The good, the bad and the ugly at the JAPFA Asean Championships 2015

JANUARY 7 — Over the Christmas holidays, I was invited to help with media at the JAPFA 3rd Asean Chess Championships 2015. 

This was the second time I would be attending a competition held at the Sekolah Catur Utut Adianto (Ututu Adianto Chess School) in Bekasi, Jakarta and was curious to return to the place that hosted the MAKITA Indonesia-France Women's Match in 2012 where I was the Chief Arbiter.

It turned out to be a totally different experience:

1. Regulations

1.1. The Asean Championships are not held regularly and that might explain why some of its regulations do not quite gel with the realities of chess in the region. 

For the winners, the direct IM (International Master) and WIM (Women International Master) titles were to be awarded together with a 9 game Grandmaster title norm. 

No doubt the competition was originally designed to help players make titles but nowadays there are numerous opportunities for the best young talents and so almost all the players taking part had at least the IM or WIM title. 

1.2. Each of the 10-member Asean countries had the right to send two players provided they had ratings of 2300+ in the Open (men) Championship and 2100+ in the Women Championship. 

This was a problem to start with; if all the places had been taken up by all the countries, then it would have been 20 players and this would have to be a 19-round tournament and quite impossible to schedule! We also have a situation now in Asean where some countries have too many above 2300 and some simply do not. Then there was the problem of some countries sending more than their allocated numbers.

I would recommend that in future, just one player per country and forget the 2300+ and 2100+ requirement. To be really representative of Asean, it is better to have even one more country participating than the five that took part.

2. Organisation

2.1. Indonesia has always pulled out all the stops for their events and once you understand (and appreciate) the peculiar cultural differences, then there is very little to complain about. From my (and the many I spoke to) perspective, the people from the Sekolah Catur Utut Adianto did very well indeed.

2.2. As always, they had great coverage in all the major newspapers and I think I did my part too on FaceBook and with the international chess media.

3. Participants

3.1. With the exception of host Indonesia in the Open (men) Championship, clearly being Asean champion was not very important for the countries that took part. 

Only the two lowest rated players, Yeoh Li Tian and Yoseph Theofilus Tahir, gave it all in very game. The eventual winner was the fourth lowest rated who was nursed through by his two fellow countrymen, one of whom was his coach. And all three non IMs got IM title norms!  

3.2. In the Women Championship, a WGM was the easy and runaway winner without really doing very much. 

This was a very strange tournament for the three Filipinas playing as all were gunning for ether the WGM norm or the WIM title but in a way because they drew each other (as did the two men IMs in the Open), their competitiveness might have been diminished rather than enhanced!

3.3. Sadly the norm today is for players from countries to collude to fix a winner from among them but here to their credit, the young Filipinos and Filipinas behaved perfectly as did the numerous players from hosts Indonesia who could easily have worked together to achieve this type of result. There is still hope!

3.4. But what was very disappointing was the attitude of too many participants content to make up the numbers while agreeing to draws as quickly as possible. It's a championship, duh! Something is very seriously wrong when you see some who already have enormous exposure and opportunity come without computers, do not prepare for their games and in too many cases have openings that look like they could have been played by beginners!

My question to their federations, which I also put to the Malaysian Chess Federation (MCF) Secretary Gregory Lau who was present as Head of Delegation, was why send players who take no pride in representing their countries? (But he had no answer as the malaise runs deep and I was not surprised to learn that our No. 1 woman player had declined and instead played in the Johor Open, and given what I saw in Jakarta, it's hard to be disappointed with her decision!)

For an event to be truly successful, everybody has to play their part and while the organisers did theirs brilliantly, too many players did not honour the game much less the countries they represented.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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