Saturday, May 23, 2015

Unappealing Chess Moves & Malaysian Politics

At one time in my life, I was a competitive chess player. That was many years ago. At the height of the madness, I spent perhaps 2 to 3 hours on average reading chess books and analysing chess positions daily. During the weekends, I could spend even longer hours. I learnt the game as a boy of about 10, but I only started playing seriously and competitively in my twenties.

The thing about chess is that there is almost no ending to the learning process. When you've played enough games, you'd come to a point when almost all openings seem to resemble one another. After learning the basic opening moves, you'd move on to explore specific openings. For example, I spent countless hours learning and analysing the Dragon Sicilian; it was my favourite defence as Black. 

The longest over-the-board game that I had ever played was almost 4 hours, and it was a big struggle against a far-superior player. I can't remember the moves of that game; the only thing I can still remember is that I lost it in the end. Time control was 90 minutes each for the first 40 moves, and upon reaching 40 moves, 30 minutes were added for each player. It was a game to be remembered because I came to a point in the game where I spent almost half an hour to make just one move! 

You see, in the game of chess, sometimes you are bound to reach a critical position, and all the available moves are unappealing; meaning that the continuations are likely to lead to a worse position. Of course that is usually because of weak moves committed earlier in the game. So you start exploring each available option a few moves deep and seeing their respective outcomes in your mind. Seeing the pieces "move" in your mind is a very exhausting process, and in an over-the-board game in a competition, it can be quite nerve-wrecking. But a great part of playing chess is the art of keeping one's cool in the face of a seemingly lost position! After considering several options, and "seeing" what could possibly happen several moves ahead, if you're lucky, sometimes you may find a solution to escape from the mess you are in. But sometimes, there is no clear-cut solution, and the best you can do is to reach a position with slightly promising chances, but unclear advantage. Then of course there are times, when having spent a very long time thinking, you just can't find a way out! That is probably your cue to consider resigning gracefully!

I was having my regular foot reflexology session recently when I overheard an interesting conversation between two fellows near my seat. They were talking about signing up an online petition in favour of a campaign to force the Prime Minister, Najib Tun Razak, to step down. I heard several thousand people have signed the petition.

I'm not even going to waste my time to find the webpage of the campaign, because that's exactly what it is to me—a waste of time. I don't believe that the fate of a Prime Minister should be decided through an online campaign. There are reasons—and good reasons, too—for having elections in Malaysia. For better of for worse, let the fate of the Prime Minister be decided through the election process. It's not perfect, of course, but it's still better than relying on the number of "Likes" on Facebook.

Although I'm no longer into competitive chess for many years now, some habits from the game remain. I just can't help thinking about all the available candidate moves ahead. As I had explained in the preceding paragraphs above, the chess mind tries to explore the position(s) several moves ahead. And what I see in my mind now is not so appealing! 

Even if Najib actually resigns because of the online campaign against him as the Prime Minister, what's next? Somehow the next in line, Muhyiddin Yassin, becoming the Prime Minister of Malaysia is so unappealing to me. In fact, I'm convinced that that is a lot like "out of the frying pan, into the fire" for Malaysia. Yet, it's almost an implied rule in the ruling coalition that the Deputy Prime Minister should be next in line.

Now looking a few more steps farther ahead (yes, this quite often becomes absolutely necessary in chess), let's assume that the Pakatan comes into power somehow. Who's going to be the Prime Minister then? Anwar Ibrahim? Beyond my imagination! This is a man who was wheelchair-bound and full of braces when he was in prison; but was suddenly dancing on stage shortly after his release. And don't make me start on Hudud law. So you see, although I think Malaysia is in a lot of trouble under Najib, I just can't see anything better for now. I can't see appealing options ahead. 

When in desperation, there is that tendency to remove the Prime Minister for the sake of change. People say to me, "Just make the change, and then hope that the replacement can perform better. And if that replacement is not performing any better, then keep changing until we find one that can perform better!"

Y'know, I really wish that it's that simple. Since Tun Dr M resigned as the Prime Minister, I felt that Malaysia has been going downhill. Most people want change in the hope of improvement; but they always forget of the possibility that even bigger damage that can result from the change. Unfortunately, the damage, once done, will be very expensive to remedy if remediable at all, and it takes years to accomplish. 

Like in the game of chess, I'm reluctant to make impulsive moves when dealing with critical positions. I'd like to think a bit more, not just simply move and then see what happens next. I'm afraid I'm going to think much longer than half an hour this time...

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Job vs Career

A job vacancy became available in our company a few months ago, and we went through the normal procedures to hire a new staff. Advertisements were put in the local papers, which attracted several candidates. These were shortlisted and then interviews were duly arranged. 

Of those who made it to the interview stage was a woman in her mid-thirties. Her English wasn’t as good as I had hoped, but after all we were not looking for a walking Oxford Dictionary. Sadly, just a small percentage of the Malaysian population can actually write decent English these days. Anyway, she spoke fairly fluent English, although her written work was not grammatically sound. Yet she stood out from the rest, and it didn’t take us very long to decide in her favour. 

