Tuesday, August 9, 2011


After reading Chess Ninja's post on the topic, I am sure many will be convinced that chess coaches or normal GMs do not make much financially.

I have asked GM Torre back when he was here: " Would you recommend the path of a GM to anyone?" He stopped to think before replying : " It's not for anyone. The path to GM is tough and only those who are deeply passionate about chess and not much else should venture into it". So please forget about trying to make big bucks when you enter into the world of chess. Most of us who are involved in chess organising give much of our time, energies and sometimes even money just to ensure that tournaments are run well, players are at least silent on complaints. As a coach in Singapore, I speak for myself that I can survive comfortably being single and not having to feed a family, given the high cost of living here. In many ways, chess coaching is about the few professions I can go into once you are in your 40s here. Getting a professional job paying more than $6000 a month is impossible, you may get one at $3000. Then there's taxes, your car and really its mere subsistance living from month to month.

Now I decide how hard to work and plan my schedule according to the school calendar, go on vacation or plan my curriculum when the students are preparing for their exams in October. Fortunately I also plan functions and weddings which are another source of income during this time. So I cannot quip about my current state of affairs as I have dropped out of the rat race and all the stress that comes with it. My chief joy today comes from my students when they execute a win successfully, win trophies along the way and behave themselves in between tournament rounds. Lunch appointments are often flexible, that's where I catch up with my friends. On Sundays, I still manage to run a jazz jam session at a local community club after my classes to keep up with my other interest.

Hence my advice to those who may want to consider being chess coaches (or GMs for that matter) - You need to firstly ensure that you are comfortable financially, no longer aspiring big money, be deeply passionate in your game, have a big heart to contribute to the community, enjoy the intangible perks that come with it. Life is never a dull moment if you set your objectives right, go all out to achieve it and most importantly, have fun and joy doing what you do.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


This month, I am in pensive mode so I thought I'd share a few interesting and funny GM stories before I start to lose them.

1995 - Eugene Torre was in Singapore and had just won the Asian Inter-Continental Rapid Chess Championships. I was his escort and tried to help him get some local goodies for him to bring home. The first was durian. I told him that it was forbidden to bring it onboard but he was relentless. So rather than dissuade him, we managed to find a durian seller who would pack it airtight so that no smell would be emitted. That done, he needed cash to pay. So we went to a money changer.

I introduced Eugene to him and announced : " This is Asia's first Chess Grandmaster! You must give him a better rate." To which the friendly Indian money changer replied : " Yes, he is Asia's first, but not first compared to India's Visawanathan Anand". Both Eugene and I were red-faced after his remark.

1992- We had just landed in Singapore and I spotted GM Daryl Johansen of Australia who was on the same flight. I had played him in 1978 in the Christmas Festival tournament held at RI hall then, losing in 34 moves. We exchanged greetings and I asked him if he remembered playing me then. He gave a long hard look before he blurted : " Reversed King's Indian, right?" I was floored. " How could you have remembered such a game? After 14 years?" I loved his reply:


1985 - Miguel Najdorf was in Singapore in transit and gave a simul of 15 boards. He told us this story:

"I was playing in Saltojsbaden Sweden in the 1948 Interzonal. My opponent the next round was the Swede Gosta Stolz. He was sitting at the bar and he spotted me. He was already quite tipsy and asked me to buy him a beer. I thought to myself : Why not? He's going to get a hangover and that's alright with me. So I bought him one, he finished it real quick and asked for another. And another. Altogether I bought him 12 beers. He finally stopped, thanked me and went  to bed."

" The next day we sat down to play and in less than 1 hour I was totally lost! While I was sweating to try save my position, Gosta smirked and bent over: Draw? You can imagine my relief when he said that. But then he uttered after the scoresheets were signed :" Ah Miguel, I'll let you in on a little secret:.."


Wednesday, August 3, 2011


He's probably done the most for Singapore chess during 1968-74, having helped the Singapore Olympiad team then in their preparations. Many of our senior players remember him for his affable, congenial disposition - always courteous, smiling, never losing his composure.

