Friday, September 05, 2008

Interview with Peter Long

Interview With FM Peter Long
FIDE Master, FIDE Trainer, FIDE Arbiter,
FIDE Web Editor
Executive Director of ASEAN Chess Confederation
FIDE Rating 2353,

Hairulov: Provide me some brief personal information (eg. your hometown; family, where you learned to play chess; ).

I am from KL and am the eldest of 3 boys. I first learnt about the existence of chess from the Spassky-Fischer Match because it was really big news then but I only really learnt to play chess a bit later when I was around 13 years of age.

Basically I was lucky because I happened to be enrolled in La Salle Petaling Jaya Secondary School when in Form 1 to 3 because the school library was also where the Chess Association of Selangor met every week (under the leadership of Hon. Secretary Laurence How). This was also where the Selangor Open (by far the biggest national chess happening - similar in importance to the Malaysian Chess Festival today) was played every year.

At that time La Salle was so far ahead all other schools in Malaysia (except for our constant rivals from Penang) that practically the entire school team would be selected to represent Selangor each year (there was no Wilayah Persekutuan or MSSKL yet!).

Hairulov: When you start to be serious in chess ?

I grew up in a time where people were much more generous. You cannot imagine how famous names - top national players (too many to mention) would agree to play games with a young player just starting out, giving tips and and to sharing their knowledge. We all loved chess and did not feel we were in competition with each other to the point we kept things to ourselves. Books were to be shared together!

Also my formative years were greatly influenced when I went to the Royal Military College (RMC) in Form 4-5 because I suddenly lost the easy and privileged access to chess that I so enjoyed when in La Salle but on the other hand the RMC motto of "Serve to Lead" reinforced my youthful idealism and has been almost the guiding principle of my life and in everything that I do.

How serious was chess? Very and yet not really. Again circumstances played a big part. Coming from La Salle I was tapped to play for RMC and even became the Selangor schools champion. If I remained in La Salle with the intense competition there I might not even have been selected to be one of the two individual event representatives. And I qualified via the weak Bangsar zone and not the very tough Petaling district!

Because I was successful I kept playing. Also, my first MSSM was a disaster as I was completely without practice my first year in RMC as a "new boy". I then learnt a new thing about myself - I never wanted to give less than my best (or what I was capable of) and so the next two years I won the MSSM, often through a combination of determination and perhaps being a little smarter and more motivated than my opponents!

Hairulov: At what point did you realize that you may have some chess ability?

That's a really tough question. I must have some ability but talent for sure very little. No immodesty here as I would not have achieved what I have without knowing my limitations!

Anyway chess was always more than playing to me and very early I became rather proficient at all aspects of the game, be it organising, developing programs, serving as an arbiter, playing at a reasonable level, studying and teaching, or writing (and now also I am involved in marketing and promotion).

Because of this I had only been able to focus on playing for limited and infrequent periods of time so I am very satisfied with becoming National Champion in a time when there were professional players and it was very prestigious and also becoming Malaysian No. 1 on the FIDE rating list and achieving and maintaining the strength of a good FIDE Master (2350) before moving on.

In my final year I was also incredibly dominant, travelling up and down the country and winning practically every tournament so it was a very nice goodbye.

Hairulov: Any notable victories/achievement in your career? Upset victories? Memorable tournaments?

You might find this strange but I am more proud of what I achieved when I ran the Malaysian Chess Federation on my return from university in the early 80's.

Because I came from schools chess I had a different perspective than others before me, and so in 1984 put in place a National Junior Training scheme - Kumpulan Remaja. Ng Ek Leong was perhaps the most prominent graduate, winning a Gold Medal on Board 6 at the Olympiad and I literally forced the team to protect him as this was critically important to show the OCM and Sports Ministry we could achieve something on the world stage.

I also personally worked with Audrey Wong and followed her to Adelaide for the Asian Girls Championship where she became our first Asian champ and would dare say ensured her success by helping her win her first two adjourned games which luck would have it was against her two main rivals!

Later I helped young players like Wong Zi Jing and of course I knew the wiz kids from Kelantan, Mas Hafizuhelmi and Abdul Haq from the time they were 10 years old!

To give time to chess without being distracted by a full time job, I applied for and got an allowance from the National Sports Council to be MCF Executive Secretary and that gave me a base from which to run around to develop the game.

All this while writing chess columns in the New Straits Times, doing regular weekly articles in the Malay Mail and later a teaching column for The Sun, for over 10 years.

When I finally decided to give a year to chess full time to see what a 2250+ player (already National champion and a regular international) could achieve, I was told in no uncertain terms by the likes of Hamid (who had taken over the Federation), that if were to be a player then I just had to be a player but the problem was international competitions locally had all dried up and I did not have the funds (or the time as I had all this while being studying for advanced degrees part time) to travel to Europe.

This was a time when there were still very few titled players in Asia and not too many rated.

For sure too I was not wanted in the national team as I knew more that any official in charge as to what was needed and no challenge to their authority could be tolerated!

So I went to India on and off over two years. The first trip there was painful as my deficiencies were cruelly exposed but I put in enormous work on my return and from that on my rating increased right up to 2350 and then stayed there. I started even beating much stronger players because I had reached the stage if you were less than 2300 I would win, if 2400 it would be a draw but also I had no chance against a 2500!

My time for playing chess had run out and I also had confirmation of what my level was!

