I mean do you even know me? Of course I’ve been thinking about chess this whole time! But with less than a month until this semester finally finishes, the difference is that I’m thinking about chess again – like for real …what?
This semester has been hectic at best for me: changing majors, managing the Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers, becoming a chess.com streamer, and on top of that, the usual class course-load. Tied down with all of the commitments, I had to put my goal of earning the National Master on hold, and in doing so, I have only managed to play one tournament game since the Cardinal Open (I’ll get to this later). So while I’ve thought about chess in some capacity every day, I haven’t dedicated as time to my own chess as much as I would have liked.
Admittedly, with less than four weeks until the end of the semester, I’m thinking about playing tournament chess again, and I couldn’t be more excited. I’ve started running regularly, eating healthier, and gotten back to regularly solving tactics. This alone won’t get me back to my best form, but it’s a manageable start – especially since I still have finals to study for. Speaking of tactics, I found a nice tactical shot at the end of my most recent chess.com stream:
Had some fun games tonight on my @chesscom stream! Ended on a high when I put together this winning combination with 32. Rxh6! Kxh6 33. Bxg5+! 💪
What am I working towards? I’m planning on competing in the Chicago Open, and despite my eligible rating, I’m bypassing my chances of scoring big in the U2300 section to swim with sharks in the Open. In all seriousness, I’m going to be a massive underdog in nearly all of my games, but I want a chance to see how much I’ve improved since I last tried something like this at the 2016 World Open.
For those of you who’ve been Chess^Summit readers for a while, you may recall how the 2016 World Open was not exactly pleasant to me. In the aftermath of my 1/7 score, my coach GM Eugene Perelshteyn had a field day finding weaknesses in my play, and while enduring six consecutive losses is an ego-bashing no chess player should be on the receiving end of, I learned a lot from the experience, and it parlayed into my later success in Europe.
So I’ve got to start somewhere to get ready for Chicago, and last week I built up the nerve to play my first tournament game in months without any prior preparation – and by preparation, I mean any studying. I’ve got some tournaments planned in early May, but I really didn’t want to wait anymore and guaranteed White against another 2100-rated player was just too good to pass up.
Wanting to sidestep any my opponent’s preparation, I chose 1 e4 for just my fifth time (in a standard game) since the 2017 Reykjavik Open, and it was clear I had succeeded once we reached the conclusion of the opening with 11. Qf3 – the Scotch Four Knights:
While I failed to win, I built a reasonable advantage before squandering it after time control. Even with a few mistakes, I was more or less fine with my game – honestly, I was just happy to be at the board again. I’ll need to improve if I want to perform well in May, but knowing that I can play an opening I’ve never played before and do reasonably well is a good sign.
And with a somewhat amicable result, my preparation for the Chicago Open had begun. With just two months to go, I have a lot to do – but I’m mentally ready to make a comeback to tournament play.
As you know, lately I’ve been drowning in school work since the conclusion of the Cardinal Open. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about chess – in fact, today I wanted to share the most informal chess lesson I’ve ever received. Consider this:
In my bouts of procrastination, my roommate and fellow Chess^Summit columnist, Beilin, noticed that in a week my bullet rating had atrophied by over 100 points. After watching me play, Beilin commented that I flagged a lot in winning positions, simply because I got too excited when I had less than 10 seconds left in a game. Hmm… time to make adjustments.
Then this happened:
In the course of one evening, I regained 100 rating points. It’s amazing what objectivity can do for your chess. By simply ignoring how I felt about the position until the end of the game, I saved precious seconds on my clock and won a lot more. Is this a meaningful lesson for chess in longterm time controls?
Ok, first a disclaimer – bullet is not a replacement for proper chess training. So the takeaway from this article should not be to play more bullet, but rather to realize that the psychological factors in both may not be so different. From there we can start the discussion of this article.
This general ‘nervousness’ I had in bullet is similar to the feeling that haunts us in tournament games because we let it affect our objectivity. We’ve already talked about managing time, so today I want to talk about how our emotions can get in the way of our objectivity in winning positions.
Let’s start with an example from a recent tournament game I shared:
Here I have a decisive advantage – the knight on h6 is trapped, and if I can consolidate quickly, White will not have enough compensation for the piece. However, the game isn’t over and I should have lost after 41…Qa8? 42. Nd3 Qb8 because White had the decisive blow 43. Nxf4! +- Bxf4 44. Rd6+ Ne6 45. Qxf4+ with mate coming soon. Luckily my opponent erred with 43. Nxe5? and after some complications, I managed to win the game.
Honestly, I played 41…Qa8? quickly, without realizing the true dangers in the position. I remember feeling optimistic, and confident in my ability to pull the upset. But my level of excitement should have been punished – in adapting the mindset like the game was over, I stopped playing for one move. And in chess, we know how much of an impact one mistake can make…
Correct would have been 41…Qc2, but after some analysis, I decided here that I needed to have really spent some time here. The act of regrouping isn’t easy here, and I haven’t won until I’ve done so – material alone won’t cut it.
