Learning points - what to do and what not to do during a chess event
If you are a chess player and are based in Singapore, you should be aware by now that like a whirlwind of energy and positivity, Grandmaster Jacob Aagaard, one of the most famous chess writers and trainers alive have arrived in Singapore, conducted an absolutely fantastic training lecture and is, at the time of writing, conducting a workshop in Jakarta. By his estimate, the session in Singapore was his 21st of his Thinking Inside the Box, Asian Tour but he had said that he is only getting started and he will only get better and better.
I've enlisted the help of friends to do some video editing so that we can re-collect the tons of positions and explanations that Jacob had painstainkingly gone through with a largely enthusiastic crowd and with his permission of course, we will put up some of the analysis and the key take-aways. However, I think it is worthwhile to share some of my personal impressions while organising and attending the event myself.
I have always been first and foremost a chess player and this is the first major chess event that I've organised. It is clearly not about the money given that Jacob, Peter and Sagar are losing money from the tour. Jacob himself said that he derived a lot of pleasure from these lectures and sharing his wealth of experience and knowledge. My personal wish is to that the participants enjoy themselves, extract the most out of the lecture and increase their enthusiasm and love for the game.
I've already said this at the event and also on my FB but there is really no harm in repeating my appreciation for the volunteers who have spent their time and money to make this event the success that it is.
My good friend and part-time student, Dr. Mark Liew co-funded and organised this event. His enthusiasm for the game is close to being unparallelled and he is also a big fan of GM Jacob Aagaard's work. Here is one of his games from the on-going Bangkok Challengers where, with the help of Playing the French by Aagaard & Ntirlis, Quality Chess, he absolutely destroyed a player rated over 400 points higher:
Peck Seah, who is the Mom of FM Lee Qing Aun volunteered to help me manage the event and she was essentially a god-send. I didn't manage to take a picture of her as she was bustling around, making sure everything was in order since 10am in the morning. She was, in soccer terms, an N'golo Kante, "covering every blade of grass on the pitch" and helping me take absolute care for our guests.
By now, many would have seen or known Yujing and he specially took leave ("I had to clear my leave anyway!") just to help out with this event. He brought together a group of volunteers (Betsy who rushed over after work and took care of refreshments & Roy who came early to help test the equipment, sort out the books and took care of photography) and helped me sort out the books and manned the mini-chess shop that we had set up at the front of the conference room.
So for the last time - a big thank you to the volunteers! I know who to look for the next time I do something like this
And now, something a little less pleasant. I had thought about this quite long before deciding to pen this as I had not wanted to give the impression that the event wasn't the rousing success that it was. However, I like to think that when receiving a guest who had travelled thousands of miles, we as hosts would like to make him feel welcome and give him the absolute best impression of our people and our country. I believe 95% of the participants lived up to it - they were enthusiastic about the lecture, no one was caught sleeping on camera and everyone queued up for photos and autographs in an orderly manner. Nothing is ever perfect though, and I see the need to point out a few things that I felt were basic, but apparently not so.
1) Late withdrawals and no-show:
The event was fully registered 1 week before the event proper and I had several guests waiting on the reserve list, including my own team-mate on the QCD Chess league (I am really sorry, Melvin). It was disappointing when many sign-ups chose not to show up and did not even have the basic mannerism of letting me know, despite the countless reminders that I have sent and the many posts that I had published. People were deprived of a seat because of your actions and lack of courtesy and it is telling that an SCF official was one of these no-shows.
To those who have emailed me at very late notice - thanks for that although there was not much I could have done to replace you. Fortunately, there were some who tried their luck and showed up and paid for the entrance tickets. And yet, there were some who showed up and left hurriedly just before it ended without paying! Yes, in case you are reading this, people actually notice this sort of thing and although this is not a shaming session, we do know who you are!
2) Basic courtesy to the guests and organisers:
When the lecture ended and we were about to start the photo taking and autograph sessions, a small group took it upon themselves to get up from their chairs abruptly, exited the room and make a dash for the lift as if they were waiting to go home all this while. Now, I understand that it was very late and possibly people were waiting for you to go home but it would have been nice to just come to me or Jacob hurriedly, explained that you guys had to go but just say a quick thank you or goodbye. Our behavior reflects the way we do things and the culture of our society and I'll like to think that Singaporeans, and especially chess players want to leave a favourable impression on our guests. Clearly we have to lay out certain ground rules in the future as basic social etiquette can no longer be taken for granted.
3) The complete lack of acknowledgement from our official governing body:
I was not exceptionally surprised when I heard from Peter that the SCF was not open to receive and host Jacob. These days, there are very few things that the SCF can do that can surprise me but what really caught me off-guard was the reason behind their decision: apparently, certain members of the SCF Exco were not happy with some of the articles that Peter had written for The Malay Mail Online and therefore they could not support any events that have got anything to do with him!
Now Peter is far from being an angel as he himself would admit. There are many things we agree and disagree with but what we both saw was an excellent opportunity for an accomplished and world-class trainer to share his experience at a very very low cost. Accomplished players such as Grandmasters Eugene Torre and Utut Adianto helped to organise and manage the events in the Philippines and Indonesia while Jacob worked with 11 Grandmasters in Chennai including the very popular and young Baskaran Adhiban. Clearly, we should have been jumping at the opportunity instead of letting it slide. Peter, for the record, stayed at the back of the room 95% of the time and the only time he appeared was when he was trying to sell some t-shirts!
I can also mention that a senior member of the Exco had promised to advertise the event on the SCF website which of course did not happen. As far as I know, there were also no official representative from the SCF to acknowledge Jacob's time, energy and effort for this excellent lecture.
Clearly, there are some political issues going on but what I hope we can do in the future is that people can put their petty differences apart and do something together to move chess forward. I remember that back in 2010, the SCF then had similarly snubbed both Karpov & Kasparov's visits because those were deemed to be political. It is frustrating to realise that people simply don't value and respect world-class technical expertise enough to put aside petty local disagreements.
I am obviously biased but I can honestly say that Jacob's lecture was the best event that I have ever witnessed in Singapore, from an educational perspective. It might not have generated the most publicity or awareness like the events for Kasparov, Karpov and Anand but it certainly showed insights into chess training that players of all levels and even very strong players might not be aware of.
I am not going to pretend that the volunteers and I did not enjoy organising this event - we had a great time and we would do it again and again. We could however have done this in a bigger venue, have a bigger audience and ultimately benefitted more people. It is just a shame that people had allowed personal conflicts to get in the way of chess development in Singapore.
There are many things that could have been handled in a better way and I am not the type to sugar coat and claim that things are perfect. Was everything I said factual and fair? I would like to think so. Was I a little harsh? Maybe, but I believe not exceptionally.
Now that I've gotten that out of the way, the next article will be strictly on the Chess! For now, as a prelude, see this thought provoking piece written by Junior Tay: