Wednesday, March 27, 2013


Someone asked if I had a coach when I played competitively. It does stir up some memories...hence I decided to answer this question in a blog post.

I started getting serious in chess when I was in Sec 1 in RI. There was a chess club in the school, so Friday afternoons were spent in the club playing casual games. I had discovered then that there were books published in chess a year ago, so I started combing the Hullett Memorial Library in RI and found a big treasure trove. Informants, Batsford Opening manuals, game collections were abound and I started reading everything I could get my hands on. For that reason, I became a Librarian.

Even that could not whet my appetite for more chess material. I stumbled upon the National Library in Stamford Rd and found more books and chess magazines! Each    issue of Chess Life, Chess (Sutton Coldfield) puzzles section was religiously photocopied and that became my daily chess breakfast. Reading interesting stories of the young emerging Garry Kasparov and his victories in the late 70's gave hope that the Karpov era of dry endgames would soon pass.

Though I worked hard at chess on my own, there were no chess computers or anyone offering chess instruction. Everything is in the books and you'd need time and some intelligence to sieve out what's best. So for 3 years I could only read and  memorise the variations of every opening text I came across, till the plateau of stagnation finally hit. There was no further improvement.

I had to search inside myself why this is so. What had I done wrong? It finally dawned on me that I had merely amassed a huge pool of INFORMATION but not really understanding WHY and HOW they can be applied. So I ended up rolling back my chess education and went back to basics. That took me another 2 years, this time I was in Pre-University 1. Again the same stagnation feeling. I had to ask why as my rating was stuck at then in the 1500's in 1980.

Finally I realised that I had not had good fundamentals in the ENDGAME which impeded my progress in understanding the mechanics of winning a game. I was too fascinated by the literary wins of Alekhine and Tal that I realised these were but a means to an end. Some good books I read helped - The books by Irving Chernev, Euwe and the best endgame book that I could get at that time, Paul Kere's Practical Chess Endings. I diligently went through the pawn endings, the Rook Endings in detail and that firmly shaped my understanding of the pieces. My tactical play was sharpened by the solving of Fred Reinfeld's 1001 Winning Chess Combinations coupled with a revamp of my repertoire - playing 1 d4 instead of 1 e4.

What got me to understand positions better was the playing over of master games - the games of Fischer ( I bought his 60 Memorable Games 3 times, after someone borrowed and never returned it), Spassky, Korchnoi and Botvinnik. Loved his volune of games which described his thoughts well. Then came Mikhail Tal's classic "Study Chess with Tal". It truly describes the pains taken by the master to concoct all his classic smashing attacks, the preparatory feints and most often the attention to detail of his own King before he launches the attack. Another such work was Paul Kere's Master Class by Neistadt. Then Shereshevsky's Endgame Strategy completed the education.

Today my teachers all rest in my shelves and they continue to inspire, guide and point me to examples that I can refer to explain chess concepts better to my students. A lifetime collection of 400 odd books that is still growing. But I have to say I owe it all to the early ones that I collected for keep my interest in the game alive till this day. Man, who needs computer games??

Saturday, March 23, 2013


I post the results of my students at the recently completed National School's Individuals

Some have improved their placings, while others have slipped down owing to losing their last round games. I am pleased overall with their performance, especially first timers Jaryl Seah in the U11 and Tan Qi Xuan in the U10. Both have started less than 6 months with me and I see good potential if they work hard in their practices.

For those who finished 3.5 pts or less, it goes to show that success on the chessboard cannot come from just taking lessons alone. A lot of hard work must be put into constant practice, going through the notes and revising them. No teacher can play the games for you or help you during the games. You have to be accountable for your results.

I specially congratulate Royce, Hui Ling, Adrian for their fine finish amongst the top 5 and also Mitchell who came in 11th despite a strong field. Royce is the only student who took part in all 3 days of competition and did well to finish 12th in U11 and 23rd in the Open, in spite of his busy GEP schedule. So having a tight school schedule is no excuse for not doing well in chess tournaments, so long as you manage your time well and stop spending unnecessary time on computer games and TV. It really is a question of HOW MUCH YOU WANT TO WIN.

