Thursday, January 31, 2013

Critical Chess Observations

Time for some Grumpy Old Man Moments
(I've just read this blog post before publishing it, and wonder if I'm beginning to suffer from Victor Meldrew Syndrome)

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.


  1. Those rules are absurd. While having a national ID number for chess players isn't a bad idea, having to carry an official identification card with your picture, place of birth, passport number (why? so it can be compared against your passport?).

    Is there some thriving identity-theft movement with chess players impersonating one another internationally? I haven't heard if there is.

    I think this proposal probably comes from people who spend too many years running Soviet passport controls at domestic bus terminals or something similar.

  2. The glass could also be viewed as half full. The U/10 Open tournament was vastly stronger, especially in depth, than 12 months earlier. The same could also be said, to a lesser extent, for the U/12, U/14 and U/16 Open tournaments.
    Ideally the numbers will build up with more and more competent players competing for national titles, not only though the entry of dozens of near-beginners as in Melbourne 2012 (though noone is suggesting that such entries be refused).
    Also, you could argue that if the best juniors are too strong nowadays to compete in the Australian Junior, that is a great state of affairs.

    1. Erm, I said the younger events were doing ok, and I'll stick to that. I wouldn't say 2013 U-10's was significantly stronger than 2012. In fact, I wouldn't even say it was the stronger tournament. But whatever, they were both good fields. The under 12 tournament was probably the star of the show this year, with a decent size and strong field.

      Personally I thought the under 14 and 16 was a bit disappointing this year, but then again, they weren't special in 2012. In my mind these events could be doing a lot better.

      Your last statement puzzles me. We are talking about the national junior championship aren't we? How can anyone be "too strong" to play in it? Either the tournament need to be marketed as something other than the national champs so we start getting significantly more players, or we try our best to get all the best players to compete. Ideally, both of these would be achievable, but they won't be if there are no targets set in operation.

  3. Many players can be too strong for a restricted event. Magnus Carlsen was too strong for the World Junior Championship for years - everyone has got used to the top contenders not playing the World Junior if they are to strong. The same applies in Australia. It is also disappointing if our top rated junior is not too strong for the Australian Junior. (Think, in recent years, Ly, Illingworth, Morris and now Cheng.)

    1. Players can consider themselves too strong for events. That doesn't necessarily mean they are. If all top aussie juniors decided to take part in Aus Juniors, then none would be "too strong". I don't see any junior in Australia, including Bobby Cheng, being that much better than Nakauchi.

      Perhaps 2700 rated Liren Ding of China should have considered himself "too strong" for the 2012 event, seeing he didn't win it!

      Or perhaps Ivanchuk and Gelfand shouldn't have bothered coming to Adelaide to play in the 1988 World Champs as they were so much better than the rest?

  4. Those are silly analogies - there will always be a top seed in a tournament. But are you seriously arguing that Carlsen should have played the World Junior in the years 2007-2011?
    It would have been bad for his chess development and he would not be the player he is today.
    If you want to hold back Bobby Cheng by pressuring him to play the Australian Junior when it would be pointless for his chess development to do so, then it is you who should apologise in later years when he does not fulfill his full potential.

  5. I'm not arguing anything about the World Junior, that's what you're doing and for each of your arguments I've just presented a counter.

    I'm not saying that Bobby 'should' play in the Juniors, or anyone else for that matter. What I'm saying is that the Australian Juniors seems to be in a half way position, where it can't claim to be a strong event, but it can't claim to be a big event either. At the moment it doesn't really fit the bill for either of these, so what is it as an event?

    Now ideally the tournament would get big numbers (300+) especially at the lower levels, but, in my opinion, the national championships should also offer quality at the top end. Now whether this resolves itself into a tournament like the Aus Young Masters being elevated to an U-20 Championship closed event, or whether some elite section be introduced at the Aus Juniors etc, is not for me to decide.

    By the way, Bobby is just one name that you've brought in to the melting pot. Do you think that others near the top of the under 18 lists should have played? There was no Justin Tan, Laurence Matheson, Karl Zelesco, Anton Smirnov etc. Are these yougsters also too good for the Junior Champs?

  6. The lack of juniors from NSW is because the coaching is below par. Coaching companies just exist to make money, there is no passion like you have in VIC.

