School’s Out: All Brains on Deck!

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Out on a much-needed coffee break before finals…

With my finals week over, an incredibly stressful semester has come to an end. In the course of four months, I changed majors twice, which meant taking a rigorous schedule to compensate. Ultimately, I had to leave chess behind to do well academically, as this term’s course load pushed me to become disciplined in my studies.

 

But that was yesterday! Even with the dreary Pittsburgh weather, I can’t help but feel a bit relieved, as for the next month, I get to be a full-time chess player! I’ve got four tournaments planned for May, so I’m looking forward to some over-the-board action. Here’s my schedule:

May 5-6: 2nd Haymarket Memorial (Chicago, IL)

After Beilin’s visit last March to the Chicago Chess Center, I decided I’d open my summer campaign here with a weekend tournament. I’ve actually never been to Illinois before, so that’s another state I can check off my list!

May 12: Marshall Chess Club G/50 Open (New York, NY)

I was hesitant to plan a trip to New York for two “rapid” tournaments, but a combination of wanting to play more games before the Chicago Open and frequent flyer miles convinced me otherwise. Besides, I won my first-ever tournament (I should clarify – non-scholastic) at the Marshall Chess Club!

May 13: Marshall Chess Club G/50 Open (New York, NY)

Playing in another tournament in back-to-back days is going to be exhausting. To prepare for this (and later the Chicago Open), I’ll need to work on my endurance and start running frequently. When I was preparing for Europe, I found the healthier I was, the better I performed.

May 24-28: Chicago Open (Wheeling, IL)

This one needs no introduction. I’ve signed up for the open section, which promises to offer a tough schedule of players. I’m hoping that by using the entirety of May to prepare, I can bring my best form to one of the toughest open tournaments in the country.

I’ve got ten days to prepare for my first tournament since last January, and I’m going to have to train intensively to play my best chess. While I’m going to have to push myself, I do think the semester has made me more mentally prepared to play tournament chess. Right now, I’m not too worried about breaking National Master, I just want to play good games by training right and focusing on the right things – long term, the title and the rating will both come as an affirmation if I’ve succeeded.

Based on some of my past results, I’m hoping it stays that way.

Bringing the Brain Back

One thing I’m curious about is what will my chess look like now that I no longer have the distraction of school. I’ve experimented a little – played a Pittsburgh Chess League match with an opening I had never used before, taking on new opponents on my Twitch Channel, managed the Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers, but more recently I entered a correspondence chess tournament on chess.com.

Typically I’ve been terrible in online correspondence chess, as being addicted to my phone means needing to terminate all notifications!! As you can imagine, this means that I usually blunder once every 15 moves because I’m multi-tasking, but during exam week, it made for a nice five minute study break. Nothing serious – just something to keep my mind off the Keynesian IS/LM model for a bit. Anyways, I had a nice win in an Italian Opening as Black that I thought would be worth sharing.

Tartan_Thistle vs NapoleonBonaparteIV (me), Chess.com Tournament

The opening was predetermined, as the tournament set all games to the position 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bc4

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position after 3. Bc4

I’ve had a lot of interesting games as Black, most memorably a game I won in the 2016 Pan American Championships for Pitt. One aspect I like about the Italian Opening is that it’s extremely rich with ideas, yet its fairly easy to learn at a basic level. To avoid the Three Knights theory, I opted for 3…Bc5 and “normal Italian play” ensued, 4. c3 Nf6 5. d3 h6 6. 0-0 0-0 7. h3 d6 8. Re1

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position after 8. Re1

This was my first real think of the game. One fairly common idea for Black is to play ….Nc6-e7-g6, but if I played 8…Ne7 9. d4! more or less punishes my tepid play after 9…exd4 10. cxd4. I don’t really know where my bishop on c8 should go yet, so I played the least committal useful move 8…a5, which takes away a potential plan of b2-b4, while also creating a square on a7 should my bishop need to retreat. Now, should White try 9. d4 I can play 9… Bb6, and the point is that my knight (on c6 and not e7) supports the e5 pawn, so I don’t have to break the tension on d4.

White took on a much more restrained approach, and so the next few moves were somewhat simple 9. Nbd2 Bb6 10. Nf1 Ne7:

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position after 9…Ne7

The difference in this position is that with my bishop on b6, 10. d4 is not as forcing so I can play 10…Ng6, having accomplished my relocation. Why is it that Black wants to put the knight  on g6?

