Wednesday, March 19, 2008

NY Scholastics, free chess books, Jules Verne

So I just got back from the NY State Scholastic Championships in Saratoga Springs last weekend. My school always goes a day early to these tournaments-- I've never been sure why exactly, but it means I have a couple days to give private lessons, which is a lot of fun and one of the few times I get to spend a chunk of individual time with the kids. I choose 4-5 kids a day and we spend a couple hours each doing tactics together or reading a chapter from Kasparov's Revolution in the 70s or Watson's Mastering the Chess Openings -- sections that are relevant to them. I somehow enjoy very much the feeling of studying with kids, when I'm not quite teaching them, but we are both trying to figure things out and learning together. Feels very democratic or egalitarian or something.

So we took 17 kids: 5 in the elementary, 8 in the junior high and 4 in the high school. We got 1st in junior high and 2nd in elementary and high school. The elementary kids had no chance since(with one exception) they played like little children, but the four eighth graders in the high school section were leading all tournament and lost two winning positions in the last round to let Murrow slip past and beat us by a point. I left most of the scoresheets at school, but here's Michael Peguero's win over expert Evan Rabin:

(5) Peguero,Michael - Rabin,Evan [B03]
State Scholastics, 16.03.2008
1.e4 Nf6
2.e5 Nd5
3.d4 d6
4.exd6 cxd6
5.c4 Nb6
6.d5 N8d7
7.Nc3 g6
8.Nf3 Bg7
9.Be2 0–0
10.0–0 Nc5
11.Be3 Bg4

12.Nd4 He'd like to play Bd4 but it loses a pawn: 12.Bd4? Bxf3 13.Bxf3 Nxc4
13.Qxe2 Rc8
14.Rac1 Qd7
15.Ncb5 This move was part of some weird, not-working plan to provoke a6 and then trap the Nc5 with b4, but it's not so bad since it does loosen up the black queenside.
16.Nc3 Nba4
17.Nxa4 Qxa4
18.b3 Qd7
19.Rcd1 Ra8
20.Rfe1 Rfe8
21.Qc2 b5
22.Nc6 bxc4
23.bxc4 Taking with the queen is probably better, since the pawn is much weaker on c4 than b3, plus the open c file might be useful.
24.Bg5 e6
25.Qe4 Nc5
26.Qf3 26...exd5
27.Ne7+ Kh8
28.Qxf7 Rf8
29.Qxd5 Qa4
30.Re3 Qe8
31.Qxd6 Qf7
32.Rf3 Qxc4
33.Rxf8+ 33.Rh3 threatening Nxg6 is even stronger
34.Rc1 Bc3
35.Nxg6+ hxg6
36.Qxf8+ Kh7
37.Qh6+ 1–0

I was somehow every impressed by this game-- it's nothing spectacular, but I liked how calmly Michael played; I liked that he was trying to provoke his opponent to play ...a6, I liked that he played the c rook to d1. I've really never taught a kid like him before-- he's just such a natural player, loves to study, never gets tired of chess, great memory, doesn't get nervous or upset by much.

Someone asked me approximately how good the kids were, and I kinda liked my answer, which went "There are about six of them who if I ask, 'what were you going to do if he took this and then took here and then went check,' they will always have some kind of answer for me. Maybe not a good answer, but they will have looked at the stuff they have to look at. Then there are maybe 5 of the 17 who could conceivably be back-rank checkmated in a tournament game. The rest are ... pretty ok?" We're taking 46 to Nationals... everything from Michael and Darrian who are basically as skilled as I am (I know more, definitely, but they are just as good at analyzing) to kids whose games I have to put on my fake-patient-teacher voice to go over. But in general I'm very fortunate-- the school has more than 40 kids over 1000 and I think 20 over 1300. So teaching them isn't boring.

But talking about my job is boring, right? What else do I have to tell you? Some excellent free chess books to download at I like the Modern Chess Self-Instructor ones especially.

Oh yeah, I realized that a position I had given from one of my games in a blog on the site was cooked:I recaptured with 26. bxc5, but claimed in the solution that 26. dxc5 was better-- the idea is that I put my knight on d4 and push my queenside pawns. Unfortunately, 26. dxc5 loses a pawn to 26... Nxe5, since 27.... Nf3 is threatened. Oooops.... I would have posted a comment on the USCF site, but somehow my browser doesn't let me.

