus maintaining the healthy pool of chess fans. Grandmasters and masters have jobs producing games for magazines, or retire as coaches for the next generation and their livelihood is well cared for. Others who are not as proficient get to enjoy the tournament games, trying out the ideas learnt in their own tournaments. So the culture of chess is hereby preserved, but only if chess promotion does not stop short at the school level alone.


Our current chess scene for adults amount to 5-6 individual tournaments at most, with the National Championship, Rating tournament and the year-end Singapore Open. This pales in contrast to our neighbours Malaysia who apparently does much more for the seniors in terms of the DATCC weekly leagues, the 3 international level KL, Malaysian and Penang Opens and several weekend tournaments for the adults. There's also a good number of informal chess clubs formed amongst the youths, evident by the number of blogs on chess there. Hence I'd say that the Malaysians are on the right track in promoting the culture of playing chess amongst the young and elderly, while in Singapore there is really nothing much happening that will motivate the young adults from continuing to play.  


My past articles have shown that we did have a vibrant chess culture in Singapore back in the late 70's and early 80's often dominated with a good mix of young and old adults and some children. Today I see many adult foreigners who are taking our places in the tournaments. Though the prize money is not great, what is sad is that few are keen to take part purely for the game's sake rather than seeking to claim a prize. Of course there are demands on everyone's schedule, but I think this is mainly an excuse simply because the conditions to entice them out of retirement are not attractive enough. We will need more iconic events I guess before we do coax them. Perhaps Anand should visit Singapore?? Or Carlsen??

Monday, November 7, 2011

CHILDREN'S DAY CHESS CHALLENGE

I've got several of my students to take part in this, with no expectations as I wanted them to enjoy playing after such a long break from chess because of the exams. In all, the stronger students did not disappoint, while others played to enjoy themselves in spite of the mistakes.

Shi Hao's game against the winner of the Open, Ashwin, was rather close from the opening to the middlegame. He had surprised Ashwin with the Danish Gambit which was declined. Generally when a player declines  a gambit, it implies a psychological victory to the gambiteer but probably the more prudent choice when one is not prepared to enter the battle a pawn up. I viewed the game vaguely where White was training his heavy pieces on Black, thought it went well but was told later that Shi Hao lost.  After a day's battle, Visakan came in 4th with 6/7 pts.

 

 Joshua was very much himself, playing with his hands rather than his eyes on the board, made the usual mistakes but won some games against like-minded opponents. Tricia was still very much a beginner and had trouble viewing her opponent's threats. More online practice will be needed to overcome this deficiency. 


The night before the tournament, Samuel was going through most of his opening lines with me to iron out any questions and doubts about the variations. Being my student for 4 years, Samuel had understood the importance of good preparation before good results can be obtained. Though he lost to Nathan Mar, he managed to draw against Nicholas Teo (which was a lucky result as he was losing). His final game was against Shi Hao.

                  
  I did not offer any advice but told them to play their best. The game was fiercely fought and Samuel achieved a winning attack, but he needed to go relief himself. Having to choose between losing some minutes running to the toilet in the thick of battle, he decided to concentrate on the game and won..at the expense of wetting his pants.

Yes, quite an eventful day it was, but everyone enjoyed themselves whether on the chessboard or outside (especially in Nicholas Low's case, who was more keen on his Angry Bird score than the chess score).  There will be time to demand their best but then, there should also be time to just let them be.                               

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

PREPARING FOR TOURNAMENTS

Most children I know love to sign up and enter every tournament they can participate in, but the results they obtain do not always measure up to their enthusiasm.

Sometimes we need to understand what is meant by " LESS IS MORE".

To put it simply, why play 5 tournaments and end up getting 50% score ? Why not prepare and play 2 good tournaments and end up top 5 placing?

Even grandmasters do not go past 60 games A YEAR. They spent the rest of the year PREPARING.

So how does one PREPARE?  Rather than reproduce the same text, why not read it for yourself here


However, I must qualify some of Botvinnik's comments - they are meant for top players, not club players.  


" I study games played by my rivals during the forthcoming competition"   

You can only do that if you are playing in a round-robin tournament, where everyone meets everyone. This approach is not practicable in a Swiss system tournament, where your opponents vary. But then, if you are observant enough and have a good memory, you may be able to recognise the usual openings played by most of the tournament regulars. Having that is the first step -  you can now go into researching what to play against them should you meet them.


"For one competition, 3 or 4 opening systems with White and same for Black are quite sufficient"  


Sufficient for a master, yes, but TOO MUCH for a club player. In my opinion, club players and students do not have the time nor energy for 3 or 4 opening systems. Maybe 1, maximum 2. In other words, you have 1 good line against your opponent's reply. It is not possible to play 1 e4 and 1 d4 and have the time to know all the variations made by Black. You can have at best 2 replies to 1 e4, then one against 1 d4 and hopefully one that will be able to answer 1 c4, 1 Nf3 or any other first move.

"But these systems MUST BE PREPARED THOROUGHLY. IF YOU DO NOT HAVE THESE SYSTEMS AT YOUR COMMAND YOU CAN HARDLY COUNT ON FINISHING VERY HIGH
UP THE TABLE"


Here I agree with Botvinnik 100%.


"Certain of your schemes should be tried out in training games.."  


Botvinnik was talking about playing real training games with a regular partner ( in his case Ragozin) but if you don't have one, playing on the Internet with 15 minutes or more per side does help. One should of course analyse the games to look out for weaknesses which could then be rectified.


"Anyone who wishes to become an outstanding chess-player must AIM at perfection in (the realm of) analysis"  


I often wonder how many children do take their lost games and subject them to a proper analysis BY THEMSELVES and not using their computers or coaches?? This is a very important phase in chess learning. Identifying your weaknesses in your thought process is a necessary step to refining how you select your moves and how well you SEE your opponents' threats. If you lose in the same opening again and again, there must be something you do not understand about your opening, or the way you've planned right after the opening ends. Have you consulted how the masters have played?


Aaagard in his book EXCELLING AT CHESS rightly recommends that one should analyse first without the computer's help, mark out the critical phases in the game and then use the computer to check what better moves there are AT THE CRITICAL phases.

With that, good results will come to those who work at their chess the smart way.

Monday, October 24, 2011

NOVEMBER & DECEMBER TOURNAMENTS

School's out pretty soon, so it's time to revisit the tournaments that will be in place for November and December. There's 25minute rapid chess and longer time controls of 2 hrs per game or more, plenty to choose from.

I am broadcasting mainly those tournaments which are not organised by the SCF. For SCF tournaments, please goto  the SCF  for all the Upcoming Events.

