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??