Sunday, September 23, 2012


Happen to come across a comment made not long ago about how misleading it is to compare Singapore's  chess talent base with that of the chess superpowers China and India . His opinion is simply that we do not have the large numbers and base big enough to have extraordinary talent in chess to produce a world-class talent.

In my opinion, it seems contradictory to me when the writer inadvertently mentions a country like Norway, whose chess demographics and performances in the Olympiad paralleled Singapore in many ways, ie before the arrival of super-genius Magnus Carlsen. Since then, Norwegian chess has taken off from 3 GMs before Magnus to more than 10. Before Norway, there was Iceland, which produced world class GMs like Fridrik Olaffson and Sigurjonsson, before the Norwegians caught up. What about Israel? They had good players in Shimon Kagan (who competed with IM Tan Lian Ann in Petropolis 1973) and Uzi Geller, Moshe Czeniak before the Soviet emigrants arrived. Israel's population is currently 7.8 million, while Iceland's population is about 309,000 as of 2007 estimates. There's also Chile,about 15 million people but its top rated players are about 4 GMs and 6 IMs till date.

I could go on but you get the picture. Yes, the more populous countries have an edge in having the number of people who could become good at chess but that does not mean that small countries like Singapore do not. My previous post clearly showed that we have had world-class players back in the 70's and 80s. In 1982 our top board Leslie Leow (not yet an IM then) managed to beat GM Florin Gheoghiu of Romania who finished 12th while Singapore was 43rd. Dr Wong Meng Kong had the game of his life when he beat GM Speelman from England in the 1992 Manila Olympiad! There's also our "lost" IM Lim Seng Hoo too, who had plus results against Murray Chandler when he took part at the World Junior at Tjentiste in 1975. 

Hence I share the view with SCF that we need to re-look at our current state of affairs in our own backyard, simply because we WERE that good before.  After all, this is our country and we should know our chess history better right??


  1. Perhaps it is also instructive to look at the history of other sports in Singapore where Singapore had produced champions. Take for example badminton when Wong Shoon Keat won the SEA Games gold medal in the 1980s. That was a heady time for Singapore badminton. This reminded Singaporeans of the 1950s when Singapore won the Thomas Cup as part of the Malaya team. Singapore was at the summit of world badminton as part of Malaya. Now who remembers Singapore as being past world champions in badminton? Perhaps the 1950s were too far back then what about the SEA Games individual gold in 1980s by Wong even with such strong nations as Malaysia and Indonesia playing as well with their world beaters? I found it instructive reading the badminton history of Singapore and realising that a small nation could produce world beaters. But at the same time with more than S$1.5 million put into badminton in 2006 for player development what has Singapore produced since then? May be it is not always the money?

    Look to our athletics as well when in the 70's and 80's we remembered C Kunalan, Heather Marican, K Jayamani, Chew Swee Lee and others as being Singapore athletes feared by other athletes around the region. Where is Singapore athletics today despite the obvious millions pumped into athletics?

    What are the NSAs of badmintion and athletics doing to revive their sports which is clearly in the doldrums? Have they come up with ideas that can be applied to chess?

    As i had previously said, no one has a monopoly over good ideas and viewing our sports history is instructive of how we have declined in other sports as well.

    Perhaps there are readers who are familiar with how these sports (badminton and athletics)and others are planning to revieve their sports? We could do with the sharing!

  2. This made me realised that we must know our chess history to draw lessons and conclusion for current and future well being of the game.

    From your examples of our past achievements and many other small countries achievements; its clear that our "comparatively smaller pool of talents" theory is hogwash.

    Its a convenient excuse to explain away poor management performance, lack of support..etc.

    Its shockingly defeatist and fatalistic to reason along these lines

    Keep up the good blogging John!

    Topolov Variation

    1. Siva,

      Seems like the money that was available was spent in bringing in foreign talent rather than grooming our own, similar to that of table tennis. That is why we need to revisit the conditions that germinate the growth of these extra-ordinary talents that you've mentioned. We have had world champions in bowling (Adeline Wee) and darts.

      I've recently read that having huge carrots dangled in front of performing athletes distracts them from the goal rather than motivating them. It again boils down to motivation and stimulating the passion within the athlete. I am sure the visits of Kasparov and Karpov would have done this to a certain degree, however that depends on how many schoolchildren do know them in the first place. Recently, I have started to introduce chess history by showing my students the games of the first generation of world champions, mainly to improve their knowledge and enlightening them to the rich chess tradition that exists. I used to feature some famous games played in the 80s of our local masters, hopefully to educate the youth of our past achievements. The series will resume soon.

    2. Referring to past Singapore players I believe is a good idea. I would encourage you to do so. We already have Kevin, Junior and Olympiu providing their valuable views on current games.

      Somebody needs to remind us of our heritage. But before we get too carried away, our heritage is very young. Singapore is but chess babes when compared to venerable masters of Russia, the former Soviet Union, Israel

    3. I agree that we are but 51 years old, but our chess heritage in the 70's and 80's is just as significant. Singapore captured the 1st Asian Cities title in Hong Kong in 1979, just 1 year after China entered the world of international chess competition at the Buenos Aires Olympiad in 1978.

    4. Topalov variation,

      Though we have different opinions and views about Singapore's current state of chess talent as compared to the superpowers, we should not read too much into the lines by assuming that the writer is creating an excuse for our comparative lack of chess talent in place of the current management of chess affairs. We can of course agree to disagree, but let's not place labels to denigrate any opinion. Anonymity though allows you to express opinions, let's also maintain proper decorum in exchanges.

    5. Yes that is correct. The labels an anonymous poster chooses to place on what has been good topics for discussion only serves to distract and divide. I am indeed keen to find other readers with good ideas and who put them forward on your blog for candid discussion.