THE OVERALL OUTLOOK
Improvement needs to be holistic and it cannot stop at just the U12 or the Junior population only. Of course, it is also unrealistic to ensure that the entire population progresses hence, a more strategic way is to have a structured growth to ensure that we have a healthy chess population – not just for the sake of economic scale.
Reiterating the fact that Malaysia has the highest FIDE chess population in ASEAN (and 16th the world), we should reflect on the fact that in terms of strength, we are 9th in ASEAN with Laos as the only country behind us in 10th position. If we were to take the progression of our playing strength beyond our U20 population, we will realize that even Brunei can turn around its performance to beat us in the power game. Except for Singapore and Vietnam – the only two ASEAN countries with a reduced rating strength going into the Open category, they are still relatively better than Malaysia.
While Malaysia may boast of having (and will continue to have) the highest population boom within the ASEAN region and the World, we need to start looking at how to improve our power game. Malaysia needs to understand how countries like Indonesia, Philippines and Myanmar continue to improve at a much higher rate as their players progresses through the age groups. We are progressing as well but, at a lower trending hence the power gap between Malaysia and these countries continue to widen as the age group progresses. My opinion – is that we should focus more effort on improving our quality/power game and reduce the need to increase the quantity.
I sincerely believe that one of the more logical explanation on the increasing gap is the lack of support to provide the necessary training and development program as the players jump from one age group to the next. As most players rely on their own resources to make the progress and improvement, only a minority group – the affordable and dedicated few, that can climb the ladder ranking and continue to progress. And those who do not, continue to play without putting in much effort – merely passing time and happy to be a part of the community. But, even if a development or training program is put in place, would the majority sign up for it?
Perhaps the better way to curb the growth of FIDE registered population in order to promote a better development structure, is to reintroduce the local rating system. Therefore, players can gauge their strength before registering with FIDE instead of the current practice of allowing everyone and anyone jumping onto the rating bandwagon. In short, Malaysia should adopt a mechanism that controls whether a player should proceed to having a FIDE rating or otherwise. With the local rating abolished, signing up as a FIDE player seems to be the only way for those who are interested to play chess competitively without knowing if they are prepared for it or not.
And when many organizers do organize a FIDE rated event, most Malaysians if not all, are cautious of the many Indonesians and Filipinos (without FIDE rating) who participated, knowing that they have the potential to cruise and runaway with our prize money. So, why are they – even without rating, are a better lot than our locals?
My theory is simple – these players are prepared for it. They may have played in the local circuit and understand where they stand against the more established players. And with that, they also know where and when they can strike most effectively, and only then they will participate to play in FIDE events. And unfortunately, Malaysia is their preferred ground because based on the rating distribution, we do not have that much depth in our players line up and our prize fund are relatively handsome. Further, I find it strange that powerhouse chess nations like Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam (or even Myanmar) do not have huge FIDE population whereas they have been in the “chess map” even longer than us, and still able to maintain a relatively better strength
From my understanding – Philippines (not sure about Indonesia) have their own rating system, as such, if they can do well in their local circuits – against their own FIDE rated population, only then they know that the timing is right for them to explore their capability. For us Malaysians, many resorted to having FIDE rating because they have no choice as the local system no longer exist. For kids, there is a good chance that it’s the parents who are eager to get a FIDE rating for their children in order to help the child to gain valuable extracurricular points, or simply to boast of their child’s “achievement” against other parents. Whether the child performs or whether the child is really into chess or not, that may be secondary. For organizers, it is about survival hence, getting players to be FIDE registered – because it is a requirement, is something that they need to do in order to maximize the income for their event.
Proper governance and management are also key ingredients to manage our chess population and strength. When a player really shows an interest to pursue chess as a sport of choice, they should be allowed to play in FIDE rated event and in return, the chess body should provide them the necessary support to go further. But if a player is into it simply because they want to “try” or because they “have to”, then perhaps we should caution them and request them to participate in local events to prove their worth. Noted that the income derived from having players registering for FIDE ID will help the governing body to raise the necessary fund to conduct its activities and programs but, I am sure there are other ways and means to make money. After all, money earned via FIDE ID is only a “one time earning” when it should be more consistent, sustained and grow. Personally, I feel we should not sacrifice quality in order to make money hence, a better way need to be found in order to raise the necessary fund to provide the support structure to help improve the community. And on that thought, the local rating system can also do the job – of getting the income, albeit it may not be as handsome, but it should be able to grow in the longer run. As the saying goes, we can always find money – if there is a will, there will always be a way. Balancing everything is the best approach but, many of us are not jugglers and in the real world, money still makes the world goes around.
A healthy population growth is also needed but, if we were to become a chess nation, we need to have the proper program and activities to reach that goal. We are proud of having IM Yeoh Li Tian – our most promising player in the last 40 years, but I will be prouder if I can have 20 more players who are like Li Tian. Agreed – when Tian becomes a GM, chess will flourish but what is our plan to keep that fire alive? Our soon to be GM Tian will just be a lone hero trying to wrestle everyone else. Just like Avengers – having one Iron Man is not enough, we need Captain America, Hulk, Thor and the rest of the team. And you also need a Nick Fury to govern and hold everything together.
Quantity is good but we also need good quality and that is where we should focus next.
Note: This is a personal opinion expressed by the author and does not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of that of the Malaysian Chess Federation, its committee members or affiliation. Feel free to comment below. Thank you.