Monday, 1 September 2008

A Malaysian Tragedy - A Comedy With Endless Acts?


I first learnt last year from Mas Hafizulhelmi at MAIGOC (Macau Asia Indoor Games) that he had been given 18 months paid leave by his employer Petronas (the Malaysian National Oil Company) to pursue his dream of becoming Malaysia's first grandmaster.

With encouragement from Malaysian Chess Federation (MCF) Deputy President Ibrahim Abu Bakar who was present there as their team manager, we met with FIDE General Secretary Ignatius Leong (at my very personal request) to discuss how best we could help him achieve this and so the following plan was developed (after Mas was warned by him that than 18 months might not be enough time):

1. Senior Trainers from the ASEAN Chess Academy would begin reviewing his games and in the meantime we would arrange for him to play in a number of tournaments to get games for much needed practice against top level competition.
2. After 3-4 months, we would review his performance, subject the games to detailed analysis and if necessary, do any required remedial work. Otherwise it would be back to competition.
3. The first objective would be to get him to the level of a strong IM (2460) and if achieved, then work towards the second objective which is a 2500 rating after which hopefully the third and final objective of making GMs norms (2600 rating performances) could happen. In short, a realistic step by step approach.

But immediately on our return to KL this began to unravel.

Of course I do not think for once the above approach is the only way but judge for your self what happened next (just the facts and not the inside story!):

1. Mas was immediately shipped for a month of training with the Australian Grandmaster Ian Roger thanks to sponsorship by Dato' Tan Chin Nam (at that point still MCF President) and so what was agreed by us in Macau was immediately brushed aside. In fact then MCF Honorary Secretary Abdul Hamid Majid (whom I understand is only qualified as an arbiter in chess) had taken personal charge of his program and was arranging his tournaments so he was then sent to play in the Commonwealth Championship.
2. After that, following the Singapore-Malaysia Match, Mas played in the Singapore Open, then at the Tarakan GM "A", in a tournament in Iran, and finally, together with more training from Rogers, at the Doberl Cup and Sydney Open in Australia, all with results consistent with his current 2380+ rating.
3. Having run out of tournaments, Hamid asked the organisers for a free entry and full conditions in the back to back Philippines and Subic International Opens (he actually told them that Mas was too poor to pay the entry fee) but after that embarassing request was refused he paid up and played anyway and with pretty much the same results.
4. Next I heard that Mas was playing in First Saturday Budapest followed by the Biel Open in Switzerland and that suddenly his results were much better and even if he had missed GM norms he might have finally made an IM norm and he would have gotten rating points (some 30-40 elo points).
5. Back at the Malaysian Open, Mas is again back at his 2380+ rating level despite his trainer Rogers in attendance, but all the buzz was about the special GM tournament being arranged for him after where he would hopefully make his first GM norm. (I am writing this after he failed mathematically just after the half way mark as Mas is sensitive to criticism and I don't want him to blame me!).

I still wish Mas well but I have to break my silence with this article and also to say here that he has not yet demonstrated he is playing beyond 2400 level and that is far from the 2600 performance he needs to make GM norms.

From the start we had advocated a step by step approach to get his level up (as far that is possible would of course depend on his talent, character, and work ethic and of course the tournaments arranged) but instead he is expected to immediately be playing at GM level!

There are so many things wrong with how Malaysian chess is run and do blame the people responsible for it for easily two decades now but this is really a tragedy that should not be played out in public.

But perhaps to understand why we might need to assign roles to the leading actors:

1. Mas (the ultimate victim perhaps but not totally innocent of all responsibility as he is naturally a willing party and prepared to go along)
2. Petronas (perhaps duped by MCF - wittingly or otherwise - into giving Mas their full support)
3. Hamid (at best clearly simply completely incompetent to run this program)
4. Dato Tan (apparently no longer with the capacity to make decisions on his own but did he ever understand what he was doing where chess was concerned as is now so vividly illustrated by 4 decades of complete failure?)
5. Ian Rogers (can easily be accused to be professionally dishonest and even of being in it for the money and/or to curry favour with Dato Tan)
6. Malaysian chess (our hopes unnecessarily raised and then to be horribly shattered)

Do you know why do I choose to illustrate this post - my first in genuine anger at what chess in Malaysia has come to as I thought I had stopped caring - with the http://www.gilachess.com/ logo?

Because while the likes of Andrew Ooi do means well, it also has come to be representative of the celebration of mediocrity together with self delusion that is Malaysian chess today.

In short, we deserve what we have as that is what we are, having chosen it!

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