So I was away for most of the weekend, and coming home I was reading the comments on the blog. (Maybe some readers were offended that I called y'all overpaid clowns?!) This led to some thoughts about what kinds of comments actually hurt my feelings as opposed to comments that seem like they should hurt but don't really. Until I start thinking they should. So first a story about children:

Maybe four years ago I was teaching at this elementary school and was walking the kids from from the cafeteria (snack time) upstairs to the classroom where we had chess club. One kid, we'll call him Zach, he's always very energetic, enthusiastic, aggressive, so he starts bawling hysterically. I've never seen him cry before but now he can't stop and he can't even speak. I ask him what's wrong and he just points accusingly at another kid (the best behaved, most mature kid ever) and howls in pain. So I say to Angel (the best behaved kid ever), "Hey, what did you do to Zach to make him so upset?" And Angel says "I didn't do anything to him. I just told him he wasn't really all that funny."

My point is that it's surprising what bothers people. But I could understand why Zach was upset-- if you're the class clown then you have a big stake in being funny. It's your whole schtick. And while I know I am "supposed" to feel bad when people write that I've had relationships with chessplayers before, I don't really get their point. Why does that make people so angry? And when I was reading the "Vicary is no Jules Verne" comment, I realized/remembered that the last "She's no..." pointed out my nonresemblance to Miss Hooters 2004. What are these people trying to say? I'm not a waitress with large breasts or a 19th century science fiction writer? Is this a serious insult, or somehow ... ironic? I get the sense that I'm missing something.


Anonymous said...

It's pretty simple, really: Making such comments allows them to believe that if you hadn't been involved with chess players, you wouldn't be a better chess player than they are; while venting their envy and disappointment that the chess players you were involved with weren't them.

There really is no other purpose that such put-downs could serve.

For the record, I can attest that having had sex with a nurse, a musician, a scene designer, a nonprofit fund-raiser, an English teacher, a PR writer, a hotel clerk and a biologist has not made me more competent in any of those areas of endeavor (although teaching English is the only one of those things that I attempt to do professionally). So I don't know how people imagine that having sex with chess players would make you better at chess.

Anonymous said...

They're trying to say that you're their hero and that they need you to be perfect in their eyes.

Anonymous said...

anjiaoshi makes a decent diagnosis, but I think he oversimplifies a bit.

"...believe that if you hadn't been involved with chess players, you wouldn't be a better chess player than they are..."

I think that's a reasonable insight into where that particular facet of Lizzy-envy arises.

At the same time, I think the final paragraph ("I don't know how people imagine that having sex with chess players would make you better at chess.") is a misconception.

No one, not even the most ignorant among Liz's critics, thinks the mere act of having sex with (or living with) strong players improves one's chess. But Liz herself just acknowledged with rare and disarming candor in other recent posts, that all kinds of help in various spheres of life can be had merely by exploiting the fact that you're female (to which she should have added two crucial qualifiers: youngish and not fat). It's not the sex, or a world-class GM's company per se, that promotes chess improvement. It's the fact that, if someone who is A) serious about their own chess play, and B) attracted by chess strength in the opposite sex - BOTH OF WHICH LIZ HAS STATED IN PRINT ABOUT HERSELF - then, entering a relationship with a strong chess player will obviously open the door to large amounts of high-quality chess-improvement help that aren't available to other (non-wealthy adult) chess players who might be equally serious and equally talented.

Irina Krush might be an even better example than Liz. Irina has also admitted in print that she only wants to date chess players - who must be much stronger than herself. According to Paul Hoffman's book, she actually went to Russia for awhile to live with Morozevich - MOROZEVICH!! Learning more about chess was obviously part of the motivation. The same book - which by the way is highly favorable to Krush and especially Charbonneau (i.e. Hoffman wasn't writing as a critic, let alone an envious wannabe) - indicates that Pascal, although a GM himself, remains somewhat insecure about the durability of Irina's affection, feeling that in the end he might not be "strong" enough to hold her.

Anonymous said...

How is that any different from insecurities about being tall enough, handsome enough or rich enough? That's just your basic stereotypical sex roles rearing their ugly heads. Dating someone who's taller than you doesn't make you any taller. (Although I suppose, under the right confluence of circumstances, that dating someone richer than you can make you richer.)

As for exposure to high-class chess society (a valid line of argument -- very similar to how being raised in a luxury-income family grants you access to financial opportunities that are closed to others), I'd imagine that the prerequisite for that would be prior strength, not breasts.

Anonymous said...

"I'd imagine that the prerequisite for that would be prior strength, not breasts."

In the context of dating chessplayers, that's a profoundly strange, indeed unbelievable, statement. Liz obviously knows better than that - just look at her recent posts about the homework and the "naked cleaning guy" and what he represents.

