16 April 2012

Responding to Ronnie Lim

My responses to Ronnie's comments on the previous article:

GM Wins
Ronnie: However, it must be pointed out that there were other junior wins against GMs in the 1990s, not least that I myself won against GM Herman Suradiraja in classical chess in Jakarta 1997 when I was 14 years old.

Eddy: I have updated the list of junior GM wins to include your win against Herman. However, you seem to imply that there were more wins not in my original list. I’d be grateful if you can recall other wins by you and other juniors, not in the current list and let me know so that so that I can update it.

The focus of my original post was to highlight the positives of the GM wins by Yit Ho and Li Tian and what these can mean to Malaysian chess going forward. I have not denied other accomplishments of juniors of previous eras. I made the effort to go through Bigbase as best I can. My research results are only as good as the data I can practically access within the constraints I have. Thus I am grateful for any additional info of other wins which the data I used did not throw up or I missed.

GM wins by juniors of earlier eras would have had their own impact on Malaysian chess at the relevant times. The Brunei wins will also have their impact now based on the current circumstances in Malaysian chess, which was the intention of my original article. The research into and listing of past wins is just to highlight that GM wins by Malaysian junior is still an ‘achievement’ that should still be appreciated, due to its ‘scarcity’.

From another perspective, the ‘scarcity’ of such wins emphasizes the poor state of Malaysian junior chess, past and present. I, for one, would love to see so many GM wins by different Malaysian juniors that it is no longer a big deal, no longer ‘newsworthy’, and make irrelevant all such discussions on GM wins.

Standard of Malaysian chess
Ronnie: I cannot agree that the general standard of play has gone up in Malaysian chess.

Eddy: This is a matter of opinion, and I have stated mine. If there is a difference of opinion, so be it and let’s move on.

Ratings Inflation/Deflation
(Original Comment)
I do not understand the point that a 2400-2500 rated player in 2012 is stronger than his counterpart 10 years ago. If anything, it must be the other way around, given rating inflation.

(Follow-up after Eddy’s response to original comment)
I don't pretend to know in detail the question of rating inflation (or deflation for that mattter). But I do know that matters are not as simple or as clear cut as you put it. You are right when you say that most of the discussions about rating inflation are basically about the top 100 players or players with 2700+ rating. More specifically, the question people usually raise is why are there more 2700 players now (46 in the latest March 2012) than 40 years ago in 1972 (only one, none other than Bobby Fischer)? So there are basically two answers to it: top players nowadays are REALLY much stronger than their counterparts in those days OR rating inflation. My personal understanding of it is that the truth lies somewhere between. Whatever the truth may be, I gather that you do not doubt that there is definitely some rating inflation in the top 100 players, with the effects of inflation being less pronounced as we go down the rating scale to 2600, 2500, 2400 etc.. This much I agree. But what seems to be your position is that at around 2400-2500, this inflation reaches a point where it becomes deflation instead (a turning point of the curve on the graph). This is where we differ in our opinions. My position is that, if there are any differences in the ratings here, it is more likely to be inflation (which means the turning point is lower down the rating scale) rather than deflation. Of course, this is an empirical matter (or a mathematical one?) so I am open to any evidence that shows otherwise.
(It must be pointed out also that I do not deny the phenomenon of rating deflation. In fact this was already predicted by Prof Elo himself)

Eddy: You have grasped the gist of the issues very quickly. This is the super-intelligent Ronnie Lim I know of. You have correctly identified the key issue as the location of the inflection point on the rating scale where deflation ends and inflation starts, as a consequence of the effect of two catalysts, i.e. the dropping of the rating floor, and the increasing number of rated players. I have not come across any empirical research on this matter. Until such research is carried out and to which we have access, we form our personal views based on sporadic observations, inclinations (bias) and experience. In my case, I used Mas’ ratings and playing activity over a 10-year period as the basis for my conclusion that the inflection point is slightly below 2500. I cannot definitely say that I am correct. It is just my current view until I come across evidence, other observations and experiences that give me cause me to change my view.

Impact of Technology on Playing Strength
Ronnie: Of course, it is never an easy task to compare the strengths of players from different eras using ratings (The Elo rating was designed to rate a player's strength relative to his comtemporaries at a given time). But I would not think a difference of 10 years would make a major difference to the playing strength of players with of the same rating at their time. You must remember 10 years ago, we already DO have databases and we DO have strong engines as well (I had Fritz 5 back in 1997 and i can tell you that it was already extremely strong). So unless we are comparing players from another era, say 20-30 years ago when there were no databases or strong engines, then I might be more inclined to agree with your point of view. So probably there is room for more discussions with regard to the question whether a 2400/2500 player today is stronger than one 10 years ago.

