I came across the SCF President's remark on the National Junior/Youth Squad performance and an invitation to all stakeholders to give their honest feedback. Well, here's mine.
Chess involves 4 parties : players, pieces, a board and rules (not just the rules of chess, but also the relationships between the pieces which constitutes into chess knowledge and theory). Any improvement in the performance of a chess-player must involve these elements - the state of readiness of a player in terms of knowledge of the pieces on the board and the ability to project their movements in the future to concoct a favourable outcome. So its not just the ability to calculate one's moves in question, but the ability to visualise the opponent's responses as well in the formation of one's analysis of the position. Handling these issues while managing them within the time control is key to chess success in tournaments.
The first question one would ask about any form of chess training is its objective and purpose, then whether the methods adopted would steer the participants towards meeting the objectives. What's spelt out in the SCF prospectus is all very nice, of course, but at the end, the results of their performance would speak volumes of the efficacy of the training. What exactly are the other countries like China and India (or even the Philippines and Vietnam) doing right and we are not??
We may intend to move towards the promotion of rapid chess and other forms of chess played over short time controls, but the reality of it is that only proficiency in classical chess is proof of true chess-playing strength. If FIDE indeed is moving away from classical chess, as quoted in SCF's mission statement , then why is it that every major international chess event like the recently concluded Olympiad and current tournaments still feature it? If this trend is not going to change soon, then we should best prepare our players for acclimatising our junior players to the classical time controls by ensuring that they get total exposure to it. They should refrain from playing in competitions held in other time controls. True simulation of standard chess tournament conditions is vital to the development of the player's thought processes and judgement. Hence the promotion of local competitions of longer time controls, even with increments, will help our juniors in performing their best when they are in international events.So having less rapid chess tournaments and more standard chess events is the way to go.
If swimmers need to get up at 5am to do lap-training, can our national junior chess team achieve regional success with only weekend sessions? With the emphasis set by the Technical Director on theoretical knowledge over practical play, focusing on playing main lines where lots of study of opening lines is necessary, this saps time that may be required for the playing and analysing of middlegame and endgame positions that can build the players' judgement of variations. Any player, as Botvinnik remarked, can only be a stronger player if he/she excels in the art of analysis. That requires concentrated effort by each player, drawing conclusions after the computer has crunched the usual variations to pinpoint the errors in judgement, then replaying the positions again to ensure that the right continuation is understood. Do our juniors have the time for this given the heavy workload at school? Or can the approach be tweaked to give more weight on improving game analysis skills and calculation skills rather than spending it on opening learning?? Our junior players should get enough quality sparring/analysing from the SCF Trainers or National Players such as our younger IMs and FMs.
Could it be that our juniors have had distractions - game cards, XBOX, computer games? If our juniors hope to get success over the chessboard, then the chessboard remains their only leisure toy, nothing else. Can't do it? Then these players should quit believing that they can represent the country. In my opinion, anyone who does not put 100% dedication into the game should not be worthy of bearing national colours.
The current SCF trainers simply cannot have their hands tied training the development squad while still tending to the training needs of the Youth Squad. If they need to do this because of the lack of funds, tough luck - then get EXCO members who can be mobilised to create events to get sponsors rather than continuously tax the local chess community for it. There is a dire need for a corporate sponsor to adopt the Youth Squad to provide the funds to pay for quality players to spar with the juniors.
Parents also play a major part in the equation - many are already paying more than their share to see their children through chess lessons, overseas competitions, sometimes taking leave to accompany them etc. Naturally they too want to see that all this effort will go somewhere resultwise. Here the need to balance studies, chess and physical well-being falls mainly on their shoulders as they administer the daily timetable for the children. Expectations tend to be understandably high. Perhaps the parents can also help in not overloading the juniors' workload with excessive tuition for chess juniors, because they should have faith that chess-players do have the discipline (if taught well) to know when to hit the books and when to play hard. That will work when the SCF is sensitive to schedule the trainings appropriately, intensifying them in the first quarter and June perhaps but avoiding the exam season in September - October.
Finally, we should choose our battles to fight carefully. Select the right events to participate, prepare for them well, ensure funding for them to have at least 1 SCF trainer accompanying. Otherwise, the discipline of the boys may be suspect and this can affect their performance in the event. We should not have our juniors play more than 50 standard chess games a year. The rest of the time spent should be in preparation.