TOA PAYOH WEST CC  NOVEMBER 20

Round 1 starts 930am. There are 3 sections, A1 Junior Under 13 yrs, A2 Junior Under 10yrs, and Open (no age limit). Cash prizes and trophies awarded for Sections A1 and Open, trophies only for A2.  Lunch will be provided for Junior Sections A1 and A2 only. The entry form can be downloaded here 

CAIRNHILL CHESS FESTIVAL 2011 DECEMBER 3-4

There are again 3 Sections, Open (No age limit), Major (16 yrs and under) and Minor ( 12 yrs and under). The Open and Major Sections are played in 45 minutes per side, thus over 2 days while the Minor is a one-day tournament played with 20 minutes per side. There is also a Blitz Tournament (5mins per side) on Dec 4 Sunday.

More details on the entry form downloadable here.

Inclusive of the SCF events, there should be a total of 4 local events and 2 overseas ( the Asian Amateur and Penang Open) which should fufil any chessplayers hunger for this period.

Please note that the local tournaments listed are NOT organised by SCF, hence they are NOT SCF rated and zero start does not apply.

Monday, October 17, 2011

40th QUEENSTOWN CHAMPIONSHIP

The tournament has 2 sections, the Open for those 1601 and above and the Novice Section for those rated 1600 and under.

Shi Hao and Mitchell took part, with Shi Hao ending on 3.5 and Mitchell on 4.5. He was placed 23rd in the field of 96 players, beating Foo Kai En in the last round who's rated 1392. He should get about 30 rating pts from this tournament.

What matters to me is not so much just the results but tbe valuable lessons one learns during the course of the seven games. When Mitchell started off his first game, he lost it in about 20 minutes. What he was not aware of is the time management of his game which needs a little adjustment. He was working out 1 variation which he saw and did not try to see other moves which could be better. After explaining to him that the purpose of spending time was to first SELECT the candidate moves, evaluate the resultant position of EACH candidate move and then picking the best of the lot. Hence the need to take one's time to do this, especially if there are many possible ways to make a capture or a pawn move that can change the pawn structure leading to a different game. I was impressed that he reflected on this and proceeded to slow down, playing better moves from Round 2 onwards. He managed to draw Andrew Tan, rated 1423 even though he had a win but did not have the confidence to convert. The reward came in the final round when he kept his cool, played the Fort Knox and gradually consolidated his position from the huge space advantage White had throughout the game. It was in the endgame that the decisive mistake was made, out of time trouble I believe. White went into winning a pawn but that meant exchanging all Rooks and Queen into a lost pawn endgame which Mitchell converted. Finally, he understood why the Fort Knox was the name chosen for the opening he played, simply because  he has discovered that good defence is also another way of winning a chess game apart from direct attacks on the King. 

A happy Mitchell with his trophy


Shi Hao was steamrolled by a young Ting JinShun. This was a pure case of underestimating his opponent, whom he thought he could just play to win without much resistance. I did not chastise him after the loss but wanted him to reflect on his attitude towards younger opponents. Sometimes, the best way to teach a lesson is not necessarily to explain, but allow the player to reflect and understand where he went wrong. The lesson would be internalised for sure after a painful defeat.

Some of the losses were due to the unfamiliarity of the openings like the Scandinavian or not so common replies to their White repertoire. Will need to do some work in repairing the chinks in the armour. Till their next tournament...

Friday, October 7, 2011

STUDENT REPORT CARD

Based on SCF October Rating list, most of my students have made improvements in their ratings. 3 have created their accounts in the SCF Rating List. Good work boys and girls!!

My target is for all students to increase their ratings by 30 points for each half year. That is achievable should they work hard in their performance for the remaining tournaments to be held in the year.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

STUDENT vs TEACHER

There were many famous chess collaborations between the student and teacher.  Arturo Pomar and Alekhine, Karpov and Semyon Furman,Kasparov and Botvinnik, finally   Magnus Carlsen and Kasparov,  Carlsen and Simen Agdestein. Some worked, some didn't.

For those who did work, the chief success factor was on the personality of the student and his view of the trainer. Chemistry.

If we studied the influence of Furman on his pupil Karpov, both men had similar styles, positional wizards to be exact. However, Furman was able to impart his wide body of chess middlegame knowledge to his student. Botvinnik managed to convince Kasparov on the need for chess research despite having enormous talent. He often scolded Kasparov for his impulsiveness in churning out variations without careful study of the requirements of the position. "You'll never be a good player if you let the variations control you instead of you controlling the variations!" I believe Kasparov learnt his lesson under the hands of Karpov in their 2 matches. So Kasparov was a product of the Botvinnik school where deep study and research of the game is the main training method of choice.Botvinnik and Kasparov parted ways mainly due to different political beliefs, but respect is always shown to the master.

Comes the Norwegian wonderboy Magnus Carlsen with his trainer Agdestein. Agdestein believed that the boy learned well when least pressured, stimulated by his own creativity over the board rather than sticking to a fix routine. When Carlsen realised that Kasparov was ready to unleash the Botvinnik approach on his training (which is totally against his learning approach), he had to terminate their relationship.

There were also chief differences in the character make-up in both men: Carlsen, with a happy childhood, always believing in the world of plenty, seemed more like a Mozart compared to Kasparov who lost his father at  a young age, often paranoiac of help from others except from trusted sources. Kasparov was probably much more hungry for success as compared to Carlsen, who did not seem to mind if he became the youngest ever World Champion beating Kasparov's record. My opinion is that Carlsen would prefer to stay out of Kasparov's shadow by not going into the record-book race. He will ascend into the Olympus of chess but at his own bidding.

Therefore as coaches, we need to be mindful about the character of our charges and often make adjustments to maximise their potential. Sometimes, that may mean changing some paradigms. No approach fits all. Imposing one's will on a student may create resentment and indifference.

Monday, September 12, 2011

MY STUDENTS AT THE INTER-SCHOOLS

Here's the report of the performance of my students who participated at the recent National Inter-Schools at Rulang Primary School. 3 of them achieved perfect scores, while the rest scored 4 and above. What more can I ask? Well done boys and girls! Perfect score achievers get a present as promised.

PERFECT SCORES 
 

 THE 4 & ABOVE POINTERS

 
 
 

 

VICTORIA SCHOOL U14 IS 3RD

From Left: Oliver, Zhong Yi, Jonah (standing),Elliot and Joven




Victoria School emerged 3rd in this year's National Inter-Schools Secondary Open Under 14  at Rulang Primary School held Sep 11. We were seeded 4th behind ACS I A, RI A and HCI. I had stressed to the boys the importance of a good showing in our trainings and its impact on the survival and well-being of the VS Chess Club in future years. Most of the boys who played in school competitions shyed away from the Club because it is a second CCA.

