The National Juniors (U20) Championship starts today at Johor Bahru. Nine rounds are scheduled over 5 days with time control set at 90m + 30s. There is a separate event for Girls in addition to the Open section.
Yit San is defending the title he won at Kuala Lumpur last year. The clear rating favourite, Yit San’s main challenge will be coming from Roshan and Yit Ho. Yit Ho is playing in the event for the very first time, having missed the previous editions. Yit Ho was really looking forward to play this time round as this will be the final year he is eligible.
Mi Lyn is playing in the Girls category, also participating in the National Juniors for the first time.
It was in the mid-2000s that I was pushing for a National U20 Championship. The main argument was to have a proper basis for players to qualify for the World Juniors. At that time, on paper, the NAG U18 champion was the ‘qualified’ player. However because Hamid stopped players from playing outside their age-categories at the NAG, the ‘strongest’ U20 player did not have a chance to ‘qualify’ as the official Malaysian player to the World Juniors. Matters got worse when for a few years, the U18 category disappeared from the NAG due to, I was told, ‘poor response’. However, the reality at that time, was that anyone who wanted to play the World Juniors apply to MCF (i.e. Hamid) and the applicant basically gets to go or not at Hamid’s whim and fancy.
My main argument was that the strongest Malaysian U20 player can be of any age. Older does not mean stronger. (Also boy is not necessarily stronger than girl). However, Hamid, for his own reasons, was against a separate U20 event.
It was only when Gregory ‘took over’ MCF that the National Juniors saw daylight in December 2008. Tariq, as the dark horse, won the first edition ahead of more fancied players. I was pleased that Eng Chiam won in 2009 as this boy’s performances since he was 10 years old, provide the best support for the arguments I put up. I had thought that even at 12 years old (in 2007), Eng Chiam was arguably the third strongest U20 Malaysian player, behind only Anas and Siti Zulaikha. It was also pleasing to see Zhuo-ren winning in 2010 and then following up with winning the National Championship.
My children could not play the first 4 editions of the National juniors due to family circumstances. I recall Greg chiding me for not sending my kids although I was the one who had fought so hard for this event. Yit San was finally able to play last year in arguably the strongest edition of the series. Yit San and Aron finished in the top three and these two went on to dominate the following National Championship.
Let us just enjoy following this year’s edition and encourage the participants who have made the effort to play and the parents who bear the financial costs. It is not cheap. I know, my wallet feels much lighter.