by Najib Wahab
After the smoke cleared, we lost to Singapore by just a single point. My only thought was – “What happened to the 6 points lead that we had from Round 1?”
Looking back at the match, we had a good lead at the end of Round 1, playing the white pieces, with 6 points advantage over our southern neighbor, securing 22 points against their 16. Everyone was smiling and everyone thought, we had it! Whilst 6 points may not be many, it was nonetheless a good start for the Malaysian Team. With Mas Hafizul, our newly crowned IM Mok Tze Meng and FM Peter Long heading the Seniors Team, we were at almost full force to crush our traditional foe.
The second round was a very tight match with the leads changing almost each time a score sheet is submitted to the arbiters. Just as one arbiter updates the score on the board, another arbiter would come over and change the results. At the end of the round, the score was even at 19. With the earlier good performance that Malaysia had, everyone was hoping that we could add at least another 2 or 3 more points on top of what we already had coming out of Round 1 but it was good enough – an even score to maintain our lead.
Going into the Rapid rounds, everyone in Malaysia was in high spirit. The sound of “Malaysia Boleh” can be heard early in the morning in the tournament hall. Not to be outdone, the Singapore had its own huddle and “Singapore Singapore” can be heard from across the other end of the playing hall. With most Malaysia players donning their new Malaysia T-shirts, and reinforcement came in the form of IM Jimmy Liew, IM Lim Yee Weng – the Malaysia Team now is fielding 4 of the 5 IMs that we have (Mok and Mas were the other 2 IMs), it is clear that Malaysia was out for the kill…. Rapid round starts and within the hour, almost all games were finished and it was very unfortunate that Malaysia, playing the white pieces, was not able to hold on and we lost 17.5 to 20.5. Everyone was beginning to feel uneasy. Our 6 points lead has been shaved by more than half and we are left with only a 2 points lead coming into the last round. Can we hold?
It was again another tense fight with lead changing at the blink of an eye… At 20-17 with one more game left to finish, it was clear that Singapore will win the round regardless but a winning game for our Malaysian player can save the day and even up the score 76 points – but mind you, by match points, we still lose at 2.5 to 1.5. At least, it would be a fitting ending since the series is tied at 9 a piece, and after a 2 year hiatus, what better way to restart the series – with a ‘peaceful’ draw.
Alas, we lost our last game, and with that, Round 4 ended with 21 to 17 in Singapore’s favor and along with it, the Dato’ Tan Kim Yeow trophy is once again being taken out of our shores, by the narrowest of margin 76.5 Singapore to 75.5 Malaysia.
Considering that Singapore did not field its strongest team, and it was played in Kuala Lumpur, we should have sent the Singapore team packing by the end of Round 2. But to be fair, our senior players and veterans did their share and played well to hold the fort. And some of junior players also did well to hold their opponents at bay. It was also a team event hence no single player should be blame for the lost but, in any case, something went wrong and we need to have the answers so we can prepare for the return match. Whilst we can say that we should have tried to get more good players like Yeoh Li Tian or Siti Zulaikha, we should also evaluate the possibility that it was more of a tactical and strategic defeat rather than just fielding the right players on the table.
Do we continue to field players who have lost 2 games in the classical event to continue playing in the Rapid Event? There are players who are good at longer time control but crumble when playing rapid game – did we identify these players? Going from Classical mode to Rapid mode takes some adjustments – were our players able to adjust to the change? Did we field players just for the sake of fielding them – because they have travelled from far hence they should be given a chance? Did we do any team meeting after each round to evaluate who did well and who did not? The atmosphere maybe friendly but, the country’s pride is at stake… Did we instill this into our players? Perhaps we should look at what had happened to ensure that this will not happen again…
Some other interesting facts from the game:
We did well in both our Under 12 and Under 10 group, scoring 11.5 points against Singapore 4.5 points. Our veterans also did well to edge Singapore by 1 point, scoring 8.5 points against Singapore 7.5 points.
Our senior players scored 18.5 points against Singapore 21.5 points but the Men did better with 13.5 points against Singapore 10.5 points. Unfortunately, the Ladies Team only managed to get 5 points compared to Singapore’s 11. Only Alia scored 2 wins while the others can only managed draws at best.
Our Under 18 team was the worst hit, earning only 2.5 points against Singapore’s 13.5 points.(an indication that our chess future is stagnating!) This is the most lop sided score amongst all the age groups. Our other weakness was our Under 8 group which secured 6.5 points against 9.5 points of Singapore.
The best scorer for Malaysia was Puteri Rifqah Fahada Azhar, scoring a perfect 4 points. 2 other players Mohd Aziz Farhan Noor Akbar and Wing Yinn Long scored 3.5 points each. 6 players – Ismail Ahmad, Wong Jianwen, Yeap Eng Chiam, Nithyalakshmi Sivanesan, Tan Yong Zhao and WFM Nur Najiha Azman Hisham – did well to secure 3 points. Alia Anin, Abdullah Che Hassan and Tan Jun Feng came in next with 2.5 points each.
The boys – including Senior Team and the Veterans – scored 45.5 points against Singapore 42.5 points but the Girls only scored 30 points compared to Singapore 34 points.
26 players played in all 4 rounds but only 11 players scored more than 50%. 13 players played only 1 game but only 2 players managed to score a full point.
At last count, Singapore had 2 GMs and both did not participate in the event. The strongest player in Singapore Team was IM Enrique Paciencia who has a FIDE rating of 2442. Singapore only fielded 1 player from their Top 10 compared to 5 players from our Top 10 list. Had they fielded their strongest team (on paper) against ours, the victory margin for Singapore would probably be more than just a single point. By world rank, Malaysia is at 69 averaging 2322 rating points and Singapore is at 60 with an average rating of 2385 points. Of course anything can happen but on paper, they are a tad stronger than us.
Looking at the results, It seems that Malaysia has a stronger junior team (for players below age 16) compared to Singapore but in the youth section (above 16 age group), Singapore seems to have the edge. Comparatively, Singapore Chess Association has their own appointed FIDE Trainer but we do not have that here in Malaysia. Their senior Ladies team are also better than our Ladies team - perhaps due to the presence of the coach, their players are better prepared and more mature in their approach of the game. For Malaysia, players like Mok, Jimmy and Mas are a cut above the rest as they had been exposed to International events and proper training programs (during their early playing days) which have helped them to better their knowledge of the game but the younger ones seem to lack the guidance and direction. Strange as it may seem, it seems as though as the players get older in Malaysia, they get weaker compared to Singapore players who seems to be wiser and more mature as they get older.
So, in the next few years to come, once our Under 10 and Under 12 players reached the Under 18 section, will they be able to secure the same winning margin that we had now? And during that same year, our Under 18 team will be a part of the Seniors Team…. Will they improve or will it get worse.
Only time will tell… Perhaps it is time to look at what we have now, and how we can move forward to improve – the programs, the training and the development. Otherwise, that 1 point that we have now, will be the closest one that we will ever get for the few years to come.
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