What a difference 15 years makes

In 2003 – Columbus, Ohio welcomed the K-9 Junior High School Nationals.

This weekend – Atlanta, GA held the 2018 K-9 Junior High School Nationals.

 

I can’t help myself playing a few blitz games.

There are many things that had changed for US Chess over the last 15 years.

One such exciting event is the triumph Berlin candidate win for Fabiano (participant of 2003 JHS edition), thus becoming the World Championship Challenger!

Back home in our JHS tournament, we also see many changes.

-Stronger Top Boards

As you can see, the top boards are stronger today with about twenty 2000+ players in each of the championship sections.

Earlier rounds are definitely not a walk in the park for the top boards anymore, and the physical stigma are more important now than ever to finish these events.

-Chess popularity is growing

Platforms such as chess.com and others are popularizing the game, and it gives many opportunities to learn and play against stronger players even at home.

Here are my challenges to the active chess players and the chess educators (including myself).

Challenge to active players – Can you find a way to learn from a stronger player the next time you have a chance? And can you help a newer player improve the next time you have an opportunity.

Challenge to chess educators – Can you motivate one or more young player to gain the interest and continue his/her chess tourney towards 50th percentile or beyond?

The only blessings you own are the ones you share

-Frank Blake

Wherever you are in your chess journey, I hope you find a way bring more interest towards the game!

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K-1 Nationals: I love playing chess

I love playing chess, I play all the time on chess.com.”

This is the quote by 2017 K-1 Grade Nationals Champion Andrew Jiang.

Here is the full analysis of Andrew’s clinching game.

As kids grow up playing chess, at least in the beginning, many kids are more excited to show up than caring about the results.

However, as we grow, the pressure of winning becomes a baggage.

sunset-3225828_960_720

What differentiates kids and adults tournament is often the Excitement vs Result Spectrum.

Younger age: Excitement to play chess is 90%, results matters about 10%

As we get older, the reverse becomes true.

Many adults, including myself, would have nerve wrecking moments before the round, given the stake at hand. But for the K-1 warriors, it might be just another moment of an exciting chess day like any other.

Learn from kids, be excited to SHOW-UP.  Enjoy the process.

 

AI and Chess

Here is a self-composing music using AI.

I watched an AI documentary on my flight back from China, where I learned about the self-composing music using AI.

My immediate question was can this technique applied to chess as well?

The possibilities are certainly there.

ai_pic

AI and Chess

Deep Learning and AI has been the topic in the tech world. Ideas from self-driving cars to language translations have expedited the hype.

Chess had its own moment in the news, namely AlphaZero, where DeepMind stepped aside from the game Go to join the chess research.

AlphaZero not only took down Stockfish in record time, what’s more impressive is the new approach it brought to the game.

AI Applications in Opening Prep

Part of a chess player’s growing pain is how to prepare an opening repertoire. The vast amount of possibilities often overwhelm a strong professional player, needless to say, it’s a much more painful chore for club players.

What if there is a machine that can self-learn opening styles from top players, and then provide a repertoire based on a student’s preference or his/her chess idols?

What if once that repertoire is ready, it can be imported to chess.com or other chess databases and can be easily accessed?

One reason of the popularity for AI is the cool applications, but another is the accessibility for us mere mortals to get our hands on and experiment with the technology.

We are just at the beginning of the AI advancement, and as technology progresses further, the possibilities would only increase!

Happy brainstorming!

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For those who are interested to explore further, below are some references.

Chess Reinforcement Learning: https://github.com/Zeta36/chess-alpha-zero

Tensorflow: https://www.tensorflow.org/

This Week in Chess: http://theweekinchess.com/twic

Confidence and Patience

Teaching chess takes a set of skills. Teaching chess to kids takes a completely different set of skills.

When kids 6-10 years old first picks up chess, two typical scenarios are:

Group A: ‘Oh Oh Oh Oh, I know this’. They’ll react instantly, want to get to the answers immediately, and keep going forward with the argument until there is not much left.

Group B: think, search, think, search, and think for more to get to the right answers, and still not sure how to respond.

We’ll call A Confidence, and B Patience.

Both wants to win or solve the puzzle, but they go from different routes.

Strength

Group A are willing to try things, and they are not afraid to be wrong.  They have 10 ideas in their head within 5 seconds.

This will help them become more creative as their chess vision expands.

For the patience Group B: they are detail orientated, they want to check all the possibilities.

Their meticulous calculations will help them analyze both deep variations and broadly as more than one variation is possible.

Weakness

On the flip side, these same strengths are often what give parents the most headaches.

Group A misses many opportunities. They often choose second best options, or worse, completely irrelevant ideas.

Group B becomes very indecisive that it feels paralyzing. And the thought of playing chess with a clock is unbearable.

How to improve

The best way is to have both. Telling Group A to slowdown is probably unfruitful. Try ask them to calculate the variations deeper or ask if there are other possibilities instead.

Similarly, telling Group B ‘just make a decision’ will introduce more anxiety.

Instead, ask what you have calculated, and what outcomes did you see in your calculations. Did you make the decision faster than last time?

In the end, we want to have both, confident but also patient. It will take practice, but learning chess will be more fun.

Chess Programs: How to Learn Actively

As chess gets popular in the United States, the opportunity to participate in chess camps or school programs also have increased.

Parents and coaches can us the information from this post to encourage students to actively learn in chess.

Chess programs can be grouped by age or, more commonly, chess levels. Here are three common chess levels:

1. True beginner:  learning the rules for the first time
2. Play-at-home level: knows the rules; ready to learn basic tactics and strategies
3. Tournament-play level: competed in tournaments; has been working on chess study; wants to increase chess rating.

Regardless of a student’s chess level, the following five points should be the focus to get the most out of a chess chess program.