This knight helps support the center, but also hints at a …Ng6-f4 jump in the future. Additionally, by moving the knight away from c6, I can now match White’s pawn structure with …c7-c6, with the ability of either playing for …d6-d5 or playing …Bb6-c7 to thrust forward my b7 pawn.

White’s been following the basic plans for White too, but can he keep it up? 11. Ng3 Ng6 12. Be3 c6 13. Qd2?!

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position after 13. Qd2?!

This didn’t feel right. I thought after 13. d4! White maintains a typical Italian Opening edge. Had White gone down this route, I think Black will need to find a long term square for the c8 bishop, and that’s not easy considering its presently safeguarding the f5 square. I figured White’s plan was to sacrifice on h6, so I just played 13…Kh7 to sidestep the threat and wait. I figured I can choose to play …d6-d5 later, so this didn’t seem like much of a concession on my end.

As it turns out, White actually had 14. d4! here, which I completely missed because it left e4 unprotected. Luckily for me, my opponent chose the move I had anticipated, 14. Nf5 but then erred – 14…Bxe3 15. fxe3? d5! and I won easily after that… even with a few careless moves.

What I liked about this game is that it really shows you why it’s important to know how to open a game of chess. In many openings, having insight into what your plan for development is, and why its effective is a lot more beneficial than purely memorizing moves. This is how I handle a lot of docile openings without needing to know complicated theory – take this game I played against the Glek in Germany last year.

As I gear up for my tournaments this month, I’m going to be looking through a lot of my opening preparation. If I tried to memorize it all, I would drive myself crazy! So instead, look for key pawn structures, how your pieces work together, and key attacking ideas – these are the very elements the computer will never tell you! What you’ll find is that you will learn more from asking yourself questions than answering them!

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Chess Side Hustle

I made this tweet in early 2017…

…and yesterday (April of 2018), I had the great opportunity to be featured on the Side Hustle School podcast.

Since we’re on the Chess^Summit journey, let’s compare the process of building a side hustle and chess improvements in the following three bullet points.

  1. The Journey is a Marathon
  2. Find a way to Get Started
  3. Appreciate How Far You’ve Gone

The Journey is a Marathon

Whenever you start a new adventure, there is a certain amount of excitement.

But after a period of extended work with little or no reward, a tiny voice of ‘why bother’ frequently starts to cloud our minds.

This is the moment to see how much energy you have for the LONG RUN, and it feels like the mile-10 mark of a full 26-mile marathon.

No one can build a sustainable side hustle in one weekend, and no one can improve 500 rating points in one weekend.

There will be many ups and even more downs, but it’s always about the process of getting back our energy and excitement when the moments are tough to get through.

Whether it’s teaching chess or improving chess yourself. As Jack Ma said: Don’t give up ‘tomorrow evening’.

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Get Started

In teaching chess side hustle: there is the website, then you have to talk customers, and there are contents you’ll need to create. These are just 10 percent of the efforts to build the business.

It’s not different in improving chess: you have to keep up-to-date in opening preparations, the endgame to study again, and your recent games to review.

One word describes both scenarios: Overwhelming.

The way to overcome is to START one thing. Immerse your mind to that task and not worry about all the other to-dos. Get started and continue to build momentum.

Appreciate How Far You’ve Gone

 

No matter how far we go, we often only look forward to the next goals. And we will always find a more challenging problem to keep us busy but giving us headaches.

In chess improvement, you surpassed the goal of reaching 1500, now you start to look for 2000. And in chess teaching, you have one student, you’ll start to look for 5.

It’s good to have the desire to continue improve. However, find ways to remind yourself to turn your head backward once in a while and appreciate how far you have gone.

Remind yourself of the work you have accomplished will give you more confidence to go forward.


Wherever is your journey – learn to look for small improvements to help you go forward.

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!

Finding the Right Coach

Until recently in the timeline of chess finding a quality coach to work with either required fortunate proximity, fees or travel restricting the average player, or pure luck and who you knew. With the advent of the internet and the growth of the game in schools and social clubs across the world, as well as the current chess boom which I greatly hope continues, there has never been a better opportunity to find a guide on your chess path. Whether a casual player looking for a few lessons to grow a bit stronger or an ambitious player looking for the tools to become a champion, a coach is an irreplaceable asset and can become a lifelong friend and mentor on and off the board. The time and money invested in coaching whether temporary or long term will pay dividends in the enjoyment of being a better player and further understanding this game we love.

