Part II: MALAYSIAN JUNIOR in ASEAN

THE JUNIOR SEGMENT

Let us look at the Junior population of U12, U16 and U20 which will eventually add up towards our overall quantity and performance. If we do better in the Junior population, in the years to come, we will probably improve our overall achievement

U12

For the U12 population, we have the highest population of U12 FIDE Rated players amongst all ASEAN countries. Malaysia’s U12 population is so high that the combine population from all the other 9 ASEAN countries is still unable to beat our numbers. As of May 2020, we have a total of 2,504 U12 FIDE registered players in Malaysia leaving Philippines at a distant second with only 708 registered players and Singapore at 685 players. In 2010, we only have 12 registered players and by 2020, we have grown at a rate of almost 250 players per year or more than 20 players per month.

Malaysia’s U12 FIDE registered population is way above the rest of the ASEAN countries

However, in terms of average player’s strength, we are ranked 5th with an average ELO rating of 1241.2 points with Indonesia leading the pack at an ELO rating of 1402.4 points. Only Thailand and Singapore are lower than us at 1191.9 and 1171.1 ELO points respectively with Laos, Brunei and Cambodia not having any U12 players who are rated. In 2010, Malaysia was 3rd with an average FIDE rating of 1829.5 points

Comparing the average rating performance between 2010 and 2020, Malaysia dropped almost 600 points during the 10-year period. Philippines suffered the most reduction losing more than 700 points going from 2058 in 2010 to 1311.5 in 2020. Back in 2010, Philippines was the top U12 country in ASEAN but is now ranked 4th behind Indonesia, Myanmar and Vietnam.

Looking at the overall picture for U12 in 2010, the good news is that the gap between the top country – Philippines, and the lowest – Singapore, was more than 330 points but as of May 2020, the gap has shrunk to 230 points between top ranked Indonesia against last place Singapore.

Malaysia has dropped almost 600 FIDE rating points since 2010

With regards to the number of players who are FIDE rated, Malaysia is also ranked 5th with 9% of its population having a FIDE rating. Interesting to note that this percentage is slightly lower than the total ASEAN countries rated population which is calculated at 11%. Vietnam and Indonesia are both at the top making it two of the better countries within ASEAN that can keep a reasonably high number of rated players with a higher strength FIDE average within the region. At 229 players in the U12 category who are rated, Malaysia should be able to maintain its FIDE population growth, but it needs to focus more on developing players strength in order to climb up the power ranking.

Malaysia is ranked 5th within ASEAN in percentage of U12 players who has FIDE rating

Understandably, with many organizers focusing to cash in on children’s activities – especially under the auspices of the Ministry of Education in getting events to be recognized as National and International level, a lot of young players may end up unwillingly as a FIDE registered player. While it may create challenges in our effort to increase our FIDE rating strength, we should also take into consideration that we are only 160 points adrift from Indonesia and the figure is still realistically within our reach to equal or surpass their ranking. With a well prepared and structured development and training program coupled with a well-developed selection program – with an excellent administrative arm, we should be able to make a significant impact towards improvement.

While stopping players from becoming a FIDE registered player may not be the best method to curb our decline in rating points, having a more structured learning and development program is perhaps the better way to counter the downward trend. Based on observation, we have a lot of naturally talented young players who – with a little bit of training and guidance, can provide us the quick nudge that we need to climb the regional ladder.

Next Up – Is our U16 better than U12 in ASEAN?

MALAYSIA CHESS in ASEAN

Many people that I have met have different views with regards to the FIDE population boom in Malaysia. One person told me that, if we get more and more people to be involved in playing chess, we will eventually find one who will be above everyone else i.e. the volume game. In other words, if we continue to collect huge amounts of stones, someway (and somehow) along the way, we will eventually find a gold nugget. While I can agree that volume will inadvertently produce a one in a million local chess prodigy, I find the method a bit crude as it is not time bound and without any specific direction. In short, we are “hoping” that somewhere along the way, somehow and sometime, someone will emerge. When? Nobody knows. This is almost pure luck and without any tangible nor solid approach.

