My thoughts on the Singapore National Championships 2016
I will be posting a series of articles that will reveal some of the on-goings behind the scene. It took me a fair bit of pondering before deciding to do this but given the complete lack of engagement from the SCF Exco, and looking at the current state of affairs, I think it is time to present some facts and allow the local chess community to judge for themselves whether certain decisions make sense.
Back in October this year, I wrote the following note to the SCF Exco:
"Hi Leonard, and the SCF Exco,
I am writing to you in relation to this year's National Championships. I will like the SCF to reconsider the tournament's eligibility of PRs and Citizens in view of the following:
1) There are many strong foreigners in Singapore who would be interested to play given the lack of strong tournaments in Singapore. Offhand, I can think of at least 4 players who are rated above 2300 who might be interested to play and their inclusion will strengthen the event considerably;
2) In 2015, the Nationals only had 9 players partly due to this criteria. I understand at least 1 foreigner (Nathan Alfred, 2350 rated) was not accepted and his inclusion would have allowed the participants to play for IM norms. In addition, it was also fortunate that GM WMK, IM Ravi, Tan Wei Liang and Ben Foo all happened to be in Singapore or the tournament would have even less players.
3) Given the lack of standard-rated tournaments in Singapore, their inclusion will increase the rating average and allow norm seekers such as Gong Qianyun to have a genuine chance of completing her WGM requirements. We really should be queuing up to encourage these players to participate rather than excluding them.
For your consideration please.
I received a whatsapp text from one of the EXCO members acknowledging receipt and a note that this will be brought up in the next council meeting. I then had 1 brief conversation with Leonard on this topic and he had said that the Nationals is the main event for selection purposes, and since National representation is only for citizens and PRs, the event was only restricted to these group of players for simplicity reasons.
(I recently came to find out that this is an internal decision by the Exco, and it is not guided by any regulations by Sports Sg. As I understand, SSG leaves it to each NSA (National Sports Association) to organise its events)
This is a perfectly reasonable response, except for the elephant in the room - we simply don't have enough players! As I had predicted, all 4 players mentioned in point 2 above + Mark Ong, all titled and at least 2200 elo did not play this year and as a result, we only had 9 initial participants (with 2 late withdrawals, but thats a separate topic).
Now, I don't wish to disrespect the participants as almost all of them are amongst our best juniors and they all put in the time and effort to play what must have been a reasonably tough event. However, I think it is fair to point out that out of these 9 players, only 3 had ratings above 2200. Surely, our Singapore National Championships is capable of so much more?
In all fairness, the current SCF did emphasize the importance of the Nationals by adding an attractive prize fund but I think it is clear by now that to most local adult players, financial gain is not the main consideration when deciding whether to spend 9 days during the festive season playing chess.
To date, more than 2 months later, I had not received an official response in writing from the SCF. This is the main reason why I had not signed up myself, as I felt that more could be done to increase the category of the event. All this is obviously water under the bridge now, but I hope that the SCF can clarify their position and reconsider this policy for next year's National Championships.
On the conclusion of this year's Nationals:
IM Tin Jingyao lived up to his billing as the top seed of the tournament and became National Champion for the first time. The surprise of the event was the underdog, FM Lee Qing Aun who held both Jingyao and Enrique Paciencia (last year's Champion) to draws with the black pieces his only black games by the way, and actually tied with the former with 4.5/6. I was then very surprised to see that Jingyao was announced first on tie-breaks, based on the number of wins with black.
Player list, and the results can be seen here
There are a couple of issues here:
1) Tie-breaks published on the SCF website are as follows:
9. Ranking & Tie Break
9.1 The final ranking is determined by the number of points scored.
9.2 In case of a tie, the following order of tie-breaks shall be used:
a. Direct Encounter
b. Buchholz Cut 1
d. Greater number of wins with BLACK pieces
e. Greater number of wins
Buchholz, which simplistically means a sum of opponents points, is simply not a viable tie-breaker for round robin events for pretty obvious reasons. As such, there are only 3 tie-breaks instead of 5, and it is slightly puzzling why 2 tie-breaks, which are not applicable to round robins, were included in the first place.
2) As such, the organisers jumped straight to D (direct encounter between Jingyao and Qing Aun was a draw) and that settled the tie. Now, this is also quite puzzling. I am aware that there are some events which utilise this tie-break and the rationale can be easily understood - in chess, the advantage of the white pieces cannot be disputed and at a reasonable playing strength, winning with Black is undoubtedly much more difficult than winning with White.
However, this tie-break is not the most effective when there is only a small sample of games. For instance, both Qing Aun and Jingyao only played 2 blacks each, and while Jingyao managed to beat Enrique Paciencia in one of those games, it is also worth pointing out that Qing Aun had to take 2 blacks against the top 2 seeds. At the same time, the significant difference in elo of players across the event randomizes the tie-break. Of course, the situation was not helped by the fact that there were 2 late withdrawals but I would argue that tie-break D is also not the best in a 8-game tournament with such an uneven field.
The National Champion title is a prestigious one and it is a pity that it was decided based on a clearly, imo, inappropriate basis. Qing Aun played a good event and I think he has grounds to feel aggreived that he didn't at least get to play a rapid play-off with Jingyao.
My role as a competitive, and National Chess player is to play the best chess to my ability and do the country proud on every possible instance. Similarly, the organisers are responsible for providing the best experience to players and in this case, to uphold the prestige and image of the country's most important event. I hope that the organisers can take my message positively and see how things can be improved for next year's event.
(Slight digression: after reading this, I am certain that there will be some ignorant groups around who will be eager to politicise my message, and claim that I am "part of Leong's gang" or whatever the hell that means. I wish to clarify that I am not affiliated to any political group, and I am certainly not advocating the return of Ignatius's leadership. All I am saying is that I may not necessary agree with each of Ignatius's decisions - we had a lot of differences but I will be the first to admit that there were also many areas where he had done a lot for the players.)
More disclosures to come soon!