SEPTEMBER 22 ― The Malaysian Chess Festival which ended on Sunday represents everything that is Malaysian chess: the good, the sad and the ugly!
Now in its 13th year, the number of events as well as local participants have increased (the good) and it remains popular with many from the neighbouring countries but the reality is that the flagship IGB Malaysian Open Championship has not been a leading regional event for quite a few years now (the sad).
And the ugly? I will get to that later!
Like all major local open championships we like to call international opens, the Malaysian Chess Festival is tied to the school holidays first and foremost as it is well understood that it is the participation of kids with the support of their parents which provide the numbers (and profits via entry fees).
The Penang Open and the newer Johor Open are also held during the school holidays in December and while not on the same scale as the Malaysian Chess Festival, are also supported by long-time chess patron Datuk Tan Chin Nam.
I was only able to catch the last day of the Malaysian Chess Festival and once again its organiser Hamid Majid has be congratulated as not many, perhaps no one else in Malaysia, is able to run this event given the myriad challenges together with the need to accommodate so many vested interests.
Let's go back to sad.
No Malaysian has come close to winning the IGB Malaysian Open and this time round, we had the usual challengers. Unsurprisingly it was International Master Lim Yee Weng who was the best of the locals in 20th place with 5.5 points from 9 games, the same score made by FIDE Master Nicholas Chan who was really the only other Malaysian able to take any fight to the foreigners but who finished lower in 28th place.
Our absolute best player Yeoh Li Tian who while still a junior has been undisputed No. 1 the last two years did not play due to the coming SPM examinations.
In fact, Yee Weng, Nicholas, Li Tian, International Mas Hafizulhelmi who pulled out of the Olympiad team for personal reasons, and Sumant Subramaniam, the winner of the Malaysian Masters and the single Malaysian success in Baku, should be the national team everyone would pick.
They would certainly be up fighting for more than 60th position rather than the 134th place disaster!
Lim Zhou Ren and Wong Yinn Long with 5 points did well as expected of players who are capable of being a part of the national team's future but quite a few others talked up by many as big talents were just not ready.
I am not sure if I can call this good, but Dilwen Ding, the surprising out-of-nowhere former Malaysian No. 1 (and now still Malaysian No. 2 at 2397 due to the vast accumulation of rating points gained from increasingly sensational performances during his yearly visits to Hungary), has improved as the nationally rated 1700+ player is no longer performing at that level but achieved a 2000+ performance rating and with his rating coefficient at 10 (it is normally 25 and set at the controversially high 40 for juniors who have yet to reach 2300), only losing 36.5 points.
All Malaysians are sure to wish him every success at the just started World Youth U-14, U-16 and U-18 Championships in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia where he is our sole representative.
What follows is not a criticism of the Malaysian Open or its organiser and is perhaps also an acceptance on my part that what I see as ugly might not even be even sad to others but can even be a celebration of what Malaysian chess is!
Cititel Mid Valley hotel's ballroom is long due for a refurbishment and for some time now too small for the Malaysian Chess Festival.
The fact that families are setting up camp in the foyer; bringing mats, cushions, and even blankets to lie on shows an over-familiarity which is both good and bad but I do find it horrendous that the arbiters are in the main still as bad, and that spectators are happily using their phones in the playing area which for some reason no one has a problem with.
My point is that all this is against the rules and regulations ― let's not forget barring of communications devices is the most basic of anti-cheating measures ― and certainly not allowed let alone tolerated in a FIDE internationally titled and rated event but then again, this is Malaysia and that was the Malaysian Chess Festival!
Arguably the organiser simply could not get the quality help he would have liked which would explain why in previous years the odd foreign arbiter was brought in.
But it is perhaps not the time to upset too many people with the Malaysian Chess Federation (MCF) election long promised in October now hoped for in November (although I believe it will not take place this year).
Datuk Tan's nephew, Daniel Yong Chen-I, is the new president of the Chess Association of Selangor and the chairman of the organising committee of the Malaysian Chess Festival and is expected to challenge incumbent Tan Sri Ramli Ngah Talib.
Yet, some of what is being tolerated is simply putting the event at risk and what can one make of the fact that photocopied chess books were still being sold in a space provided by the organiser and at no charge?
I understand the local chess coach responsible was warned not to sell illegal copies but nowadays so many in Malaysian chess do not seem to understand what is right and wrong anymore or maybe they believe they can do as they please because they are answerable to no one?
That reality was perhaps best seen when a group of parents congregated for a rather serious meeting on the sidelines of the Malaysian Chess Festival together with a least one senior MCF official present.
Yes, it was about the non-payment by the MCF Secretary of fees and hotel accommodation to the organisers of international events their children had participated in. The most interesting outcome perhaps was the revelation that there have been quite a number of such incidents that till then had not been disclosed.
However, as expected, some were not prepared in make a police report, and some even accepted that the money was lost.
Was I sympathetic? Yes, in that no one should be cheated like this. But then again too many of them had also enjoyed the privileges of international participation and almost no one was prepared to take a stand. Looks like they can afford it or the money wasn't too much to worry about!
It is clear to me that the issues in Malaysian chess are ultimately about accountability but it seems to me that we would rather forgive lies as it is apparently offensive to do so otherwise!
For months, we knew several men in the Malaysian team did not deserve their places but those left out as a result out did not complain, their state affiliates closed their eyes as did the officials in MCF, and instead we joined them in talking themselves up to a failure beyond comprehension.
Now we are being asked to buy their lie that their they sacrificed themselves instead to coach the girls to their success?
Not only did they let the team and country down with their shameful performance but now they are avoiding any responsibility while looking to grab the credit for the hard work the girls put in with their contrasting and really quite exceptional performance at the same Olympiad. Surely, this is not acceptable.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.