|Time for some Grumpy Old Man Moments|
I try to keep this blog as positive as I can, but let's get real, we don't live in a perfect world. So it's time to look at some issues that I've noticed in chess recently. So, starting with the Australian Junior Championships that just recently finished on the Gold Coast I couldn't help but wonder about both the quality of the fields, and the number of players in the event as a whole. Talking just about the numbers, compared to the event 12 months before in Melbourne which had 276 entries, this year's 2013 Championships had 224 entries, a drop of about 50 kids. Now there may be a number of reasons for this, but really someone should be asking the question of why this is so, and if there is anything that be done about it. As expected the majority of players in the tournament were from Queensland, but then surprisingly there weren't too many player from nearby New South Wales. I'm not the only one wondering about this. IM Alex Wohl said pretty much the same thing on his excellent blog.
On to quality. This year's under 18 Championship seemed a little stronger than last year's which is definitely a good thing, but when we look at the list of the top under 18's in Australia, only 5 of the top 20 were playing (note that Yi Yuan seems to be missing from the top under 18 list though he would be in it) and Oscar Wang played in the under 16 event. While Gene is a worthy Champion, shouldn't we be trying to maximise elite players in this event? I don't have a solution for this, but the issue needs raising. None of the top 10 under 14's competed in their age group, though it was good to see Michael Kethro and Jack Puccini take up the challenge at the under 18 level. At the lower age groups, the quality is pretty good, so the question is how to keep players coming back to the event in their senior years (and of course, the numbers participating in younger age groups is far greater than at the older age groups).
Moving on to the girls, there seems to be no thought as to how to improve these events. In fact, I heard the suggestion that the girls events be scrapped and girls play for the titles within the open section. I would fully support this, but I have my doubts that I'm in the majority. There was some frustration after the under 18's, 16's and 14's were merged into one tournament and some of the girls had to play with a time control that hadn't been advertised for their section. As it was the older girls dropped from 90 + 30 to 60 + 30 which is what the under 14's were scheduled to play at, and not many of the older girls, nor their parents, were happy with this change. To add insult to injury, they found out about this change after the appointed time for the round to start, so there wasn't really any time for discussion, or communication, or an apology, just a decision and let's get on with it! It's little wonder that girls don't really want to play in this event if their treatment is inferior to that of the open competitors. Only 1 of the top 10 rated girls in the country competed in Queensland and 39 in total compared to 46 the year before. Of course, the girls are firmly put in their place below the boys by the fact that their prize money is lower at every level. Now personally I'm not a fan of prize money at junior events, but if there is going to be prize money, why is one age group champion worth more than another? This is blatantly chauvinistic and unfair, however it is dressed up.
I have 2 final criticisms of the Championship. First, the entries list on the official tournament webpage was a bit clumsy, showing all competitors in one big long list in alphabetic order. Assigning entries by rating, and/or by the section they were playing in would have made that page more useful. Once tornelo started to be used to manage the data things were much clearer, so perhaps future organisers should look at employing a data entry program like tornelo or swissperfect that can do this job. Secondly, there was a play off needed for the under 12's where 4 players came =1st on 7/9. Now to my thinking, all 4 should have played in that, but only 2 went forward. If I was David Cannon (especially him because his tie break looked just as good as Denny Han's's), or Brendan Pierotti, or their parents, I'd be pretty aggrieved that 2 players went forward into the play off's that had tied with 2 players who were eliminated on tie break. If there are to be play offs, especially in junior events, shouldn't all players finishing on the same score be entitled to a chance at that play off? Otherwise, what really is the point when the various tie break systems can find us a winner?
Ok enough about the Junior Championship at which I really had a good time. Let's talk about FIDE's new proposal requiring licensing of players with their national federations. To be honest, I'm completely blown away by some of these ideas, and I will almost certainly give up FIDE rated chess if they go ahead. It appears to be overly bureaucratic and will become costly for both organisers and players. In fact, if I opted out of the FIDE system, but then played in a tournament which was FIDE rated, it could cost the organisers 50 Euros in fines! I am not happy about divulging private information about myself to a national chess federation (especially my passport number) and not happy to pay extra for the privilege of having my games rated in the international lists (actually I'm not happy about having to pay twice to have my games rated in both national and international lists!).
Of course, if there are others like me (perhaps many others) what will clubs do about their events? There are 3 FIDE rated club tournaments starting in Melbourne next week at Box Hill Chess Club, Noble Park Chess Club and Melbourne Chess Club. Will these clubs continue to FIDE rate their tournaments (Noble Park and MCC FIDE rate all their longplay events) even if it means a drop in numbers? I am eagerly following this issue and will come back to it in the future, no doubt.