Eddy: I agree with you. Should any difference be perceived over 10 years, it is more likely to be due to the inflation/deflation factor, than to the impact of technology.
Strength of Malaysian Juniors of Different Periods
Ronnie: However, if you were to say that the juniors today are equal to or stronger than the juniors 10-15 years ago (Read: Mas, Chern Ee, Zi Jing, Yee Weng, Nicholas, Jonathan, Tze Han, Marcus, Ee Vern and myself at our peak during our junior years [again there are others too like Zhe Kang, Wei Khoon, Khai Boon, Swee Leong, Shihong, Chee Yin, Weng Yee]) then I have to say that you are mistaken.

Eddy: I like to think that I am more qualified than most persons to comment on this matter on the following bases:

1) I have played competitive games against Yee Weng, Zi Jing, Chee Yin, Shihong, Weng Kong (but not his brother Weng Yee) in their junior days;

2) I have seen Jonathan’s play at close quarters (Asean Open at Brunei in 2001), when he was 15;

3) I played Khai Boon recently (at rapid time control) and Swee Leong at the National Closed 2 years ago), when presumably, they are appreciably stronger than when in their junior years;

and not least,

4) I formed an elite Perak junior squad in late 1996. In less than a year, this group of players was good enough to actually win their encounter against the Penang U18 team at the 1997 Merdeka U18 Team Category. (You may not know as I recall you playing for the senior Penang team). (The Perak Team actually led after 7 rounds , after beating Penang earlier, but collapsed the final 2 rounds and Penang continued their dominance by again winning this category).

However, in 1998, the Perak players (13-year old Aaron, 14 year-olds Deon & Colin and 15-year old Christopher) actually finished ahead of the Penang U18 team, the first time in years that Penang was not the best Malaysian U18 team at Merdeka. (It was just too bad that Perak had to finish second to the Indonesian dream team that had a 11-year old Susanto on first board, and also Taufik and Chandra). Thus my young Perak players, in two consecutive years, beat Penang teams that comprised older players, one or two you mentioned, and others who were not much weaker. At the same time, the Perak team was ahead of Selangor teams that had their top juniors excepting Yee Weng and Ee Vern who played for the senior team, if I remember correctly.

I know well enough the strengths of my Perak players, as well as the top Penang and Selangor juniors of that era which include some of the names you mentioned.

I am presenting all this as my credentials to say that I am familiar enough with the playing strengths of some of the top juniors of the latter half of the 1990s.

I can safely say that an 11-year old Yeap Eng Chiam or an 11-year old Fong Yit San are easily stronger than any of the top U18 Penang or Selangor players of 1997 (excepting Ronnie and maybe Yee Weng only). Yes, I would include Ee Vern, Zi Jing and Tze Han in the list. And these top Penang and Selangor junior players would certainly not be able to hold a candle to a 14-year old Anas Nazreen  (who tied with Le Quang Liem at Asean U14 for 1st place), let alone a13-year old Yeoh Li Tian.

(I think Nicholas and Marcus were not really in the top scene yet.  I did not notice Nicholas until 1999 when he finished 4th in the National Closed).

It is better to just compare, Li Tian, Anas, Eng Chiam and Yit San to only the junior Mas, Nicholas and Ronnie. I recall you playing against Yit San at the 2005 National Closed when he was just 11 years old. You probably wish to form your own conclusions from that one game.

Anyway, the above are just my impressions relating to two periods which are 10 years apart. And these impressions are as valid to me and your own impressions are valid to you.

There is not much point furthering the debate on this matter.

Other Methods for Comparison

Ronnie: One natural way for us to see this is to compare their respective ratings during their time. If we accept this comparison as legitimate, the juniors of the 1990s win hands down. But of course, the whole argument about rating deflation was basically to undermine this premise. So how else can we compare? Another way is to assess the quality of the games themselves. Of course this is not easy to show as well.

Eddy: You have answered the points you raised. No disagreement from me here.

Ronnie: So why my conviction that junior players of 1990s are stronger than those today? Simple, my experiences playing with both these group of players. It is not easy for me to convice those who think otherwise, but as someone who has lived through it, so as to speak, I can confidently say that the general level of play those days were higher than today.

