It was more than 10 years ago that I had a discussion with Hamid Majid, who was then MCF Secretary and de-facto supremo of Malaysian chess, on selecting Malaysian Olympiad representatives. I put forward the case that the National Closed should be the primary criteria for selection, at least the top 3 should be selected.
In those days, either Hamid or Ibrahim Bakar, whoever was giving the opening briefing at the National Closed, would announce that MCF shall use the National Closed as the criteria to select Malaysia's Olympiad representatives. However, when the team was finally announced, only the National Champion is in. The other selected players did not play the National Closed. These other players were hand-picked, using some 'criteria', that is if 'MCF' even bother to explain, devised after the players have been selected.
Hamid's explanation was that he knows who the 'strongest' Malaysian players are. Even if these players had not played a single event over the last 2 years (since the previous Olympiad), they are still stronger than the bunch who played the National Closed. Hamid used the example of Mok Tze Meng, who he regards as clearly the second strongest Malaysian (after Mas Hafizul). Moreover in Hamid's words, Mok is Malaysia's best prospect as the next IM, and MCF is obliged to support him and the Olympiad gives the best opportunities due to the special regulations. Hamid added that 'those guys won't play the National Closed'.
My argument was that chess is a sport and sportsmen need to be actively playing to stay at a competitive level. They should play in a proper selection event to prove that they are still better than other contenders. The National Closed was the natural selection event in the Malaysian context at that point in time. It avoids the need for an additional event on the Malaysian chess calendar. If the established players ("cartel") are really that good, they'll qualify anyway. But if there are other players who are good enough, they at least have an avenue to show that they have caught up and can do well at the Olympiad if given the opportunity. If the cartel still do not play the National Closed, let other players go. They won't embarass Malaysia. And the experience gained by more Malaysian players can only be good for Malaysian chess.
I believe Hamid knew I meant well and only had the good of Malaysian chess in mind with that proposal. Maybe he tried to implement the proposal but reverted to the cartel when push came to shove. He did not trust the other players and Hamid cannot afford the Malaysian team to do badly. It would not look good in front of his FIDE colleagues. The cartel of established players knew this and they had Hamid by the balls. They insisted on a free passage through to the final team and Hamid kept indulging them. This was a major factor that caused Malaysian chess to stagnate during the Hamid days.
The last Malaysian team hand-picked by Hamid was the 2008 Olympiad team. When Greg took over, I supported him and had high hopes that Malaysian chess might finally progress with a proper structure. However, Greg continued to hand-pick the 2010 and 2012 teams. I was badly disappointed to say the least. The situation actually got worse with respect to selecting the Olympiad team.
2014 Team - Truly Malaysian
So the 2014 team was the first Malaysian Olympiad team selected primarily based on pre-announced and reasonably fair criteria which were largely followed. I was thus very excited to see how this team would do. Would my contention all those years ago be vindicated or would I fall flat on my face and have to suffer the smirk on Hamid's and Greg's faces.
I was happy to see the 2014 team do well and to do all those research and analysis to clearly prove that the team did well, to counter the uninformed negative remarks especially by a certain Malaysian IM and a ' well-known' local event organiser. I am aware that there were some segments in Malaysian chess that were just waiting for the 2014 team to fail. These were either has-beens who thinks the younger ones are not good enough to take over from them. Or factions outside and within MCF itself who wants to see this team fail and use a failure as ammunition for their political fights.
The 2014 team is not Hamid's or Greg's team or a team hand-picked by any individual. It is the first truly Malaysian team in years. Every Malaysian chess player who is good enough was given a chance. Do well at the National Closed and the Masters and you are in the team.
It pleased me no end to see Yit San, Sumant and Fadzil make it as these are the top 3 from the National Closed. Hopefully, next time around, more places in a Masters event would be allocated to the National Closed.
In the next post, I'll look at the performance of the 4 debutants in Tromso and compare with other Malaysian representatives at the three immediately preceding editions. For now, I'll just present the raw data below. My analysis and comments will follow in the next post.
Debut column shows the first time the player played at the Olympiads.