Accordingly, shortly after we’ve wrapped up the interviews with the rest of the candidates, we called her up to convey the good news. A formal letter of appointment was then drafted, offering her a job in our company, and we were looking forward to welcome her in a couple of weeks’ time. 

Unfortunately, a few days later, we received news from her that she was no longer keen to work for us because she had a “better offer” from a rival company. The “better offer” in this case, as you might expect, was in terms of a slightly higher salary. We could have offered even higher if we really thought it justifiable. But not in this case. So, regretfully, we had to let the matter pass. 

A few months had since elapsed, and then recently we heard from her again. Apparently, she’s not very happy with her current job, and was trying her luck with us again. She’s wondering if the job offer of several months ago is still available now. A colleague who was involved in the previous interview seemed keen to accept her. But I’m against it; and since I’m the boss, my decision prevails. This seemed a little odd, and my colleague asked me why. After all, if she was good enough for the job a few months ago, why isn’t she good enough now

Well, it’s difficult to explain, really. You see, I’m looking for someone who wants a career, not just a job. If this person can easily change her mind because of a marginally “better offer” in Ringgit and Sen, she will resign in a heartbeat the next time she gets a marginally “attractive offer” from somebody else. 

But don’t get me wrong; there is nothing wrong in seeking greener pastures. If I suddenly get a substantially better offer tomorrow, I would undoubtedly consider it. It would be ridiculous not to! But only if it’s substantial. If it’s marginal, I wouldn’t even waste my time. I’m unwilling to throw away my career for the sake of a job that offers a marginally higher income.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Richest Fight in History

There have been talks of a possible fight between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao (Pacman) since about 5 years ago to determine who of the two is the "Greatest Fighter" of this era. I was fascinated although I'm not a big fan of boxing, and was hoping to see the match come to fruition. 

My interest in the then possible match would be mainly out of curiosity, rather than rooting for any boxer. However, I spent a few moments checking out video clips on youtube to see these boxers' styles . From the first few video clips that I saw, I must say that I liked Pacman's style much more—he fights like a street fighter; he is fast, strong, and aggressive. 

On the other hand, I saw Mayweather as a much smarter fighter. Whenever he enters the rink, his game plan is almost the same—he seems to run from one corner to another and be on the defensive, rather than offensive. He is a patient fighter; he lures his opponents in and allows them to attack; he waits patiently for his chance, and then attacks only when there are good opportunities to do so. He rarely throws punches wastefully. But when he does attack, his success rate is high.

Because of his style, I don't like to see Mayweather fight. In fact, sometimes I find him a bit boring. I also find him somewhat arrogant; y'know, the kind of arrogance that you hate to love, and love to hate! But alas, nobody says that you must have a pleasant personality and exciting style to win in boxing. In the end, it all boils down to whoever can land more punches on the opponent; or better still, if you can knock him out cold.

Incidentally, I come from the black-and-white TV era when there was a very famous heavyweight boxer. He was nicknamed "The Greatest". He claimed that he "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee". Curiously, he's also an arrogant chap as can be seen here; and an even bigger coincidence is that his boxing strategy was almost the same as Mayweather. He didn't attack and throw wasteful punches. He lured his opponents in, and would attack only at the right moments. That's why I wasn't a big fan of his either! But, what can I say, he brought down the 220lb George Foreman with an excellent strategy. Check out how he did it here.

Seeing the differing styles of Mayweather and Pacman, it is so easy to get caught in the emotion. Many people have the tendency to support the so-called underdog, especially if that underdog has an aggressive style. But the reality is that, in many battles, the party with a sound strategy almost always comes out on top. That's why I had to reluctantly predict Mayweather would win.

After a few years of failed attempts to set up the match between Mayweather and Pacman, I made a promise not to ever click on any online news articles about these two fighters, until a friend told me recently that the match was happening after all. I had decided long ago that if ever they're gonna end up fighting it out, Mayweather would win; not because he is stronger or faster, but mainly because he is smarter.

A friend texted me yesterday morning, saying that the match would be starting soon, but I was already leaving my house for brunch. I was hungry after running a marathon at 3am in the morning. The excitement just wasn't there, because I felt I knew what the result of the match would be even before the first bell.

Well, I had my brunch. then came home and realised that I had missed almost 5 rounds of the match. Pacman was the aggressor as I had expected; and Mayweather was the defensive freak as he usually is. I remained glued to the TV till the end, and of course Mayweather was eventually declared the winner.

Then the inevitable happened. So many people said that Pacman should have won the match. Even Pacman himself thought that he had won. I don't quite understand how they came to that conclusion. I can only guess that they equated the many punches that Pacman had thrown was all that's needed to decide the winner. I saw it differently—in a gun battle, it's not really important how many shots are traded between the parties. The winner is the one that hits his target(s) more times. Maybe Pacman's supporters had forgotten that little detail. 

I would love to have seen Pacman win the match—I really do—but I can accept that victory went to the smarter fighter. In any case, let's not forget that both these men are big winners as far as money is concerned. They walked away with insane amounts of money!