Eddy: These are your impressions which are valid to you, and I of course, respect your right to it. My impressions on this matter have been given above.
Ronnie: In a nutshell, I do not agree at all with the points u mentioned in this new post. Just to mention one: No, Jimmy would have found it more difficult to win the National Closed in 1996-1999 than in 2011 [Jimmy, care to comment? :-)].
Eddy: It’s a free world. We are allowed to disagree and also allowed to agree to disagree. No problem.

Other Matters
Ronnie:  I do not wish to be read as belittling the achievements of the juniors today. I am not.

Eddy: Point noted.

Ronnie: In fact, I sincerely wished that they could be stronger than us 10-15 years back. Unfortunately, this is not yet the case (except of course for that little man, Li Tian).

Eddy: Your wish has been granted. I sincerely think that the current juniors are generally (clearly) stronger than the juniors of 10-15 years ago.

However, this is an irrelevant point. I have made it clear in an earlier posting that I consider the GM title as the really substantial achievement, for a start. A GM norm would only be a milestone, an indication of progress. Which group were stronger as juniors cannot be proven either way and is really unimportant. It seems to me like two eunuchs arguing over who had the bigger balls. As if it matters. Let us just be happy with our own impressions and not let other contradictory views adversely affect us.
Anyway, neither group has any really noteworthy achievement to speak of, as far as I am concerned.
Ronnie: I would most probably have been crushed by Bitoon when I was 14 years old but I COULD still have conceivably beaten him couldn't I? Btw just for curiosity, I did played Bitoon twice in classical chess and won both games, first in the SEA Games Event in Kuala Lumpur 2001 [when he was rated 2432] and the second in DATMO 2009 [when he was rated 2490] :-)

Eddy: I am not surprised at all that you are able to beat Bitoon. I don’t know if you recall that I mention to you back in 2001 that I consider you to be most talented Malaysian chess player. It was at the same SEA Games Exhibition event you mentioned. (Note: It was also then that I met and had a long chat with Herman Suradiradja).You were easily the best Malaysian player for that year.

I really think that if you put your mind to it, you would be a strong candidate for the GM title.  And I had form this view of you as the most talented Malaysian player back in 1995 when I first saw you play as a 12-year old at the National Closed. Subsequent observations did not change my view. (You just have to work on your endgame play which I thought sucks (2005 impression)).



  1. Hi Eddy,

    Just to point out one minor factoid.

    Jonathan Chuah also beat GM Ardiansyah at the Penang Wah Seong IM Tournament in 2000 (same tournament that Mas defeated Ardiansyah). Though I don't think this changes any of your argument etc.

  2. Thank you for the lengthy and indeed very well-written reply to me. As a matter of fact, I am inclined to think, like you, Ilham and Jimmy, that there's no point in furthering the debate.

    But still, there are a few points that I'll like to go over once again before I stop posting (Yes, I hope that this will be my last post on this topic though I don't mind Eddy replying me further):

    1. Yes, I do think that the wins against GMs by Li Tian and Yit Ho is a milestone among the recent batch of Malaysian Juniors (although most of them are already reaching the age of 18 and beyond, with the exception again of that little wonder, Li Tian) Thus, I am with you here with regards to the intention of your original article. I recognize just as much as you do the significance of these wins for the Malaysian Chess scene in general.

    In fact I like the way you ended that article. I quote you:

    The wins by Yit Ho and Li Tian would also have given much confidence to other Malaysian junior players, especially Yit Ho’s win. After all, Yit Ho is not generally regarded as among the strongest Malaysian juniors. Thus, other juniors will be thinking, "if Yit Ho can do it, so can I". They would then be able to take this newfound confidence into their games against much higher rated opponents and do well.

    I hope my prognosis is correct and I look forward to seeing accelerated progress from the current and future batches of Malaysian junior chess players.

    -end quote-

    However, this congeniality to my position comes apart when you imply that this aforementioned milestone vindicates a view that you long held. I'll quote you again in your original article (in fact this part came before the above quote):

    What This Means?
    I am sensing that these wins will lead to a change of how our current junior chess players are viewed by the general Malaysian chess community. I have long held the following views –

    1) That our top juniors of recent years are not inferior to the top juniors of the 1990s.

    2) ...

    -end quote-

    Now, that didn't hit home. My own thinking was more like, "Wow, this GM wins is great news. It's been sad to see how our juniors underperform in international Fide rated tournaments in the last 8 years or so. So maybe, just maybe, we might have a revival to the glory days where the juniors rule the Malaysian chess scene."
    (let's define a junior as Under-20 this time, as recognized by Fide).

