High (Malaysian) drama in regional chess championships

AUGUST 18 ― The last two weeks have been busy ones for our young Malaysian players... well, at least for those who represented the country in international competition.

As has long been the case, selection was shrouded in secrecy with most of the players individually contacted unless it was seen fit to let one of the Malaysian Chess Federation (MCF) Council members advise his state association.

I am not saying that those who went did not qualify but too many clearly benefited from the back door approach.

First up was the Commonwealth Chess Championship in Sri Lanka where 10 young Malaysians participated. Nithyakshami Sivanesan by virtue of being the third best ranked woman player when finishing in 42nd position with 5.5 points from 9 games in the Open was awarded the Bronze medal in the Women's Championship.

Confused?

Well, the rest of the standings are 19th Ng Jen Shen on 6 points as was 24th placed Wong Yin Long, 33rd placed Looi Xin Hao and 35th placed Dawson Tan. Then after Nithyakshami was 63rd placed Lee Xhi Wei, 96th placed Rosamund Ko, 97th placed Wong Yi Chee on 4.5 points, 106th placed Vivian Ng and brother Samuel Ngieng on 4 points.

Yes, everyone played in one tournament together ― the men and the women and the age-group participants ― but they were given prizes as if they placed in separate tournaments. 

For all too long now the Commonwealth Chess Championship has been nothing more than an event alternated yearly between India and Sri Lanka with very token participation from other eligible countries. Particularly glaring is the fact that it is completely ignored by even the less illustrious players from the likes of England, Scotland, Wales, and even Australia.

Was this a joke? Perhaps? But the rush to organise the inaugural East Asian Youth Chess Championship in Seoul from August 5-10 went beyond stupidity.

To start with, the Asian Chess Federation gave just two or three months' notice for the event and even then it was only possible when the South Korea hosts rode on the budget of their existing World Mind Sports Fair games held annually as a Mind Sports promotion together with the likes of Baduk (Go) and Chinese chess.

It was the same thing they did last year when they organised the bigger and more prestigious Asian Youth Chess Championships.

The countries eligible to participate also changed along the way and despite pulling out all political stops, less than 120 players showed up.

With 14 age-group categories (7 each for Open and girls) ranging from 8 to 20, the rules were broken with events being merged and yet titles were still awarded against both the rules and conventions.

Previously when the equivalent in the Oceania Youth Championships failed to attract sufficient numbers, the award of direct titles was taken away and the event soon collapsed.

It was hilarious that the inexperienced Chief Arbiter, a Malaysian who is the FIDE delegate for Hong Kong and so fast tracked to his ranking for his vote, had no clue how to design the event but then again he is well known for beginner mistakes and does not even know the rules of the game ― the Laws of Chess ― on top of numerous cases of misinterpretation!

We had under-18 and under-20 players playing together, and both boys and girls! But in this mixed event, besides the four different championships being awarded, the direct titles of International Master and International Women Master were also given to the winners of the two higher under-20 age group events.

Just three girls in an age-group category could end up playing a mix of boys and girls in a lower age group and not each other but have one of them be the winner!

Now we come to the shaming of Malaysia. During the Commonwealth Chess Championship, news came out that the Malaysians were not allowed to leave for home since the entry and participation fees and even the hotel payments had not been received as promised. So they had to pay again, but this time directly to the organisers.

On their return, however, no police report was made. Apparently not one single formal letter of complaint was written and the state associations ― with one sole exception ― did not feel the matter was worth raising.

For years now, parents have been charged administrative and other “handling” charges on top of being billed the competition entry fees and all other expenses.

But often the account given for these payments is that of an individual instead of the MCF account. This had become common practice and tolerated by, if not in fact endorsed by, MCF as many have claimed!

And there have been numerous instances of players finding that they were charged for rooms given free by organisers to official representatives.

For those who still do not understand how it works, organisers for official international championships are obligated to provide a place for one player per country in each category so those qualified players are the official country representatives and all those others making up the delegation and who are paying their own hotel expenses while often being levied higher entry fees have simply bought their national representation and they know it!

Somehow the Sri Lanka incident was raised at a meeting of the MCF Council though it may not have been an official meeting since there is never any proper documentation.

There was a demand for the suspension of the Secretary Gregory Lau and it emerged too that it was not just the Commonwealth Chess Championship but the East Asian Youth Chess Championship where the fees were not remitted.

Apparently MCF President Tan Sri Ramli Ngah Talib quickly jumped in with a veto.

Given the nature of MCF, it is no surprise that they did not quit en mass and immediately force an election of a body now largely filled with appointees. Then there are the accounts which for years have not been able to stand up to any scrutiny on top of an election now three years overdue.

And what veto right does Ramli have? He should have been called out and asked to resign but instead he is allowed to remain.

One big problem is that MCF deals with individuals in a rent seeking model developed by Lau and so the state affiliates with the right to vote are largely weak or compromised so individuals can go to MCF directly for participation in national and international events and organisers can get licenses to run events.

Does anyone believe that there will indeed be a promised MCF election in October? The rot starts at the top and Ramli needs to immediately step down.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.