Hairulov: Tell me about your current post with FIDE and ASEAN Chess Confederation.

When I was in MCF in the 80's, Malaysia was far ahead of Singapore in terms of activities and we have to credit Dato' Tan Chin Nam for this (he wanted to be Deputy President - Asia of FIDE). They had IMs many years before we could even dream of one but it was seen there as a purely individualistic and intellectual exercise. But they also had dedicated people like Ignatius Leong, now the General Secretary of FIDE, who simply knew so much more about chess especially in technical matters.

Many do not know this but Malaysia and Singapore were very close then (even the Ringgit was almost 1 to 1 with the Singapore Dollar!) and in fact the Malaysia-Singapore Match was started from a conversation I had with Ignatius Leong who was in those days a frequent arbiter in our international tournaments because we needed his expertise (with apologies to our many International Arbiters then, almost all who have long retired).

Actually over the last 15 years I had kept in touch with Ignatius Leong - but not about chess - so more of once every other year or so and in the last few he kept inviting me to help him with the academy he had set up.

Finally, he told me in mid 2006 that he was setting up in Malaysia with MCF with Hamid together with local trainers. And in October he asked me to set up the company and be a local director and to help supervise the renovations. In December when visiting Singapore I took the opportunity to participate in a Seminar for Coaches (US$ 600!) and became Malaysia's first (and only) FIDE Trainer by passing after preparing submissions and making the required presentations.

I will not dwelt on why the JV and participation of locals in the company fell apart - only that it was a matter of having to qualify for FIDE Trainer titles (there are 4 levels available: Developmental Instructor, National Instructor, FIDE Instructor, and FIDE Trainer) and there was some resistance to that.

With me formally seen as a Director of the ASEAN Chess Academy in Malaysia, I started getting calls and invitations from old friends in chess who first thought I was going to help change things in Malaysia and be again a contributor internationally but when they understood I had no interest let alone the stomach for such, felt that I might as well contribute in other ways and that led to the appointment as Executive Director of the ASEAN Chess Confederation and later Global Chess BV, the commercial arm of FIDE offered me a role in marketing which is most obviously manifested by my appointment as Web Editor for

Hairulov: What is your current and future plan ?

ASEAN chess today is really 4 very active countries plus 1 struck with problems not of their making with 3 more slightly confused. As Executive Director I mainly try and get better coordination amongst activities and to some extent we are successful in that we now have the ASEAN Grand Prix, a series of GM tournaments with an overall prize fund and this is likely to be expanded further to become an APAC Pro Tour.

Of course, on the developmental side the ASEAN Age Groups has already seen its 9th edition and we are pushing very hard for chess in schools as well as for academies to be set up in several countries.

But the ASEAN Master Circuit which was held for the weaker countries get more rated and titled players has not taken off despite its low costs simply because the countries that need it most are not interested and the stronger countries are losing interest in supporting this initiative.

Becoming a FIDE Arbiter was a pure accident - I was at the 6th Asian Individual Championship in Cebu as a guest and where no Malaysian showed up despite everything being free and it being a World Cup qualifying event and so with many 2600+ players. To give their Arbiters seminar a more international favour I accepted an invitation to participate and to everyone's shock I was the top student!

From that I was invited to be at the Macau Asia Indoor Games (MAIGOC) last year and from then on I seem to be invited to be an arbiter in event after event. It seems with the move towards becoming an Olympic sport, there is a equal importance being placed in the 3 forms of tournament chess we have today: Classical, Rapid and Blitz. So those arbiters with minimum playing strength and decent international playing experience are in demand as decisions now need to be made on the spot.

The other thing that is happening is that I am getting to conduct or assist in seminars for FIDE to "teach the trainer" type activities and (so far India and in Botswana and at least one more this year) so perhaps I will be more involved in training players in the future.

Hairulov: In your opinion , what Malaysia could do to be a strong chess country ?

To be fair, I will first have to state that we will never be an Indonesia let alone a Philippines or even Vietnam as chess playing here is not a profession that you can live on and no matter how talented or good, school and work has to come first.

On the other hand players are getting ever younger and stronger sooner nowadays. At the ASEAN Chess Academy, if a child has interest, can work hard and is not without talent, and has the opportunity to play regularly in international youth events, if we start working with them between 9-11 years of age, by 16 a FIDE Master title is almost assured and the International Master title a real possibility with the Grandmaster title maybe even being realistically dreamed of.

In this process we will also have a pretty good idea by the time the child is 14 what his limits might be. So we need to do more with young players and that starts with our local trainers who are frankly almost all much too weak for this task. A year lost is critical today and we cannot destroy talent like this and yet we continue to do so.

There seem to be a disturbing trend by officials in MCF to deprive players from opportunities to play internationally when the exact opposite should be the case.

For Malaysia to progress, I think it has to start with everyone who has held positions in chess in the last 10 years stepping aside (no one is indispensible and history has proven all national leaders do well in their first one or two terms and up to a decade and after become absolute monsters!).

Others will emerge, and we will likely be pleasantly surprised at how well they do! If asked, people like me will of course offer guidance and if they choose to disagree and instead tell me to jump into the Klang river I can also easily accept that!

* this interview is conducted through email. At first we plan to meet for the interview but unfortunately due to unexpected things happen in the last minutes , we decide to do it by e-mail instead - Hairulov

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