What's more: While Liz, Krush and (probably) other prominent female players have written candidly about being attracted to men stronger (at chess) than themselves, have you ever seen a male chess player admit being turned on by a woman's chess strength?

Although I'm no authority on the dating preferences of titled players, I do spend a fair amount of time on chess blogs and at chess events. I must say I've never seen any such remark coming from a male, whether pro or amateur. Sure, there are plenty of chess couples. But in the cases I'm aware of, the "attraction" for the guy is that it makes his chess life / chess career a lot simpler if his spouse is involved in chess too - in other words, it wasn't being GOOD at chess that attracted him to his mate. These are hobbyists I'm talking about, but I'd imagine it's much the same for the pros - perhaps still more so.

On the other side of the coin, I can easily imagine a woman's chess strength being a turn-off for many men. After all, even today it's still widely believed that men don't want to compete (in anything) with their spouses or lovers.

So the common-sense view would seem to be that strong male chessplayers choose female partners based on the same criteria other men do - primarily physical, some spiritual and intellectual...with minimal role, if any, accorded to "prior chess strength."

Anonymous said...

Perhaps I failed to make my meaning clear. My point was that being a woman, in and of itself, doesn't get you into the company of strong chess players. Being a strong chess player yourself (or at least a potentially strong player) does.

I'm focusing on what makes a person good at chess -- or doesn't. You're focusing on whom chess-playing women want to date. Which is fine, but that's your own topic.

Though I think we can probably agree that the set "people whom chess-playing women want to date" does not include the lackwits who post obscene and insulting comments.

Anonymous said...

Reading Vicary's mature and graceful response to the sexist troll comments, I find I'm liking her in spite of myself. I noticed the same thing in the thread about the USATE, after she adroitly and wittily parried similar attacks, and in the process elevated the fictitious "GM Richards" into a tag-line/in-joke of "Seinfeld" proportions.

Now I'm doubly glad I always resisted the devil's urge to say mean things about her myself - especially in other arenas, where I post under my own name.

Elizabeth Vicary said...

Interesting stuff.... thanks for everyone's comments ... I almost didn't post this one because I thought I might get slammed, so thanks for not doing that.

The first point I'd like to make is that it's not just female chessplayers who are "attracted" to strong players... it's actually everyone. Otherwise tournaments wouldn't advertise the strong players who have confirmed participation; people wouldn't pay so much for lessons and simuls; there wouldn't be the culture of chess celebrity that currently exists.

Which reminds me of a story.... Maybe 8 years ago I talked my sister (Rachel)into coming to Foxwoods with me-- she doesn't play chess or gamble, but she was single and bored so she came. I told her there would be a lot of single guys there; she met a couple on the first day, they weren't strong players, maybe 1400, 1600, cute college guys in baseball caps, my sister's type. She invited them to hang out with us later, so they knock on our door that night. Our room had turned into the hangout room, so there are maybe 6 or 7 people there, including Shabalov and Wojtciewitz (I hope he forgives me for misspelling his name). Unfortunately these two guys were so completely awestruck by the GMs that they didn't speak to my sister again all evening.

Does dating a strong player make you better at chess? It's a complicated question, but the answer is probably not so much unless the person wants to teach you and you are also studying on your own. Dating a strong player can also make you feel stupid and insecure. Maybe it's hard for women to cross cultural stereotypes enough to want to play chess in all of their free time, maybe it's a lot of pressure to be competitive and keep your guard up at tournaments, and consequently they relapse into some kind of passivity and wanting to look up to someone?! I don't know that I think that, I'm just thinking out loud. It's a rough draft.

I agree with anonymous 3 that a large reason men want to date female chessplayers is because they will accept the obsession and the lifestyle, but this works the other way also. I'm a schoolteacher, so I meet only children and their parents at work. Short of going to bars, who else would I date? It's no different from actors dating other actors or teachers dating other teachers.... at least you have something to talk to the other person about....

Elizabeth Vicary said...

also, ten bucks says the last anonymous is matt phelps.

Anonymous said...

I'm not Matt Phelps. I'm glad someone took the bait and tried to guess who I am. I also posted the 3rd and 5th comments on this thread (the back-and-forth with "anjiaoshi"). You'd recognize my name in a minute, Liz. Here's a hint: my performance in my most recent tournament was much stronger than yours; more on par with Shaba's.

But be forewarned: it's typical of me that when I do give out "hints," they're the sort that make guessing the correct answer HARDER - not easier. The above is no exception.

Anonymous said...

Hm. All right, I'll play this game: If you're who I think you are, I've never played in a tournament with you, but I have played in one with your wife.

