Thursday, September 13, 2012

Captain's report

Now that the Olympiad is over, I can tell the story as a member and captain of the team. Is it not better to hear everything from someone from the inside and has all the facts?

Board order

Some trouble-maker claimed the board order was arranged for my benefit and tried to "prove" it with outlandish claims and contrived "circumstantial evidence". Nothing is further from the truth. From the start Yee Weng asked for the possibility that he be given the chance to try for the GM norm. By ratings, the board order should be IM Mok, IM Jimmy, IM Yee Weng. Therefore we (Mok, Gregory and myself)  moved Yee Weng up to second board leaving myself on third.  I decided to move Li Tian up to give him a shot at the IM norm. This was my decision as captain and Greg accepted it. Thus the board order became IM Mok, IM Yee Weng, Yeoh Li Tian , IM Jimmy and Zhuo Ren.

Olympiad targets

As captain, I set ourselves four targets.

1. Improve on last two olympiad standings. We were 92nd in 2010 and 96th in 2008.

2. Win the category prize.

3. GM norm for Yee Weng and/or IM norm for Li Tian. The olympiad is the best place for norms , not because it is easier, but because a norm here counts as a 20 game norm.

4. Score twelve (12) match points.

I believed that if we achieved number 4, we would have met the number 1 and 2 target as well. However trying to meet number 4 could mean a clash with target 3. It was important to keep track of a lot of information to hit as many targets as possible.

Let me explain further. The olympiad standings are determined by match points, two for a match win and one for a draw (obviously zero for loss). The second tie-break is SB and this is tricky because it is quite impossible to determine the better SB. The rule is to drop the lowest scoring opponent and then multiply the opponent's score with the match score. Complex and impossible to keep track off.

 A 2.5-1.5 loss is equivalent to a 4-0 loss in match points terms. It is important that each team member keep track of how the other three members of the team are doing in their individual game during their own game. Then they can make decision to play for draw or go all out for win.

These targets were communicated to the team the day after we arrived in Istanbul. Now let us see how we achieved or missed our target.

Target 1

I was not too worried about this as making target 4 would also achieve it.  To my horror I found we had dropped to 95th after losing round 7 and 94th after losing our 9th round match. But as long as we won our last round, I felt we could make it.

Target 2

Before setting out for Turkey, I had thought we would be seeded into the "D" Group. Unfortunately we ended up in "C" Group. A few more positions lower and we would be in "D" which with our final score we would have won.

I stopped worrying about this target after round five. I knew we could not make it as our group had some better teams. The team that finally won had 14 points.

Target 3

This was very interesting because the unexpected happened. Mok played beyond all expectations while Li Tian did not perform as well while Zhuo Ren started winning game after game. Before this, I never thought it was possible to make a norm at Board 4.

Mok had a great start with 2.5/4 and it looked like a first GM norm was on the cards but he lost in the 6th and a drew in the 7th. He needed to win his last three games against high rated players. Another loss in the 9th round and it was over. Nevertheless, his final score of 6/10 was a great achievement as it included three points from six grandmasters.

For Zhuo Ren, it was a dream come through. He was incredibly lucky that he was fielded in the first round against Netherlands meeting a 2630 GM. This helped raised his average opponent's rating to a level where he had the chance to make that IM norm.

In a way, he "grew up" in this tournament in the sense that I saw more all round chess skills in his game. He spent hours preparing his openings before every game. His coach, IM Mok, worked with him constantly and provided the support both chessically and mentally. By round 9 , he had secured the FIDE Master title (awarded to all those who scored 2/3) with six points out of eight rounds . In the tenth round, I decided to rest him. Quite a tough decision as if he played, he would need to win and then secure a draw in the last round against a titled player.

Now this was before we found out that he could also make a performance norm which is achieved by making a performance rating of 2450 and above.

Target 4

At previous olympiads in 2008 and 2010, we had only scored a total of 10 match points. I did not want us to be complacent with just matching the previous results so I decided on twelve. Twelve points might not seem much if you have not played in an olympiad before. Remember, in 2008 Dresden, the team with four IMs could only make 10 points. So I felt that a score of 12 points was the stretch that the team needed.