 Asking Questions
• Playing Games
• Trying New Ideas
• Teaching Others
• Making Friends

Asking questions

Schools are moving toward more instruction and less interaction. Chess programs should not follow this pattern. Instead, questions during a lecture will bring ideas both for the students and the instructor.

It helps to encourage students to answer instructor’s questions without being afraid of being wrong. Questions can be general ones, like questions about chess world champions, chess history, etc.  Or they can be knowledge-based, such as how to checkmate with two bishops.

Playing games

Like many other activities, chess is a numbers game. Grandmasters generally play many more games than a beginner. Chess programs is an opportunity to play multiple games in a day.

A beginner should learn to not be afraid to play against stronger players. This is the chance to train and ask questions. At the same time, playing against less-experienced players is a chance for your child to teach what they know.

Either way, they can use the camp to increase their chess experiences.

Trying new ideas

In my lessons, I ask students to try out ideas at home (online), then learn from these experiences and apply them in tournaments.

Camp or school clubs are the best time to test ideas. If they want to learn a new opening, they can try it during these programs. Then they can ask questions about it.

Not only is this a low-stake environment (results don’t matter as much as in tournaments), but they can also immediately ask for feedback.

Teaching others

                                    If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.

–Albert Einstein

Encourage a child to teach what they know. We live in an era where knowledge has become more of a commodity, and information can be easily found on the internet.

Not only are they helping others to learn new ideas, they’ll also clarify their own thoughts in the idea. For example, once they have learned how to checkmate with two bishops, showing others the process will only help them to understand it better.

Making new friends

This may be the most important of all. Going to chess camp or club will give a child the opportunity to make new friends with other chess players.

After all, chess is a game that shows off the competitive spirit on the board, and friendships off the board.

When a child  interacts with other kids and works with them to solve problems, it will help them work during the camp, and more importantly, form a friendship for their chess careers to come.

Whether your kids are just picking up the game or are ready for tournament play, I hope this post will help you and them to gain the most from any chess programs.

Game Analysis: How has Computer Changed Chess

Imagine learning to drive a car today versus learning to operate self-driving cars in the next 20 years.

And now compare how top level chess are played today versus when it was in 1995.

We are just at the inning 1 of this evolution. And the speed of change will only increase.

In today’s game analysis, we’ll look thru a sharp game played between two strongclass B players.

Here is the COMPLETE GAME annotation, and below is two interesting moments I’ve been pondering about.

Ambition Everywhere

comp1White has just played 12.g4

In 1999, I would have said this is a crazy move. White’s king will have nowhere to castle, all black has to do is break through the center and then game over.

Today I say this is a very interesting move, black will need to struggle a bit to break through the center, and if white has to keep the king in the center, so be it.

King Safety

comp2

White has just played 24. 0-0

The 1999 me and myself today will agree on this position. And that is I have no clue which king is safer in this position.

That is the agreement. The difference would be

1999: How can this position happen, the players must be out of their minds.

Today: Just another day in the chess world, and I should study this position a bit more closely.


So how could I study chess today with the help of computers

1.Play more tournaments

Experience matters a lot. If you have seen complicated games like the above many more times than your opponent, you have an edge.

2.Question dogmas

From the first diagram, my 1999 dogma was don’t go crazy on the wings if my own king is not settled yet. There are some truths to that, and I’ve learned about these from Kotov’s Play like a Grandmaster book.

However, because more examples are practiced and the computer gives us more insights, the exceptions are increasing so fast, that when we hear any new ‘rules’, the first reaction is to ask are there counter examples.


That’s all for now. Here’s to another week of entertaining chess adventures!

What can you learn from blitz games?

There is an interesting debate on the value of blitz tournaments and games.

Whether it’s useful to play blitz games to improve your chess, or from a broader point of view, does blitz attracts more audience to the chess game.

My answers to both of these questions are resounding yes. I’ll leave the debate and my own opinions for a different time.

However, regardless your opinion, what you should definitely consider is to review and learn from your own blitz games just like a standard game.

We’ll review three snippets of my recent blitz games played both over the board (at CCSCATL) and online. Below are three themes we’ll discuss in this post:

  1. Learning to thrive in Complications
  2. Improving Intuition
  3. Searching for unexpected tactics

Complication

blitz1

White to Move

After an unsound sacrifice in the opening, I got into the above position.

Here I can feel there are compensations, as black’s king is not able to castle, thus hard to connect the rooks. Plus all of white pieces are ready to jump in for any impeding attack.

White has two choices:

  • Bxg7
  • Rxe7

I took on e7, because I wanted to keep the dark square bishop. However, with closer inspection, possibly Bxg7 is a more objective try.

After a few more moves, we reached the next critical point.

blitz2

Black to Move

Question: would you play:

  • Bb5 or
  • Bg4

Blitz games give many opportunities to make mistakes. And it’s helpful to train your own tolerance of complications.

Intuition

In the position below, I pushed my pawn b3-b4, feeling good about the sacrifice.

blitz3

Black to Move

Here I thought Bxb4 is not possible due to Qa4. But my intuition failed and I missed the critical variation.

Question: can you calculate the variation to the ensuing endgame after all the trades and evaluate why black is clearly better in that position?

Unexpected tactics

blitz4

White to Move

I was playing black and feeling confident about the position. The game continued with Rxd2 exd2, and then Qe3 winning white’s e2-bishop.

However, when I entered the game into the computer, to my surprise, Stockfish told me it was +0.4 in this position.

Question: what did both side miss for white to counter attack?

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There are many instructional moments in blitz games, and the value is in understanding the nuance just like reviewing standard games.

Next time you get a chance to play blitz, make sure you can extract value from these games.

P.s. Feel free to answer the questions in the comment section.