Another view is that, quantity can also be considered as growth albeit the lack of (or absence of) quality. At least, it is still something for us to boast and brag about but eventually, we may end up as the average guy around the block or at best, the “jaguh kampung”. But for the capitalist – the many chess organizers and entities out there in the open who thrives on getting hundreds and thousands of players to play in weekend events, it attracts good income and wealth. In short, if money is the endgame, then the more people play chess, the better it is for the economy. So, if I can survive and earn good income from the population, why should I care about the quality? I can agree to that as well. A lot more chess organizers can survive better now compare to when it was 10-15 years ago. While many may take up chess as a part time job to earn some side income, more and more people are jumping into a full time venture as it has the potential to generate a steady (and sometimes handsome) earnings every now and then. Aside from organizing events, the huge chess population also opens opportunities for chess trainers, chess officials and chess academies to strive (and survive) in the market. To each their own….

My personal believe is that – both quantity and quality need to go hand in hand. Too much focus on quantity and you will forego the quality, and too much focus on the quality, you may not be able to grow at all. And in understanding our local chess population, we may be able to understand how we can balance the two together. But of course, in order to pave our community to a better future, there is a serious need for good quality coaches, world class organizers, experienced officials, excellent support system and well-structured enforcement and management entity in order to bind everything together.

We have seen how we stack up against the global population. Of course, it will be tough for us to chase the global chess superpowers like India or Russia, or the many European countries who are traditionally well-known in chess such as Germany, Spain and Hungary. So, instead of trying to race and beat those who are leaps and bounds above us, let us reduce our scope to within our region and evaluate our situation. Perhaps from then on, we can understand our strength and weakness, and identify the areas that we can focus on for improvement and development. And as we slowly grow to conquer our region, we can appreciate and understand how and what it takes to bring it to the global level.

For the purpose of this study, the 10 ASEAN countries that we will use as comparisons are:

  • Malaysia – of course!
  • Singapore
  • Indonesia
  • Philippines
  • Vietnam
  • Thailand
  • Brunei
  • Laos
  • Cambodia
  • Myanmar

Looking at the list, we can still find certain countries within our region that can be considered as chess powerhouses such as Philippines (with Asia’s first GM Eugenio Torre and SEA Asia first ever Olympiad host), Vietnam (GM Le Queng Lim is ranked 31st highest rated player in the world) and Indonesia (GM Utut Adianto was one of the few Asian Chess player surpassing the 2600 ELO rating). In short, the ASEAN region itself is already a challenging platform for us to make our own mark.

 POPULATION

As the 16th country with most populated FIDE registered players in the world, it is not surprising that we are the number one country within our region with 11,863 players, followed by Philippines at a distant second with 6,111 players. Singapore came in 3rd with 3,267 players and thereafter, Vietnam with 2,685 players. Interesting to note that in May 2010, Philippines was the leading country with 871 players and Malaysia was in 2nd place with 764 players.

Malaysia is way above its nearest competitor in the race to increase the FIDE population

With Malaysia having the highest number of FIDE rated players in the region, it is also not surprising that we are also the country that has the most players with a Standard FIDE ELO rating at 1,949 players followed by Philippines with 1,293 players. But, if we were to gauge the population based on percentages, we are ranked 9th within the region with only 16% of our players having a Standard FIDE ELO rating with Myanmar topping the chart at 48% and Indonesia with 36%. Laos is the only country within the region that has a lower percentage of players than Malaysia at 14%. Do take note that in 2010, Laos had no FIDE rated players at all.

Malaysia is way above its nearest competitor in the race to increase the FIDE population
Although we have the highest FIDE registered players, only a small portion of our players are rated.