Tournament conditions

Both Open and Women's are played in a huge hall. Security is very tight equivalent to airport security. You cannot bring any electronic devices into the hall even if you do not plan to use it e.g mobile phones. It was irritating not to be able to get into the playing hall if you are not playing that round. Besides the usual name tags, you need a special green tag (only four given to each team) or you had the captain tag. Since I was not the official team captain, I was unable to get in whenever I was not playing. There is a spectator area (with a separate entrance) but as far as watching games, it was a complete failure. You could not see any of the games ; even those that were close to the spectator area. There were no demo boards outside the playing hall either. The only way to watch the games was to go online. It was ironic that those of us who were just a hundred feet from the actual games had to watch it the same way as someone half way around the world i.e through the live games broadcast.

The men's toilets were outside the playing hall around a minute's walk, given the size of the hall. Which meant you could easily lose two minutes going to ease yourself! I tried not to drink too much water during my games; every minute counts!  You could also buy snacks and drinks in the outside area. A small paper cup of coffee from a vending machine similar to the one in my office, costs 5 liras (RM8.5), way too much.

A big improvement was the board order submission. This could be done online which is a great convenience.

Daily routine

Meals were entirely held in the hotel we stayed in. Between 7:30 to 8:00 AM we will all be having breakfast together where I would inform them of the team line-up for the round. After breakfast it is back to our rooms to prepare for our opponents. I have to submit the line-up for the round before 9:00 Am. Around 10:00 AM we will know our exact opponents as the board order will have been published.

At 12:30 PM it is lunch then back to the room for a short rest before taking the bus to the playing hall at 2:00 PM for the start of the round at 3:00 PM.

By 8:00 PM we are back in the hotel for dinner. Then back to the room to start preliminary preparations for the next round.

Crucial rounds

As captain, I was the one who decided on the line-up for each round. The pairings will be out by 10:00PM each night and I have to spend time to think who to put in the team for the next day. Generally, everyone accepted the decisions, maybe sometimes they did not understand why I rested myself for so many rounds. My observations were that IM Mok and IM Yee Weng were playing well so they got to play most of the games. Also I fielded Li Tian and Zhuo Ren for them to have chance for norms. Well, someone has to rest each round and it had to be me.

Round one helped Zhuo Ren's norm tremendously. Normally, the first four boards always get fielded for the first round. I told the team I was not well. That was true though I was still in shape to play. Perhaps it was Zhuo Ren's destiny. By playing, he got a 2600+ rated player which raised his average opponent's rating for the rest of the tournament. As I watched from the side-lines, it looked like we could draw Netherlands or even beat them. The final game was Li Tian-Jan Smeets. Li Tian was up a pawn in the ending. He choose a move which looks like winning but there was a tactical flaw. If he had seen it and re-grouped his rook to his  second rank, he could not lose and might even have won and given us the match.

By Round 3 I was getting worse and rested myself so that I could seek medical attention before things got worse and we ran out of options. Both Mok and Yee Weng won brilliant games and we had a chance to beat Egypt. Li Tian looked like drawing but eventually both him and Zhuo Ren lost. This was Zhuo Ren's only loss in the tournament.

In Round 5 we beat Surinam but it was not as easy as we expected. Yee Weng was lost for some time until his opponent offered a draw. One more point was needed for the match win. I had a draw in hand. I told Zhuo Ren to offer a draw as his position looked dangerous. His opponent declined , sacrificed a piece and went on to lose. This was the start of Zhuo Ren's winning streak of six games.

When Li Tian lost his seventh round game, he had no more chances so I rested him on the next round. In round 9 against Columbia I thought he had better chances than me so I let him play that round.

Round 10 was important for Zhuo Ren's norm. After analysing the situation, I thought it was best for him to skip this round. He would have played an untitled player and possibly one that was rated lower than 2200 if Japan fielded their last board. And he would have to win and still needed to draw against a titled player in the last round. Note: at this point we did not realize that a performance norm was available to him.

This was the only round where the team did not entirely agree with me. We had a meeting and everyone gave their views. In the end we left it to Zhuo Ren to decide and he decided to rest for the round.

Even with the performance norm on the line, I still would not have changed my decision. There is no way of knowing for sure, but if he had met a titled player in the last round, a draw would have given him a 20 game norm (performance norm is only a 13 game norm).

In this round we easily beat Japan 3-1 but this could have been even better if Li Tian had won. He was an exchange up and had a passed pawn on d2. In this tournament, he had many better games which he did not manage to convert.