I only began working with a coach 7 months ago, but in that time I feel like I have learned a new game from the ground up compared to what I knew before. I have also seen more progress and overall understanding of the game week by week, much more than I would have if I had continued on my own. I am fortunate enough to have a FIDE Certified coach who is a remarkable player, has been teammates with a world champion, and truly cares about his students development and enjoyment of the game. I am equal parts honored and challenged to grow having a coach like this.

Geographically speaking I live 2 hours away from the nearest chess coach, so being able to reach out to my coach in Chennai via Skype and instantly begin learning would not be possible any other way. So where do we go with this technology and what can we do to find a teacher?

By and large on of the most popular ways, and the fastest growing way, to study chess is online. You can receive personalized lessons from a teacher of any level without leaving your home and have more time to study and less to travel. There is only so far you can go without a coach and while the amount of content in terms of books, YouTube content, and shareware are astounding, nothing can compare to the one-on-one experience and growth a coach brings. There are many sites out there where you can locate a coach, but the two most people rely on are USCF and chess.com‘s robust rosters.

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In the above example, you can see chess.com staff member and NM Sam Copeland. On this site you can see if they are titled, what their ratings are, and can usually find their rates and availability. You can send direct messages and use this information to look up their games and learn some more about them. I suggest seeing a player’s style if you can. If they play a style you want to learn or find fascinating, you might have found a solid match. My coach and I came into contact through Twitter and after some discussion, going over schedules, and viewing his credentials I knew I was in good hands. I was able to find a few of his games and enjoyed his playing style and felt confident I was going to be growing as a player. Finding a coach is a two-way interview, it requires give and take on both sides. You want to grow as a player and have a coach that can teach on your level and build you up to your goals. Likewise, this is a big commitment on the part of your coach, so their time needs to be rewarded with the progress and dedication they expect of their students.

It seems every day more social media platforms emerge, each full of countless coaches and players of varying strengths offering lessons. The sensory overload of ads, promoted content, and oversaturated pages can get in the way of finding the right coach for you. Some things you will want to consider when searching for a coach are:

Your Level of Commitment – If you are a casual player you don’t need to seek out a GM or other titled player. Furthermore, you do not need to pay the fees often associated with high-level players and coaches if you just want to improve enough to beat your friends or have a fighting chance. That being said, if you are committed to the game and want to elevate yourself to the next level, you will likely need to find a certified or other recognized coach. Sites such as the ones mentioned above show you the caliber of player and coach you will be working with. You need to be honest with yourself and your current level, and this is true of your coach as well.

Your Coaches Level of Commitment – If your to-be coach is a touring player with pupils on several continents, they simply won’t have the time to give you all the attention you may need or desire. It is also concerning if your coach has no other students or has gaps between students, not in all cases but in most this can be a bad sign. A good sign is if your coach follows up on you between lessons. My coach often sends me tactics puzzles or interesting topics between lessons, something I love.

Finances – Chess lessons can be quite expensive, but with the growing market the prices are trending down for the most part. Now, this ebbs and flows based on economies, popularity of chess, and conversion rates. For instance, the USD goes further than some other currencies so conversion rates may be helpful if learning from a teacher outside the US. I wish I could say there was a “standard going rate”, but much of this depends on factors in and out of a coaches hands. I would recommend “shopping around” and being honest with yourself and your financial situation. You do often get what you pay for, but based on your level of play and goals this may vary.

Your Schedules – My coach and I are in different time zones, a separation of 9 1/2 hours to be exact. Depending on your job, family situation, and other obligations it may be difficult to find your desired coach. Discuss their schedule and needs and compare them with yours to see if you can make it happen. Don’t try to force yourself or your coach to be on the same schedule, it will only impede the relationship and the learning process.

I recommend checking out the links above and seeing if there are any coaches you find interesting. Remember to be honest and patient when seeking a coach. Like any other relationship professional or not, it needs to be a natural fit and cannot be forced. A student seeks a wise and patient coach, a coach seeks a patient and committed student. If your commitment matches theirs, you should have a long and mutually beneficial relationship.