With this mission in mind, the boys were playing online games consistently during our preparation and worked towards sharpening their tactics. We had discussed possible scenarios of the possible scores that we could get against the higher seeded teams, as well as individual openings that can occur against them. All that remains is the state of form the players were in. Before the tournament day, I wrote in our Facebook group that we had a realistic chance of coming in 3rd, if we were to achieve the predicted scores against the top 3 teams.

Into the storm, as they say..first round was a 4-0 whitewash of St Andrews Sec, then a 0-4 crash against ACI A! Zhong Yi showed me his game and he managed to stretch Edward Lee (who'd just returned from a grueling KL Open) way into the endgame till he bungled a Queen for Rook. Against HCI, it was Oliver and Zhong Yi who managed to hold Calvin Ong and Soo Kai Jie while Elliot was outclassed by Bryan Tan and Jonah sought revenge by beating Yeoh Li Yuan. At this point, I arrived and told the boys that if they achieved 4-0 scores against their opponents, 3rd placing is still possible. It made them ever more determined to go for the target.

After lunch (which I advised them to eat less rice and just sandwiches, sushi), they faced a dud RI Team 2 and steamrolled 3.5 - 0.5. Though not a 4-0, this was good enough for us to meet the next RI Team 1, which we miraculously won 4-0! I predicted a 3-1 win against them but the boys did even better. Finally, the day of reckoning when I received an SMS from Zhong Yi that we needed 4-0 to get 2nd. Though ACI B were the former ACPS boys who had not played much, they were nonetheless no pushovers and managed to tie the match 2-2. With that, VS managed to go above their seeding and ended 3rd place as well as East Zone Champions for 2011.

Hopefully, this can be an inspiration to the other schools who closed their chess clubs simply because the school officials do not think it could be possible to garner results with the top schools dominating the scene the whole time. The boys from VS do not embark on any Junior Squad Training but were simply interested in the game to want improvement. 3rd placing is as good as it gets and I am thankful to the team for making history - its the best showing we had since the 5th placing in the 2007  U16 result. Last year, the same 4 boys finished 11th! A massive improvement indeed.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

RIP DR WONG YIP CHONG

I don't really envy myself as a eulogist, but I had to say something for our ex SCF President who served the Federation in the years 1986-87. Among those who served were Choong Liong Onn, Tan Lian Ann, Giam Choo Kwee, George Wong, myself and Lim Chye Lye. Ignatius Leong was then Competitions Secretary.

SCF meetings were usually held at Dr Wong's home at Chancery Lane. As a great host, Dr Wong will welcome us in person and before starting the session, he will treat us with the most appetising of tidbits. Afterward, he would insist that we go for supper at the Whitley Road hawker centre, then situated under the Whitley flyover. As a President, Dr Wong often listened to suggestions and gave his insights on the big picture, but left us to iron out the details. His biggest contribution at his time was his submission of a paper to the SNOC on why chess should be rightly labelled a sport rather than a game. He tried hard to impress upon the authorities that being Asian, Singapore should embrace the promotion of sports and games that relied less on strength and physique. This was already discussed back in 1987.

Before the term chess parent came about (probably since the formation of the National Junior Squad in the late 90's), Dr Wong would certainly be the first in Singapore. He would attend his children's chess tournaments when he had the time, bringing with him his trusty camera. When either Meng Kong (GM Wong Meng Kong) or Meng Leong would be making the winning move, he would always be ready to snap the winning moment. In fact, during one of the school team tournaments, my cheeky RI chess friend went up to him reporting that Meng Kong was winning. An unassuming Dr Wong readied his camera to take the shot, only to freeze at the last moment - the camera lenses revealed that Meng Kong was actually losing!

Dr Wong was always supportive of his children, whether they would give up a year of studies to pursue chess, or other interests. His congenial disposition and affable smile would infect anyone. I would remember Dr Wong as patient, cheerful President who contributed his time and energies to steer SCF in the late 80's and also groomed a GM and 2 National Chess Champions without pushing them.

THOMSON CHESS CLUB OPEN FROM 7PM SEP 2 and 9

As the school holidays start with effect from Friday, Thomson Chess Club will be open from 7pm till 10pm for Sep 2 and 9 Fridays. Members who wish to come practice before the National Inter-Schools Team Championship are welcome.


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

DOES IT PAY TO BE A CHESS COACH? OR GM?

After reading Chess Ninja's post on the topic, I am sure many will be convinced that chess coaches or normal GMs do not make much financially.

I have asked GM Torre back when he was here: " Would you recommend the path of a GM to anyone?" He stopped to think before replying : " It's not for anyone. The path to GM is tough and only those who are deeply passionate about chess and not much else should venture into it". So please forget about trying to make big bucks when you enter into the world of chess. Most of us who are involved in chess organising give much of our time, energies and sometimes even money just to ensure that tournaments are run well, players are at least silent on complaints. As a coach in Singapore, I speak for myself that I can survive comfortably being single and not having to feed a family, given the high cost of living here. In many ways, chess coaching is about the few professions I can go into once you are in your 40s here. Getting a professional job paying more than $6000 a month is impossible, you may get one at $3000. Then there's taxes, your car and really its mere subsistance living from month to month.

Now I decide how hard to work and plan my schedule according to the school calendar, go on vacation or plan my curriculum when the students are preparing for their exams in October. Fortunately I also plan functions and weddings which are another source of income during this time. So I cannot quip about my current state of affairs as I have dropped out of the rat race and all the stress that comes with it. My chief joy today comes from my students when they execute a win successfully, win trophies along the way and behave themselves in between tournament rounds. Lunch appointments are often flexible, that's where I catch up with my friends. On Sundays, I still manage to run a jazz jam session at a local community club after my classes to keep up with my other interest.

Hence my advice to those who may want to consider being chess coaches (or GMs for that matter) - You need to firstly ensure that you are comfortable financially, no longer aspiring big money, be deeply passionate in your game, have a big heart to contribute to the community, enjoy the intangible perks that come with it. Life is never a dull moment if you set your objectives right, go all out to achieve it and most importantly, have fun and joy doing what you do.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

SOME GM STORIES

This month, I am in pensive mode so I thought I'd share a few interesting and funny GM stories before I start to lose them.