  3. Of course, this particular point in the quote above was very general. You could have meant that comparing age to age, the players these days are stronger when they are younger. True, an 11-year old Yeap Eng Chiam or an 11-year old Fong Yit San is likely to beat an 11-year old Yee Weng, Ee Vern, Zi Jing, Jonathan or myself (although it is by no means practically certain) This is inevitable because in those days we did not learn chess at such a young age as compared to today.

    But this is not what you had in mind! I quote you in the latest post:

    I can safely say that an 11-year old Yeap Eng Chiam or an 11-year old Fong Yit San are easily stronger than any of the top U18 Penang or Selangor players of 1997 (excepting Ronnie and maybe Yee Weng only). Yes, I would include Ee Vern, Zi Jing and Tze Han in the list. And these top Penang and Selangor junior players would certainly not be able to hold a candle to a 14-year old Anas Nazreen (who tied with Le Quang Liem at Asean U14 for 1st place), let alone a13-year old Yeoh Li Tian.

    -end quote-

    An 11-year old Yeap Eng Chiam or an 11-year old Fong Yit San easily stronger than a 15-year-old Zi Jing, a 16-year-old Tze Han and a 16-year-old Ee Vern (all were to become national champions, in fact Ee Vern won it the very next year when he was 17)?!? Now that raises an eyebrow. It is a BIG claim.

    In fact, I would claim that despite the fact that an 11-year old Yeap Eng Chiam or an 11-year old Fong Yit San is likely to beat an 11-year old Yee Weng, Zi Jing, Ee Vern or Jonathan, the tables are turned as they are older. Yes, I do believe that a 15-year-old Yee Weng (already two-time national champion), Zi Jing, Ee Vern or Jonathan (already a national champion at 13) is probably able to beat a 15-year-old Eng Chiam or Yit San. And even more surely, an 18-year old Yee Weng, Zi Jing, Ee Vern, Jonathan, Nicholas or Tze Han (all already national champions by then except Zi Jing who only won it at 20 years old) would in all likelihood win an 18-year old Eng Chiam or Yit San. Even an 18-year-old Anas might not stand a chance.

    To go further, the 20-year old Yee Weng, Zi Jing, Jonathan, Nicholas, Marcus and Tze Han were National Champions (except Marcus who won it at 21), mostly rated around 2200 plus, performed strongly in local tournaments, represented Malaysia internationally (with some good perfomances) and have beaten FMs and IMs internationally. Some of course improved further, getting their IM titles in their twenties while some basically stopped playing.

    I hope you get my point. What I'm trying to say is that the OVERALL achievements of these players before they reached 20 were unparalleled by juniors in the years after (I'm pretty sure in the years before too). If you beg to differ, I would really like you to name a specific player or players with equal or better achievements overall [except that little boy Li Tian, better wait till he's older :-)]

    Again I'm not trying brag about the past achievements or to put down the juniors today. I'm stating my point of view (which i suspect many others share). If anything, the juniors today (regardless of whether they are 11 years old or 18 years old) should view it as a challange; "so Ronnie don't think we're good enuf eh? Let's go study chess more, play more rated tournaments, increase our rating to 2300 plus, get our titles and beat all those who stand in our way!"

  4. 2. Btw, on a more personal note, I can't recall how my game against Yit San went. You would need to give me time to find the scoresheet :-) And yeah, my win against GM Suradiraja was in the Gunadarma Open 1997 in Jakarta. Yup, Jonathan beat Ardiansyah in 2000 as pointed out by Chess Ninja. Initially another GM win I had in mind was Mas over Sasikiran in the Asian Junior Championship in Vung Tau, 1999. But I checked Sasikiran's fide profile and he seemed to be awarded the GM title only in 2000. This must mean that he was just a GM-elect at that time or my memory is just failing me. Perhaps there are others, I'm not sure. (Though i can think of a few GM wins by juniors in rapid events).

    And yeah I agree, my endgame sucked in 2005. In fact it still sucks, lol. I am actually inclined to think that I was stronger in 2001 than I am now.

    Btw, it was a pleasure having this discussion with you. I respect your point of view and yes, we can agree to disagree. As I said earlier, you may wish to reply again if you want but I think I shall stop here.

    Let's just hope that one day, a young kid (or an old man?) somewhere in Malaysia has the talent, interest, commitment and will power to go all the way to become Malaysia's first GM. [Now this rings a bell, doesn't it Jimmy?:-)]

  5. P/S: Btw, the head of the 1990s Juniors pack was Mas, as is obvious. I didn't mention him together with the rest of the group because his achievements were head and shoulders above the others. He may not be at his best in recent years, but I still consider him to be overall the best Malaysian player ever.