Tuesday, June 5, 2012


Having studied  the views of Siva, one cannot help but feel that there should be some streamlining in terms of chess training services in Singapore. Siva has cited various sports associations and their workings with private coaches, but stopped short of mentioning how the selection of players for National representation is conducted. When there is insist on creating a national registry of chess trainers, I wonder how this will benefit everyone in the trade. In  particular, when parents with high expectations of their children will be inclined to choose the school or organisation that will bring useful accolades for their children should they attain the goals (be it DSA to the desired school of choice). It all boils down to the framework of which the Federation chooses to operate with all stakeholders, from students, parents, coaches and schools.

I'd still advocate the selection framework based on  meritocracy - that is, the system of selection of national representatives for all international tournaments be decided by simple and transparent criteria, either by  selection tournament  placing or based on an aggregate of the applicant's tournament results of the past 6 months. Not by association of any National Junior Squad or entity that is deemed biased as anyone who has the financial means can join, with the entry prerequisites set rather low. What's even more interesting is that you can "buy" your National colours in the process. Someone in the comments questioned the rationale for admitting such a large number of trainees who eventually required additional personal coaching on top of the 4 hr training sessions.

Now if we use my proposed method (say take the results National Schools Individuals any similar scaled event ) and decide the top 3 places in the respective age groups, with the candidates paying half or less of the expenses (SCF can raise the rest), I should think this system of selection will be transparent to all  students who qualify regardless which school,academy or private coach they train under. In this way, the qualifications and accreditation of the coach will no longer be important. So long as the students that qualify can perform.This will tie in nicely with all stakeholders as it will let the coaches do their job (with less students to deal with), the officials can spend less time deciding who should be selected and instead work harder at raising funds (rather than try to expand the  NJS to raise revenue).Perhaps the SCF coaches can even supplement the training of the selected candidates by detecting and rectifying weakness in their play, during centralised training sessions that can be conducted before the tournament?  Surely this will benefit the players a lot more. 

By the way, I need to clarify and correct Siva's misconception of clubs offering chess training services. There are certainly commercial chess academies set up for this, but by far no existing CC chess club offers chess training. As volunteers running the CC Chess Clubs, we as coaches certainly cannot allow ourselves to be drawn into a blatant conflict of interest in soliciting our services during the playing sessions.


  1. John and Siva,

    While accreditation may sound good on paper, I personally think it will open a whole new can of worms. First of all, the politics that it usually leads to is ugly. It will create an environment where trainers will be chasing after the coveted "certificate", and then peddle it as some form of how good the trainer is. As you may have observed, there are some trainers who are qualified "FIDE trainers" but may not even come close to being able to coach as well as those without the so-called accreditation.

    Perhaps you may think that it must come with transparency and good governance, but without the incentive for such things, it is not a sustainable framework. After all, if you can achieve good governance, there is no longer the need for such a framework in the first place.

    Secondly, as Siva pointed out, students have different preferences. This makes training "capabilities" very subjective. Forgive me if I am mistaken, but in Taekwondo, I believe there is a "syllabus" that a trainer has to adhere to in order to get his/her student to pass for each belt level. This is not so with chess. That is why accreditation is very subjective.

    So here is what I think about chess training in general. To me, training chess skills is a bit like building a career. It is a long-term battle of attrition and a lot of hardwork, heartbreaks as well as trial and error. Many of us do not get our ideal jobs at the first job. Some of us may even have to change employers several times before finding the ideal match. And we WILL make tonnes of mistakes a long the way.

    But there is a huge distinction between a career and a job. Usually, in a career, we have a long-term goal that we are trying to achieve and working at different jobs is just a means to that end. We just have to ask ourselves, is this taking us one step closer to our goals.

    I think attending coaching is similar. Coaches are just like mentors and bosses. Even if you chance upon a lousy coach, you will at least learn what NOT to do. In a bigger picture, bitter experiences are what make us a little bit wiser.

    I know that it will simply be "easier" if there was a list of coaches that we can look up and pick from. But I think that is the wrong mindset. It is not the system that needs changing, but our own mindsets. We must be constantly vigilant, and do our homework to the utmost when choosing our coaches/teachers. For example, when you go around buying a house, do you take the word of the real estate agent about the house just because the real estate agent is “certified”? My guess is we will do a thorough survey of the area, talk to a bunch of people around the area, walk around the area to get a feel, etc etc. We put a lot of care in choosing a house because it costs a lot of money. But why can't we put the same amount of care and consideration in choosing a chess trainer? Do we know less about chess trainers than about real estate? If we find that we don't know enough, then the simple remedy is, we must know more!
    Finding the “right” coach is never easy. But neither is finding the right career, or finding the right house to buy.