1995 - Eugene Torre was in Singapore and had just won the Asian Inter-Continental Rapid Chess Championships. I was his escort and tried to help him get some local goodies for him to bring home. The first was durian. I told him that it was forbidden to bring it onboard but he was relentless. So rather than dissuade him, we managed to find a durian seller who would pack it airtight so that no smell would be emitted. That done, he needed cash to pay. So we went to a money changer.

I introduced Eugene to him and announced : " This is Asia's first Chess Grandmaster! You must give him a better rate." To which the friendly Indian money changer replied : " Yes, he is Asia's first, but not first compared to India's Visawanathan Anand". Both Eugene and I were red-faced after his remark.

1992- We had just landed in Singapore and I spotted GM Daryl Johansen of Australia who was on the same flight. I had played him in 1978 in the Christmas Festival tournament held at RI hall then, losing in 34 moves. We exchanged greetings and I asked him if he remembered playing me then. He gave a long hard look before he blurted : " Reversed King's Indian, right?" I was floored. " How could you have remembered such a game? After 14 years?" I loved his reply:

" I REMEMBER ALL MY GAMES"

1985 - Miguel Najdorf was in Singapore in transit and gave a simul of 15 boards. He told us this story:

"I was playing in Saltojsbaden Sweden in the 1948 Interzonal. My opponent the next round was the Swede Gosta Stolz. He was sitting at the bar and he spotted me. He was already quite tipsy and asked me to buy him a beer. I thought to myself : Why not? He's going to get a hangover and that's alright with me. So I bought him one, he finished it real quick and asked for another. And another. Altogether I bought him 12 beers. He finally stopped, thanked me and went  to bed."

" The next day we sat down to play and in less than 1 hour I was totally lost! While I was sweating to try save my position, Gosta smirked and bent over: Draw? You can imagine my relief when he said that. But then he uttered after the scoresheets were signed :" Ah Miguel, I'll let you in on a little secret:.."

"NOBODY BEATS ME AFTER 12 BEERS!"

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

NIKOLA KARAKLAJIC


He's probably done the most for Singapore chess during 1968-74, having helped the Singapore Olympiad team then in their preparations. Many of our senior players remember him for his affable, congenial disposition - always courteous, smiling, never losing his composure.

My first meeting with the man was in 1978. Karpov had just defeated Korchnoi in Manila. As students at RI we were told that a FIDE delegation would be visiting the school and I was given the task of organising a simul for the FIDE President Fridrik Olaffsen. Strangely, a man came in the afternoon into the lecture hall where we staged our reception and started to give a talk on pawn endings. He was ready to give away collar pins to anyone who could solve the puzzles. Several of the boys did, which made him very happy. Then he proceeded to give the simul. He had not yet introduced himself.

The simul started and shortly after 20 minutes, another group of people entered into the simultaneous match. One elderly gentleman borrowed a set from me, set the pieces up and sat down opposite the master. The master looked at the position, then at the gentleman and they both burst out laughing and started to hug each other. Prof Lim then introduced them - Nikola was giving the simul as the President did not show, while the gentleman was none other than GM Yuri Averbakh! We were all stunned. I know GM Averbakh after reading about the famous Queen sacrifice in his game vs Kotov in Zurich 1953. Finally I get to meet him! I had to find a book for him to sign and all I had at the time was ? Fischer's 60 Memorable Games. Nonetheless I sheepishly approached him for the autograph. He grunted for a while when he saw the title, but smiled nonetheless and signed on the book along with GM Josif Dorfman. It was a sunny day for the chess boys at RI.

Nikola was also invited to lecture the 1st FIDE Trainers' Seminar prganised in Singapore in December 2003 in place of Adrian Mihailschin.He was honest to remark that he could not deliver Adrian's syllabus but gave us wonderful endgame puzzles to train our calculating ability. The puzzles were taken from his published book "De Ta Pitam"


  


Sadly I learnt that he passed on in 2008 but he will always remain as a friend to Singapore Chess and the wonderful man who gave  everyone a pawn endgame puzzle to solve.

TRAINING WITH GRANDMASTER GUFELD 1987

I was manager of the then National Junior Squad back in 1986-87, which comprised names like IM Hsu Li-Yang, Wong Foong Yin, Ong Chong Ghee, Low Pe-Yeow,Mark Tan, Lee Wang Sheng, Lee Song and Mark and Jeremy Lim (?!). The SCF then received news that GM Eduard Gufeld was available for a 3-day seminar having spent some time in Malaysia at the Chess Palace there doing the same thing. After deliberation, IM Tan Lian Ann agreed to sponsor the training but made sure that all proceedings were recorded and that I would be the chaperon.


GM Eduard Gufeld was renowned as the trainer who help Maya Chiburdanidze rise to world fame by beating the then Women's World Champion Nona Gaprindashvilli. He was also the creator of several beautiful wins in the King's Indian Defence, notably his "Mona Lisa" against Bagirov in 1973 and then another against Mestel in 1985 in Hastings. He showed both games in the simultaneous match in Singapore at the Chinese Swimming Club and it was really a wonder how a Russian with his brand of English could captivate the audience not just with his accent, but wonderful moves and ideas.

Gufeld laid the rules for the training - a notebook for recording ideas and variations, 2 games prepared by each student for analysis, but what's great is that he starts and ends each day with an exercise to have every student recite chess maxims and rules. Not just the ones he propounded but also the ones the students had already known. During the 3 days, he covered extensively useful topics like the relativity of values of pieces, the art of calculation, intuition and how it is derived, using mainly his own games as illustrations which were found in the book below:
 


I had the chance to buy this book in Europe and started to read through the games and thankfully, the English version named " The Search for Mona Lisa" finally appeared before I had to revise my knowledge of the Russian language just to read the book.

GM Gufeld through his inimitable way expounded useful concepts to our juniors, especially in the areas of opening preparation. He cited his game against Plaskett at Hastings, where the opponent played a novelty which he felt was not quite sound. He then quoted this rule : " When your opponent first make anti-rule move, you can also reply with anti-rule move..BUT NOT BEFORE!"..or : " I tell my students everytime they brush teeth they must say CENTRE..because CENTRE is best place for chess pieces!". Other famous quotes : "You not move pawns in side where opponent more strong, because it stop opponent for second but not long".."In attack, you must bring Rook into attack, and to exchange pieces which make defence Object of your attack". Finally : " When student give Bishop for Knight, I invite them to zoo. Because in Russian Bishop is same as ELEPHANT, and knight is HORSE. WHO MAKE MORE FOOD? ELEPHANT OR HORSE?".

