26 March 2012

Rethinking New Nagas

Reflecting on the recent New Nagas Standard Tournament has given me valuable insights on the current situation in Malaysian chess and the issues that we have to address to progress towards seeing Malaysia’s first chess grandmaster. I was thinking maybe I restarted the project in too much of a rush. Perhaps I should have done more groundwork and reassess the circumstances.
I’ll discuss my new ideas in a coming article. For now, I’ll just review significant events relating to this project over the last 6 years.

The 1st Malaysia GM Project was conceived some 6 years ago and I have alluded in an earlier article, to a meeting with Dato’ Tan in April 2007 where he added his ideas. I had not wished to go into the details before as I held the view that those discussions should remain confidential. That discussion with Dato’ is already a long 5 years ago. A lot of it is really water under the bridge now. I don’t think Dato’ really cares, so long as nobody gets hurt. So I'll go into more detail in this article and hopefully shed some light on certain happenings in the chess community over the last 5 years.

The main objective of the 1st Malaysia GM Project, which I recently renamed as ‘The New Nagas Project’, is to see our country’s first chess grandmaster. It was to be a multi-pronged approach. Two elements discussed with Dato' related to:
  •  Raising the general standard of the better chess players and move more Malaysians into the 2200+ FIDE rating class (my idea); and
  • Engaging a residential GM coach to build strong foundations for our budding talents and also help improve our strongest juniors (Dato’s idea);
 And of course, outside of these discussions, Dato’ initiated the Tiger Project.

Moving to 2200+
I mentioned to Dato’ that over the last 35 years or so, only a few Malaysians have really crossed the 2200 standard. (I can even name them offhand as Jimmy, Mas, Peter, Mok, Yee Weng, Nicholas, Chern Ee, Ronnie and Zi Jing. I do not include others who may have an official 2200+ rating as I am talking about players who have demonstrated sustained performances at 2200+. [Eric and Christi are borderline cases]). 9 players in almost 35 years of conscious effort and substantial money investment?? And we are not even talking world-beaters or even 2500 Elo. We are talking only circa 2300 official rating, for God’s sake.

I consider a significant factor as a lack of competition at long time controls on a regular basis. My proposal was to have weekend chess events with longer time controls. Anyone who knows Dato’ well knows that he is very quick to see issues and wants us to just ‘cut the crap’. He immediately ask how much it takes and I mentioned RM2000 per event should suffice for the prize fund. After all, it is to provide an opportunity for players to play in such events and for the better players to have something to play for. It is not to feed a bunch of ‘professional’ chess players. ‘Okay’, Dato’ response was quick and said he’ll sponsor the prize fund for 5 events and to use The Chess Network. Go work with Hamid on this ..…

(Until the New Nagas event earlier this month), history shows that nothing happened in this respect. Partly this was due to my personal circumstances (as I was on the verge of returning to Perak when I met Dato’), and partly, as more than a few persons knew, my relationship with Hamid at that point in time, was not exactly like bosom buddies.


Engaging a Residential GM Coach
This was where Dato’ really got excited, and he spewed out a string of numbers on the project elements and the terms (quite generous, I would say) he wants to give to the GM coach. He was particularly keen on Ian Rogers. Other coaches RMx,000 p.m.,  Ian Rogers RMx,000 (which was double that for others). I, being the accountant that I am, was mentally tabulating the numbers as fast he could spit them out. When Dato’ finished, I told him it comes to almost RM300k over 2 years. He gave me a slight nod and a strange facial expression I interpreted as ‘Ssssoo?’…. Ok, ok, I get it, RM300k to me has a different meaning as RM300k to him.  I know my place where money is concerned.

History shows that GM Ziaur Rahman arrived in March 2010 and left (some say ran away) some 7 months later. I have had post-mortem discussions on this matter with several persons and while the details cannot be divulged in such a public forum as this, the general conclusion is that things could have been better managed. Total cost of the whole project ….. in excess of RM50,000 (my estimate).

Well, at least Dato’ got to try out this idea. But as experienced project managers know only too well, planning is the easy part of the job; implementation (and troubleshooting when things don’t go according to plan) is the much more difficult part.

Tiger Project
This project was not part of my 1st Malaysia GM thingy. I’ll however discuss it briefly here to complete the review of recent attempts to get a Malaysian chess grandmaster. This was, by far, the most direct attempt to get a GM and took off sometime in November 2007. I am not going to mention the details here.

The success (or otherwise) of this project can be gauged from the measurable components (rating changes, performance ratings and GM results). These figures are readily accessible elsewhere. Again, there have been post-mortem discussions and again, the details cannot be divulged here. And again the general conclusion is again things could have been better managed and the money could have been used in a more effective manner.

This project has provided greater insights to us on what it takes to become a GM. Certainly, we should have a more stringent definition of a ‘GM talent’ or ‘GM potential’, and a better idea of the criteria to be met before declaring a player as such. Total cost of project ….. in excess of RM200,000 (again, my estimate) over a period of two years or so.

Whither now, my dear Malaysia.

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