Friday, March 22, 2013


SCF held a dialogue session with parents of FIDE-rated children, some players, coaches and SSC observers to discuss on matters on SCF program, direction but what drew the most attention were the new conditions on the licensing of chess-players having FIDE ratings on Standard Chess. It was made known to all that this scheme could be further extended to players having Rapid Chess and Blitz Chess ratings currently.

SCF opened the session with Treasurer Mr Leonard Lau explaining the rationale behind the licensing move. It was two-fold : to raise money for the SCF coffers as SCF  is currently implementing the HPE league whereby senior inactive players with high FIDE ratings can be financially compensated (akin to an appearance fee)  for playing against the juniors in the HPE squad.SCF has spent about $30,000 on the project as the Treasurer informed the members of the floor.  The other reason was to coerce (rather than coax) players with FIDE ratings to fulfil their obligations to play 10 FIDE-rated games a year LOCALLY, otherwise their ratings would be delisted from FIDE rating list. So it is not enough to just pay your way but to also play in order to keep your ratings published.

Several parents spoke their minds on this matter, some apprehensively in seeking clarification as to the consequences of being delisted. The SCF replied that delisted members can be relisted back to the list so long as they fulfil their 10 FIDE-rated game obligation and agree to pay the licence fee. What is more serious, as a parent pointed out, is that the predominant low-rating base amongst the Singapore Juniors today will be a huge stumbling block in their quest for FIDE titles such as the FM and IM. It would take players with low FIDE ratings many tournaments (provided they are doing well in them) to crawl their ratings up to the 2000 level owing to the lowering of the base FIDE rating floor by FIDE progressively over the years. The SCF President did remark that the lowering of the base rating  was a bad decision made by FIDE 13 years ago and till date, no one has the solution to rectify this. However, some parents were still puzzled as to why the SCF would still insist on rating the Standard Chess tournaments for Juniors if it was doing them disservice in their ratings? Several parents have also expressed their concern that it may not be as easy to find the tournaments locally that will fit their currently tight  schedules. Many sought to play overseas when it is during their annual year-end holidays.

I suggested that there should be a possible way of decoupling the playing obligation for players from the licence fee, ie allow the players to keep their ratings by paying for it but this was flatly rejected by the SCF who insisted that such players ought to keep their ratings active by playing and improving the vibrancy of the local chess scene.

If the SCF intends that local  FIDE rated players should avail themselves to do National Service by contributing their time in playing local FIDE Rated tournaments, surely one ought to start creating Rating Tournaments by forming pools of players within  a band of 200 rating pts, so they can mitigate the effects of "playing down" ( losing rating points when one loses to a lower rated player). As we do not have big-time sponsors to fund a super Swiss system tournament (eg the Thailand Open) of high average rating, this may probably be the way to go in helping those whose ratings are in the 1500-1800 region to climb. Can the National Youth Squad or ex Squad members be willing to get involved in bridging this pool ? It would so much more difficult to try and bring in inactive FIDE-rated players to agree to play in the HPE as their priorities may not be on chess at the present. Most are fairly successful in life and may not budge for a mere fee of $120 a game. However, my opinion is that many of such players once invested time, money and effort in getting their titles and it seems draconian and cruel  to rip them off their hard - earned ratings this way. There has to be another way to achieve the vibrancy of chess participating in Standard Chess without resorting to this measure.

There was also another plea by some members of the floor to review the current selection  of National representatives solely from the National Junior Squad. However, SCF has maintained that this cannot be compromised as it represents the only pathway to selecting the best talent in Singapore. It is lamentable that there are many non Junior Squad members who have proven themselves in competition that they too have the strength to be selected and merely asking a fairer selection process in which the playing field can be levelled. I guess this would not materialise until there is a change of SCF administration.

Friday, March 15, 2013


Tnere will be no chess session tonight at Thomson CC. Please note.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


This will be the last league game for both leagues, for those who have not completed their games please show up.

I will not be present on 15 March, will announce if the club session is on pending volunteers who can open the club.

John Wong