Thursday, February 25, 2010

Selection Process for Women Malaysian Masters

by Najib Wahab

It is very interesting to see how the 1st Malaysian Women Masters event has generated interest and concern from players and enthusiasts. There were some constructive and positive feedback given but at the same time, there were also negative comments and criticism voiced. A few questions were raised and perhaps some decisions that were made seem to spark controversies but then again, controversies will inevitably exist because different people have different understanding of the same situation. Different angles, approach and views will result in different comprehension of the bigger (or smaller) picture. The one conclusion that can be drawn, and this should be the correct conclusion… there are a lot of people out there who CARES – people who cares about the PROPER progress and the CORRECT move forward for chess, its players and the association. AND THAT is a very GOOD and ENCOURAGING SIGN!

This is the first time the Malaysian Women Masters is being held and there is a need to refine the processes to ensure that merit will always comes first above all other things.

Those who strongly believe that they should get a chance to play in this inaugural event but are not selected, should not despair nor be saddened by the seemingly unfavorable decision – by all means, this is not the end of the world! It is just a small glitch, a hiccup hence, the desire to improve and progress in becoming a better player should continue to be nurtured and developed. After all, one event and one championship do not make a person an excellent player. Its consistency, the willingness to learn and the ability to overcome challenges will be more useful and rewarding in the long run. Defeat is not when you fall down… defeat is when you do not get up!

Let us evaluate the current selection criteria for the Women Masters event. Foremost, the criteria for selection and the player’s list have been advertised in most blogs since January 2010, giving ample time for players to respond and comment. From my observation, the response from the players has been lukewarm, and slow. Perhaps players themselves are disinterested due to other more important commitment or, maybe the idea of being crowned as the 1st Malaysian Masters Champion is not exciting and glamorous enough. Or, do the players want MCF, the organizers and sponsors to beg the players to play instead? The fact that each the top 4 players for this event will be selected to represent the country in the upcoming Olympiad in September, seems to indicate that the dangled carrot is not juicy enough for the players to even glance at the opportunity to play. Perhaps we should request for BMW to be the sponsor and the winner will win a car and I bet you that everyone and anyone would want to be in the event. I am sure some male players would also consider undergoing gender change operation to win a gleaming beamer! Anyway, I was told that one player said she did not want to play in the Malaysian Masters but wants to be considered to be selected for the Olympiad team…?? I think that is a bit too much….

After the list of the 16 players was finalized, a lot of chess enthusiast questioned the absence of our top players from the tournament. As someone who is a part of managing the event - mind you, I am not involved in the selection process - I would like to offer an “as is” explanation of how the 16 was selected, as an observer who tries to see the logic from both side of the fence,

Looking at the list of players who have been short listed for the event, there should not be any question on the selection of the top 4 finishers from the National Women Closed Championship and the top 2 from the National Junior Girls Championship. Regardless what their rating is, FIDE or otherwise, they have earned their spots to be in the event. Hence, there should be no dispute on these 6 qualifiers – straight forward spot on selection process. And all 6 agreed to be a part of the Malaysian Masters. One can’t help but to appreciate their enthusiasm, and continuing contribution towards improving their chess playing skills. They are dedicated to the game – without any doubt!

For those listed in the FIDE rating list, the situation gets a bit tricky. Out of the 10 top players listed according to their ratings, 4 are overseas – either to study or have migrated and I can probably confirm 2 of those players have probably quit playing chess competitively. We are left with 6 players with 5 of them declining to play. Most of us know that Audrey Wong is inactive (hence it was almost expected that she would decline to play) and on the other hand, Siti Zulaikha is concentrating on her studies. It is also a common knowledge within the chess community that Siti is no longer active in our chess scene since approximately a year ago hence her not being included should not be a surprise to anyone. In fact, I would be surprise if she did want to play. There were also efforts made to convince Siti to play (by convincing the father) but that too, was quashed. The only other “active” player in the top 10 that declined to play was Nur Shazwani. Hence we are left with only Nurul Huda, the sole survivor from the Top 10 list. As per the selection process that has been outlined earlier, MCF needs to choose 4 players from the top 20 list by going down the ranking order until the list is exhausted. So the search continues with the bottom 10 from the Top 20 list for the next 3 players. From the bottom 10, 3 already qualified, 1 was not contactable, 1 will be overseas during that period and 1 declined the invitation hence leaving 4 players but since the event needs only 3 more players from the bottom 10, the selection stops at number 19.