Of all the recordings I had, only 1 survived and to this day I am still playing and replaying them to learn from the man who taught me how to teach chess and make it memorable. The game he was talking about was his famous French Defence game against then up and coming Boris Spassky in 1960. He described how he played WITH RULES and soon Spassky .." World Champion but he cannot make move! because I play with RULES! Remember..when you play without rules, you lose 80 games out of 100, but you win 80 games out of 100 if you play WITH RULES."  Now I understand why he makes the students recite the RULES.

ps: In 1993 the Grandmaster was still in Malaysia taking part in the Merdeka tournament in KL and our team was paired to meet them. I brought along the book of his games and deliberately left it on the table of my first board Tan Chin Hoe. Gufeld sat down, but was visibly shaken when he saw the book. He looked at me and asked : " You read this book?" I answered calmly : "Yes, Grandmaster". When the game started, he did not play his usual 1 e4 but 1 Nf3 instead. My psychological gambit worked. Though we lost the 1st board game, Black was objectively better and Gufeld was annoyed trying to convince the audience that he was winning. He did win, but on time of course.

Monday, August 1, 2011

MORE HARVESTS

The list of prizes continues with Nicholas Low coming in  2nd at the Under 9. He was winning against Hui Ling on Round 6 but gave a stalemate. So he learnt his lesson of not playing fast after this game, because he could have been Champion with the win. Lessons are best learnt this way I feel, despite all the advice and reminders I gave, this fact would do much more in shaping his chess future. But receiving the trophy made him forget his brooding all too soon.




Kaarthik also won a Merit Prize at the Under9. This boy's achievement is due mainly to his diligence in playing many games online, which helped in improving his chess vision since I took over his training.

Shaw Fong (pictured below) missed out of the top 5 placings for the Under 10 section, coming in 7th on 5/7. He was always cheerful through the tournament and enjoyed his games. I believe this achievement will spur him to work harder for future successes.


Matthew Sim got a Merit Prize at the Under 10. Dan Peng's regular visits to Thomson on Fridays made him a mature player this time, getting him a Merit Prize in the Under 11 section. So was Hui Miin in the Girls Under 11.

The last recepient of the Merit Prize for Girls Under8 goes to Tricia Koh. She is now excited at the win of the prize and wants to do more in her chess. A little motivation does go a long way in spurring students forward, at the same time, losing badly due to poor or no preparation can wreck a young player's confidence. Hence selecting the right tournaments and good preparation makes all the difference between finishing at the podium or at the playground.

GOLDEN HARVEST AT TOA PAYOH WEST

Yesterday marked the Toa Payoh West CC Invitational tournament with 223 participants, organised by the Toa Payoh West CC and Kheng Cheng School. There were 6 categories, from Under 7 to Primary Open. I persuaded most of my students to take part, as a measure of their progress after months of training.

In the Under-7 category, my latest student Visakan Swaminathan scored 7/7 to win the category. I can see the glint in his eyes when he told me about it and that in itself is priceless. The joy of achievement and success is always sweet and should be remembered. The photo below said it all.  


I am very proud of Visakan mainly because he has listened to my instructions during the tournament - not to run around whilst others expended their energies, stay focussed on the game and with the help of his father, did just that.

My 2 other students, brother and sister Lee Shi Hao and Hui Liang respectively, once again showed their composure in being Champion for their categories. Shi Hao and Hui Ling both won with 5.5/7. I have seen stable improvement in their chess over the last 6 months, mainly because they were diligent in their homework though they could do better with more games practice. All in all, well done!!


They will receive prizes from their teacher of course, at the next lesson.

Monday, July 25, 2011

MEASURING PROGRESS

In spending months and years of time in training, parents will often ask the question: "How is my child doing?" A very fair question as it involves investing precious time on the student's part and money on the parent's part in pursuing this interest of playing chess. So how does one answer this question? Is chess progress quantifiable?

I for one do not base everything just on results alone - it is too narrow a yardstick. Results from tournaments are often the quickest way of establishing the performance of the student, yet there are some intangible traits which should also be noticed, primarily in the student's behaviour, his outlook not just on chess but on other matters as well.

How about presence of mind for one? I've seen many of my students taking better care of their belonging now, being more forthcoming with questions rather than just listening. These are all encouraging traits that chess can help inculcate - a higher self-esteem, goal-oriented focus, being more pensive rather than impulsive. If we can foster these qualities in our young, it would be a lot more beneficial to them in their later years. Striving for one's goals and achieving them does wonders to one's self confidence of course, but we should also educate our students to face defeat in the right spirit. Learning from failure in chess is almost mandatory for one to succeed in later events, being objective about one's abilities is also important in assessing one's capabilities before embarking on another tournament. Those who discern these life lessons would end up being better students than the ones standing on the podium who know nothing about disappointment and loss, for often their fall is a lot more traumatic and scarring.

Values - that's the other aspect that coaches often neglect. Good values like being honest in owning up a mistake (especially in a touch-move situation), being able to congratulate one's opponent for his/her win, respecting the decision of the organisers even though they may not be right at the time..the list goes on. Learning to be accountable for one's actions (as opposed to blaming everything and everyone else)  is also a sign of maturity.

Are these not wonderful qualities that we would want to see in our youths?

Monday, July 18, 2011

MY CHILD IS INTERESTED IN CHESS, BUT...

CANNOT FIND TIME TO PLAY

For parents reading this, you should sincerely ask yourself why. If a child is truly burdened with school work and does not even have time to find a spot in a day to play, what happens generally is that weekly hourly lessons do not take much effect.Often it is pouring sand onto a sieve. Much of the material covered cannot be assimilated. It will be difficult to make progress if the concepts learnt cannot be applied, made to work and then remembered. Chess is no different from learning Chinese. It does require time and practice.

DOES NOT READ CHESS MATERIAL

Parents should also realise that some kids are only keen on playing but not learning about chess. They enjoy the interaction, socialising with other children (which is also healthy) but may not wish to spend time in learning the materials given to them because they view it as WORK which is not fun. As coaches, it is a primary challenge to motivate all students and make them understand that only hard work and focused practice yields results. This is no different from getting good grades in school.

LIKES COMPUTER GAMES MORE

This is typical of every household. Computer games are more exciting graphically and addictive. One can get hooked on MapleStory or other XBOX or PlayStation or Wii games especially those where groups can collaborate. So there are only a selected few children who will see chess as a game that requires more out of them than just pressing buttons and shooting down aliens. One also needs high esteem and conviction of one's thoughts to demonstrate a point on the chessboard. It is this quality that creates visionaries, entrepreneurs and leaders. Chess is not called the Royal Game for nothing.

