Monday, January 17, 2011

Focused or aimless?


Nurturing and training young talent is the way to go.

IF SOME of us are still feeling smug two weeks after the Malaysian side had beaten their Singapore counterparts in the annual chess match between the two countries, my advice is this: stop. It’s over; let’s not waste more time on it. We should move on, because chess-wise there is a lot to do.

My own general sense of euphoria ended right after I had written last week’s article. I don’t gloat over the results because in reality, this isn’t much of an achievement. I know the Malaysian team badly wanted to win but what do the results really mean? Don’t read too much into them.

We went into the match with a senior team that lacked our best players. We missed out on several key players until the Malaysian Chess Federation was forced to field our better junior players for the senior side. Not that I am complaining about this, though. I’ve always been an advocate of the move to bleed in new talent. Our national chess body as well as our state chess associations must always allow talented juniors to come forward and show their mettle.

Short-lived stint: Bangladeshi grandmaster Ziaur Rahman was under-utilised during his short stay here.

It’s the only way forward. If junior players are cloistered and shielded behind their age group events, we are simply limiting them. How on Earth can they develop and blossom if not given the chance? So what the Malaysian Chess Federation did was right. In the absence of the usual senior regulars, the boys were asked to play like men.

Budding players like Edward Lee, Evan Capel (yes, there are even former national champions who are no older than 20), Lim Zhuo Ren, Sumant Subramaniam and Yeap Eng Chiam ... they all stepped up admirably to fill the seniors’ shoes.

What was at the back of my mind was whether or not the Singapore side had fielded their best players against us.

While players like Daniel Chan, Jarred Neubronner and Tan Weiliang are among the top 15 active home-grown players in Singapore today, their senior line-up was nowhere near the best they could assemble either.

Despite this, there was about a 100 rating-point gap that separated the two senior sides. With the strength of their senior side far out-weighing ours, it wasn’t any surprise that we lost out on these boards. We were not good enough, period.

But at least, we redeemed ourselves with far better results in the age-group encounters. It’s almost impossible to determine for sure which side was the stronger on paper as many of the players were young and without official ratings. Nevertheless, based on the results, we were better in the age groups.

However, one thing became clear, looking deeper at the results. Regardless of whether we talk about Singapore or Malaysia, the future of the game will always have to come through from the younger ranks. We shall have to continue nurturing and training them from small. There is no other way for succession planning.

The important question that needs to be asked is how well are we moving forward today? What is the big picture? Are we focused or are we simply moving aimlessly? How are our young chess players here being trained? If you ask me, I’d say the road ahead is bumpy. The journey is not going smoothly. Not at all.

In November, we lost our one and only big-name foreign chess trainer. Bangladeshi grandmaster, Ziaur Rahman, has ended his stay here in Kuala Lumpur and returned to his home country. He was on contract for a year but he asked to be released early.

From what I heard, it was an amicable separation for both him and his private chess employers. And since his departure, all that we have left are the same old local chess coaches. We continue to be so dependent on them to impart chess knowledge to the young.

In the last decade or so, chess coaching clinics have sprung up in the bigger chess centres around the Klang Valley and elsewhere in the country but sad to say, coaching techniques and quality are far from consistent.

So how can we determine whether one coach is better than another? Just because a local coach may have been successful as a player does not necessarily mean that they are competent enough to teach.

On the other hand, a local coach who is just an average-level player can turn out to be a good teacher who inspires his students. I suppose, at the end of the day, the only measure of a coach in Malaysia is his track record, that is, how successful his students are when they play competitively.

From my point of view, it looks unlikely that anyone will be bringing in more foreign chess coaches anytime soon. Malaysia is spread too wide as a country, compared to a compact place like Singapore, and there is not enough spending power to support the presence of foreign coaches. It’s the vicious law of supply and demand.

To my mind, Ziaur Rahman was under-utilised during his short stay here. But for better coordination with all the state chess associations, more could have been achieved with him. But then also, chess exists in this country as a result of parents and volunteers pitching in their time and money for the game. The state chess associations are not exactly rich, so that leaves the parents to fork out the dough.

When I was in Singapore a fortnight ago, I noticed that there are quite a number of foreign trainers – players with acceptable credentials – around to provide chess tuition to the children there. Fees are not cheap, but the parents are prepared to pay good money to make their children play better than the next kid.

One parent there claimed to have spent S$20,000 over the years on foreign chess trainers for her children. Are our parents here capable of spending RM20,000 on their children’s chess and, if so, how many such parents are there?

(Unfortunately, spending so much also puts the children under immense parental pressure to perform well in competitions; not all children can deal with it. However, this is not a topic I want to raise here.)

Nevertheless, to answer my own question, I doubt there are many parents in Malaysia who are able to spend that amount of money on foreign chess tutors. And without these parents spending on foreign coaches, all we have left are the local ones. How far they can bring their students forward will depend on their local expertise. No more and no less.

At the end of the day, some will say that we get what we pay for. We reap what we sow. I suppose it’s true, after all.

source: The star Online

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