    1. Hi Chess Ninja,

      I follow your blog with interest. Your views would be something I could relate to. Unfortunately in Singapore (and I believe in Malaysia) the drop out rates for juniors is very high because secondary education is very time-consuming. So parents have a very short window period to determinethe interest and potential of the child before other factors come into play. It is this absence of the luxury of time that compels us to consider whether we can and should consider a register of trainers. I agree that politics can and probably will rear its ugly head and there will be FIDE trainers who are trainers only in name. The question is with the relatively short time that parents and children have, will the register help, hinder or serve no purpose. The views of other chess parents would be useful.


    2. Hi Siva

      Thanks for taking the time to read my one-and-a-half cents worth of thoughts. I can totally understand your dilemma. But I think I slightly disagree with your choice of the phrase “secondary education”. In the words of Mark Twain, “I never let my schooling interfere with my education”. I sincerely believe that chess is just as educational as schooling, and it is worth every second invested in it.

      But I suppose I should clarify my earlier point. When I said trial and error, I did not mean try each and every coach to find out which one is good. That would be absurd. To push the real estate analogy further, we simply can’t try out living in each and every house before purchasing it. So what do we do? We can conduct short “interviews” with the potential coaches. Something like 15-30 minute sessions with the coaches. Ask them questions, quell your worries. Ask them about their methods, and what they generally hope to achieve. I sincerely believe that a good coach will be more than happy to share their approach with you. In fact, they should expect to be interviewed. After all, in the corporate world, before you hire someone, some of the corporations have like 4-5 rounds of interviews. Of course I am not suggesting you put a chess coach through a similarly rigorous ordeal, but you get the idea.

      If a chess coach does not want to share his approach with you, you should probably suspect that something is up. Bring your children along, get their feedback on the coaches. Then speak to more coaches. I think after talking to at least 5 coaches, you will get a general feel of what separates the men from the boys (for the lack of a better term). The more people you talk to, the better you will be at asking the right questions.

      If you want to be more thorough, when you are at chess tournaments waiting for your children to finish their games, talk to other parents about the coaches. Ask them what they look for in coaches. Speak to strong players who are not coaches. Speak to other strong junior players. Use all the resources available to you. This is a very cheap way of “buying” experiences without having to actually go through the process. Of course, the caution here is to do sufficient research and not just rely on 1 or 2 people’s views. All I can say is, the more effort you put into this, the more likely you are to find a better coach. As you know, reward is highly correlated with effort in the long run.

      Nonetheless, the idea of a register is not totally useless to me. I do think that an “official register” is not entirely practical. But I would like to build on your idea. I propose something like a “reviews website” where students and parents can share their comments on their coaches and rate them. Of course, comments must not be anonymous. This is not very difficult to achieve in this day and age of social media. If you are an active parent in the chess scene, perhaps you can start a Facebook group called “Rate My Chess Trainer”. Invite all the other parents to join. It is a lot harder to hide your identity on Facebook. This is to minimize derogatory and fallacious comments. This is no different from a book review website or a tour review website. Of course this can be abused, which is why the same need for caution applies when using any review website. By the way, if this idea were to be monetized, please remember to credit me with a small royalty :)

    3. Hi Chess Ninja,

      To me the structure of having a formal chess register or an audience-driven review website Is not so important as achieving the objective of giving chess parents and potential trainees the opportunity to access information to assist in the quest for a suitable trainer. This harks back to the point John raised earlier of parents having to do their own research and my response of there not being enough publicly available information to help chess parents.

      Your suggestions of going to the ground and obtaining information is one way to go and parents who diligently follow their children to chess tournaments and wait around will probably have the opportunity to work the ground and gather the information. I am perhaps being more idealistic in suggesting something different and am consciously aware that it is probably unworkable. It then comes back to the hard graft that you have suggested, which I fear many parents are not able to do. So once again where does the clueless but earnest parent with little time on his/her hand go from here? I am rather wary of the review website as the problems you have raised will occur. In fact even in this current discussion, one commentator raised particular points regarding a particular trainer that was removed by John. A moderator may be hard-pressed to deal with many negative comments that flow in especially if the comments are personal as opposed to a genuine criticism of the method of teaching.

      To my mind the search therefore continues as to how we can facilitate providing the information without creating another whole host of problems. Siva

    4. Siva,

      I agree that there is not much publicly available information. May I know what kind of information are you seeking for? Because in my mind, I am unable to think of what kind of public information that could be useful in finding a good coach. Maybe I am being stubborn, but I don't see how a list of "accredited" coaches is useful. Maybe it is because in my line of work, I deal with data and analysis all the time and I am highly skeptical when it comes to "publicly available" information.