Anonymous said...

I'm not Larry C, if that's who you're thinking of. But I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.

Oops! I meant to say, But I did once play for Boston in a league match. (Caveat: Before rushing to look up the Blitz roster for each of their matches, see my previous remark about "hints.")

Elizabeth Vicary said...

Charles Riordan?

Anonymous said...

Funny, I never even heard of Charles Riordan. I just had to look him up on MSA to see who he is. The first thing that went through my head on seeing the name was that he was some film actor.

Anonymous said...

That last anon was me as well. Charles Riordan? Surely you can come up with better than that, Liz. For one thing, it's clearly inconsistent with the first hint I gave. 2380 or thereabouts (Riordan's performance in his latest event, going 3.5 / 4 against all Experts) is hardly on par with Shaba, is it?

Maybe now you should backtrack from pressing him to read your blog: he might feel insulted if he read that one carefully enough to draw the connection.

Elizabeth Vicary said...

Um, he's a pretty laid back guy.

Anyway, you sound like you are at least 30 years old and a native English speaker, so I don't really see how you could have had a recent performance over 2400?!

Anonymous said...

"you sound like you are at least 30 years old and a native English speaker, so I don't really see how you could have had a recent performance over 2400?!"

Touche, again! But really now - we old-fogey, born-in-the-USA types aren't ALL patzers, are we? There are plenty of 30-plus native-born Americans over 2400. What about Tim Taylor (not-me)? Michael Rohde (not-me)?

There's even a few un-titled ones at or near 2400: Dennis Monokroussos comes immediately to mind, and there must be many more. Even Chris Chase, who by the way is closer to 2400 than Riordan.

Not to mention the still larger cadre of lower-rated NMs and below, who despite being over 30 can have their moments in the sun now and then. And yet more: aged ex-2400 players like John Curdo who, perhaps aided by Cialis, might manage a one-time "performance" that shows their old verve. Even long-inactives like Tony Renna shouldn't be counted out altogether: anyone can rejoin, after all, by paying their dues.

Alas, all of the above are not me.

Anonymous said...

I admit cheerfully to being stumped, and leave the guessing game to readers who can name master-level players off the top of their heads rather than have to play private investigator.

RickM said...

I'm parsing your hints carefully and am thinking old-school USCL - the telephone era ...

Am I getting warm?

RickM said...

If I recently won a game by following a recommendation in your recent book about How to Beat a certain very popular opening move, I thank you.

Anonymous said...

Rickm, yes you ARE getting warm with your mention of the "old telephone USCL." That's the first valid inference anyone here has drawn.

But I didn't publish the "How to Beat ..." book. Or any book (yet).

Anonymous said...

Here's a fresh hint: While I've been around the chess world a long time (as confirmed by my preceding comment about having participated in the telephone-based chess league of the 1970s and early 80s), I've also been active in recent years, and not only as a player. So younger readers needn't dig up print-based records from decades ago to locate my name.

In case anyone does have a taste for that, though, I'll toss in a further hint: I was once the top-rated 15-year old in the U.S.

Footnote: Rickm still deserves credit for his smart inference, but he did make a little mistake. That old telephone league was actually called the NATIONAL Chess League, as distinct from today's US Chess League ("USCL").

RickM said...

I think I gotcha, but have you ALSO played for the Blitz?

Note to everyone: Don't ever type the phrase "15-year-old" into Google. You don't wanna know.

Elizabeth Vicary said...

Maybe it's that Bradford guy? Didn't he have a good US championship? Although I guess not really comparable to Shabalov's.

RickM said...

I was thinking he was talking about Sturbridge.

Anonymous said...

I have not played in the current USCL. Bradford's a decent guess, but the recent performance I referred to was far above my overall strength. Purely on numbers, it amounted to a performance rating near 2700 (and no, it didn't come from going 3-0 against 2280-players in a quad or something like that).

The tournament was much lower-profile than the US Championship. Although it's a rated tournament, and is fairly well known and respected, you can't find it on the MSA. But you CAN find it elsewhere on the Web - especially if you can guess the city I'm in, which shouldn't be terribly hard.

That's it. No more hints. Hopefully this will be enough.

Anonymous said...


BTW, you owe me 10 bucks.

-Matt Phelps

Anonymous said...

Frankly I'm amazed that anyone has given more than a moment's time to wondering who you are. Do you know who you are?

Anonymous said...

The tournament mentioned a couple of posts up is now available on the MSA; it wasn't at the time I wrote the earlier comments.

Anonymous said...

OK, we give up (or don't care anymore). Who are you, he who posts like me?