SuperNationals VI – From the Outside

Two weeks ago I attended my 2nd SuperNationals. Of course not as a player, but as a coach and spectator. This year the tournament grew to 5,577 players – the largest tournament in the world. Anyone who has ever been to the Gaylord Opryland Hotel knows that the hotel itself is intimidating with its massive size, rivers, boat rides, waterfalls, and restaurants. Throw in 5,000 plus players and their families and you are quickly overwhelmed! This article will focus on some of the many side events, and other attractions going on during SuperNationals.

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Meeting the great Kasparov!

My own personal best moment was getting the opportunity to meet and shake hands with the 13th World Champion Garry Kasparov. I made sure to get his signature on his wonderful book Test of Time. Several chess personalities such as; Bruce Pandolfini, GM Maxim Dlugy, GM Maurice Ashley, GM Irina Krush, WGM Sabina Foiser, and GM Sam Shankland were on site signing books and other chess merchandise for the fans. There were long lines for the opportunity to challenge one of these players to blitz showdowns throughout the weekend.

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GM Irina Krush taking on all comers in a blitz showdown!

My friend and super coach from California, Jay Stallings organized a wonderful 2 hour “mini-camp” on Thursday and Friday. This camp called “New To Nationals” was perfect for those young players and families who have never been to an event of this size. I was excited that Jay asked me to help out with the Friday morning camp which had close to 50 participants. The main focus is just to go over what to expect, and to take away some of the anxieties of the young players and their parents. We received nothing but positive feedback, and will definitely plan to hold these at the larger scholastic events in the future.

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Coach Jay hard at work!
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Yours truly working with the next generation of strong players!

As a coach, SuperNationals provides great opportunities to network, learn different approaches, attend seminars and lectures, and see old friends. I was able to attend the USCF Scholastic Meeting, Preparing Players for International Competition, Sam Shankland lecture, and the Maurice Ashley lecture. All of these side events gave me a better understanding of the current happenings of scholastic chess in the United States.

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USCF Scholastic Meeting

One thing I know for sure – kids love learning from GM Maurice Ashley! His energy and enthusiasm when teaching was truly inspiring. I took some of his ideas and lessons and applied them in my school classes with great results!

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GM Maurice Ashley inspiring, motivating, and making chess fun!

Every family involved in scholastic chess should put the SuperNationals on their must attend events. Being that this tournament only happens every four years will give families time to prepare for 2021!

 

New York, New York! Part 2

With the World Chess Championship over I would like to take this time to reflect back to my New York visit to witness games three and four. After spending a large part of my day at the FIDE trainer seminar at the Marshall Chess Club, it was nice to go and relax during the afternoon into the evening at the venue hosting the World Championships. Every fan of chess that reads about the history of chess, in particular the world championships, dreams of the chance to someday to visit the summit of chess. The electricity that filled the venue was hard to resist – believe me, during the long draws of games 3 and 4 I made plans to leave several times in order to be well rested for the next day of seminar training, of course something always kept me from leaving! Seeing Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjaken up close, as well as chess personalities such as Judith Polgar, Peter Doggers, Lev Alburt, Jay Bonin, Yaacov Norowitz, Irina Krush, etc…was a wonderful experience.

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Me and blitz legend Yaacov Norowitz

Several fans in the café area clinged to every moment and would have the positions setup on theirs boards. Crowds would gather around a board and the kibitzing would be flying, hands reaching in suggesting moves, people trying to refute ideas, everyone curious as why Magnus and Sergey were making such moves was great fun to watch.

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Fans analyzing every move of Magnus and Sergey

One of my personal highlights was reuniting with my good friend Majur Juac. Majur is originally from the DC area, but then relocated to the New York area to teach chess for Chess NYC – a prominent chess teaching company in the New York area. A story came out in the Washington Post about his amazing life story – please take the time to read Pondering His Next Move.

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Myself, with Maryland player Kevin, and Majur excited about the match

Photo: Bill Simmons Photography

US Chess School founder Greg Shahade brought his students attending the 37th US Chess School in New York by the match both days that I was there to enjoy the world championship, and of course they played tons of blitz!

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Greg Shahade and US Chess School students

Photo: Bill Simmons Photography

The only downside of the match was that there was not enough seating to  watch the video of the match and listen to Judith Polgar was the commentate. The acoustics of the room made it next to impossible to hear the commentary. This was a common complaint I heard buzzing around the match, and online. 

