The serious pursuit of excellence

NOVEMBER 26 — “It’s about playing and analysing.”

In sports, in discussions with its link to business and even more so with regards to coaching, terms such as performance excellence, high level skill, expert performance and high performance are often interchangeably used.

Because chess aspires (or pretends) to be a sport, it is necessary for the game to also participate in this discussion and commonly we call it HPE or High Performance Excellence.

What exactly is this HPE? How does it work and what is it supposed to do?

In short, it is the seeking of sporting excellence through the acquisition of expert performance and where the role of deliberate practice is central in the process.

Still unclear?

Let me share the definition of “deliberate practice” on the websites of both the Asean Chess Academy ( and the KL Chess Academy (, the first two High Performance Excellence chess academies in a regional network being set up in 2016.

Deliberate practice:

1.            Play a lot, with the right level, mix and intensity.

2.            Understand what you don’t know and what you can’t do.

3.            Learn by practising how to do it!

In the past year, as part of my responsibilities with the Kasparov Chess Foundation, I have travelled extensively throughout the region in an effort to engage with National Chess Federations, top coaches and their chess schools, programmes and talent. The idea is to understand their particular challenges.

The outcome is a proposal to set up a network of HPE chess training centres; each centre will have a local focus but would share expert resources which leverage off each other’s strengths.

To kick this off, I have agreed to be Technical Director of the Asean Chess Academy in Singapore and am setting up the KL Chess Academy. Both these places will start operations mid-December. 

Surprisingly, not only did the amateur chess playing countries get all excited when we developed the HPE programme framework and its mix and match menu, but even countries with more serious chess traditions and professional chess players asked for the same!

While in countries like Malaysia, young players are happy to play and play and hardly do any analysis and reviews, it is the the other side of the coin in say a country like the Philippines.

Playing and then enthusiastically analysing after the game is not a problem but structure is missing when doing this critically important work and the same haphazard approach to study merely ensures that in the end, they only have stronger practical players and nothing excellent.

The consequences are clear and it is a universally acknowledged fact that all our young talents are simply not developing fast enough to become or remain competitive when they enter their teens, let alone be in a position to give sporting success a serious go when they come of age.

I believe this regional HPE chess training initiative will be able to address the training and development needs of young talents in the game and can play a major role in facilitating the dreams of local National Chess Federations that are simply unable to do it alone.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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