Comparing the countries based on the average strength of all its chess players, Malaysia is currently ranked 9th with an ELO Rating of 1477.7. Comparatively, our average strength in 2010 was 2001.0 – dropping more than 500 points in 10 years. The good news is that all countries in the world dropped their average rating including those within our ASEAN region. In 2010, most if not all the ASEAN countries has an average FIDE rating of 2000+ with Thailand being the exception with an average rating of 1983.7 points. In 2010, the 8 ASEAN countries – less Cambodia and Laos, had only 197.4 points separating between the top country which was Indonesia at 2181.1 points  against bottom table Thailand. As of 2020, using the same 8 countries as baseline, the points separating the 8 countries has increased by more than double to 414.0 points with Indonesia still maintaining its top position with 1891.7 points but sadly this time around, its Malaysia who is at the bottom end with only 1477.7 points. While all countries did reflect a decline in performance, Malaysia was impacted the most losing more than 500 points during that 10-year span – at an average rate of more than 50 points a year.


From 2010 to 2020, each country average FIDE rating has dropped by at least 190 points
Malaysia experienced the most points reduction in a decade

So, we had a good run of increasing our chess population from 2010 to 2020 to emerge as the busiest chess nation in ASEAN but from the quality and performance perspective, we lost the most. Perhaps the sudden increase in our chess population has impacted and flattened our national average – which is not surprising. Looking at the numbers, it is quite satisfying to know that we have a lot of players who are enthusiastic about playing chess but, are they prepared and ready to venture into the “real competitive world”? Perhaps, abolishing the National Rating created the ripple effect – with nowhere to go, willingly or not, players ended up playing in FIDE rated events. And with the cost to run a classical event can run in the thousands, many prefer to take part in one (or two) day rapid events which do not generate impactful results or contribution to our overall performance. To add salt to the wound, those who venture into FIDE events because they had “little or no choice”, ended up not pursuing further their chess ambitions thus further creating a downward spiral of our overall performance. Maybe I am wrong but, then again, I could be right.

Next up – What about our Junior population?

MALAYSIAN CHESS POPULATION AT A GLANCE

With a lot of time spent at home due to the current MCO #StayAtHome enforcement, it has provided some time for me to continue my study on the growth and improvement (or not so improved) standards and wellbeing of our local chess community against countries within our region, and where we stand globally. While the numbers and trending may not provide a conclusive summary of our development or future direction, it can provide some eye-opening facts that we can study for further improvement.

Please take note that this is my personal view through years of data collection and does not necessarily reflect the opinions or findings that of the Malaysian Chess Federation. The data was collected from FIDE rating data which can be found via www.fide.com

WHERE ARE WE?

Back in May 2010, Malaysia only had 764 players registered with FIDE. 7 years later, the numbers went up to 4,228 players – growing at an average (but steady) rate of 41 new players registering with FIDE each month. In 2010, we were ranked as the 49th country with the highest number of FIDE registered players in the world and in 2017, we climbed fifteen notches to become the 34th country in the world.

Malaysia’s FIDE population has increased tremendously since 2017

From then on, the numbers took a drastic turn and by February 2019, the numbers had more than doubled to 9,855 players and we better our ranking to 17th most populated country in the world with FIDE registered players. In the 21 months from April 2017 to February 2017, we had an average of 268 players registering with FIDE per month – a far cry from the 41 players on average that we did in the prior years. While the numbers continue to grow, the growth rate has declined to an average of 162 players per month from February 2019 to September 2019, and decline further to an average of 124 players per month from September 2019 to April 2020 to end at 11,863 FIDE registered players and a current ranking of 16th most populated country with FIDE registered players.

The surge in the numbers of FIDE rated players was understandable as Malaysia removed the National Ranking system in favor of the more internationally used FIDE rating, and with the National Rating being abolished, organizers have little choice but to use the FIDE rating system. While it may be good to maintain only a single rating system for the country, the setback is that the competitiveness of FIDE events (and its challenges to organize a FIDE rated event especially with classical time control) may eventually left Malaysia with a lot of inactive or unrated FIDE registered players – an impressive quantity which may lack quality.

Based on FIDE global numbers, the average monthly growth rate from May 2010 to April 2020 is recorded at 2.9% and Malaysia is growing at 12.1% which is more than 400% of the global rate. Currently, the country with the most FIDE registered players is India with 95,466 players beating Russia in second place with 93,466 players. In 2010, India was 5th in the world and Russia was 4th. Surprisingly, the country with the highest number of FIDE registered players in 2010 was Spain with 20,322 players followed closely by German at 20,112 players and France with 19,399 players. By 2020, Spain dropped to 4th placing with 56,044 players, France climbed to 3rd place with 67,402 players while German dropped to 7th place with 39,541 players.