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Judith Polgar

Photo: Bill Simmons Photography

It was a great honor to be able to experience the World Chess Championship in person – I can only hope that in the future it will be 4 hours or closer to where I am living! Congratulations to Magnus Carlsen for successfully defending his title! Extra special thanks to local Virginia player Bill Simmons for providing several excellent photos for this article.

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The Challenger and the Champ

Photo: Bill Simmons Photography

New York, New York! Part 1

New York, New York!!!

As a scholastic chess coach based in Virginia I am constantly trying to find ways to improve my teaching skills, chess knowledge, and net-working with trainers and coaches from around the world. After becoming a level IV certified USCF certified coach I became interested in becoming a certified trainer on an international level through FIDE. The seminars to become a FIDE trainer are mostly held in Europe, and at this time in my life a lengthy travel was not ideal. When I learned that the United States would be hosting a FIDE seminar for trainers at the historic Marshall Chess Club in New York at the same time as the World Championships, I knew I could not miss this opportunity. WIM Beatriz Marinello together with GM Efstratios Grivas organized the 3 day 15 hour seminar at the Marshall Chess Club.

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                                               Portrait of Frank Marshall

GM Grivas is the secretary of the FIDE Trainers Commission and came with a wealth of knowledge and experience from conducting seminars all over the world. WIM Beatriz Marinello brought years of experience teaching in a variety of settings, and is currently the trustee of the US Chess Trust. In 2008, Ms. Marinello also received the honor of receiving Chess Educator of the Year award from the University of Texas Dallas.
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Unfortunately, on the Sunday before day one of the seminar there was a problem with Mr. Grivas’s passport flying out of Turkey. Mr. Grivas was not going to be able to physically be on location to conduct the seminar. Though not ideal, Ms. Marinello was able to solve the problem last minute allowing Mr. Grivas to conduct the seminar using Skype and Team Viewer, and Ms. Marinello would help facilitate.

Creating a nice learning environment was the excellent exhibit “Into the Human Light: Uganda.” – photo exhibit by Dora Leticia Martinez. Eye catching and inspiring photos greeted everyone at the entrance of the Marshall Chess Club all the way into the room where the seminar took place. Here are two of my favorite pictures from the exhibit.

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Most of day one involved solving all the technical issues needed to conduct the seminar. Audio was a big problem, but thankfully one of the coaches lived close enough to the Marshall and had a blue tooth speaker ready! Also, connection issues were frequent – everyone of course was patient and understanding.

My favorite topics of the seminar spoke of the importance of nutrition and sport. I know every coach cringes when they take their teams to states and nationals and their students are eating a ton of fast food and junk food. By the later rounds the students are burned out and cannot perform their best. Also, students are excited to be at such events and never take a break from chess, and are usually found playing a ton of bughouse between rounds. I try to encourage the families of my students to bring healthy snacks, go for nice walks between rounds, etc…I remember at the last Super Nationals IM Daniel Rensch from chess.com saying that coaches should even minimize analysis between rounds as the hard work for the event should have already been completed! The point was not to burnout your students with heavy analysis between games which often can demotivate them-especially after a long game that was a loss. It is more beneficial to relax, go for a walk, and eat something healthy before the next round.

The class also discussed valuable points such as; working with parents and schools when developing your programs, being open and honest with parents – even if they do not like what you are saying at first, base your training with students around their common mistakes, do not follow rating blindly as they are just an indicator of what you did in the past – not where you are going (love this one!), when playing online play 15-30 minute games with analysis instead of hours of blitz. Lastly, we discussed the mysterious word “talent”. Mr. Grivas addressed this word by stating that, “Talent is the ability to work hard. In order to create talent you have to provide good education, good teaching skills, and develop a good program.”

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                                    Coaches and Trainers in discussion

I also enjoyed the discussion of innate chess assets, and attainable chess assets. I have listed them below for the readers to think about and discuss.

Innate Chess Assets

1) Self-control.

2) Ability to think on subjects.

3) Intense mental activity.

4) Obedience of will.

5) Proper distribution of attention.

6) Perception of position dynamics.

7) Combinative creative skill.

Attainable Chess Assets

1) Good health condition.

2) Strong nerves.

3) Perception of data conveyed by our senses.

4) Objective thought-process.

5) Powerful memory.

6) High mental level.

7) Self-confidence.

8) Control of emotional urges.

9) Feeling for the position (combination of thought and emotions).

As you can see there are more areas in attainable chess assets that can be worked on for the trainer and student. The two I see frequently from both sides with scholastic chess is self-control and controlling emotional urges. These two areas are common in scholastic chess at the elementary level which is what I mainly work with throughout the school year.