Next is the task of selecting players from the National Rating list which is even more challenging since the “gender” was not listed hence, the listing was done manually. It was quite an effort to try and figure out who are the ladies amongst the 7000 names that we have. It is quite easy to identify the Malay girls but not for the Indians and especially the Chinese. For Malays we have the “bin” or “binti”, or the Syarifah and the Siti, and for the Indians we would have “a/p” or “a/l”, but for the Chinese? That is quite a challenge because even the Chinese themselves sometimes can’t figure this out correctly. Anyway, the selection process for finalizing the players from the National Rating list is similar to the FIDE rating methods – get the top 20 and go down in sequence to select the top 4 players. The list got to only number 13 for the 4 players to be finalized. For all purposes, 6 players that are in the top 20 FIDE are also in the top 20 National Rating and this is the same 6 that will not be available to participate as per the reasons they have provided. Going further down the National list, 2 players already qualified via the National Closed and 1 was not traceable hence the balance 4 (until number 13), accepted the offer to participate.

There you have it, our top 14, with the last 2 slots to be filled based on MCF allocation. Coming to that last 2 spots, like or not, MCF can based its selection on whatever criteria it chooses but of course, we know that such a flagrant way of selecting will not be used. Nonetheless, whether or not we like the chosen ones, it will always be open to question. If MCF chose A and B, someone will question why not C & D, and if C & D were chosen, another one will question why not E & F, and the list will continue. Since it was not a single person’s choosing, we can rest assured that there was a proper check and balance being used to select the 2 players. After all, if MCF starts to listen to everyone’s whims and fancy, the list of 16 will grow to 32 or 64, and the 2 spots will remain open for a very long time.

But, let us leave it at that and look beyond to next year, and the year after that. Perhaps we can improve the selection process and explore some new ideas.

For exclusivity purposes, the 16 player field can remain – 32 would be too many and 8 would be too minimal. Perhaps, instead of using the FIDE and National Rating list, only the National Rating list is used – to ensure that the player is an “active” player in the “local” chess scene. After all, how good is the player if she has a high FIDE Rating but never participates in any local tournament? But if the preferred way is to follow FIDE Rating List, perhaps some of the inactive ones should be taken out from the list and reduce the number of players selected from that list. Of course, MCF needs to decide what is considered as inactive? 1 year of not playing? 2 years? 2 months?

Secondly, MCF may want to open doors for players to apply and play in the event – like a job interview. Of course, the players have to provide substantial credentials and supporting documents in order to apply. As the main criteria, MCF can stipulate only player above 1500 rating points can apply to be included.

In order to generate interest, we can also ask for enthusiasts to vote for their favorite chess player to play in the event – based on a list of candidates (above a certain rating points) that are provided by MCF i.e. Malaysian chess idol, since there were a few names that keeps popping up with questions on why these players are not included. Jokes aside, we can always dub this player as “reader’s choice” like the Anugerah Bintang Popular or the People’s Award. A panel of 10-12 people consisting of bloggers, players, journalist, officials and organizers who do not have any vested interest (they are not coaches, parents or teachers) should be in order. Even if these cannot be avoided, they should abstain from nominating their own “people”.

Next, sponsors should also get a say in the selection because, if a tournament causes a lot of controversies and issues, sponsors are likely to shy away from the events. Whilst MCF may be the “controlling” body over the chess players, it still needs the support from the Sponsors – something that MCF cannot brush aside so easily. Hence, maintaining the sponsor good name and associating it with a successful event must be a priority. Whilst it is easy to say that MCF can always find another sponsor, the task is only easier said than done. Chances are, if a sponsor pulled out because there were controversies in the event, new or potential sponsors would also want to avoid similar incident so, while it may seem as though losing a sponsor means gaining a different sponsor, reality is that once you lose a sponsor, words may travel and you will lose more sponsors… Tiger Woods losing most of his major sponsors one after the other after his affairs made public is a good example.

And finally, MCF may want to outline additional guideline on how the remaining selection is done and make the process transparent to everyone. Just because it is MCF prerogative, it does not mean MCF can just pick and choose who they like and tweak the selection process to fit the person… It should be the process is design to select the player, not select the player and then only design the process. To avoid such controversy, perhaps MCF can only select 1 wild card entry and not 2.

So, my proposal for next year’s selection can be:

2 from National Closed

2 from National Junior

2 from FIDE (Active) List

6 from National Rating (Active) list

1 from application

1 from “reader’s poll”/selection (a panel of 10-12 players/journalist outside of MCF)

1 from Sponsor’s wild card

1 from MCF wild card

Do you think this looks fair?? Comments anyone?

The purpose of this article is to provide an insight of the current selection situation, and to initiate improvement ideas from all sectors for future events which should not only be limited to this Malaysian Masters. Although it is almost impossible to eliminate controversies and criticism – as it will always pop up every now and then, the end objective is to minimize the gaps, and improve the selection process to ensure a more transparent selection process is practiced which can avoid dissatisfaction. Whilst arriving at a total solution could be an impossible target to achieve, getting closer to the target is not

1 comment:

  1. The issue was never about the selection criteria. It is about how the last two were selected. From the shoutbox commentators, they think that there is some biase in their selection. How did a 1440 rated player choosen over other higher rateds?



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