Sunday, 8 May 2016

IM Kevin Goh Wei Ming - Ex-Singapore National Player!

Open Letter (and the rant of an ex-National player)

This is going to be a long post (read "rant") as the announcement I am going to make is a rather painful one. These days, people are generally a lot more careful with what they post online but I think it is about time that someone voices out the frustration that an experienced and chess player often has playing chess in Singapore.

I have been playing active competitive chess for 13 years. Back in my JC days when I was a mere 2200 player, it would have been seen as a rather bad joke if someone had suggested that I would go on to represent the country in multiple Olympiads, SEA games and various other team tournaments. Somehow, that happened. My earlier days as a young national player was mired with actions driven by immaturity but my passion for chess and competition sustained my interest in the game longer than any chess player in Singapore. I love the game, the intensity that comes during a high level tournament, the satisfaction of winning an important game for the country but I have also experienced desperation and despair when I know I could have done better. To date, all I care about is playing and winning a game but somehow things are never that simple within the local chess community.

I have had my issues with the SCF for a long time and I know that there were people across different administrations who simply did not like my guts. Generally though, apart from the unfathomable and quite frankly ridiculous decision to omit me from the 2010 Olympiad (despite being National Champion from 2006-2009, and finishing 3rd in 2010!), the SCF and I had generally agreed to disagree on a variety of issues. I may not be the easiest person to work with (that's right, I am not a yes man!) but my arguments have always been centered around what works best for chess players. I was never interested in politics and all I had always wanted was to play and I've always pushed for a structured training regime to keep the top players of the country current.

I am almost (almost, because modesty has never been one of my strong traits and anyway I think it is overrated) embarrassed to be blowing my own trumpet but to put things into perspectives to the ignorant, my accomplishments were there for all to see. I am not any random National player or some up and coming junior who almost always inevitably gives up playing chess around the age of 18-19. 6-time National Champion in Classical Chess, Multiple SEA Games medals, just a couple of GM norms (incidentally, the only player in Singapore to have achieved this other than GM Wong Meng Kong), consistent performances for the National team (2500 TPR and beyond for my last 3 team events for Singapore) and I even managed to write a chess book that was widely acknowledged by experts all over the world.

Rather more astonishingly, my alma mater NTU awarded me the Sportsman of the Year award in 2005 in recognition of the medals that I won at the Tagaytay SEA Games. The fact that SCF let this piece of news go unnoticed - privately or publicly is a telling one but I'll leave that for another day.

As anyone who had played for the country at some point in their life would tell you, it is always going to be a tall order to manage studies, careers and having to play decent chess once in a while. I had managed to play reasonable chess while crafting out a career with KPMG and now with Econ Healthcare Group not by solving tactics for 10 minutes everyday but by being disciplined and being persistent in my beliefs. For those of you who may not understand or know the game very well, it is plenty of sacrifices that one had to make. In fact, I gave up a year of my career progression at KPMG just to get better at chess and while the sense of satisfaction from playing a good event is immense, one also gets a lot of frustrations from having a bad one.

A lot of people (including my family) have questioned me on whether it has been worth it but it is all dependent on one's perspectives, beliefs and ambitions. I take a lot of pride whenever I wear the National colors and I deem it as something worthwhile to put in the extra time, effort and energy.

An additional point that I have to make is that those who play for the country have often got to go through a lot of stress and pressure before and during the event. Maybe some of my ex-teammates and captains may see a trip as a free holiday but personally as a player, I don't see how relaxing an official tournament can ever be classed as a "holiday". 3-4 hours of prep a day, 3-4 hours of game time, and having to exhaust all your annual leave not to mention the number of no pay leave I had to take on some occasions is something that only those who had gone through will truly understand. Holiday? Not in my dictionary.

I'll like to think that the work that I've done are something good for Singapore chess. At least, I know that many of my chess friends, teammates and coaches have some degree of respect for my accomplishments. I have also been told by two of my good friends (top players) from a neighboring country that I am a "source of inspiration" for them. Although I think they were being too kind and that they definitely exaggerated to some point, it would be hypocritical of me to claim that I wasn't just a little pleased at the recognition and acknowledgement from fellow chess players.