      Let me go back to the real estate analogy. To a certain extent, there is publicly available information. But this is never enough. John is right. Research is absolutely necessary. Not being able to find the time to check out a house before you buy it is simply not an excuse. Would you rather have a lousy house?

      I think you brought up a really interesting point. I don’t think that it is simply not the case that parents are not able to do the ground work. I think this is a mindset problem, which is difficult to overcome. Forgive me if I am being stereotypical here. The method I suggested takes about 15-30 minutes at a time. To conduct 5 interviews will take at most 3 hours. If you make a call or pay a visit to a coach on each weekend, it can be done in one month. Or arrive about 30 minutes early when you pick your children up from a tournament, so that you can talk to other parents who are there as well. I find it very difficult to believe that “earnest” parents like you those that you mentioned are unable to find this kind of time to help their children. Furthermore, if you conduct the research well, then you will save a lot of time and money in the long run by not having to keep switching coaches. How myopic are the parents?

      In my experience, the majority of parents (again, I am stereotyping) treat chess tutoring like a daycare center. All they want to do is drop their children off for a couple of hours so that they are able to “do their own thing”. Be it shopping, or spending time with their friends etc. They expect coaches to do magic and turn their children into strong junior players. Let me be clear on this. Effort is self-rewarding. There are no shortcuts to success. You reap what you sow. I can go on and on.

      In one of my blog posts, I posed the question, “How badly do you want it?”. Everyone has 24 hours every single day. No more, no less. The difference lies in what you are willing to give up in order to gain what you want. I don’t think I would go so far as to start spewing time-management advice here.

      If you noticed, the general guide to my approach in life is always to ask, “Have I done my best in the given situation?”. Most of what I write is in that spirit. If I run into a lack of publicly available information, I will keep asking why and how to overcome it. If other people can do it, why can’t I? If I really am unable to do it, I need to know the real reason. Is it because there is really no way out of this, or is it because I am unwilling to sacrifice other things? Keep asking why until you get to the source of the problem. Only then, will you find the real solution. Once again, mediocre effort will be rewarded with mediocre results.

      P/S: Some of the things I have said here are intentionally provocative. I find that sometimes people need to be shaken so that they can wake up from their lull. I gain nothing from offending anyone nor do I have the intention of doing so.

      Also, thanks very much John, for allowing me to share my thoughts here. I know this is your blog, and I am rambling on and on here. But I do think this is an issue worth tackling and hopefully whatever small contribution I have will lead to something more meaningful.

    5. Oh no, Ninja, not at all. I simply think that both sides have presented points about the difficulty of parents trying to finding out what's best for their children. It is a daunting task. Not much different from selecting a school or university for a child's education. However, I think there is not much point in reiterating one's stand endlessly so may I suggest that we end the discussion here on a note to respectfully agree to disagree.

  2. Grateful for your insights Ninja,lucid and concise as usual :-)

  3. Just curious if there is a code of conduct (similar to a self governing code of conduct for professional bodies) for chess trainers.
    For example, if during a training session, a student discovers a novelty and with the help of the coach refines it.
    Will this novelty spread to other students under the same coach? or what if the coach leaves the country and the student engages a different coach?

    1. I have yet to encounter this scenario. Any discovery over the board unfortunately has a limited shelf life as once the move or idea is used over a game, it is public knowledge and no one has claim over it anymore.Till that happens, the coach is of course obliged to keep the novelty confidential. The same goes if the coach happens to be teaching rival schools in a inter-school competition. Normally in this case, I will not show up so as to avoid comments of being biased.

      I have been asked,however, by parents if a trainer can teach a student to "beat" a fellow student given the right incentive
      As a chess trainer, I believe all students have equal rights to their materials they are taught. I believe it is unethical for one to do this.

      Though there are no fixed codes of professional conduct at the moment, I believe ethical values should be upheld by anyone in the spirit of fair play. The same goes for touch move. I have always reminded my students to own up and play the move they have touched, even if it loses the game. Owning up to one's mistakes is important in a child's formative years as it determines his/her character in the future.

  4. Hi John,

    I am Tin CL, chess parent.
    If what you say is correct, why is it that the games of our top players are not published.

    My children cannot find the games of our latest IM Ravi in the very strong 4 men player tournament by Intchess, in which our IM won and gain the necessary ELO points.

    Please enlighten.
    Thank You.

    1. What I mean is that there is public record of the game of the novelty. Now it depends entirely on whether the game is published or not. The organisers can choose to publish the game, but they also have the rights to it.

      Many games have been played but not published in print,so some novelties may have already been played but not known.