Final round matched us with Thailand and we needed to win to reach 12 match points. This was also Zhuo Ren's fateful last game. We were not sure whether a draw would be sufficient for a norm so he was told to play for a win. At a crucial moment, I checked their games. I thought Mok should win (he was only slightly better than), Yee Wen looked like in trouble and Zhuo Ren unclear. I thought I should try to win and played a risky move which cost me a pawn. Then the unexpected happened, Yee Weng's opponent resigned after falling for a tactic! Mok won as expected and Zhuo Ren also won quickly to give us a 3-1 win.


It was a very successful olympiad as we had achieved three out of the four targets I set. We beat every team we were supposed to beat and pulled off some upsets as well.

The team of Mok, Yee Weng, Li Tian , Zhuo Ren and me worked together very well. We were focused on our targets despite attempts from a certain someone who tried to split the team morale and wanted to see us fail. We just laugh about it at breakfast. I am proud to say we took the daily attacks on us in our stride.

Personally, I received many words of support and encouragement from everyone. Here I wish to thank everyone who believed in me and the team.

Thank you to my team-mates as well for their support and trust in me.

L-R, me, IM Mok, LZH, Li Tian

IM Lim Yee Weng


John Wong said...

The beauty about chess and that the results will speak louder than words. Congrats Jimmy for doing a great job marshalling the team and keeping their spirits up. It is impossible for someone who has never been to an Olympiad (I did as a spectator in 1992) to imagine what its like, the stress of everyday competition and the mental drain it takes on a player, let alone comment on the chess. During the 92 Olympiad, one of the Singapore girls actually fainted on the board while playing!

I think Li Tian is still young and was perhaps overawed by the event. In time to come, he will perform after more of such exposure. Zhuo Ren is probably inspired by Mok to outdo himself.

In contrast, Singapore had a GM and 4 IMs but in my opinion could have done better resultwise. The services of GM Wu ShaoBin and IM Goh WeiMing (towards the last few rounds) was dearly missed. Cez la vie...

SomeDaysLikeThese said...

A good read - Sharing is caring and thanks for that!

Ilham said...

Inside info from someone who has been there, done that!

Appreciate it!

chesslover said...

IM Jimmy u have done a great job in managing the team as well as in the field yourself.

chesslover said...

good write-up Jimmy! now we-readers know what was happening in the team & the conditions of the tournament. Mok played well just was unlucky to have missed his gm norm,Li tian was for zhou ren no words need to be spoken.I'd add that Yee Weng and you were slightly under-performed as well. I had high expectations on Yee Weng right before olympiad started. Jimmy you just need to ignore all those unreasonable criticisms. As a matter of fact, the team did well under your leadership. I'd have been proud if my country achieved what you guys-the malaysia Olympiad team did. the improved version "Malaysia Proven boleh!"

Jimmy Liew said...

Thanks for all the encouragement from you guys.

Anonymous said...

As much as I disagree with the outlandish proclamations of "you know who", I still have to admit that with Nicholas in the team, we would have performed better.. Zhou ren played well and he certainly deserves the IM norm, but objectively speaking he has still a long way to go for the title, in terms of chess strength and ratings. The strongest player in the team, Mok (who in my opinion understands chess more than any other Malaysian player except Nicholas) took 10 years between his first and third norm. Actually, I'm surprised that LiTian didn't perform that well. Perhaps it's just a bad outing or maybe, just maybe he felt uncomfortable without his father near him for the first time in a major tournament.

Akira Watanabe said...

This is Akira Watanabe, the 3rd board of the Japanese team (well, and the eldest). I would like to praise Malaysia for your overall performance and for our individual match. This post of Mr. Liew is also very insightful, and we have to learn from this for a better performance in the next Olympiad.

I was amazed by the strength and more than anything, the confident play of my opponent Yeoh Li Tian. He offered me a queen sacrifice on the 40th move, when he had chance to repeat moves. My first thought was to resign the game at that point, but then found some alternatives to accepting it and a few moves later he returned me a favor by an inaccuracy, which costed him the full point. If he played 42...Qd2+ to activate his queen, instead of 42...d2, I guess he would have won.

Just let me clarify, though, that the very last position should be a draw, despite his material advantage and the passed pawn on the 7th rank. He has his own weaknesses, which I could luckily exploit. I don't offer a draw if my position is clearly worse or losing.

I wish Malaysia Chess all the best. Hope our young hopes (well, not as young as your 'young hopes', but still), Kojima and Nanjo, will continue their improvement too.

Jimmy Liew said...

Thank you Mr Watanabe for your explanation.

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