 

 

 

Step out! The world is a lot Bigger than we think

Have you ever watched Jimmy Kimmel’s Halloween Prank Segement? When they hear the “bad news”, you can see many of the kid’s reactions as if the world is ending.

We all have bad days, bad games, or something that doesn’t go our way. These things happen to anyone. But when it happens to us, we feel the world is dropping on us.

My USCL game

I played a couple local tournaments in Atlanta in 2015 as my mini-comeback, and then chatted with the Atlanta Kings team to play in the USCL. My local tournaments had some ups and downs, but they all ended well.

I played two games for the Kings. The first game was a complete whack, I played 1.e4 e6 2. b3?!. Possibly due to too many blitz games at home, I thought this was a good opening choice. Needless to say, I was punished swiftly.

That game didn’t bother me too much, as I was more in a ‘let’s give this thing a try’ mood. And my game was not the determining factor for the team. But after this game, I got serious, and wanted to contribute more for the team.

Before the next game, I prepared for the opening, which was something I haven’t done since 2007.

The game was played on a Wednesday night. I had a normal work day, and then drove over 45 minutes to the playing site, not unusual for Atlanta traffic. A little tired, but excited to play.

The game took close to three hours, I got to use what I had prepared, and it was up-and-down until we traded queens.

Around move 40, the feeling of ‘all that work is gone’ started to sink in. It felt like déjà vu again. I resigned soon after.

We lost the match 1.5-2.5. And yes, my game mattered a lot.

The drive back home didn’t take 45 minutes, but it felt much longer, because of my mood.

Step Out

I run my first Spartan competition a week after the game, which was physically hard and painful. But mentally I gained more perspective.

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While jumping over each hurdle, I knew I joined this competition as a choice. Whereas many people in the world are running in much worse conditions to escape.

My thoughts became broader, and I realized a bad game, or a bad day is really nothing compared to many tough battles in the world.

Chess is just one example. I’ve had unsatisfied school experiences, bad job interviews, or even just an annoying drive that typically takes 10 minutes turned into an hour due to road constructions (happened to me this week).

At that moment, it’s hard to swallow. But by practicing to look at the big picture, I feel more at ease, and whatever is bothering me is not much of a problem.

So the next time you have a tough day: Please try to do the following

Look at the Sky.

Enjoy the Ride.

Step Out from the problem.

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Happy Holidays! And I hope 2018 will be the best year yet for you.

If you have enjoyed any chess^summit articles, please checkout Chess^Summit apparels.

Making a Plan – Setting and Achieving Goals

I recently posted an article on chess.com publicly setting my goals for 2018. A question I get asked quite often is how I developed my training plan, or why I chose certain numbers as goals. I received several messages after the article asking me to explain just this, so I will share it now on Chess^Summit.  As an amateur, setting goals can be a bit daunting. You want to make goals you can achieve, but at the same time you want to see big improvements and jumps in growth. Balancing this can be challenging, but borrowing a template from organizational psychology, I have made the process simple. I’d like to share the SMART way to progress in chess:

S – Specific – you need to set specific, quantifiable goals in order to progress. If it is clearly written out and can be judged by a simple yes or no, you have made a specific goal.

– Measurable – chess is very much a numbers game. A player’s rating will be measurable.

– Achievable – while we want to set lofty goals for ourselves, we also need to be realistic. Family and work obligations as well as other outside factors will effect the amount of time we have to train, study, and play. You want to set a goal that is a challenge, but one you can feasibly make in the timeframe specified.

– Realistic – I will not be an IM next year, no chance. It would also be unrealistic for me to put my goals higher as I am only able to make one OTB tournament a month tops. You need to be honest with yourself.

– Time Specific – if you do not set a time frame or time limit on something you will tend to procrastinate or maybe never go after the goal, that’s human nature. If you set goals with hard deadlines, you cannot procrastinate or “wait until tomorrow.”

Bearing the above in mind, let’s look at my personal goals for 2018 as seen on chess.com

challenge

I have made my personal goals very specific. Remember, if you can assign a value to it, it has specificity. These goals are measurable based on how many people I teach/gift and what my rating is on the above dates in these categories. These goals are also achievable, difficult and involving some serious time management, but I do believe them to be achievable for me. I have chosen realistic goals, goals I am confident I can make based on progress, coaching, and advice from other players. By providing deadlines, I have made this a time sensitive endeavor, and in tandem with how public I have made them, I am even more motivated.

