31 March 2012

Responding to Peter Long (updated)

Peter and Jimmy posted, on consecutive days, pieces they wrote independently on the progress of some of Malaysia’s top juniors. Ref: Peter’s post and Jimmy’s post.

As this is a topic of which I am interested, I was tempted to give my 2-sen’s worth and commented as such on Jimmy’s page. Peter, however, commented …

Maybe not! Jimmy and I are former top national players (Oops, Jimmy still is!) and we don't have kids playing chess. With due respect, what you say will carry less weight for those reasons...
On the other hand, why not? You have the right to your opinions and your readers would be interested?”

I know Peter well enough to know how frank and direct he can be. Too much so at times. Peter’s comment, to me, touched on certain fundamental issues, viz,

1.  The sensitivity of comments by a parent who has a child who is also a ‘top national junior’. Presumably, a conflict of interest, favouritism and bias may cloud the judgment;

2.  A person’s credentials to comment on the progress of our top national juniors, (and his assertion that the views of a ‘top national player’ (past or present) carries more weight);

3.  A chess coach with a child who does not play chess or does not play the game well enough to be regarded as a “top national junior”, and by extension and conversely, a parent (not being a professional chess coach) who coaches his own child; and

4.  Readership of a person’s writings and opinions.

There was an exchange of comments with Peter on Jimmy’s page, touching lightly on item 1) above and a bit more on item 2).

My response to the comment quoted above (based on comments posted on Jimmy's blog and updated with edits:

Peter, you are definitely right on the part about the top national players. As a matter of personal policy, I have never ever publicly commented on the progress of junior Malaysian players (except on occasions, praising the obviously excellent achievements of others' children) for the precise reason that you mentioned, i.e. I have kids who are in the same junior ranks. So I would probably take your advice and not break this policy.

On the other hand, my credentials are that I have followed the progress and games of every single one of the current crop of top junior players since each first came into national prominence at the age-group levels, many of them since before they were 12 years old. I have seen these players when they were playing on just natural talent (before the impact of coaching took over) and seen how some talents were developed by proper coaching, and others obscured by poor coaching. So I have a better idea than most of the potential of these juniors if the adverse effects of poor coaching were to be reversed and foundations are rebuilt.

Returning to the point on top national players, my interest in this subject lies primarily in trying to solve the riddle of how to transmute our top talents into grandmasters. In this respect, I take my cue from the extensive writings of highly qualified persons, as in some of the top coaches and thinkers of the last 50 years, in the chess world. These include Botvinnik, Dvorestky, Marovic, Yusupov, Aagaard, Pachman, Nunn, etc., whose writings I have studied for more than 30 years. And, with due respect, I do not think any of our 'top national players’, past or present, are qualified on this matter, thus their views would carry very little weight in comparison.

Said in another way, my expressed views are much more often than not, garnered from the writings of the top coaches I mentioned but distilled through my mind, my level of understanding and my ability to express my understanding in words.

Anyway, a top player (which Malaysia certainly does not have any, past or present) does not necessarily make a good coach. I certainly do not know of any Malaysian chess coach, 'top national player' or otherwise, with any ‘achievement’ to really shout about or which interests me, within the scope of my afore-mentioned area of interest.

Peter Long comment in response…

'Hi Eddy,
I trust you understand that in no way I am saying your opinions don't matter and I would even go further to say that there are valid and as legitimate as any student of the game.

We may not agree on everything but that is exactly how it is and no more than that - for sure I am not saying being a top player means anything special but that for sure it is seen as more credible, rightly or wrongly.
I do agree that a top player does not necessarily equal a good coach but I also think it is impossible to translate readings of legends of the game into the local experience.
But from my few conversations with you I think we have no major disagreements as to what is wrong and what is needed but perhaps that is a very important discussion by itself!

March 30, 2012 5:46 PM'

And, my final word on this matter (based on comments posted on Jimmy's blog and updated with edits:
Peter, I agree that our thoughts are aligned on most issues, though there are obviously spots of disagreement.

I am a dreamer and this state of nature does not sit well with a word like ‘impossible’ and phrases like 'impossible to translate readings of legends of the game into the local experience'. The essence of the legends' learning is formulated into principles, and these are generally applicable in almost all situations, it is so by definition. And it is these that I hold dear and use as the guiding light as I search for the path towards that elusive Malaysian grandmaster.

I have not at any time question the credibility of top players. All the names I mentioned with much respect are top players (and successful coaches at the highest level). You seem to miss my point, which is that Peter Long is not (and never was) a top player, and does not have the equivalent credibility.

As regards the topic of developing (coaching) a player to GM standard, which is my stated area of interest, your credibility is no higher than mine as neither of us has any achievement worth talking about, whether in coaching ourselves or our students.

The objective must be the GM title. However, a GM norm would the first checkpoint and a sign of progress. Real credibility and credential are established on substantial achievements as in achieving a GM norm. Until then or anything less, whatever so-called credibility or credential is limited to relatively low-level chess, or just so much hot air.

For now, let’s agree to disagree on the matters we disagree and just move on.


  1. I say go ahead and write your piece. I know you for so many years, and I can say for certain you will not be biased.

  2. Thank you Jimmy, for that vote of confidence. Now I feel under pressure to write that article. This topic has become too serious.

    It is at such times that I wish I can write like Ilhamuddin, and relax by writing an entertaining and fun article.