So, what is chess talent?

OCT 23 — In Malaysia, like in most (if not all) countries where chess is not a traditional game, the game survives because of its enthusiasts. But in Malaysia, there is a big difference because unlike most other "amateur" chess nations, we also have chess being played in schools thanks to the MSSM (National Schools Sports Council) recognising it as one of its competitions.

Malaysia has enjoyed this advantage since the 70s with thousands of kids introduced to chess every year by schools seeking to participate (and be represented) in competitions from district to zone to state and then national levels.

But sadly the MSSM chess competition has year by year shrunk bit by bit and in doing so largely moved away from international standards, again something that can be attributed to a weak and ineffective Malaysian Chess Federation (MCF) having very limited technical expertise together with zero development programmes.

Yet MSSM ensures we have an influx of new players yearly; some will also play in local events and thanks to the many international youth events where national representation is possible, they will also compete amongst themselves and participate in the ASEAN+ Age Groups, the World Youth Championships and Asian Schools, to name but just a few.

But what does all this mean?

To start with, Malaysia is no better off than many of our neighbours because this base of players is not being tapped into and nurtured and secondly, the whole question of national representation has become very much about their parents' ability to fund their trips rather than ability and talent.

On the one hand we have bright kids and indulgent parents (who isn't one nowadays?) and on the other hand an explosion of international youth events (it is 11 the last time I counted) so participation and becoming a "national player" is largely just about being part of the scene and  having the means to participate.

We have as a consequence a home-grown chess coach industry, often mediocre players who can clearly do the job when starting kids off young enough, but who without having real ability, yet needing to have some credentials for marketing and prestige, hang on to their young talents way beyond their ability to continue to help nurture and develop them.

Sadly parents too are part of the problem; very often with limited or even no technical knowledge of the game, they make decisions based on their awareness of their children's attributes and over time even look to make excuses for their little one's lack of progress.

I think for all to do better it is important to understand what is talent as that misunderstanding is the basis of what drives parents and ultimately Malaysian chess today!   

Perhaps what is said by "Honoured Trainer of the Ukraine Alexander Vaisman" in his contribution to the excellent and groundbreaking book The Chess Instructor 2009 published by New In Chess would be of use:

"First and foremost, you need a present from God — specific chess talent. This talent can be greater or lesser, but if entirely lacking, then it is impossible to scale the chess Olympus. Not even the most fanatical devotion to chess study, nor participation in numerous tournaments will help. Talent can only be developed. Not even the most gifted trainer can confer talent on a pupil who lacks it.

"But chess is a deep and rewarding game. Those who study it seriously, even if only for a short time, before giving it up, develop skills that are extremely useful in life... learn to think, to foresee and work out what what his opponent is up to, and to take independent decisions in practice — chess is a model of life!

What is talent? It is this: It exists when it exists, and when it doesn't exist, it doesn't exist!

Although it is impossible to say what exactly chess talent consists of, an experienced chess trainer can detect it almost immediately. A talented youngster absorbs chess knowledge more quickly, and uses it more effectively.

He quickly identifies the main points in what his trainer tells him, or in what he reads in books, correctly identifies the moments when it is right to follow this or that chess principle, or to use a certain technical device.

There is a good rule of thumb for trainers — "blitz reveals talent." I mean specifically talent, not strength — for the latter, talent is necessary, but not sufficient.

Once should draw a distinction between chess talent and ordinary memory. Many children can easily and quickly remember a large number of chess variations, especially things that they like, but this does not necessarily mean that can use this knowledge effectively.

For the latter, chess talent is also needed. Any form of memory, including one’s chess memory, can be developed and improved with the help of special exercises. The main things needed are desire, patience and time.

Talent comes from God, but the role of parents is no less important in the development of a young player."

Let us now look at a famous game from a player whose talent — in fact, genius — is not in doubt; the great Paul Morphy who is universally recognised to be the first, if unofficial according to FIDE (World Chess Federation), world chess champion.

A game wonderfully illustrating the opening principles of development and time with the use of basic tactics like pin and double attack.

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