Learning from the success of chess in Taiwan

JULY 16 ― It has been a good five years since I last served as Chief Arbiter at the Asian Dragons Invitational in Taipei, the region's most important chess event.

Nothing much has changed essentially and that is a good thing but the impact has been clearly enormous and for both these reasons I have to congratulate the organisers and especially the Chinese Taipei Chess Association General Secretary Professor Liu Ko-Fei and Dina Chen who also serves at their World Chess Federation (FIDE) Delegate. 

There are some chess competitions where there is an especially loyal international following year in and year out and the Asian Dragons Invitational has become one of them.

Usually such events need to be much bigger and much better known like the one held in Gibraltar or the Bangkok Open and have to either offer an excellent prize fund or a great local experience.

The Asian Dragons, which started in 2007 in Kaohsiung, is however none of these and is by any standard actually also a very small event with basic conditions and no prize money. In fact, until two years ago, it was actually limited to two players each from similar-sized national chess federations in the region – Macau, Hong Kong, South Korea and of course the hosts.

Initially Singapore ― through ASEAN Chess Confederation President Ignatius Leong supporting an expanded ASEAN+ ― provided the bulk of rated players.

For the organisers, however, it has always been about friendship so for the last few years Japan has had a representative. I even managed to get Malaysians in, and this year Thailand is a new and very welcome addition!

Looking back it is hard to imagine that after holding the technical meeting, I had to email urgently the developer of the Swiss Manager pairings programme to ask for the Chinese Taipei federation to be included in the list of countries! But luckily we had typical Swiss efficiency on the job and so overnight the programme was upgraded!

For sure the Asian Dragons has been a very important tournament for the region as it has helped so many players get critical and much needed exposure but perhaps the bigger impact is these countries now can host major international events such as last year’s ASEAN+ Age Groups in Macau, the Hong Kong International Open, Asian Schools Championships in Chinese Taipei and the coming Asian Youth Championships in South Korea.

Now I can see that even the traditional Singapore participation has hardly been missed with many strong players from these countries and both old and new friends coming to help provide healthy competition.

So what makes the Asian Dragons so special?

Well, I think it is a combination of things that begins with the warm hospitality shown to the participants who are made to feel not only like honoured guests but very old friends.

It helps that Taiwan has a lot to offer but in the end all are here to play chess first and foremost. The kindness of the Taiwanese people greatly contributes to the atmosphere and the organisers, while retaining two sections (Open and U-16), have maintained rating ceilings (even if actually quite flexible) so it remains an event for amateurs (for fun!).

They have just as importantly kept it as an invitational event so as to be able to preserve a balanced mix of representatives from each country.

What then might be the lessons for us?

To start with perhaps, Chinese Taipei has found the way which is right for chess in their society and stage of economic development.

In doing so it has also contributed significantly to the development of chess in the region and this fulfils their desire for friendship.

I see some other neighbouring countries struggling with less success balancing what they think they want with the realities of the position of chess seen as a sport and game both globally and locally.

In Malaysia this is not only true but in our struggle for identity and desire for relevance, we remain clueless other than to express the obvious through the shouting of slogans.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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