A country (federation) with no chessplayers?

SEPTEMBER 25 — The Malaysian Open is the premier event of the just-concluded Malaysian Chess Festival and has always been looked upon by the local chess community as the benchmark of where Malaysia stands in the region.

At the same time, for quite a few years years now, it has been an open question if indeed it would be held again and last year represented a milestone of sorts with its 10th edition. This year, 2014, it has now reached its 11th birthday but the question remains if it will go on beyond Datuk Tan Chin Nam.

It was heartening to those at the Malaysian Open that he was—even in his advanced years—in regular attendance throughout.

 Once again the event was excellently run by Hamid Majid and while a weaker than usual edition, it was clear that it remained a highlight of the year also for chessplayers from Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam.

Malaysian had its usual representation, a mix of a few top players, the regulars and juniors, but perhaps surprising for some, it was Indonesia which had the larger participation, 36 players to our 28, with the Philippines not far behind with 22 and Vietnam having 15, out of a total of 130.

The final standings saw the top seed Zhang Zhong from Singapore (and China) a clear winner with 7.5 points from a possible 9 with Vietnam’s Le Tuan Minh surprising everyone by taking second place with 7/9.

In third to seventh places, all on 6.5/9, were two Indians, one Vietnamese Olympian, a tough as nails Filipino veteran and a young Indonesian who has been having some excellent results lately, and on 6/9 were 19 others including two girls—Gong Qinayun from Singapore (and also originally from China) and another young Indonesian Medina Warda Aulia.

Malaysia this time had its top rated player Nicholas Chan playing as well as current national champion Fong Yit San. 

Nicholas started ranked 25th and finished 33rd in the group of 5.5 (50 per cent) but the best local finisher was Sumant Subramaniam ranked 83rd but managing 30th place. Of the other Malaysians worth a mention, the older Chan brother, Marcus, played to his rating and ranking as did Lim Zhouren, both having 5/9.

With such a popular event, one might think well of Malaysian chess but the reality is that we are, in the eyes of the world, actually what a top 5 player in the world once said to me: “A country with no chessplayers.”

Singapore's Zhang Zhong (right) was the clear winner with 7.5 points from a possible 9.
Singapore's Zhang Zhong (right) was the clear winner with 7.5 points from a possible 9.

It is clear that the success of the Malaysian Open (together with many individual efforts of the chess community in ensuring there are always local events to play in every weekend) has long papered over the many challenges facing Malaysian chess, ironically and emphatically coinciding largely with the now coming to nine years reign of the duo of Tan Sri Ramli Ngah Talib and his long time Secretary Gregory Lau at the helm of the Malaysian Chess Federation (MCF).

The fact is that since MCF came into being in the 70s, Malaysia has organised more international events than the rest of the region put together and yet we do not have a single Grandmaster.

Today MCF has no sponsors, no staff and an empty cubicle at the OCM for an address, a website that has never been updated, no development programmes yet a national team, and of course a committee that almost without exception (some of course make money from providing “services” to players) is happy to just hold positions and enjoy the paid trips from time to time shared amongst themselves as team managers or captains.

How does this MCF operate? Well a case in point was when at MCF’s request the legendary 13th World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov was convinced to visit after being assured that he had the support of Malaysian chess and Kasparov spent three days helping to raise money while personally agreeing to give a minimum of US$30,000 RM96,944) a year for development programmes for four years.

But in the end Tan Sri Ramli Ngah and Gregory Lau went to Tromso to vote for the incumbent, a decision which showed everyone that MCF does not honour agreements and promises, a fact that seems to be of no concern to the rest of the MCF committee who were all so enthusiastically and openly shouting their support for Kasparov during his visit. 

It is now well known that FIDE (World Chess Federation) in Tromso offered Tan Sri Ramli Ngah the presidency of the ASEAN Chess Confederation with Gregory Lau as his executive director, never mind that it is an elected position due only in June/July 2015.

Malaysia's Sumant Subramaniam (left) was the best local finisher.
Malaysia's Sumant Subramaniam (left) was the best local finisher.

Why not? Malaysia can then be the permanent venue for the ASEAN+ Age Group Championships once the Malaysian Chess Festival comes to an end and MCF will be able to make plenty of money from parents by charging high entry fees while inflating the prices of mandatory official hotels. 

Many have long alleged that MCF is already doing this kind of business by charging locals various administrative fees and allowing the selling of participation and official places for international youth events. 

Yes, Malaysia is ranked 85th in the world (and has been thereabouts for a very long time now) and yet we get excited when our team finishes 72nd as in Tromso 2014 or even 64th as in Istanbul in 2012 and despondent when we are only 92nd in Khanty-Mansiysk 2010 even if better than 96th in Dresden 2008!

Does 60th, 80th or 100th matter? Beyond the region (and this is largely thanks to the Malaysian Open and seven years of KL Opens), does anyone that matters, know and care? Because internationally, there is not a single Malaysian chessplayer!

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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