My first meeting with the man was in 1978. Karpov had just defeated Korchnoi in Manila. As students at RI we were told that a FIDE delegation would be visiting the school and I was given the task of organising a simul for the FIDE President Fridrik Olaffsen. Strangely, a man came in the afternoon into the lecture hall where we staged our reception and started to give a talk on pawn endings. He was ready to give away collar pins to anyone who could solve the puzzles. Several of the boys did, which made him very happy. Then he proceeded to give the simul. He had not yet introduced himself.

The simul started and shortly after 20 minutes, another group of people entered into the simultaneous match. One elderly gentleman borrowed a set from me, set the pieces up and sat down opposite the master. The master looked at the position, then at the gentleman and they both burst out laughing and started to hug each other. Prof Lim then introduced them - Nikola was giving the simul as the President did not show, while the gentleman was none other than GM Yuri Averbakh! We were all stunned. I know GM Averbakh after reading about the famous Queen sacrifice in his game vs Kotov in Zurich 1953. Finally I get to meet him! I had to find a book for him to sign and all I had at the time was ? Fischer's 60 Memorable Games. Nonetheless I sheepishly approached him for the autograph. He grunted for a while when he saw the title, but smiled nonetheless and signed on the book along with GM Josif Dorfman. It was a sunny day for the chess boys at RI.

Nikola was also invited to lecture the 1st FIDE Trainers' Seminar prganised in Singapore in December 2003 in place of Adrian Mihailschin.He was honest to remark that he could not deliver Adrian's syllabus but gave us wonderful endgame puzzles to train our calculating ability. The puzzles were taken from his published book "De Ta Pitam"


Sadly I learnt that he passed on in 2008 but he will always remain as a friend to Singapore Chess and the wonderful man who gave  everyone a pawn endgame puzzle to solve.


I was manager of the then National Junior Squad back in 1986-87, which comprised names like IM Hsu Li-Yang, Wong Foong Yin, Ong Chong Ghee, Low Pe-Yeow,Mark Tan, Lee Wang Sheng, Lee Song and Mark and Jeremy Lim (?!). The SCF then received news that GM Eduard Gufeld was available for a 3-day seminar having spent some time in Malaysia at the Chess Palace there doing the same thing. After deliberation, IM Tan Lian Ann agreed to sponsor the training but made sure that all proceedings were recorded and that I would be the chaperon.

GM Eduard Gufeld was renowned as the trainer who help Maya Chiburdanidze rise to world fame by beating the then Women's World Champion Nona Gaprindashvilli. He was also the creator of several beautiful wins in the King's Indian Defence, notably his "Mona Lisa" against Bagirov in 1973 and then another against Mestel in 1985 in Hastings. He showed both games in the simultaneous match in Singapore at the Chinese Swimming Club and it was really a wonder how a Russian with his brand of English could captivate the audience not just with his accent, but wonderful moves and ideas.

Gufeld laid the rules for the training - a notebook for recording ideas and variations, 2 games prepared by each student for analysis, but what's great is that he starts and ends each day with an exercise to have every student recite chess maxims and rules. Not just the ones he propounded but also the ones the students had already known. During the 3 days, he covered extensively useful topics like the relativity of values of pieces, the art of calculation, intuition and how it is derived, using mainly his own games as illustrations which were found in the book below:

I had the chance to buy this book in Europe and started to read through the games and thankfully, the English version named " The Search for Mona Lisa" finally appeared before I had to revise my knowledge of the Russian language just to read the book.

