The Singapore Chess Federation (SCF) held an extraordinary general meeting (EOGM) two nights ago at the Bishan Community Club. The event even made it into the mainstream newspaper.

Web screen capture from the Straits Times website on 27th January 2016.

As can be seen from today’s news, the incumbents survived the leadership challenge, although the picture painted from the news report did not accurately reflect events on the ground.

I have not played competitive chess since 2000, although of course I follow the games of the top international players (like how some people watch tennis or football), and occasionally I check in on the local chess scene. It is good enough to enjoy the game every now and then, and I have little interest in chess administration. The president of the World Chess Federation (FIDE) since 1995 is a shrewd businessman/politician (ruler of the little republic of Kalmykia between 1993 and 2010) who believes he was abducted by aliens and who is sanctioned by the U.S. for providing support to the government of Syria (he had also visited Saddam Hussein before the Gulf War in 2003 and Qaddafi in 2011 during the Libyan war). There is far less money in chess than there is in football, which is perhaps a good thing after all. Enough said.

The requisition for the EOGM came as quite a surprise for many reasons. Firstly, the new committee had barely been voted in for less than 6 months and they were already facing a vote of no confidence. Secondly, the letter was signed by a group of 51 that included some of the most illustrious local chess players of the past few generations – masters and national champions both. That list also included SCF presidents and members of past executive committees.  This was so unprecedented that I felt compelled to find out more.

The turnout for the EOGM (>130) was the largest that I had seen for any SCF meeting (granted – I have not attended any since 2000). There were so many familiar faces and former team mates and opponents that it felt like a reunion, although there were far more faces I did not recognise. Many, I understand, were parents whose kids played chess, and who did not play competitively themselves. There was also a large group of (20-30) that had not been allowed to enter the room, a few of whom were former national players and masters. Their SCF membership renewals had not been approved (yet?) when they had applied this year (the ST report is technically correct to state that they had been unable to renew their memberships in time, but it was unclear that they had not submitted early enough).

I had arrived more than an hour late but they had not begun to discuss the resolutions put forward by those who had called for the EOGM. The meeting was quite chaotic and it was clear the chairperson was either not familiar with how to conduct these events or had difficulty controlling events. As mentioned in the ST report today, tempers flared on several occasions, and the microphone was physically snatched from speakers who had pontificated for too long on a couple of occasions. Several speakers from both camps were heckled by the crowd, and it was particularly painful to witness even an old respected master such as Tan Lian Ann (he had won the National Championships 10 times between 1959 and 1983 – a record unlikely to be broken soon if at all) jeered by the crowd who probably did not know or care who he was when he started to raise what seemed a sensible point. By the time the voting had started, the crux of the matter – the resolutions – had still not been discussed, and further discussion was embargoed because of time constraints for the meeting. Those of us who came not to support either camp but to understand more were left disappointed.

The results were clear from the start – after all such events are not about who made the most sense (both sides failed to bring their respective points across here, I felt), but rather, who could summon the most partisans to attend. Several of us left after (and some even before) the first result was announced.

In this EOGM, everyone lost (even the current executive committee that retained their seats) and the game received a lot of unnecessary negative publicity. Still, I have been in the chess scene long enough previously to understand that there will be a regression to mean in time. I also had the opportunity to briefly meet and catch up with former chess compatriots which is the silver lining to this whole affair.