For me personally, the most advantageous part of the seminar was meeting and networking with coaches from all over the country and world. Spending three days with others who share your passion for teaching is inspiring and motivating. I took so much away from listening to how the other coaches approach their classes, small-groups, and private lessons. It was an honor to meet, make new friends, and make connections with everyone. I would attend another seminar just for this alone in the future. I encourage all coaches and trainers to attend one of these seminars if possible.

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             All of the participants with seminar completion certificates

In a follow-up article of my New York trip I plan to talk about experiences visiting the world championship.

 

Learning From the Olympiad

When it comes to studying chess games I am still looking at the classics such as Morphy, Steinitz, Lasker, Capablanca, Rubinstein, Alekhine, my heroes in chess. My attitude has always been if I cannot understand these classic players and their games that I have no chance with today’s young and modern players of the computer generation. That being said, I am always looking to expand myself and the way I look at things – so I decided to tackle the challenge of learning from games that were played in the recently completed 2016 Olympiad in Baku.

After the Olympiad was completed I downloaded the pgn of all the games played from chess24.

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Now I needed a plan to organize how I would study this massive collection. There was a total of 3705 games from the downloaded list. First, I filtered the list by setting the minimum rating of games to be 2300.

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I could have just looked at top games by setting the filter to say 2600 and up, but I thought it would be instructive to see how 2500 players and up defeated their lower rated competition. Next, I set up  pgn files in Chessbase with different themes that I would categorize such as; simple tactics, attacking the weakness, king-hunt attacks, trading into a pawn endgame, bishop vs. knight, rook endings, pawn breakthrough, and winning the won game.

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Of course there are several more topics that I could have made files for, but since this was first time doing this type of study I wanted to keep it simple.

Now the work begins – playing through the massive list of games looking for positions that met my criteria. Once I started doing this it became very addicting! If you read my first article you will remember one of my main ideas of improving your chess is being an active learner vs. being a passive learner. During the Olympiad there was great commentary on every site from chess24, ICC, chess.com, etc…While being entertaining, I would definitely put this in the category of passive learning since you just sit there and enjoy the analysis and ideas of strong players, but you yourself are not putting in any hard work. Doing the above of playing though the games, putting positions that come up in categories, and asking the question why did they play that? (sometimes after every move!) made me feel like I was being an active learner. If I could not figure out the reason behind the move after analyzing I would consult the chess engine only as a LAST resort. Seeing the technique, tactics, and positional play of strong players was very inspiring. At the same time it was also refreshing to see that they are human and are capable of gross blunders as well! Studying this way made it easy to lose track of time – a couple hours would fly by, and I would feel totally exhausted!

Here is one of my favorite examples from my winning the won game file:

Adhiban vs. Pineda

I encourage everyone to give this study method a try! Could be a recent tournament, favorite player, or an event from chess history. Let me know in the comments of any ideas like this you might have on your journey to chess improvement.

Better Late Than Never

I know of many adults in the world of chess who never seem to be able to reach the 2000+ mark. My questions is why? They are dedicated, very interested in chess, and enjoy the game. So why are they not able to crack the 2000 rating level? I have some theories about this based on my own painful process the past 15 years of chess playing and learning.

First, a little bit about my abstract beginning in chess. My first exposure to chess is drastically different than the young authors at Chess˄Summit. My journey started without the influence and resources that the internet provides today’s young players.

I did not learn how the pieces moved and rules of the game until I was 25 years old, and somehow I have passed the 2000 rating barrier a couple years before my 40th birthday, and believe me – if I can do it, anyone can! My beginning started at a college party where some friends of mine were playing chess on one of those cheap fold up wooden boards where the pieces fit inside. I was instantly drawn to the game and to what they were doing. They explained the game to me in a quick and probably not very instructive way. They just wanted new blood to beat up on! All evening they took turns crushing me and enjoying laughter at my expense. I think most people would have been defeated by introduction to chess, but it only added fuel to my fire. My college friends continued to beat me for a couple of months until I won my first game! Now I was really hooked! Next venue was a famous coffee house in Cleveland Heights Ohio called Arabica where local masters and class players would frequent daily playing speed chess and casual games. This place was heaven! Chess at any time of the day, day or night There was also an IM who frequented the coffee shop and would give dazzling displays of time odd blitz, and often times free lessons to anyone who would listen. The only down side to this place is that this was before the smoking ban, so by the end of the night one could barely see across the room. I played for hours here and started to slowly improve my game. One of the regulars named Ray took me under his wing and tried to show me the tricks of the trade. One thing he would tell me when he would review my games, “You know what I need? A bigger 2×4 to wack you over the head with!” Again, I think this would discourage many players and pound them into submission, but I guess I was a fool for punishment and would always come back for more. The most important lesson from this hazardous beginning was the development and passion for chess and learning . After this I started playing in a Friday night game 30 tournament once a week and have been captivated ever since.