GM Gufeld through his inimitable way expounded useful concepts to our juniors, especially in the areas of opening preparation. He cited his game against Plaskett at Hastings, where the opponent played a novelty which he felt was not quite sound. He then quoted this rule : " When your opponent first make anti-rule move, you can also reply with anti-rule move..BUT NOT BEFORE!"..or : " I tell my students everytime they brush teeth they must say CENTRE..because CENTRE is best place for chess pieces!". Other famous quotes : "You not move pawns in side where opponent more strong, because it stop opponent for second but not long".."In attack, you must bring Rook into attack, and to exchange pieces which make defence Object of your attack". Finally : " When student give Bishop for Knight, I invite them to zoo. Because in Russian Bishop is same as ELEPHANT, and knight is HORSE. WHO MAKE MORE FOOD? ELEPHANT OR HORSE?".

Of all the recordings I had, only 1 survived and to this day I am still playing and replaying them to learn from the man who taught me how to teach chess and make it memorable. The game he was talking about was his famous French Defence game against then up and coming Boris Spassky in 1960. He described how he played WITH RULES and soon Spassky .." World Champion but he cannot make move! because I play with RULES! Remember..when you play without rules, you lose 80 games out of 100, but you win 80 games out of 100 if you play WITH RULES."  Now I understand why he makes the students recite the RULES.

ps: In 1993 the Grandmaster was still in Malaysia taking part in the Merdeka tournament in KL and our team was paired to meet them. I brought along the book of his games and deliberately left it on the table of my first board Tan Chin Hoe. Gufeld sat down, but was visibly shaken when he saw the book. He looked at me and asked : " You read this book?" I answered calmly : "Yes, Grandmaster". When the game started, he did not play his usual 1 e4 but 1 Nf3 instead. My psychological gambit worked. Though we lost the 1st board game, Black was objectively better and Gufeld was annoyed trying to convince the audience that he was winning. He did win, but on time of course.

Monday, August 1, 2011


The list of prizes continues with Nicholas Low coming in  2nd at the Under 9. He was winning against Hui Ling on Round 6 but gave a stalemate. So he learnt his lesson of not playing fast after this game, because he could have been Champion with the win. Lessons are best learnt this way I feel, despite all the advice and reminders I gave, this fact would do much more in shaping his chess future. But receiving the trophy made him forget his brooding all too soon.

Kaarthik also won a Merit Prize at the Under9. This boy's achievement is due mainly to his diligence in playing many games online, which helped in improving his chess vision since I took over his training.

Shaw Fong (pictured below) missed out of the top 5 placings for the Under 10 section, coming in 7th on 5/7. He was always cheerful through the tournament and enjoyed his games. I believe this achievement will spur him to work harder for future successes.

Matthew Sim got a Merit Prize at the Under 10. Dan Peng's regular visits to Thomson on Fridays made him a mature player this time, getting him a Merit Prize in the Under 11 section. So was Hui Miin in the Girls Under 11.

The last recepient of the Merit Prize for Girls Under8 goes to Tricia Koh. She is now excited at the win of the prize and wants to do more in her chess. A little motivation does go a long way in spurring students forward, at the same time, losing badly due to poor or no preparation can wreck a young player's confidence. Hence selecting the right tournaments and good preparation makes all the difference between finishing at the podium or at the playground.


Yesterday marked the Toa Payoh West CC Invitational tournament with 223 participants, organised by the Toa Payoh West CC and Kheng Cheng School. There were 6 categories, from Under 7 to Primary Open. I persuaded most of my students to take part, as a measure of their progress after months of training.

In the Under-7 category, my latest student Visakan Swaminathan scored 7/7 to win the category. I can see the glint in his eyes when he told me about it and that in itself is priceless. The joy of achievement and success is always sweet and should be remembered. The photo below said it all.  

I am very proud of Visakan mainly because he has listened to my instructions during the tournament - not to run around whilst others expended their energies, stay focussed on the game and with the help of his father, did just that.

My 2 other students, brother and sister Lee Shi Hao and Hui Liang respectively, once again showed their composure in being Champion for their categories. Shi Hao and Hui Ling both won with 5.5/7. I have seen stable improvement in their chess over the last 6 months, mainly because they were diligent in their homework though they could do better with more games practice. All in all, well done!!

They will receive prizes from their teacher of course, at the next lesson.