Issues about how to better our bridge at the top IV

February 18, 2011 at 6:16 pm 4 comments

Khokan, I’m really not ignoring your hard question comparing chess and bridge and making a living at it….just cogitating!

Meanwhile, I have decided to reproduce the entirety of an article on what’s happening in Vietnam in chess. Amazing what is being done there with a budget of a few million, compared with the very little that seems to have been achieved with the $1M/year Ozone received…

Asia’s chess factory: Vietnam trains its youngest to be world-class players

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam —Le Quang Liem cannot remember all the countries he’s been to, but he can play chess with his eyes closed. For this, he says, you need to have an excellent memory – an ability to keep the position of all the pieces in your head.

This year the 19-year-old resident of Ho Chi Minh City – with a shy voice and big glasses – became the first person from Southeast Asia to win the Aeroflot Open in Moscow, widely regarded as the world’s most difficult open chess competition.

Mr. Liem left Moscow with a $28,280 prize and a ticket to compete in an elite, invitation-only tournament in Dortmund, Germany, later this month, where he will play against a former world chess champion, among others. Another player from Vietnam tied for third place in the tournament, while the best American player landed in 20th place.

“What a shock to Russian chess fans to see dozens of their heroes surpassed by two Vietnamese teenagers!” exclaimed a Los Angeles Times writer in a story titled “Vietnamese Surprise in Moscow,” while The New York Times named its article about the chess tournament, “Big Surprises in Europe.”

But Liem’s success is not an isolated victory for Vietnam. In December, the Vietnamese women’s chess team won Asia’s championship, while the men’s team placed second, and in 2008, 7-year-old Tran Minh Thang became the world chess champion for children under 8.

So what is Vietnam doing right when it comes to chess?

As it turns out, the country’s socialist government adopted the chess system of the former Soviet Union, which produced five undefeated world champions between 1948 and 1972.

“Sports clubs are spread throughout the political structure of provinces and cities,” says Casto Abundo, deputy president of the Asian Chess Federation. “Each club has its own budget at its disposal and they concentrate on the development of the youth. They are now harvesting the fruit of their labor.”

The chairman of Vietnam’s Chess Federation, Dang Tat Thang, says he learned to play chess in Russia when he was a student there.

The coach of Vietnam’s national chess team, Mikhail Vasyliev, is originally from Odessa, Ukraine, which he describes as the “world capital of chess.” The elderly Ukrainian, who does not speak Vietnamese, explained that the Vietnamese government’s approach to chess works because efforts are directed at the most promising players from a young age, rather than at those children whose parents have the most money to pay for classes. Many of Vietnam’s best players, such as Nguyen Ngoc Truong Son, 20, who tied for third place in Moscow, are from poor families, Mr. Vasyliev says.

In Vietnam, children as young as 4 who do well in tournaments receive monthly salaries, free chess instruction, and monetary prizes for winning competitions. The Vietnamese government spends $3 million a year to promote the game, which includes covering players’ travel expenses to domestic and international chess events.

“They get around $300 per month plus room and board and three or four times a year they can go abroad,” Vasyliev says, “[and that’s in a country where] $100 per month is considered a good salary.”

Between 500 and 700 young players study chess around the country. The 10 to 12 players on the national team study the game for the whole year with only a two-week break. They live in the sports center and receive salaries and incentives of $11 per day for pocket money when they travel.

Liem, for instance, started making money from chess when he was only 10 years old and won Ho Chi Minh City’s children’s competition. In April, he took home $4,000 for winning Vietnam’s national chess tournament for the second time. He would not reveal how much he made last year from playing his favorite game, but he did say that he now makes more money than all his peers.

My “most important goal is to play and improve,” he says. “Because I think if I can live by playing chess I can do what I like most and earn money from that.”

Huang Xuan Thanh Khiet, 25, who also competed in Vietnam’s national chess tournament, says chess was her first job, and now the board game pays off with an extra $70 every month. Thanks to the game, she also got a chance to see the world – the Vietnamese government flew her to Russia, Spain, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

“The [chess] federation pays for everything,” Ms. Khiet says. “In my life, I never traveled on my own.”