All coaches desire enthusiastic and eager students with high aspirations because they are like gems which are hard to find. Once they are found, they can be honed into diamonds which shine. However, for those who see chess just as a tool for mental development and can't spare the time or effort to excel, that is fine too. But there will not be tangible results in the near term, so I would not promise any.

Monday, July 11, 2011

CHEMISTRY

"Yeah, Chemistry" said the great Marlon Brando in his movie Guys and Dolls. No, we're not talking about the science here, but the affinity that needs to exist between student and teacher. Chemistry defines the main ingredient that generates trust between 2 persons especially at the point of the first meeting, when no prior information is obtain by either parties to size up the other.

What makes a great student sometimes is not just the greatness , enthusiasm nor ingenuity of the teacher to inspire or expound. Often, it is the student's innate trust of the information that the teacher provides and the belief that this knowledge can and will certainly work for him/her. Hence, it is the onus for the teacher (who is generally the more experienced when it comes to sizing up) to first ascertain if there is indeed chemistry between student and teacher before deciding on continuing future lessons.


Generally there are tell-tale signs whether the chemistry exists. It comes in the degree of diligence that the student exhibits in his play in applying the knowledge that was taught, plus the many questions he/she would ask to know more of the subject. Another sign? Homework that's done and handed on time. Homework be it in the form of solving puzzles, or playing a minimal number of games online. When these are diligently followed, there should rightly be an improvement of the level of play and that generates into more wins, which should fuel the interest further. Correct? 

Now look at the other side of the coin.

Student is not happy with the teacher's recommendations but cannot find a good enough reason to refute the directions of the teacher. Hence he/she may put up with the lesson but mentally decides to go his/her own way in the search for chess truth. I have had one experience some years back, where my student H decided that he would want to learn about the Najdorf Poison Pawn and use it in his games. Of course, in this part of the world, there would be few takers willing to engage Black in the theory of this variation. Hence my view is that time would be better spent in studying other more regularly played variations. To begin with, I had warned him of taking up the Sicilian in the first place knowing the huge amounts of study required, but at the back of my mind I knew he could do it so I let the issue go. However, he was adamant about his view and decided to venture of it secretly. The riff between us had started and gradually we drifted further and finally parted ways. On record, he is no longer playing chess today competitively.

Most of my students who had truly listened to my advice and followed it conscientiously (without question) had made huge strides in their play. I am of course heartened, but then it made me think hard on how I can overcome the Chemistry factor - or can it be overcome in the first place when it does not exist? How can I make the student see the point of it if he doesn't? Generally, the results would speak for themselves but often this is not the best way to convince a student with his/her mind set on his/her own views. If we do plod on, over time, the performance of the student in tournaments would show and this is often what I use to verify the riff. Then perhaps it would be pertinent to re-examine if there needs to be a change in the teacher-student relationship.

Friday, July 1, 2011

SOUTH ZONE 2011

Here's Shi Hao who scored 5/7  and came in 9th, while Hui Ling scored 6/7 and was third in her category.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

THOMSON JUNIOR ENDGAME LEAGUE

Starting tomorrow 1 July Friday, Thomson CC Chess Club shall be running a weekly Friday Junior Endgame League. This is FREE and open to junior members aged 15 and under.

RULES

- Venue is the Chess Club Room on 3rd Floor, Thomson CC Classroom 03-05. Play starts at 8pm.

- Each week, players get to play 1 endgame position with level material. Players toss to choose which colour they will be playing.

- Scoring is 1 point for win, 0.5 for draw and 0 for loss.

- Players who show up shall be paired with an opponent. Each player may play at most twice against the same opponent but with different colours.

- Time Control is 30 minutes per side.

- Recording is optional.

- Prizes are awarded to the top 3 players who score the most number of points as at 30 August 2011.
Interested members please send me an email to johnwong@pacific.net.sg stating your name, age as at 1 Jan 2011. If you are not able to come for that week, please sms 97985479 on Friday morning. This will help us in confirming opponents for all who are coming.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

RIP TANG KUM FOO, IA

Just received the sad news that a dear old friend, Tang Kum Foo, or KF as I often called him, has died. 

As I've known KF from my chess days back when he was SCF Executive Secretary in 1993-94 (and I the treasurer) to the days when he took over the Presidency in 1998, KF was always the cheery sort, never flustered. He was also one of the founding fathers of Intchess, with the aim of creating a vibrant professional chess scene in Asia having been involved in the popularising of chess in China in the early 90's. It was in 1996 that he achieved his IA title, putting to good use in chess organisation in Singapore and the region.

KF and I shared many views on chess during  our friendship. However, he often lamented that the state of affairs in Singapore did not turn out the way he had wanted it to.Hence he departed from Intchess to pursue other interests but continued to monitor the chess scene.

Many may not be aware but he was a top scholar having won the Colombo Plan scholarship in 1967. He was also a chess enthusiast in his early teens. My recollection of him as a chess player goes back to the tournament days of 1980 when he was in the play-off for the Cairnhill CC tournament that year, against a Sec 3 boy named Loi Chee Seng. The game was hard fought but sadly I do not have the scoresheet.

Kum Foo gave me some of his books, but staunchly retained his copy of The Games of Robert James Fischer which was then the must have for any chessplayer borne out of the Fischer-Spassky 1972 era. We were all Fischer fans I guess, recalling that his games were often very tactical and complex. He gave up playing chess in the 90's, preferring to delve into arbitering.

As a person who witnessed the saga of chess politics in 1996 in Yerevan, he told me what he saw and indeed it made me cringe to think our beloved game had been so tainted with the threats that were uttered. More of this can be found on Don Schultz's book Chess Don which was as close to what he told me. In short, KF also became disillusioned with the chess world after that and thought it best to leave. However, owing to a bad investment decision, he had to continue working in Intchess until his debt was cleared and left in 2009.

I last visited him in KTPH 2 weeks ago. He was lucid, but clearly weakened by the bouts of heart attack he sustained. It was my premonition that he wanted to see me again for old time's sake. We chatted a little but I knew that there was no need for more words. It was as if he was, in his own way, saying goodbye to me.

Two days ago I received an SMS from him that he's in ICU after suffering a stroke. He passed on today.

We will miss you.

RATINGS vs AGE

My afterthoughts on the recently concluded THOMSON CUP INTERNATIONAL tournament is focused on this topic.

It comes as no surprise that the majority of the 103 players in the Silver Section were children under the age of 14, many even below the age of 10. As parents of young children, they would naturally want the chess-playing experience of their kids to be pleasant and memorable. Hence it would be a traumatic episode should the child face someone bigger than his size or older, as the prospect of winning quickly evaporates with the daunting resignation written on their minds even before the first move is made. Hence there was surprise that there are a few adults milling in between the rows of schoolchildren, metaphorically seen as vultures or predators preying on the innocent young players and depriving them of a much desired prize.