Which nicely brings me to the true point of this article. I did not, and will never demand any privileges from the SCF administration. All I was expecting is fair and equitable treatment and a modicum of respect for someone who has been serving the nation, chesswise, faithfully for the last 13 years. I will be disclosing a series of events dating back from September 2015 that culminated in this outburst.

1) Upon reading the finalisation of the dates of the National Championships, I wrote the following note to John Wong, the current VP of the SCF. I have also copied and pasted the full correspondences via FB here:
  • Kevin Goh Wei Ming


    Hi John,

    I would like to play in the Nationals if not for the fact that I am flying to Hungary to play in a couple of GM tournaments on the 26th Dec. I am wondering if the SCF is open to having flexible arrangements if the event turns out to be a round robin? Naturally this is not a viable option if the event is a Swiss Open. If the SCF is not open to this, it is fine too and I understand.

    Thanks, Wei Ming
  • September 28, 2015
  • John Wong
    9/28, 9:33am
    John Wong


    Wei Ming, Thanks for your message. The Nationals this year is run on a Swiss format. Wishing you every success on your quest.
  • Kevin Goh Wei Ming
    9/28, 9:50am
    Kevin Goh Wei Ming


    Ok thanks much
  • January 28
  • Kevin Goh Wei Ming
    1/28, 2:47pm
    Kevin Goh Wei Ming


    Hi John,

    Now that the EOGM is out of the way, can I ask who's within the HPE committee and what is the process for selection? I am keen to participate in the Baku Olympiad but have not seen any selection criteria on the website. Pls let me know, thanks.

    Wei Ming

    SCF website is not updated by the way, those guys on the HPE have left 2 months ago
  • John Wong
    1/28, 2:49pm
    John Wong


    Drafted and sent to EXCO pending approval.
  • Kevin Goh Wei Ming
    1/28, 2:49pm
    Kevin Goh Wei Ming


    Sorry, what is drafted? HPE composition or the selection of the team?
  • John Wong
    1/28, 2:50pm
    John Wong


    I have drafted the selection guidelinwws and submited to EXCO for approval. It shd be released soon.
  • Kevin Goh Wei Ming
    1/28, 2:51pm
  • John Wong
    1/28, 2:51pm
    John Wong


    Am on the road. will comm later
  • January 29
  • Kevin Goh Wei Ming
    1/29, 9:35pm
    Kevin Goh Wei Ming


    Hi John, sorry to ask, so who is currently in the HPE?
  • John Wong
    1/29, 10:02pm
    John Wong


    Me Nisban Tony
  • Kevin Goh Wei Ming
    1/29, 10:05pm
    Kevin Goh Wei Ming


    Wow ok

    And the 3 of you determines the Olympiad squad, or its submitted for Exco approval?
  • January 30
  • John Wong
    1/30, 11:46am
    John Wong


    All decisions by HP committee in consultation with National Coach
  • Kevin Goh Wei Ming
    1/30, 11:54am
  • February 6
  • Kevin Goh Wei Ming
    2/6, 5:16pm
    Kevin Goh Wei Ming


    John, may I know when will the team selection for Baku be out? I am planning my tournament schedules and I have to take my leave in advance. I am planning for 2 tournaments this year.
  • John Wong
    2/6, 5:27pm
    John Wong


    likely end Feb a decision will be reached
  • Kevin Goh Wei Ming
    2/6, 5:28pm
    Kevin Goh Wei Ming


    Ok, thanks.
  • March 4
  • Kevin Goh Wei Ming
    3/4, 10:31am
    Kevin Goh Wei Ming


    Hi John, any news on the selection? I really need to plan my leave at least 6 months in advance.
  • Kevin Goh Wei Ming
    3/4, 10:42am
    Kevin Goh Wei Ming


    If the SCF is not selecting me for whatever reasons, it would only be fair to let me know early so I can plan my schedules.
  • March 5
  • Kevin Goh Wei Ming
    3/5, 4:15pm
  • March 8
  • Kevin Goh Wei Ming
    3/8, 3:04pm
    Kevin Goh Wei Ming


    John, I have wrote to the SCF formally about the above. You have to understand that if you want adult players to play, you gotto give them due respect and at least respond to their queries. I am reporting directly to my CEO and all leave plans must be approved in advance. If the HPE doesn't want to select me, I just need to know early so I can make plans for other tournaments in the calendar year. I think with a record like mine, I deserve a bit more respect and I should not be left hanging in the air like this.