Mr. Thang says Vietnamese chess players improved after the government increased chess salaries and prizes. The stipends were raised from less than $100 to $300 per month over the past two years, while prizes for winning competitions were introduced five years ago and increased three times since, he says. Now, even children under 12 can take home as much as $500 for winning, he says. And in April, the top four male and female winners of Vietnam’s national chess tournament took home a total of $13,500 in prizes, ranging from $250 to $4,000.

“We had good players before, but our economy was not developed,” Thang said. “So before, talented children could not be sent to world tournaments.”

While the financial side of things clearly makes a difference, some players suggest that chess might be becoming more popular in Vietnam at the expense of another board game. Chinese chess, a game that a visitor to Vietnam will see old men playing on sidewalks, is becoming less popular among youth.

Liem says this is because of the Internet. You can play international chess online with people all over the world, he says, while Chinese chess is known only in Asia. Also, you cannot play Chinese chess with a computer, says Liem, who spends much of his time practicing with electronic partners. “There are a few programs, but they are not strong, not professional,” he says.

In fact, several members of Vietnam’s national team, including Liem himself, represent a first generation of chess players: Their parents do not know how to play the game.

“We’re civil engineers, not chess players,” says Liem’s mother, Than Thi My Le. (Liem learned chess from his older brother, who learned it from a book.)

So what’s in store for Vietnamese chess players?

Liem, who likes traditional Vietnamese music and reading “Harry Potter” (in Vietnamese), plans to start his university studies in September.He says he hopes to become the world chess champion.

And chances are there will be more chess players from Vietnam to follow in his footsteps.

“Nowhere in the world are there children who get these stipends. In other countries, the parents must pay,” Thang said in Russian. But in Vietnam, “if the child is talented, all the conditions [for his improvement] are created. That’s how we make good players.” By Julie Masis, Contributor; online source: Christian Science Monitor

This was written in July 2010. Le, Quang Liem yesterday retained his Aeroflot title for 2011.

Food for thought?


Entry filed under: thoughts on bridge.

Issues about how to better our bridge at the top part III Issues about how to better our bridge at the top V

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. bruce  |  February 20, 2011 at 9:30 pm

    bridge sucks


    if the abf wanted to do something about improving the standard putting a line through say $200K in the budget for prizemoney might be the best start

  • 2. khokan  |  February 19, 2011 at 9:22 am

    Cathy, you keep saying that chess is administered much better than bridge. If that’s the case, what has Australia actually produced chess-wise? I don’t follow chess, but I do follow the general media, and I don’t see much news in the way of Australian results in international events. Is this very different to the bridge situation in Australia?

    With regard to OzOne, a lot of the key elements to develop bridge at the top in Australia were there. It seems obvious that the attributes of the top bridge players in the world are talent and discipline. The purpose of OzOne, in my mind, was to imrove discipline through regular practice, play in top international events and high-level coaching. Not everyone can play bridge in that sort of environment, and so it proved with a number of OzOne pairs. By way of comparison, I think that Billy Eisenberg eventually felt the same way with the Aces.

    Who knows what OzOne would have accomplished if it had continued? However, it’s too simplistic to say that OzOne should have done this or that for one million dollars, based on what Norway accomplished.

    I think, overall, that OzOne had a number of positive outcomes. That’s not to say that the program couldn’t have been improved. However, it’s really difficult dealing with personalities, and a lot of the problems with OzOne IMO stem from the attitudes of those picked for the program. It’s easy to say that the OzOne selectors got it wrong, but it’s hard to know how people will take to a disciplined and comparatively rigorous training schedule. If you can make a case for alternative pairs that should have been selected ahead of those that were, I’d be interested to hear it.

  • 3. Ben Thompson  |  February 18, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    Translating the Vietnamese chess budget for Australian income and cost of living standards, I reckon we’re talking about $60-100m on player & coach stipends, plus a further $20-30m on prize money, travel and so on. Plus capital to support chess clubs.

    If you can convince the Australian government to allocate $100m out of the $350m federal sport budget … I’ll probably have to wake up from your dream 🙂

    • 4. cathyc  |  February 19, 2011 at 12:43 am

      Of course the economics is different, quite right. But still, I don’t really mean to be rude to Ozone, but it is hard to see that the backer got $1M worth, the obvious economic differences not withstanding. I mean….$1M should get you SOMETHING, shouldn’t it, Ben????!

      With such a small amount as $1M, Ozone should have picked about 8 people and set about turning them into a world championship side ilke the Norwegians did – am I right there, the Norwegians?


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