Taking schools chess championships seriously

MAY 28 ― For young chess players in the region, some of whom participated in the recently-concluded World Schools Chess Championships held from May 6-15 in Pattaya, Thailand, it is now on to Singapore for the back-to-back Asian Schools Chess Championships and the Asean+ Age Group Chess Championships!

The Asian Schools Chess Championships first took place in Singapore in 2005 and so is returning after 10 years (although it was also held in Singapore in 2006).

Immediately after is arguably the region's biggest and most eagerly awaited event ― the Asean+ Age Group Chess Championships ― which is now in its 15th year and has both set the standard and is the catalyst for the development of chess in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, Philippines, Vietnam, Myanmar and Thailand.

While the Asian Schools Chess Championships will take place from May 30 to June 8, 2015 and the ASEAN+ Age Group Chess Championships from June 8 to 17, 2015  ― a total of 18 games to be played over 19 days at Nanyang Technology University (NTU) Sports & Recreation Centre in Singapore ― there is a major clash with Malaysia which is holding its National Schools Chess Championships (MSSM) in Penang from June 8-12, 2015.

Theoretically that means some Malaysians qualifying for both could opt to play the Asian Schools and then fly up to Penang for the MSSM, but in practical terms it actually means that many will have to choose between one or the other. I think is is very difficult for a school-going child to opt out of the MSSM which is organised by the Ministry of Education.

Sadly, the MSSM clashes directly with the Asean+ Age Group Chess Championships and for that one would question why the Malaysian Chess Federation (MCF) is so disengaged or indifferent.

I have been invited to manage media at both these events and my research shows that for many years, the Asian Schools Chess Championships is seen as a less serious event and has been accordingly under-promoted. This means it is too often held in countries like Sri Lanka where few other countries other than their immediate neighbours opt to take part and so a large majority of participants are from the host country.

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But since it was awarded to Taiwan last year with a further “upgrade” to Singapore this year, there has been a huge leap in participating countries from 14 to 20 and equally important, the percentage of local players has dropped to about just 20 per cent of the total.

I will talk about the Asean+ Age Group Chess Championships in greater detail next week; there is so much to say about an event that has brought together and made Asean chess, introduced the multiple formats of standard, rapid and blitz chess into official competition, and expanded to welcome, first the less established chess-playing countries in North-east Asia before finally opening up to the rest of the world.

However, I would like to close this week's column by mentioning two other important youth international events that are being held in our part of the world this year.

The first and a now permanent fixture is the Asian Dragons Invitational in Taipei from July 11-18, 2015. It is one I have very good memories of having served twice as Chief Arbiter in its early days, and the second is the Asian Youth Chess Championships which will be held in Seoul, South Korea from August 3-11, 2015.

One is open with conditions for Malaysians and the other is an official FIDE (World Chess Federation) event that needs to go through MCF.

So kids, whether you are going to Singapore or not this weekend or the week after, the pleasant choice of Taipei or Seoul is still yours if you can get your parents to agree!

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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