My principle in hosting the THOMSON CUP tournament is firstly to uphold the sanctity of the rating. All chess players playing in a chess tournament should compete based on one matter - to determine for each of themselves HOW GOOD, not HOW OLD they are. Chess playing ability is measured by the rating, which is computed primarily on the performance of each chessplayer against another rated player and so long as the wins keep coming, the rating goes up. Of course if you fail to perform, your rating goes down rightfully. It is the fairest way of determining your chess-playing progress.

Giving prizes to children based on their age-group by  pairing them within their categories may seemingly make the path to winning easier. Some say that it encourages them to play. However  I maintain this is merely a placebo effect. The effect soon wears out when the winners of the respective category continually end up winning at every age-group tournament. The complacency sets in and they start believing that they are good enough (of course, beating those in their age-group).

When these winners start playing alongside someone rated higher, the security of the age-group pairing is taken away and you can see the apprehension and self-doubt emerge. They may not necessarily be worse players than the older or higher rated opponent, but somehow many psyched themselves to lose.

The whole purpose of this.tournament format is to help the young players overcome this fear and mental block. When the budding players taste victory after their harrowing encounter with a stronger player, it is a great feeling of achievement no prize can buy. The euphoric sensation will also lend confidence to the young budding player that he/she is capable of overcoming his/her own fears and respecting the notion that in chess, only the skill and ability of the player matters in bringing in the point once the nerves are taken care of.

In my youth, there was no concept of age-group pairing and therefore my generation of players only understand that what matters is your ability to find good moves on the chessboard to beat your opponent. There was never any notion of fear. In fact, we used to look forward to playing older players and if we lose, we will pester them to tell us how we lost. Many valuable lessons were learnt in discussing the game after it was over. Our determination to win the next time round made us tougher mentally to face the same opponent at the next tournament.

If the young chess community are to grow in terms of maturity of thought and mental strength, I feel it is high time that organisers have a change of direction. Let's bring back the old tournament format of pairing by rating. Let's wean off the practice of awarding age-group prizes. Many of course will give up once the trophies they used to win are gone, but I believe that those who stay the course will be the ones that will continue to love and play the game for years, like I. Perhaps we can revive the chess culture that we once had in the 70's and early 80's that the current generation of players never knew. Some returned after years of inaction and can still win! That speaks much of the depth of players in the past that the previous system produced.

Monday, June 6, 2011

FEEDBACK FOR THOMSON CUP

Thanks to all who have signed up to play, we are most grateful for your support 

We had 144 competitors who registered for the competition, thanks to the overwhelming last spate of entries.

I appreciate if you can give us some feedback on how we can do better the next tournament around. However, some things will not change eg  age-group prizes, starting list etc.Unless we close entries 1 week in advance to do it, which will of course inconvenience some. So we can't please everyone.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

WHY NO STARTING LIST?? AMONG OTHER THINGS

I've gotten some feedback from Thomson CC, where the number of participants has reached 100 and some last-minute entries are expected today.

The staff were puzzled by some of the questions asked by the parents of participants, some of which I shall attempt to answer here.

A: Why is there no starting list for this competition?

     Well, first of all, this is not an event organised by the SCF. When entries are collected by the SCF, they will create the list of participants and update it whenever they can. Thomson CC is the organiser of the Thomson Cup Tournament and therefore the staff at the CC are not trained to create such a list. Moreover, we set the closing date to 2 June giving maximum flexibility to players with very busy schedules to make up their minds to play. Based on our experience, the vast majority of players send in their entries within 5 days of the closing date. So I am afraid it will not be practicable to provide a starting list, as even if we had done so, it will take some administrative effort to send it to the SCF to publish it on their website when they can.

B.  Why aren't there age-group categories?

This question I've answered in my earlier posts, but I repeat it here. Thomson Cup International is a tournament based on strength of the player, not age. Hence players are grouped by RATING rather than age-group. We want to dispel as much as possible that age plays a part in the strength of the player. To do well in a tournament, one should play well. Honestly, I do not see the rationale of awarding age-group prizes when there are no merits to their performance. Giving a prize to one who scores 3 pts simply because of small number of players in his/her age-group does not teach the child the right values in competition. One must win by his/her good performance. In any case, there are dozens of tournaments awarding age-group prizes so Thomson should cater to those who want to know how good, not how young, they are.

C.  Why must the tournament be held over 2 days?

This is mainly due to the time control of 1 hour per player. To play 4 games a day is indeed taxing and I do apologise to the players for the ordeal. Until we are able to secure the hall for 3 days instead of 2, we will certainly spread it over 3 days. But there will always be those who cannot spare 3 days to play a tournament, so where do we draw the line??

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

THOMSON CHESS CLUB CLOSED JUNE 3 FRIDAY

As we are preparing the hall for the annual THOMSON CUP INTERNATIONAL Chess tournament, the session for June 3 Friday will be closed and resumes on June 10.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

HOW MUCH DO STUDENTS RETAIN?

Obviously this applies to those taking chess lessons.

I am always curious as to how much students do remember or understand the lesson that was just taught to them. Very often, examples were shown and explained. However, once the lesson is over, how does the trainer ensure that the lesson just taught was understood?

I usually use the 3 methods to find out:

a. Make them play as soon as possible

b. Give homework and tests

c. Review the same lesson next week for the 1st 15 minutes

There is a constant struggle for the trainer to decide whether to introduce new material or to review older lessons to ensure that the student does understand what has been covered.

Some parents may not be exactly happy that their child has been taught the same lessons over and over and wonder why. Generally, the problem is that if students do not attempt to use the knowledge taught and do nothing until the next lesson, what was taught is forgotten and the trainer has to start again from a clean slate. Of course, this is unproductive so I urge parents to try to allocate some time for their children to play and do the homework assigned. At least 5 games a week of 15 minutes will do a lot in helping the student retain the knowledge so that it can be used in their games.

I have just started with a new student and was appalled when he told me that his previous trainer did not give notes. Naturally I asked if he could remember what he was told. The result? Bits and pieces of moves which he could not associate, especially when he claimed that he could not checkmate the King with 2 Bishops because I placed the King on a "wrong" square (apparently he could only do it on the square where his trainer placed the King).

