From Yangon to Johor: A look at running chess competitions

DECEMBER 11 — In last week's report on the Myanmar Open, it was noted that the organiser had very clear objectives (big names, robust international participation, opportunities for top local players, and exposure of young players) and when I agreed to help with the event, we were all very clear and focused about what we wanted to achieve.

While some were unhappy with the large number of unrated local players, there was no compromise needed as half the participants were rated and there were also an astonishing 10 grandmasters which ensured that not only rating points and all possible title norms were up for grabs but that it would be very competitive (and it certainly was).

Unfortunately — even if some came close — title norms did not result. Nevertheless the organisers listened carefully to what the players were saying and there will be improvements to next year's event in terms of fine tuning the mix with prequalifying events, a less demanding schedule (perhaps even more rounds) and encouraging the participation of more International Masters and women players.

One of the big reasons why the Myanmar Open is going to be repeated (the legendary Indonesian Grandmaster Utut Adianto explained once that while it was not easy to start an event it was always much more difficult to have a second the following year!) is the huge payback from the massive efforts made to generate media attention both locally and internationally.

Chief Organiser Maung Maung Lwin ensured the government at minister level was supportive and got daily TV and newspaper coverage, while I was able to work on the international side thanks to a great team of local arbiters doing the heavy lifting.

My good friends at Chessdom which has a two million monthly readership (thanks, Goran Urosevic!) did a preview of the event, covered the opening ceremony, the period before the final rounds and of course published a final report while we (a team including our well-known and connected VIP guests from amongst the players) helped bombard Facebook with posts on the many wonders of Myanmar together with snapshots of the event daily.

Nigel Short (left) and Sergei Tiviakov trying Mandalay bugs while in Yangon. — Picture courtesy of Peter Long
Nigel Short (left) and Sergei Tiviakov trying Mandalay bugs while in Yangon. — Picture courtesy of Peter Long

At the same time, we were establishing a record of sorts with Chessbase having five articles on the Myanmar Open in all its three languages; Spanish, English and German.

This ensured a reach of about 120,000 hard core chess enthusiasts, with top seeded Sergei Tiviakov and I working hard to get the pictures to show what a great event it was. This also helped shine a spotlight on the country and the many things it had to offer (for details, see my summary post on my blog)

Such international coverage continues as winner Nigel Short will be writing about Maung and the Myanmar Open in New in Chess magazine and I am not only under pressure to get the games of the event to The Week in Chess but to also make a series of teaching articles based on the games played by local players for the soon-to-be launched Chess Asia magazine by Maung!

Johor

Locally, the inaugural Johor International Open Championship has just ended and they have to thank their long-time president and generous sponsor Frank Goon for agreeing it was time that they had their own flagship international event. 

India's Nitin S. won the inaugural Johor International Open Championship. — Picture courtesy of Peter Long
India's Nitin S. won the inaugural Johor International Open Championship. — Picture courtesy of Peter Long

Chess people in Malaysia are all self-proclaimed experts and so of course always know best. The new organisers in Johor were unfortunately no different despite recognising their limitations;  only two grandmasters played in the Johor International Open Championship when three would have ensured a title norm was possible and upgraded their event to grandmaster title and this and some other glaring omissions showed their great inexperience.

For example coverage was also limited to a single local blog managed by a techie running one "live" game after several days of trial and error so it was fortunate that Hamid Majid, our most experienced arbiter who is also organiser of the Malaysian Chess Festival, was able to go there and help ensure the main things worked.

It was nonetheless good for Malaysian chess to have this event, held sensibly during the school holidays and back to back with the Penang Open, as it gave quite a few local chess players a chance to play in an international rated and titled event and in time I expect the Johor Chess Association people will get better. 

While there were no national senior players playing (our best was seeded 31 from 71), we had quite a few of the young players who are expected in the next few years to dominate the local scene and several did commendably.

The question I always struggle with, even for years when doing the KL Open, is why organise big events when at the end of the day it is the foreign players who more happily embrace the opportunity? 

Besides the usual Filipino woodpushers, now it also seems that even second- and third-tier Indian professionals have recognised the chance to win prizes they have no chance of getting in their own fiercely competitive events.

Still, congratulations are in order to the winners, especially the champion IM Nitin S. from India with 8/9 which put him a full point ahead of second and third place finishers IM Anurag Mhamal and IM Swapnil S. Dhopade, both also from India and with 7/9. The best Malaysian was ASEAN Age Groups U-12 Gold medalist Wong Wong Yinn Long from Penang who finished a very credible 15th (tied 13th-20th) on 5.5/9.   

Tagaytay & Colombo

One of big the jokes about the Asian Chess Federation (ACF) is how their events duplicating their "World" counterparts are awarded, organised and supported. Currently we have two cases in point (I don't want to belittle the poor participation at the admittedly second-tier Asian Schools in Taiwan a few months back where some sections were merged, titles awards were inflated by FIDE (World Chess Federation) during the event to be given away, and which really struggled to find players beyond the neighbouring countries), the recently concluded Asian Junior Championship in Tagaytay and the just started Asian Amateur and Asian Seniors Championships in Colombo. 

Shockingly the Asian Junior Championship which was once a major event offering the International Master title outright to the winner as well as the prestige of being the best U-20 player in Asia was announced just some two weeks before it was due to take place and while a few strong players in other countries found a way to get there, the field was certainly far from representative and naturally dominated by local Filipino players. Unsurprisingly Malaysia was not represented, but maybe not because of the short notice.

Now as I write this I am looking at the start lists for the Asian Amateur and I see 52 players from seven countries of which 40 are from Sri Lanka and four from Maldives, and for the Asian Seniors there are 13 players from seven countries (again) with three from Sri Lanka and five from Maldives. This time we have a Malaysian playing in each section, the seemly omnipresent Ismail Ahmad in the Amateur and Muhd Nuriman Yahaya in the Seniors.

It is really hard to understand why this event is held, certainly it is not promoted, but Sri Lanka needs to get something every year and I remember now ACF Executive Director Castro "Toti" Abundo Jr who does chess purely on the basis of politics, offered the Asian Amateurs and Seniors to Malaysia when I was in MCF in return for our vote, something that was laughable because it was not only a guaranteed financial and media disaster but also because MCF's vote, at least when I was there, did not belong to an individual and so was not mine to give but he could not understand that.         

Penang

Which takes us to the Penang Open, now in its sixth edition since being revived. The organisers — Penang Chess Association — have carefully grown this event over the years, and in doing so helped greatly popularise the game in the state.  

It always begins with a fun and exciting weekend before with the Penang League, really a rapid chess team competition, and this year they have an incredible 68 teams participating (with five to a team, four players and an alternate, that means a total of some 340 participants)!

Next week I will provide a full report of an event that has done very well in previous editions with most hiccups now a thing of the past.  

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.