I did not receive any further responses.

As you can see, I have tried to be reasonable and my queries were out of genuine concern as I have limited leave and flight tickets need to be bought early if I have decided on other tournaments. As a working adult and a national player, this is the least I can expect from my federation.

I then wrote to the SCF via an enquiry mail on the 8th of March and did not receive a reply. I then forwarded my query to Leonard Lau, the president of the SCF on the 11th of March who then responded 4 days later that the selection would likely be finalised by the end of March. It is the 7th of May today and I have yet to receive a response.

While the federation has repeatedly emphasized the desire to be open and transparent to the community, I could not understand how that works in practice when they don't respond to an important query from the number 2 player in the country. In a reasonably well-functioning body or organisation, this would mean that the non-responding party has no regard for the other party and has no interest in working with them.

2) The selection guidelines published on 27th March included the following paras:
1.3 The following guidelines apply for selection to represent Singapore in SCF sanctioned 
international competitions (refer Annex A). Requirements include: 
a. Being a Singapore Citizen or Singapore PR 
b. Being a member of the National Training Program (NTP) 
c. Attaining minimum attendance during NTP during training 
d. Attained performance requirements in past tournaments 
e. Having participated in at least the last edition of the National Championship or 
National standard event (National Age Group or SG Amateur) for the last 12 
months prior to the event. 
I don't know about you but the last time I checked, a requirement to participate in a tournament for any purposes is typically announced BEFORE the tournament itself. It would have made sense if it is stated somewhere that the guidelines are in effect from 2017, or National Championships 2016 as that will allow the readers to decide for themselves whether they are keen to participate. However, I had not read any exemption or exception to the guidelines and from 1.3e, it is easy to assume that that will then mean that both myself and GM Zhang Zhong will not qualify for the team.

This is almost as equitable as the selection criteria for the 2010 Olympiad that was announced AFTER the Nationals, i.e. top 2 qualify automatically for the squad. I had finished 3rd in the event. :)

3) This is my biggest issue with the current administration and the one that pushed me over the precipice.

I had met Grandmaster Zhang Zhong for lunch the other day and he had told me that his request to be selected as the official player for the Asian Continental Championships was rejected because of "youth policy" and apparently because he did not fulfill the selection guidelines stipulated under 1.3e. His attempts to communicate with the SCF in person were rejected and he was even ignored in subsequent exchanges.

I think any chess player will find these "reasons" inexplicable.

To me, the amount of disrespect that was dished out to Zhang Zhong was incredibly astounding. Zhang Zhong is one of the best things that can ever happen to Singapore chess and I say this having worked with him in several training sessions and playing along side him on 3 separate occasions. He has a great understanding of chess and has always been very helpful when consulted during any team or even individual events.

I would not bother going into detail but real chess players who understand the game will know just how critical Zhang Zhong could be for the progress of Singapore chess. The fact that he had been coaching young kids consistently while continuing to perform incredibly well (2730 TPR at the recent Qatar Masters Open) should already suffice to show just what a great player he is. The Singapore Chess community should count themselves fortunate that they have gotten a truly world class player who was willing to commit to contribute to chess development in the country.

This is the issue when the Exco does not have a single decently strong chess player who has represented this country in a major team chess tournament. There is no appreciation of the work and sacrifices of chess players and that corresponds to a lack of respect for people who understand the game far more than them.

Conclusion:

I guess this is a long time coming and there will be many who will be clapping in glee after reading this, but yes, I have decided to stop playing for the Singapore team under this current administration. Instead, I will play in open tournaments to try and attain my final Grandmaster norm.

To the current exco, I'll just like to say a big well done - you have successfully managed to ostracize the top 2 players of the country and in doing so, torn apart one of the strongest ever Olympiad teams (Tromso 2014) within a very short period of time since taking office.

https://ratings.fide.com/topfed.phtml?tops=0&ina=1&country=SIN

#Respectforplayers
#SCFnotSYPCF

http://kgwm.blogspot.com.au/2016/05/open-letter-and-rant-of-ex-national.html

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