This way of rote learning does no one any good - we cannot be expecting anyone to learn without any notes to remind the student after the trainer has ended the lesson. This is not a chess issue, its a pedagogical one. That is why I am always suspicious how much chess trainers are aware in terms of pedagogy rather than their chess knowledge. To me, if the student cannot fathom the explanations of the trainer and is taught to ask questions, every chess lesson ends up being a monologue and ....blank goes the mind until the next lesson??

Parents, do ask the right questions to your child if he/she truly understands what is taught. You are paying for it and you have every right.

Friday, May 6, 2011

CHESS CLUBS IN SCHOOLS: THE WAY TO GO?

From the comments made in my previous post, I would like to draw your attention to this article :

http://www.chesskids.com/piagpolg.pdf

Please pay close attention to his last paragraph, especially his views on chess clubs run by teachers or those with no knowledge of the child's cognitive development. 

It is not a pretty scenario. 

Which explains the rationale behind my earlier post : we need chess clubs where young and adults can interact, enjoy the game and learn about its beauty and history. The school chess clubs do not do such a good job at that.  There are lots of retiring chessplayers, primarily those born in the 50's who are approaching 55 years of age and will soon retire. Their passion, knowledge and experience should be tapped by the organising body to help revive these chess clubs in community clubs of remniscent of River Valley, Buona Vista, Kuo Chuan, Siglap and even better, develop new ones in townships like Sengkang, Choa Chu Kang and Jurong West. Mustering these retirees will be a long drawn effort but I am sure it is critical now to start this process, or in Richard James' words, " we may soon be a land without chess".

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

IF YOU MUST PLAY THE SPANISH

Then please do yourself a favour and read this:


I believe this will cut down at least a few good years of sweat and toil and zoom in on the essentials. You can then consult the individual books on the different variations. Possibly the one below will help greatly

There's no need to re-invent the wheel :-)

Sunday, May 1, 2011

LETTER TO SCD EDITOR, AUGUST 1986

Having lost my copy of the Singapore Chess Digest August 1986 ( 25 years ago) which this article of mine was published, I took a trip to the Library to retrieve it and reproduce it unabridged:

LETTER TO THE EDITOR

Dear Sir,
    Chess clubs are created solely for players and enthusiasts to interact and exchange ideas regarding the game. It is often the hive of chess activity in strong chess—playing nations like the USA, Britain and West Germany, where friendly matches and club leagues are most popular.

   However, chess clubs today seem to have lost their grip on the chess scene in Singapore. Poor attendances, little activity between clubs and, judging from the number of clubs that have been formed then closed after some months of hunger pangs, the direction of chess is vague and uncertain. Just what does a chess club serve to do for the interested player?

   Well, it is certain that all clubs want to provide competitions for players, be it friendly matches or tournaments. The Queenstown and Cairnhill tournaments are regular crowd-pullers among chess players with their history and prestige. But if we examine these ‘open’ tournaments closely, we will find that they have dominated chess activity so completely that this leaves the player little chance to practice without having to compete. Tournaments should not form the mainstay of chess for a developing nation; rather, what is really needed is the gradual build—up of a broad base of players and the education of these players to appreciate the game. Chess cannot succeed as  a spectator sport because you need to be knowledgeable to appreciate its beauty, as it is in the case of art. Perhaps this should be the direction that the Singapore Chess Federation should consider in its plans to popularise the to promote the game through chess clubs.

   Simultaneous displays, lectures and friendly matches between all club members can attract enthusiasts to enjoy the game more effectively than organising a major ‘open’ tournament. After all, such tournaments are only meant for average players and a great opportunity for the top players to make some pocket money. Due to the adoption of the ‘open’ tournament in recent years, the average player rarely wins anything and this can turn him away from chess as it offers no returns for the time spent in learning about the game. What is worse is that it breeds mercenaries who will only play if there is a prize. Many of these mercenaries are sadly plentiful within the ranks of the juniors, which explains the high attrition rate of chess players after the age of 20. Only a handful of our past junior champions are still playing; can’t anyone just enjoy the game for the game’s sake? Perhaps the competitive element of the game has taken its toll on local players with the lowering of standards in the play of our juniors. The reason is simple: there is no impetus for them to improve as they were not taught to enjoy and love the game. The emphasis is on winning and if you don’t win, you will feel that you are just wasting time.

   Forgive me if I sound too blunt in my views, but I urge the Federation to review its aims and objectives for chess in the ‘80s. Are we content to simply produce ‘professionals’ who come out of concealment to try their luck and then disappear with the prize after winning, or do we need more chess lovers who never get tired of exploring the vast possibilities that chess abounds with? If there are any remnants of talent left to be savoured and corrected before they turn foul, then may I suggest that we start educating our school children now that chess is a tool for creation and recreation and not like tennis or golf.  Money is NOT the only reward

Signed : One concerned chessplayer

The reason why I signed off anonymously was due to the fact that I am not yet a subscriber of the magazine, so I was not sure if it would be proper to sign myself. The editor Mr Alexius Chang nonetheless thought it interesting of some of the points made and decided to publish this.

So tell me, has anything changed since this article was published ??

Friday, April 29, 2011

POSITIONAL CHESS FOR KIDS

When examining games of junior players, I see that many do not know what to do when the position in front of them is without any captures or threats to make. They are then left to think of a move, often one that takes a piece backwards into their own territory.  Can anyone blame them?

Indeed, it is hardest to teach a junior player strategy when their grasp of tactics is still not strong. To bridge this gap, it is not pertinent to introduce the materials from Nimzowitsch's MY SYSTEM. I would consider using a simpler book, Bruce Pandolfini's WEAPONS OF CHESS.

What I like about this book is that Mr Pandolfini outlines the basic elements of positional chess like the open file, passed pawns, pawn structure weaknesses etc in simple language for the child to understand, then gives explanations on how to play with these elements. He has also given fairly good advice on how one should think when quiet positions with no tactics is reached. Most P3-4 students should have no problems understanding the material in this book. I am sure it will help their chess greatly.    

Often I see notes on positional chess concepts  introduced with examples cut out from grandmaster games played over the last 10 years. This is not useful at all for a child who has yet to understand the complex thinking behind the players today. It will be far better to introduce the positional elements with games played by the old masters of the 1900-1930's, as many of these games show clear-cut moves on how to implement the methods of using the elements. Playing over the old classics  is like a step-by-step lesson on how to make the elements work without the opponent's interference. There is a lot that can be learned from the old games, but sadly today's children have not had access to the books like 


Where Chernev (not a master) explains the fine points of chess strategy to budding players. I learnt a lot from reading these 2 books which spurred my chess strength to new heights before tackling harder books like


 If trainers take examples from these books instead of the present games, I am sure that students will get to grasp the positional concepts better.