Wednesday, January 8, 2014


Before I continue, best to read this first.

I am revisiting this issue again after 3 years because once again I have to deal with it.

2 of my students have just enrolled in the National Junior Squad. I have not fixed what they should play as black, but I see disturbing signs such as this.

There were many such examples.

My suspicion is that they were asked to play the Sicilian Defence during the first training day. As I have stated my viewpoint on choosing openings which should be, in Mark Dvoretsky's words : "

Your choice of openings should be made primarily in accordance with your own tastes and style of play. This rule may sound obvious, but all the same it is quite easily broken,even by strong players"

For those new in chess, Mark Dvoretsky is the world's top chess trainer. Having groomed world junior champions like Arthur Yusupov and Valery Chekhov, Sergei Dolmatov and Zvagintsev, I won't even dare challenge his views.  

Forcing players to go against their innate character and play openings that run counter to their style of play cannot bring results, in my opinion. 

Now that there is a new National Coach in GM Zhang Zhong, perhaps he can shed some light on this matter and review the policy of having students play openings that they may not have the temperament nor the character disposition for? Can there not be an assessment exercise done to examine the games of the trainees and determine what suits them best before imposing the one-size-fits-all approach ?

Strangely, the Russians on the contrary advocated 1..e5 to 1e4 as the mainstream learning opening for most junior players before venturing to other openings, as opening principles can be learnt and reinforced from young. These principles will further guide their style of play as they move on to the semi open games (1 e4 others) and closed games, pending on their taste and style.  I see nothing wrong with this approach, which is accepted as conventional wisdom now among trainers worldwide. 

It would be a shame to cripple young talents that we have to represent the country when such policies shackle the players' interests and inclinations. I sincerely urge the SCF to review this before we really see a significant talent drain.


  1. My child has been learning chess for about 2 years. Based on his results in several important competitions, he has demonstrated a strong talent and potential. For 2014, he was looking forward to participating in June's Asean+ Age-Group Chess Competition in Macau and so I had plans to sign him up for National Junior Squad for 2 terms in order to be eligible for this competition. After he finished his first junior squad lesson last week, he immediately voiced out his strong discomfort at having to attend another nine sessions of term 1. He felt it unreasonable that he had to be restricted to using the Sicilian opening which he had very little understanding of and which did not suit his style of play and personality. He could not imagine how he was going to 'survive' the next 9 sessions of junior squad with such a restriction placed over him. With this sentiment brewing in him, I have, for the past few days, felt increasingly uneasy - subjecting him to this 'rule' during every 2 hrs of practical per training session and the homework he has to do to analyse the games played with this opening. The post-game analysis the following week may even cause more problems to arise in his understanding and cause unnecessary confusion. Will it be possible for SCF to revisit this approach? I can only try my best to voice his sentiments to the organisation but if things fail to change, I will have no other option but to withdraw him from NJS. We will then have to look at joining other overseas competitions that do not require prior training with the junior squad.

  2. I initially had the view some years back when my child was in National Junior Squad. More critically then, the games were 'rated' (SCF) and I thought it strange that a rated game could be constrained and fixed to an opening.

    However, having said that and the fact that the games are not rated anymore, I don't really think the players having to play Sicillian is all that detrimental.

    1. Let's face it, most of the juniors all already have their own prepared openings, having another in their repertoire can't really hurt. Sure, I understand that it might be confusing, but 2 main openings (and that's even assuming they DON'T play the Sic) would surely come in useful.

    2. Understanding the Sic (in, it's rated as Black's most favorite reply to e4 in grandmaster games) from black and white perspective would definitely be instructive

    3. you mentioned e5 as a mainstream learning opening, surely c5 cannot be that far off. As opposed to the Caro Kann, French, Indian defenses which are a lot less open, c5 can require the player to understand more about chess (as opposed to openings).

    4. There is some logic about playing a fixed opening, some junior players (coached wrongly no doubt) are intent to play rare tricky openings. They get their wins, with little understanding. [Note: Generally the juniors fare much worse in chess 960 when their fav openings are now deemed unnecessary]

    These are some of my observations. Among your good ideas, I do like your idea about doing a pre assessment to asses the juniors and advice them on their opening choices.

    Ps. Not sure if your student was White or black, but I thought Black played sensibly till his 8.... e5 move. That I see not as an opening mistake, but more a lack of understanding of the game.

  3. I'd keep on learning and learning chess for a long time until now. I played what I know best instead of trying something out new in tournament. I can only try new things once I have learn about the openings extensively. When preparing for a tournament, I will not try to play for something I don't know. One can only start to use the new openings after a long period of studies and understanding fully, but definitely not in a short time preparation for tournaments.

    I guess many players won't want to enter into an unknown terrain for something that they have no understanding of. Each of the players surely has their own pet openings and it's best to prepare them according to what they are good at for tournaments, instead of trying something new to them that needs lots of time for them to understand. They are still students and the question would remain:

    1. Do they have the time to extensively learn Sicilian which require lots of effort as it's new to them and as the tournament is around the corner?