  7. Here is a telling statistic...

    In 2012 (Aus Junior held in Vic) only 25% of the players were visitors (70 interstate visitors). This year a massive 58% (131 interstate visitors) were visitors... with more than HALF these visitors from Victoria.

  8. Yes, Tan Matheson, Zelesco and Smirnov would not gain much from playing the Australian Junior, though that doesn't mean that the younger ones won't choose to play at some time in the future. Most of them played the Australian Open, while Dale was playing in Wijk aan Zee instead of the Australian Junior - obviously if they could only choose one tournament during the holiday period, they made the sensible choice.
    The Australian Junior Masters has the same problem - the best U/21s prefer to play the Australian Masters at the same time.
    The absence of the almost top girls is much more of a worry, though the very best girls can and do prefer to play in the Open, which of course should be encouraged.

    1. ok, so you're trying to tell me that the top 10 players gain nothing from playing in the National Championship....possibly some more players as well.

      Perhaps you could explain exactly why we have a Championship then? Perhaps the Australian Junior should just be scrapped? Or perhaps run only as an under 12 section as anyone who is decent above this age shouldn't really be playing?

      Would they gain something from it if they all played?

  9. At no time did I say that the top 10 gain nothing from playing in the Australian Junior as you falsely state. But they gain little, and gain much more from other events, particularly strong adult events.
    This is partly a consequence of players becoming stronger, younger, though it is not a new phenomenon.
    You could probably attract the top juniors with a huge prize list but it is better just to accept that junior chess is just a stepping stone and our best kids don't need it any more. The same argument explained why Anton Smirnov skipped the U/12 Championship in 2012 and went straight for the U/18 title. He devalued the U/12 event according to your theory, but of course what he did should be commended, not criticised.
    That is no reason to scrap the Australian Junior, just as the World Junior is not scrapped just because the very top juniors almost never take part. The Australian Junior is an important event for those below the very top and has always been that - look at the fields in the late 1970s when Rogers, Hjorth and Solomon became too strong for the event by about the age of 15 and stopped competing.

  10. You see, to me this is a slightly bizarre argument. I have heard it before from GM Ian Rogers but it still doesn't sit well with me. I fully agree that top juniors should be encouraged to play in strong tournaments, and as such, participation in the Aus Open will be preferable to Aus Juniors if it's one or the other.

    However, this whole argument completely devalues the Australian Junior Championship, which by it's intent, should be trying to find the best players at all age groups in Australia.

    Unfortunately, I offer no solutions, only raise issues but to me the tournament needs to define itself. If the top players avoid it, because they gain little from it, I see little point in it remaining a championship event, except at the younger age groups that are working well.

    If Perth do take on the responsibility to run the event the year after next, I can barely imagine the field that will turn up in the same year as an Aus Open and a Queenstown Classic. Perhaps the AJCL could look at finding an alternative time of the year to run the tournament that would avoid such detrimental clashes to the junior championships.

  11. Why not just celebrate the fact that Australian juniors are getting stronger younger and this will inevitably affect the relative importance of various tournaments.
    If only women's chess was in the same healthy position and the top women players deliberately eschewed the Australian Women's Championship for other stronger events. You would have a 'weak' Australian Women's Championship but that would be a positive symptom of a healthy women's chess scene.
    But you miss the point by suggesting abandoning the Australian Junior tournament, as you did by suggesting scrapping women's chess. Junior and women's title events are one step on a long ladder - there is no need to pull the rungs out from out of those who are climbing slowly.

    1. hmm, I have not advocated scrapping the Aus Juniors or women's only events. I have advocated an equality in the way women are treated in chess compared to men, and I have advocated the Juniors needs to be defined clearly, so that goals can be set and assessed.

      I have suggested that an under 18 championship should have certain goals from an organisers point of view, one of which would probably be to get the strongest possible field available. However, if our juniors are being advised, or if it is suggested, that it is hardly worth their time to play in the Aus Juniors, then that surely devalues the title.

  12. In line with my positive take on the current situation, promotion need not stress how important the tournament is in itself, but how a national U/16 or U/18 chess title can be gold when vying with close rivals in trying to get into some universities.
    One mother said that her kid was only playing on the Gold Coast because a win would look good on his CV.
    This is the sort of reason which really could encourage kids (and their parents) to look more favourably on the Australian Junior.