Monday, September 17, 2012

WHAT AILS OUR JUNIOR CHESS PERFORMANCE?

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.


9 comments:

  1. I agree with some of your comments in particular for the SCF chess trainers to be more focused on developing the individual repertoire of players who intend to represent Singapore by understanding what these players are comfortable playing (based on thier playing style and personalilty). The SCF has to differentiate its training according to the individual player, especially as their selection to represent Singapore is usually known at least 2-3 months in advance. Such players who offer to play and are eventually selected to play for Singapore should commit training time with the SCF trainers, otherwise do not make the offer to play for Singapore. The commitment must work both ways.

    Siva

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  2. Congrats John for a well written article.
    Kudos for Siva in daring to voice his agreement, which runs foul of SCF directions (all juniors must play silician!), especially when his son is playing and in the junior squad.
    Hopefully the SCF committee can listen to such well meaning feedback.
    Tang Shi Fu

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  3. Hi John,

    i would like to call upon Siva and myself to volunteer in ces, for the good of chess.

    Between the 2 of us, we can help ces to organise grand chess events that all in Singapore chess will benefit.

    What say you, Siva?

    Tang Shi Fu

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  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    Replies
    1. Dear John

      A troll has taken my name in the comment above. Regretably what was to be a discussion with good intentions is to be turned into an us vs. them situation by the troll. I do not know what can be done to stop such trolls?

      Siva

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    2. Sad to say, short of you registering a Google account and posting your comments in your own name, there is no way I can tell who's the right party and who's not. It's a shame that someone has put words into your mouth. I urge you to take action immediately to register for a Google account - as I often value your inputs.

      There are several comments I am not releasing for fear that they may be libelous or ill-willing. So I am doing my part in keeping this blog as level-headed and rational. But there is only so much I can do - so I appeal to all reading my comments now - please do the right thing and post your comments with valid accounts or risk getting yourselves impostered.

      Delete
    3. Regretabbly i am a tech-dinosaur but i will try to register with Google so that the future discussions will not be hijacked by mean-spirited individuals. This shall therefore be my last post in this discussion string. Please note that if you see an anonymous post with the name Siva in the future then it is not me (but of course there are other Sivas around as well who are interested in chess).

      I have always believed that the CES has its own role to play and what it wishes to do is entirely its own prerogative and right. I see no reason whatsoever why parents whose children are in the SCF training squads cannot also offer ideas and contribute to the CES initiative and vice versa. Ultimately it is the chess-playing public both adults and children that are to benefit.

      CES has a complementary role to the SCF, since it is a private initiative and more such private initiatives i believe would be welcomed by the SCF and the chess-playing public as a means of growing the chess pie. Nobody or organisation has a monopoly on good ideas.

      Siva

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    4. The comment made by the troll has been deleted to avoid any misunderstanding. I believe all it takes is for you to register a gmail account.

      Delete
  5. Dear John,

    Thank you for the initiative to delete the distasteful and misleading comment. The troll was indeed being mischievious. Fortunately there were enough persons who contacted me to alert me to the deleted comment, as the manner of the comment was not something i would have written.

    Siva

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