While those countries may not register the same growth that we see in Malaysia, they continue to produce more GMs and IMs throughout the 10-year period while Malaysia continue to struggle despite the higher population growth compared to these countries. India and Russia continue to produce at least 4 GMs in a year between 2010 and 2020 while countries like German and Spain producing at least 2 GMs per year between the same period.

Ranking of Countries with the most GMs and Titled PlayersMalaysia is yet to produce a GM albeit having increase its total FIDE population

Surprisingly, China is ranked 53rd in the population race with only 3,742 players registered with FIDE (even lower than us) but China also has one of the highest GM ratios per player with 67 GMs (and WGMs) compare to its small population.

Although Malaysia may have one of the highest number of players registered with FIDE, the actual number of players that has a FIDE rating is only 16% out of our total population. On average, the top 20 countries have an average of 37% of its FIDE registered players having a standard rating which is also in line with the global average. In summary, it can be concluded that many Malaysians may have registered to participate in a FIDE rated events but, are not active or do not pursue their participation to a higher or more active level.

The Top 10 Most Populous Country with FIDE Registered Players – Malaysia at 16thMalaysia has a sizeable population of female chess players at 28% from the overall population

In terms of strength, at an average ELO rating of 1477.7 (for all players), Malaysia is ranked 172nd in the world out of 197 countries. 10 years ago, our average rating was much higher at 2001.0 with an overall ranking of 99 out of 166 countries. As the FIDE rated population grows, it is not surprising that the average rating of all countries showing a decline with every country experiencing a drop in average rating performance. However, Malaysia experienced a slightly higher performance reduction of – 27% against a global average of -17%. Do take note that the methodology used to calculate the rank in this presentation takes into account the average rating of all players in the country whereas for FIDE ranking, it only takes the average rating of the top 10 players in the respective country to be used as the ranking system.

U20/JUNIOR POPULATION
With a lot of activities aimed at grooming the juniors to take up chess as a sport, it may not come as a surprise that Malaysia is currently ranked 14th in the world with the highest percentage of Junior players (below 21 years old) against its total FIDE population. Based on FIDE figure of April 2020, Malaysia has 7,502 players – or 63% of its FIDE population, who are below the age of 21.  (The earlier reported figure of 44% was an error) India – one of the more aggressive country that has a knack of producing promising junior chess players, is currently ranked 32nd in the world with 54% of its population are made up of younger players. The global average stands at 42% of the entire FIDE population around the world that is made up of players below 21 years old. Interesting to note that another country that may have similarities with Malaysia’s rate of growth is Sri Lanka – currently ranked 13th most populous FIDE rated country, which has a Junior population of 74% (higher than Malaysia), and similar to Malaysia, is the only other country in the top 50 most populated FIDE rated players that does not have a single GM or WGM.

While the hard numbers may look good, on the quality side of the spectrum, only 13% of Malaysia’s junior population has a Standard FIDE Rating – which is the lowest among the top 20 countries with the most FIDE population. So, while the numbers are there, the quality and performance does not seem to align with the growth rate – something which we may need to ponder.

For the U12 population, Malaysia has 2,504 players who are registered with FIDE but only 229 (9%) of them has a FIDE rating. In terms of strength, we have an average ELO rating of 1241.2 and currently ranked 64th in the world

For U16 population, there are 2,809 FIDE registered players with only 415 players (15%) are FIDE rated with an average strength of 1285.5 ELO rating.

For the U20 population, Malaysia has 2,189 players registered with FIDE but only 334 players (15%) of them has a FIDE rating. Our average ELO rating for the U20 group is 1403.1 which ranked us as 136th country in the world.

Based on the 3 tables shown above, it can be concluded that Malaysia has a great potential to attract more Junior players to pursue chess as a sport but, a proper development program needs to be introduced to improve the players strength in order to make an impact on the world scene.

Next article – How do we fare in our ASEAN Region?