Chess in Malaysia: A headlong rush towards mediocrity

JUNE 25 ― In recent months I have been to no less that three international youth competitions in succession; the World Schools Championships in Pattaya, Thailand from May 6-15 and the back-to-back Asian Schools Championships and ASEAN+ Age Group Championships in Singapore from May 30-June 17.

We have so many making a living from coaching locally and as I said before, our trainers are ― with hardly any exceptions ― simply amateurs and that shows in the quality of both their work and students. At the end of the day, this probably would not be so bad if they worked only with beginners.

Also, the many illegal Filipino chess players taking advantage of the 30-day visa here are not the solutions as they are just stronger versions of locals who teach what they have done for themselves when playing. And when so many have hardly even won decent local events, it is hard to understand what is on offer.

With its FIDE Trainer Seminars, the World Chess Federation (FIDE) started off well ― initially focusing on getting a critical mass of trainers on board and so looking primarily to place trainers in one of five categories: Developmental Instructor, National Instructor, FIDE Instructor, FIDE Trainer and Senior FIDE Trainer.

The first category of trainer is meant to be someone who primarily is able to instill love of the game in a young child; the second category is someone who can deliver beginner's lessons in a school; the third to give lessons providing the basics, and the fourth is to make international champions and players of IM/WGM level.

But TRG, as the FIDE Trainers Commission is known, has not moved beyond that, and the courses are no longer attended by quality trainers, only those looking to collect titles and usually through inertia and relationships. This results in titles being awarded that bear no reality to real capability.

I was a member of TRG when it was first formed and I was an advocate of a seminar that both taught a trainer to teach better from beginner level as well as to evaluate and award titles based on that ability. And once a critical mass was established, I pushed for a course for trainers to be developed and taught.

Now the more discerning ones in the chess world know who are the better trainers and too often that is less about a TRG title and for most, the better bet it seems for their children would be the GM title even if that only guarantees his ability to analyse games.

The ASEAN+ Age Group Championships had no less that nine GMs present with various delegations and Malaysia was certainly not among them. IM Mas Hafizulhelmi was assisting just his student, so we had parents and an unelected Malaysian Chess Federation (MCF) official of 1600+ strength in the Malaysian delegation.

By contrast I thought it was very interesting that Vietnam ― the runaway overall champions ― who had some 140 players had few accompanying persons who were parents, but numerous coaches including four GMs and all their main officials there to support them both morally and financially.

Even small Singapore had a GM for its head coach who together with many very experienced IMs/WGMs form a cohesive multi level talent development structure. Even tiny Brunei which did not bother to come this time has for many years now a GM as its national coach   

Indonesia remains well ahead of us and the Philippines will always be a leading Asian chess nation but I see that our neighbours Thailand have for a year now a GM coaching its national team and with China migration even the likes of Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan are starting to have good young players.

The national team structure I developed for MCF in three tiers ― a senior national team squad is required to be trained and play year around with a back-up team of top under-23 young players with their own events and an even younger feeder group ― is now just a group of players pre-qualified for selection!

With such an MCF, senior players are held at ransom if they wish to represent the country but are also without obligation, but worst is there is no national team supremo given KPIs such as targets to achieve and responsibilities such as the organising of competitions and training. And we haven't even touched on funding.

Instead we seem to prefer to throw away our advantages as a nation in a collective rush to embrace a mediocrity that we like to call success.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.