Monday, November 26, 2007

A belated report on the Macau tournament (By Alain Dekker )

Here is a very belated report on the Macau tournament. Firstly, I want to thank UK Chinese Chess and the World Xiangqi Federation for giving me the opportunity to play in Macau. The tournament was very well organized.

Getting to Macau proved to be fairly easy. The trick was to travel to Hong Kong and then to catch the jetfoil ferry across the bay to Macau. The ferry was pleasant but the 13-hr journey from London wasn't that great!

The hotel was situated on a hill next to the Ta Shi Stadium. The stadium was decked in a huge banner advertising the 2nd Asian Indoor games, and specifically the soccer tournament. I saw some adverts on TV for these games, which had the headline "Asian Power". The hotel itself was very nice, but I personally did not find the food that great since I prefer to eat vegetarian. There is something interesting about the hotel which I thought I would mention here: There were 3 very good lifts which serviced all the floors. Usually, you were able to get from floor to floor quite easily, but at peak times, such as just before a round of Xiangqi, there might be a wait of several minutes. Being the adventurous sort, I investigated the back stairs and found the contrast between the plush and spotless foyer of the hotel and the run-down and dirty back stairs quite surprising! One set of stairs led to the kitchens (where the staff were at a loss as to how I had even arrived there!) and the other passed several abandoned bits of cleaning equipment, unfinished woodworking and even (on the 3rd floor) a whole room with holes in the floor and piles of junk everywhere! Clearly using the back stairs was not expected of the guests :o)

The playing venue was inside the Ta Shi stadium across the road. In front of the stadium are some gardens named after the famous Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama. The hall was well lit and the seats comfortable. All in all, we were very well looked after.

There were a few big improvements in this tournament compared with Paris, 2005. The major improvement was in the use of clocks. Let me first recap on the situation in Paris. In Paris the clocks were started at 3:01 and they slowly ran down to 00:00. You had to meet certain move requirements at various stages along the timeline. There were at least half-a-dozen disputes regarding the time that I noticed, most due to the clocks starting at 3:01 (instead of the more normal 3:00). In Macau, the situation was much clearer. We had 80 minutes for the game, but an extra 30 seconds was added for each move. There were no time controls to reach and no move number requirements, only that if you ran out of time, you lost. Simple! As far as I know, there were no disputes over time and I congratulate the organizers for doing so well in this regard.

On the other hand, I would say there were a few things that were not so good. As the tournament was generally very well run, I do no wish to dwell on these, but merely mention the issue of mobile (or cell) phones. * Mobile phones: I noticed on several occasions, the arbiters (the helpers at each table) speaking (sometimes very loudly!) into their mobile phones while the players were still playing. While I would not be in favour of an outright ban, I certainly think that the arbiters and players should not use mobile phones during the game. If the phone does go off, they should immediately vacate the playing area.

Then there are a few small issues that I feel would improve the tournament.
These are:
1) Number of rounds. More rounds are better, and Macau had only 9 which seem too few for a World Championship. The format in Paris allowed for 11 rounds, which is a more sensible number. If possible, fitting a day of rest somewhere in the middle of the tournament would also help.

2) Morning rounds. Given that players come from all over the globe, I feel that a 9am start was not a good idea. For players coming from Europe, for example, and suffering from jetlag (as happened to me), starting at 9am was very hard. If possible, the organizers should consider either playing the 1st round of the day starting at 14:00 and the second round at 20:30, or perhaps starting the 1st round at 10:30 or even 11:00. If you look at the final results, it is striking to note that the players from Europe generally did quite poorly. This is partly our own fault, of course: We needed to arrive in Macau earlier to give ourselves time to acclimatize, but a later morning start would have helped.

3) Female players. The WXF very kindly allows non-Chinese/Vietnamese players to compete on nearly equal footing with the strong Chinese players, and merely separates them out at the end for a separate category of prizes. The tournament would be improved if the female players were treated similarly.
My suggestion in this regard is as follows:

a) All players, male and female, play in one big tournament (requires
11 rounds);
b) At the end of the tournament, the non-Chinese and female players can be separated out from the main pool to decide which placing they have achieved;
c) For the team event, widen the scope so that the team consists not of 2 male players, but 2 male and 1 female. This will encourage every country that participates in the team competitions to bring a female player.

Finally, I want to thank the organizers for the lovely opening and closing ceremony dinners. It was difficult to find good vegetarian food, but that didn't detract from the vast array of foods on offer and the good time had by all.

I finish with my own recommendation for overcoming jetlag (this affected me very badly in Macau):
Do not go to sleep when you arrive and have a larger than normal dinner. Around about 8-9pm, get into some shorts and find some stairs (the back stairs of the hotel will perform this task admirably). Walk up and down these stairs as many times as you can manage to really physically tire yourself out. Go have a shower and go to bed...oh, and don't forget to ask the hotel reception to give you a wake-up call!

Thanks again to the organizers of Macau 2007. I look forward to seeing you all again in Vancouver, 2009.

Alain Dekker


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