Singapore has always been seen as a model for chess development amongst smaller countries and John Wong, Vice President of the Singapore Chess Federation (SCF) and Head of Delegation for a representative team at the Asian Youth Championships was kind enough to explain how things work in his country!
To start with, we were surprised to learn that in Singapore there are five academies set up as businesses and alongside these, quite a few individuals who earn a living as chess trainers. And that they actually co-exist with SCF to offer classes from beginner to a level of around FIDE 1200.
In the next stage, in talent development which SCF calls “High Performance”, players need to qualify to join this program, only after which they are allowed to represent Singapore in international youth competitions, the various academies and private coaches still play a role by catering for those wanting extra personal help or even opting to develop on their own through participation in international open championships.
SCF recognised qualifying tournaments are the National Schools Individual Championships, the National Age-Group Championships and the Singapore Amateur Championships of which the first is by far the most important as it provides the bulk of young chess players who take up the game each year.
Interestingly, making it to the SCF High Performance program gives the right to play in regional youth events and allows for direct application to leading schools and also qualifies for extra-curricular points in the Singapore education system.
Currently there is no question at all that SCF has long been successful in creating young chess players in this system but like almost all countries where chess takes very much a back seat to studies and career, arguably there isn’t simply yet the talent coming through that is able to compete internationally.
Yet the reality is that this same system in Singapore also makes it impossible for individuals to seriously pursue sports, of which chess is a much poorer cousin, as an alternative to a career and for now it will always be that one exceptional individual who will be willing or financially able to make the necessary sacrifices for the game.