After all these years I think I know how I could have made this journey a little easier and less painful. I knew once I reached 1300 or so that I would like to be 2000 someday. Something about having the number 2 in front of your rating made it seem more official. Looking back, I studied chess in an unorganized manner, and was never consistent on what I did. I would change openings all the time looking for the Holy Grail (no such thing when it comes to chess openings). I would switch chess books all the time without really reading one the entire way through. I would take every persons advice on playing and learning and would become even more confused! Then I met someone who had a love of the game, who enjoyed talking about chess, and more importantly liked to discuss and research ways on how to improve. This friend of mine is also an adult, and yes he conquered the 2000 rating barrier as well. What I took from him that has been and is still helpful is that chess really is just hard work. I needed to become more familiar with simple patterns (please read Vishal Kobla’s excellent articles!), and repeat the same problems over and over until they became part of my DNA. Once I started to do this my chess rating started to climb. We both did John Bain’s Chess Tactics for Students at least 15 times.

CTFS

I even cut the problems out, taped them to 3×5 index cards, and would shuffle them each session.

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We both got to the point that we could complete the entire book of 400+ problems in less than 30 minutes. We also did Gilliam’s book, Simple Checkmates over and over as well.

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I ended up taking a long break from chess due to starting a family, only playing 2 tournaments in the past 4 years. As a result, I dropped below my peak rating of 2050 to around 1967. In order to get back in chess shape I have started doing the same study and practice methods mentioned above as I am slowly starting to play more frequently.

I am currently using the massive Laszlo Polgar book of 5,334 problems to solve daily exercises after a conversation I had with GM Jesse Kraai

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One could take this one book and be busy for years! Every chess player out there eventually comes across this massive black book of chess, but I have never met anyone who has gone through the book. Well that changed after having a great conversation with Jesse. He told me he went through this mammoth book three times! The only thing he did not do was play through the short games at the end of the book. All the mate in 1, 2, and 3’s were completed. I guess it comes as no surprise that he became a GM. He then proceeded to tell me that what he did is nothing! His friend GM Becerra completed the book blindfold! Someone would simply tell him where the pieces were and he would solve the problem in his head. What I have found in doing these mates is it is not about just solving the mates, it is more about seeing how the pieces work together in harmony. The pieces find a way to coordinate and have some nice conversations! Sometimes I have to ask myself how dedicated are we really to improving and becoming stronger players when you hear stories such as these? Most adult players do not commit a fraction of this kind of time to their own self-improvement. One thing I learned more than anything else when talking to strong players is yes, talent is important, but just down and dirty hard work is the real key to chess improvement.

I started to ask some personal questions about my own chess study that some of you might be able to relate to and offer advice.

1.) How much am I learning by passively watching chess videos?

2.) How much am I learning playing countless hours of online chess?

I think online chess has much to offer the developing player if used in moderation and if it does not just become an addiction or an escape from life. There are many other healthier things that we can do besides passively taking in chess information. I have started to take long walks and just think about positions or a game I have played. You can get incredible insight this way.

I have also started writing out analysis in notebooks with just pen and paper, no computers! (see photo)

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It really does not matter if your analysis is wrong, just that you are starting to analyze and get your ideas on paper. This is something else that Jesse Kraai strongly recommended to me during our conversation. I guess the biggest thing is just being fully present when you are studying or playing – there are plenty of other things we can enjoy in life besides tricking ourselves that we are learning or improving our chess by trying to take in the overabundance of chess materials out there! Lastly, I have started to make goals that are not focused on ratings or results such as; 1.) Manage my time, 2.) Relax and eat healthy between rounds, 3.) Play with confidence, 4.) Do not offer or accept draw offers if there is any play at all in the position, etc… By doing this you remove extra external pressure that result goals create. See Isaac Steincamp’s excellent article Reflecting on the 2016 US Junior Open for more about not focusing on result based goals

Here is a link to one of my recent games in the DC Chess League as I make my adventure to getting back into playing chess tournaments more regularly. All of the notes in the game were done without the use of a chess engine. I think this is a great improvement idea to first analyze without the use of a chess engine, and only later to check your analysis with the computer.

http://www.viewchess.com/cbreader/2016/8/4/Game1723811625.html

Thank you everyone for taking the time to read my first article! I welcome and appreciate your comments and feedback.