Where we stand and how other Asian players fare in the international arena

NOVEMBER 12 — The World Youth Chess Championships in Greece ended last week and by now, most of the 12 Malaysians who took part are already back in school.

Since they all paid their own way and had zero support from the Malaysian Chess Federation, it seems hardly fair to comment on their performances. Yet, they played under the Malaysian flag and so represented the country.

This says it all. We all know that, generally speaking, our young players are at their most competitive at the early age groups in such tournaments when both systematic training and exposure are not yet a factor.

While some will draw consolation from so-so performances with a gain of rating points thanks to the new rating K-factor, it was really an absolute disaster for others who expected more.

Ng Jen Sheng was objectively the single Malaysian success as he performed well above his ranking and I am very happy to congratulate a young player who absolutely loves chess and works extremely hard at it.

I have in an earlier column stated where our best young players actually stand in chess and what is needed for them to progress.  

While work reasons prevented me from making the trip to Greece, I was able to attend all the other major youth events—the Asian Youth Chess Championships in South Korea, the World Schools Chess Championships in Thailand, the Asian Schools Chess Championships and ASEAN+ Age-Group Chess Championships in Singapore—and see first-hand the young talent from all over the world. 

Three things stood out for me: the first was that the Indians are always challenging for the medals; secondly, one cannot help but notice that large numbers of very young and well-trained players were participating from Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Uzbekistan and finally, Iran has some very good players.

What most of my friends in the region might not like me saying is that ASEAN chess players are falling behind and while very young talents are still popping up in places like Vietnam, across all the other countries top players are either ageing rapidly or have failed to take a step up and their replacements seem unable to even challenge the status quo.

It is clear that the countries starting to do well in Asia are benefitting from systematic training either by former top players turned coaches or by bringing in serious trainers from other countries.

Even locally, as limited as our local coaches are, the best young players benefit from their help. Some even have trainers from overseas who actually know what they are doing!

Let me end by returning to India’s huge success in the World Youth Championships where they won a total of 11 medals, of which five were gold! Or should I call it the sum of the great work by GM Ramesh RB and his Chess Gurukul School?

Girls U18:

1.            WFM Mahalakshmi M

Girls U14:

1.            WFM Vaishali R

Open U10:

1.            FM Praggnanandhaa R

Girls U10:

1.            Rakshitta Ravi IND

Open U8:

1.            Bharath Subramaniyam H

Ramesh has long been India’s top trainer and his team, which includes wife WGM Aarthie Ramaswamy, goes beyond the norm in developing the young talents that seek them out.

Even in India, chess is not cheap and a few months ago Ramesh put out an appeal for financial assistance so one of his big talents could continue playing the events she needed to continue her progress.

I offered to help and eventually the Kasparov Chess Foundation Asia-Pacific was more than happy to provide the amount requested.

What shocked us was how small the amount was and how Ramesh was not only going to stretch it but he was personally making big contributions—both in kind and financially—as well. 

At the World Youth Chess Championship, Mahalakshmi M had her biggest success to date by winning the blue ribbon U-18 category event with one round to go!

Mahalakshmi M started playing chess at five and in 2012 won in the World Youth Chess Championships U-14 category.
Mahalakshmi M started playing chess at five and in 2012 won in the World Youth Chess Championships U-14 category.

I hope with the success of Mahalakshmi M and the four other equally talented World Champions from Chess Gurukul, many others including the All Indian Chess Federation will now come forward and smoothen their paths to the grandmaster title and beyond. 

They have earned the right to be supported!  

* This is the personal view of the columnist.

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