Tuesday, December 11, 2007

My Students Are Geniuses

The eighth grade team
Greg and I (both photos courtesy of Betsy Dynako). His shirt says "Rock Paper Scissors Champion."

The best part of my job is sometimes I feel like the kids I teach are great intellectuals and I'm simply lucky to have met them. The fact that I am 32 and they are 13 is just a coincidence of life which allows me to be their "teacher."
So I went with 24 of them to Texas last weekend for the National Grade Championships. The eighth graders won clear first, beating an incredible team of 4 1800s taught by my first chess teacher, the wonderful Mike Feinstein. He taught me for maybe three months when I was eleven, and I still remember how much I looked forward to my lesson every week. He wrote me out some notes once on long yellow sheets of legal paper: what to do if you are down a pawn, what to do if you are down an exchange, etc. I read and reread them until the pages fell apart.
The sixth graders tied for second but got third on tiebreaks, and the seventh graders tied for third (fourth on tiebreaks). They also won both the K-6 and the K-12 blitz tournaments. I had an amazing amount of help: Greg Shahade selflessly volunteered his time; Yuri Lapshun, Fritz Gaspard, and Shaun Smith of Chess in the Schools also worked brilliantly, cheerfully and tirelessly. Yuri in particular is an analysis machine: by round seven I could barely see straight, but he was still going strong.
So here are a couple amusing chess moments from my top scoring eighth grader, Angelica Berrios (far right in the picture).
Sidish Venkataraman 1402 -Angelica Berrios 1626
25.... Rxe3+ 26.fxe3 Qxh4+ 27.Kd1 Rf1+ 28.Ke2 Rf2+ 29.Kd3 Qe4+ 30.Kc3 Qc4#

And this I feel like is just a nice game overall, displaying Angelica's understanding, calm-headedness, and resilience.

Danny Chen 1883 - Angelica Berrios 1626

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 exd5 4.c4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Be7 6.Bd3 dxc4 7.Bxc4 0–0 8.Nge2 Nbd7 9.0–0 Nb6 10.Bb3 Bf5 11.Ng3 Bg6 12.f4 h6 13.f5 Bh7 14.Nce2 Nbd5 15.Nf4 Nxf4 16.Bxf4 c6 17.Qd2 Bd6 18.Rad1 Bxf4 19.Qxf4 Re8 20.Qf3 Qd6 21.d5 Qc5+ 22.Qf2 Qxf2+ 23.Rxf2 Ng4 24.Rf4 Ne3 25.Rd3 cxd5 26.Kf2 Nc4 27.Bxc4 dxc4 28.Rxc4 Kf8 29.Rd7 Rad8 30.Rxb7 Rd2+ 31.Kf3 Rd3+ 32.Kf4 Rd2 33.Kf3 Rd3+ 34.Kg4 Rd2 35.Kh3 g5 36.Rcb4

36.... Re3 37.Rb3 Bxf5#

Funny stuff.

I'm writing a Chess Life article about the tournament, which I'm excited about: I have a number of interesting interviews and quotes. My angle is "Scholastic Chess: Why Texas??" and in particular "How come every* talented scholastic Texan player is Asian?" It should be in the March issue.
* Sorry, "almost every"


Anonymous said...

Congratulations to you and your kids for a great result. Clearly, their teacher is a genius, too!

Gurdonark said...

I'm glad your team had such a good tournanment. I hope that y'all enjoyed Texas, as it's proven to be a good place to play chess.

Lately as I manage to prove to myself consistently on ICCF that I play for fun rather than with any skill, it's good to see kids decades younger than myself having fun and showing skill as they play.

The picture of the two of you is a good one.

Anonymous said...


Congratulations to your squads and nice report. I look forward to your piece about the Texas scholastic scene-- What are they doing right down in the Lone Star state, if in fact they are?

As to why "every talented scholastic Texan player is Asian?" -- aren't you drifting a bit towards racial profiling/sterotyping on that one?! You are correct that there are many ubertalented Asian kids from Texas, but there are many standout non-Asian players as well (even if you're counting the Indian Sub-Continent as Asian). In any event, rock on.......


Elizabeth Vicary said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elizabeth Vicary said...

I actually think the question is fundamentally unracist, because asking the question presupposes there is an answer more complicated/ interesting/ circumstantial than "These kids are successful at chess simply because they are Asian." In other words, if I'm making the stereotypical equation Chinese = overachieving, then asking why is rhetorical.

Anonymous said...

I'm Asian and I suck at chess. Maybe I need to move to Texas. And enroll in grade school.

Ilya said...

I dont think its possible to overlook that many of the top scholastic players in the US are of Asian descent, just look at the US junior Olympic picture. The question is are they inherently more talented or is it simply a matter of chess culture and work ethic that is more prevalent in Asian families (as it is in Russian/Jewish families) but not so in Anglo-Saxon descent families. I think its more likely the latter reason. Saying that one race is innately more capable than another is racist, but noticing the obvious achievments by Asian kids is certainly not. A local coach( who also happens to be a very strong player) told me once that his best students are Asian(Chinese) and Jewish kids, he said they are more serious and also that everyone else lacks an attention span.

Anonymous said...


First off, it wasn't my intent to call you a racist. If it came off that way, I apologize.

As to your response, I'm not sure I understand your point, but then again I am just a simple chess blogger from the midwest....aw shucks...

In any event, your asterik makes me feel a lot better. I'm ready to move on....



Elizabeth Vicary said...

You didn't call me racist, and I definitely didn't take any offense.

My point is that the racist approach would be to notice that Asian students overacheive in chess in Texas, but not to question why, to just think "Those smart, hard-working Asians, they're good at everything." But asking why means you think there's probably more to it than just race. For example, one Texan coach said to me "See, football is so big here that most people aren't interested in chess. But Chinese people often don't care about football at all." Maybe that's also racist, but ... at least it's kinda funnny?

Polly said...

Congratulations. The 8th grade section was quite tough with only 1 point between 1st and 3rd.

Please ask John to shoot me an email with the score from our game in the Parents and Friends. My Mon Roi ate my scores.

ppwchess at gmail dot com


Anonymous said...

37. ... Bxf5# must have felt to the kid like being struck on the forehead with a hammer (I know the feeling!)

Yet White was better and 37. Kg4 would have exposed Black's 36. Re3 as a cheapo.

Congrats on the outstanding results of your teams, and make sure you get top $$$ when selling the rights to your story to Hollywood!

Anonymous said...

Are Greg and you an "item"

Elizabeth Vicary said...

We're not an item; we're just close friends. He has a lovely girlfriend named Susan. (pictured in interview picture and Greg visiting NY picture)