As far as WHAT you will be training on, that is something I can only briefly touch on as it is very dependent on how you are as a learner and player. Some people are kinesthetic learners and learn from doing while others may be visual learners, it can be difficult to be an auditory learner and study chess via that path…difficult but not impossible. I recommend working with a coach, but if one is not available you can reach out to someone in the chess world and I promise they will help…it is such a great community with tons of knowledge to share.

As for me, on a day that I work I commit 3-4 hours divided among playing games online, solving tactics, and reading. I work with my coach twice a week with one ours sessions. My coach also sends me puzzles to solve and articles to read between sessions. If I have a day off and no other commitments, the sky is the limit. For perspective, on a day I work I tend to play 6 to 8 games on chess.com and on days I’m off it’s closer to 10 or 12. Working on simple tactics like the one below until I recognize the patterns and can blast through them in a short time is an important component as well and pattern recognition is a cornerstone of my study.

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For now, I believe this to be the best course of action for me, but everyone is different and as we develop we need to develop our methods of learning as well. If you aren’t learning or growing, you need to assess your methods for growth and adapt. I hope this article has helped to set your SMART goals and carry them out!!! Please share your goals with me either here or on Twitter .

Hi, I’m Xiao

Hello Chess^Summit fans!

My name is Xiao, and I’m glad you’re joining me on my first article with the team.

In this post, I’ll chat with you on my chess stories and how chess shaped me in many aspects outside of the game. Without further ado, let’s get started.

My Chess Beginnings

I learned chess in China when my mom brought home a chess board from work. And then I joined a chess club in kindergarten to get started in chess training.

My memories are fuzzy about the details of these chess days, but I do remember chess always brought more fun for me.

Losing in chess were not painful at all for me during this period.

One thing led to another, while in China, I joined a chess school, where my foundation was build.

I played in many tournaments in and out of my hometown Tianjin. Around third grade, I also worked with a chess trainer, who helped me further improve my chess fundamentals.

Losing now started to become annoying, but not much more than that.

Continuation of Chess in the U.S

In 2001, I came to U.S with my parents. And without much break, my parents found the Atlanta Chess Center after a month in Atlanta. My chess days in the U.S. started there. When you go thru my rating history, about 80% of my tournaments were played in the Atlanta Chess Center.

From 2001 to 2007, I played chess intensely, and really worked towards improving my game and rating.

2005 to 2006 were my highlight years, but for some reason, the painful lost games were always more memorable. I suppose this is human psychology at work.

I will talk about more about one of the painful games in my next post.

Going to College. Stopped Playing Chess

Before my senior year in high school, I decided to take a break from chess. Academics was a driver, my SAT was not good, and I haven’t taken any AP classes yet.

Another reason was my lack of tool set in terms of running the chess marathon. My psychology was reactive. I was chasing the destination instead of the journey.

The initial one year break, turned out to be over 7 years. I followed chess sparingly. However, my mind was unconsciously connecting the dots between chess emotions with everything outside of the game.

This period is when I started to think about psychology in and out of chess, and today it is still an interesting topic for me to pander.

My psychology to losing in anything become more robust. And I started to enjoy the process of running a marathon than crossing the finishing line.

Came Back to Teach Chess

I started working in 2014 and I learned the concept of side hustle during this time. I immediately found it enticing. Teaching chess was an easy choice, and it didn’t take long for me to get started.

When I teach chess classes, talking about chess concepts is certainly important, but I try to constantly relate to student’s chess emotions.

The vast amount of chess knowledge online has made information much easier to acquire. Simply type ‘chess’ in Google and you can get started.

However, building a strong emotional foundation in and out of chess is a more intense process. I’m still trying to figure out the route for myself, and I hope to share with the readers.

Chess^Summit Journey

I’ll write about chess analysis from time to time. But I’d want to talk more about chess psychology in my posts at Chess^Summit.

Welcome to my Chess^Summit journey, and I hope you had enjoyed the first run so far!

See you in the next post!

P.s: I’m always happy to chat on Twitter (simplerxiao). Say hi next time you’re there or to the Chess^Summit team.