After thinking about this game, I realized I’ve actually made this mistake a few times before. Take this position from my most recent Pittsburgh Chess League match-up:
Out of a Berlin sideline, I’ve played really well to get this position. I’ve kept the bishop pair, and White is relatively passive in this position. All Black needs to do is keep pressure on the queenside while holding off the kingside expansion.
Already thinking I couldn’t lose this position, I played 36…Ra8? expecting to play …gxf4 at the right moment and bring my rook to the g-file. But just like the last example, confidence like this leads to blindness. I missed 37. g4! and White was no longer worse. In fact, the dramatic switch in initiative proved too much for me to recover from, and I lost ten moves later.
The more I looked through some of my previous games, the more I realized this is actually a really common weakness for both me and my opponents. Take this dramatic example from a game I played in the Czech Republic last year:
White is a lot better after a terrible opening display on my end, and my continuation here was one out of inertia than a belief I could salvage a draw. But my 2100 rated opponent showed how simple it is to lose a game with 27. g4?? Nf3+, and now I’m completely winning. Sure this is a horrendous blunder, but goes to show that once we let our guard down, our brain also tells us to stop looking at counterplay.
This isn’t just an amateur/expert-level phenomenon either, as we’ve seen it creep up in the games of professionals too. I can think of no better than Nakamura’s outing against Carlsen in the 2014 Zurich Chess Challenge. Going into this game, Nakamura had never beaten Magnus, with an unusually poor record of 0-8 (excluding draws), but after 33. Rxh2, that all seemed to be going away as Hikaru had a completely crushing attack:
Magnus was forced into 33…Qg6 34. Nf5 Re8, and after some thought, Hikaru repeated the position with 35. Qg4 (threatening Rh2-h6, trapping the queen) Qb6 36. Qh3 Qg6. And now Nakamura needed to find the win:
Trying to block out the emotions, Nakamura pushed through with 37. d6?, missing a critical detail. After Magnus’ 37…Nxd6 38. Nxd6 Rd8!,Nakamura realized that his first rank wasn’t defended, leaving his king open to attack. Hikaru tried to bail out with 39. Nc4, but it was already too late. After 39…Qxe4, Hikaru couldn’t adjust to the new position and played 40. Qh5?, going on to lose the game.
It’s not hard to put yourself in Hikaru’s shoes. So close to winning against his rival for the first time, Hikaru relaxed for one moment and botched a two move calculation. As it turns out, d5-d6 is the correct idea, but a 37. Rh1 or a 37. Ka2 needed to be inserted first to reduce the power of Black’s counterplay. 37. Qf1 is also completely winning.
So now we see how dangerous it is to think “I’m going to win” during a game. Just like how I learned in bullet this week, push that feeling to the end of the game and remain calm until the desired result is secured. While this mentality in bullet is to prevent your opponent from having counterplay on the clock, thinking like this will limit your opponent’s counterplay on the board.
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
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.
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.
If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.
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.
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.
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.
This is one of the most popular questions from chess parents.
The short answer:
A coach should provide
Knowledge Transfer (KT) – Showing a new player from basic tactics (fork, pins, etc.) to advanced strategies (prophylactics, piece activity, etc.).
Habit Transfer (HT) – Ask students what s/he does to study and improve in chess, then make further suggestions.
Psychological Preparation – Help students to acquaint the ups and downs of winning and losing.
Now the longer version.
1) Knowledge Transfer (KT)
In the old days, this is a chess coach’s main job. But that has changed in our information-world today. What Bobby Fischer had to search in Soviet-language chess books can be found online in a couple of mouse clicks today.
If you want to learn Knight and Bishop checkmate 20 years ago, your coach will need to setup a specialized training session. Then you and other students will practice for half a day until it is mastered.
In today’s world, a five-years old student can open Google Chrome and type in Knight and Bishop mate and watch the video. Then launch Stockfish, play against the the engine for a few games, and practice until s/he becomes very confident.
Chess coach can still help for (KT), as there are 100s or more chess concepts. The coach’s role for KT is to point out specific focus based on each student’s need, so students are not drown into the sea of information.
Pure Knowledge Transfer is being commoditized. Technology such as AI may one day organize all the themes in chess. Hence, coaches need to provide value in two other aspects.
2) Habit Transfer (HT)
In most of our work-place or schools, we have heard of KT, however, rarely had I hear about HT.
I believe that needs to be changed. Google can provide 80%+ of KT today, but it is not ready (or at least not as competent) in telling you what you should work on yet.
HT is a quest for a student to become a life-long learner. And a coach is the ‘tour guide’ to provide encouragement, focus, and support to help the student build and maintain the desire to learn more in chess.
3) Psychology Preparation
Experience and feelings of playing chess. A coach has stories based on his/her experiences from playing chess.
Psychology preparation is the furthest from being automated by a machine.
A coach will LISTEN to a student describe his/her feeling and thinking from a game or a tournament. Then discuss together and tell stories from previous experiences or encounters to help student build psychological muscles for chess.
I hope this helps. Feel free to provide comments, I’m always happy to have an informative discussion on this broad topic.
Today’s article is a case study on time management. Admittedly, this article won’t prove to be fairest comparison, but my goal is to show how consciously managing your time can make a difference in your games.