    2. Every player has their own style of playing. Would it suit them by changing them drastically before tournament?

    1. Wow, what change SCF have again regards the fee and training..

  4. Parents must learn that the fame of having children in the "national training squad" is a hollow one.
    Let their kids learn and enjoy the chess game, and let this game be a passion throughout their lives, rather than a record on their report books showing "national training squad" or "played for Singapore". After all there is no DAS due to chess?

    1. Hi, FYI. There is DSA for Chess in Secondary..

  5. According to the MOE latest DSA participating schools and niche sports, chess is not featured.
    See the following link:

    1. John,
      Yes, per ur link, Chess is not the DSA participating schools and niche sports. But looking into the school DSA requirements, you will find schools that looking for Chess DSA. (Understand that last year, 2 players get into this year sec 1 thr’ DSA chess.)

  6. John or anyone,

    What your view regards the SCF Grading System, SCF Administrative Fee Fide ratings and SCF Selection & Training Guideliness?

    As for me, I will pull out my boys and girl from the SCF training. Not to pay the ratings fide fee for them. Same to pull them out from all events call my SCF.

    What SCF is doing now are killing chess in Singapore!


    1. This topic shall be discussed later in another forum

  7. Hi John,

    Our national number one player has confirmed that the world chess body FIDE charges about 2-3 Euros for ratings. So SCF charging Singapore 60 dollars seem a tad on the high side.
    What will happen if we don't pay for our 3 children now playing chess?
    We are not rich and find such fees a strain.
    Recently we were told that our children must attend a chess camp and we could only afford to give each of our 3 kids $15 each and they came home looking very sad but won't tell me or my husband the reason.

    Is there any way we can receive help for some of the payments for our kids' chess?

    lower income parents of chess playing children

    1. I don't think Kevin wrote that..there are 2 authors in his blog. The other is Coralite who I shall assume is Junior Tay. I was looking for the administrative fee post but found that it is deleted in the blog.

    2. It is not:

  8. Hello lower income parent of chess playing children,

    I would certainly like to help. However, I would like to also ask what is SCF doing? Why does it sound like they are making life difficult financially, just as the recent fare hike, which is certainly making everyone fuming mad?

  9. As one of many chess parents donating to SCF, having vested interests, may I feedback while remaining anonymous please.

    SCF must have a macro management system to cater to the multiple interest groups - such as senior players (veterans), adult players, young players, parents, sponsors and well wishes, media, chess coaches, organizers, arbiters, chess related businesses, coordination with ASEAN, Asia Chess, chess politicians (like Mr Leong in FIDE who flip flopped from Kirsan to Kasparov - never mind still K) so as to have a holistic view while harmonious to these different yet interlinked interest groups.

    Currently the chess scene is very disjointed and in part this can be said to be due to Mr Leong's misplaced policies especially when he was owner of Intchess in the recent past.

    If my son has no future in having chess as a lifetime pursuit, then all my efforts and money spent and further required, will only see him getting an IM and then stopping. I would rather he plays golf then.

    Welcoming other parents and interest groups to feedback constructively in this blog without fear or favour.

    Chess father

  10. Hi FK

    I write about the SCF rating fees. Since Junior Tay contributed an article on Goh Wei Ming's blog that FIDE only charges E2-3 for ratings, this is about S$6 at maximum. For SCF to charge 10 times this amount, and with the number of players involved in the hundreds, I feel that it is not justifiable. Maybe S$ 10 per player?

    I am also proud that as a titled player I am exempted to pay, but rather that all players including titled players pay the same proposed S$ 10.

    Earlier I have, along with titled players, paid such rating fees. Since these are not rat fees, any chance to claim back now that SCF is not charging us titled players?

    Thanks for sharing my views.

    Titled, but not strong player

  11. Hi Kong,

    After looking at all these comments, here I come jumping into the fray, and jumping in glee too.
    You see, I am very happy with SCF rat fees :-

    1. I don't mind bring unrated come April Fools Day (hope it is not a prank by SCF) as I can then win unrated prizes

    2. Can join challengers section of many overseas tournaments

    3. Play well and achieve first rating above 2300 - straight FM and then don't need to pay SCF too

    4. While unrated beat up SCF rated players, their FMs and even one or more IMs, maybe even our local GM

    What a gorgeous day - time for a Tiger :)

    Lowly rated but constant FM beater

  12. Hi John,

    On our top chess player's blog, there is already a recent article decrying SCF's blatant collection of rat fees.

    Even our titled players who are fully exempted from paying are aghast at SCF's dictator like top down collection of such fees which may be non constitutional?
    The irony of Mr Leong (while still holding office in Mr Kirsan's team instead of stepping down) joining Mr Kasparov team - which calls for less fees, but Mr Leong led SCF is ordering excoriating painful fees - must serve to show all the double face act that Mr Leong is putting up.

    Mr Leong and his team had failed the chess public by not having any success in corporate sponsorship (which team Kasparov advocates), but squeezing and milking chess players and parents.

    We long to see a new leadership that truly can bring SCF to greater heights. Mr Leong should know his time is up and step down rather let become another Mr Loh in an earlier episode.

    Concerned chess master