Since my last post, I’ve played two games at the Wild Card Open. In my second round, I wound up losing a close encounter with FM Gabriel Petesch, though as we will see in this post, had I managed my time better, I might have found myself getting my revenge from our previous match. In the next round, I managed to crack open the resilient defense of a lower rated player, thanks in large part to my active time management.
How can you actively manage your time? Learning how to do this takes lots of experience, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind:
What are the critical positions? Knowing when to stop and think is a good first step. If there are five or six good options in a position, it would be a mistake to spend more than five minutes on that move! Of course, some positions require more attention, and knowing when those moments occur is also critical.
How much time are you spending in the opening? Unless you’ve been surprised out of the opening, it’s not advisable to spend more than ten minutes in the opening, especially if there is no second time control. Learning your opening repertoire well isn’t just supposed to give you a good position, but it has the secondary intention of not wasting time in the opening. Critical positions happen later, save it for then!
Endgames require proper analysis. Endgames are delicate creatures, as poor technique can spoil an entire game’s work. Your goal should be to have at least thirty minutes on the clock once you reach move 30. If you can do this, you should have enough time to complete the game!
Make smart decisions! If you have the static advantage, don’t waste time calculating risky ideas, look for ways to improve your position.
For those of you who have trouble managing your time, following these tips can already improve your results. After all, it’s better to make a small inaccuracy with lots of time left than make a blunder with just a few seconds left.
When I was growing up, there weren’t many exercises focused on time management. In fact, the only tip I can remember before I broke 1700 was to continuously work on tactics. To an extent, this is true. Working on tactics does help you calculate faster and recognize patterns, but as I’m sure you already know, during a practical game there is not a tactic on every move.
Do You Crack Under Pressure?
So how can you work on time management off the board? Well, today you’re in luck! In today’s article, I’m going to share six positions from my loss to Gabe Petesch.
Your goal is to find the best move in all seven in under 50 minutes. All of these positions occurred before move 30, and during the game, I spent about 70 minutes across all of these positions. On move 30, I had ten minutes left and proceeded to blow my nice edge I had worked so hard for – how nice would it be to have an extra 20 minutes?!
Just like a tournament game, it is your job to decide how much time to allocate for each move. Remember, in the spirit of the exercise, you should be doing these in sequential order – do you spend more time now for and hope for an easier game later? If you’ve got the time, I would recommend setting up a board and using a clock. If you’re pressed for time, I’ve got a link to the entire game below this exercise, but you would be missing out!
In each of the positions, it is White’s move!
Tough test? Just remember that every minute you spent beyond the limit, you have even less time for what proved to still be a complex game after move thirty. On top of that, we haven’t even begun to discuss what the various psychological effects that come with playing someone nearly 2400 strength can do to your clock are – but let’s stay focused on the over-the-board positions for now. If you’re ready, let’s see how you did, and where you possibly lost time.
Around this time last year, I learned that my opening repertoire was strategically unsound, and now I’m learning that my time management could be better. Of course time management isn’t an over night fix, but I do have the chess knowledge to apply the points from above. I guess what I’m trying to say is that time management is not the worst problem to have, and it is no reason to be discouraged.
In my next game, I played a much weaker player, but just like my first round opponent, found a lot of defensive resources to hold on. I could have tried to calculate a lot of subtleties out of the opening, but instead I just focused on making natural moves and had 46 minutes left on move 30! What a turnaround! This proved to be the advantage that tipped the scales – even though I was better for much of the game, my opponent collapsed on move 45 with less than a minute left, where I still had 20 to spare.
This wasn’t my best game ever, nor was my opponent of a similar strength, but what this did show me was how familiarity with a pawn structure can go a long ways towards ensuring active time management. My opponent opted for a tame London System, and once we reached the Carlsbad pawn structure, where I simply knew more than my opponent. By move 14, I had the better position, and then proceeded to manuever until White fell apart.
As I began the article, to compare these two games as equals would be unfair. My loss to Gabe was clearly more complicated, and had a lot more pitfalls when it comes to active time management. Sure. However, what my win does show is how time management can be used as a way to win games! Actively managing your clock takes practice, but constantly finding places to improve in your own games means getting better results.
Upcoming Chess Adventures
I have got a fun end to the summer planned out, and its all about chess! Beyond the last two rounds of the Wild Card Open, the Cleveland Open starts next weekend with my second trip to Ohio this summer! I seem to have a pretty good record in the Buckeye State, so I’m hoping for a strong performance to finish the summer.
Just days after returning to Pittsburgh, I’ll be off to St. Louis to catch the conclusion of the Rapid and Blitz, in which Garry Kasparov will make his return to competitive chess. Even if it’s just a one time thing, I’m going to be pretty content knowing I was there for it! Do I think Kasparov can win? No. But then again, these are the tournaments that legends are made of, and Kasparov is certainly a legend needing no introduction.
If you enjoy watching the Pawngrabbers and want to see an even stronger team next year, I highly encourage you to get some gear or make a donation on the site!
This summer is coming to an end pretty quickly, and its hard to believe I’m going to have to take classes again for the first time in nine months! That’s going to be rough… but until then: chess, chess, chess!