Saturday, May 31, 2008


Thanks, Tom.

Adding to my list of strangers-who-conspire-to-cheer-me-up-and-make-me-happy-on-an-everyday-basis, I order a used book on and get a message from the seller. Of course, I expect they are writing to say they don't have the book, but instead I get this:

Enjoy your writings on uschessonline and the video with Dr. Frank Brady was inspiring. Well done!! Your fan, xxxxxx xxxxxxx

My life is awesome.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

I Am a Big Champion

Elizabeth - Woodenhead ICC 5 minute pool

What to do?

23.h5! Ne7 24.h6! g6 25.Qg5! f6 26.exf6 Nc6

27.Qxg6+!! I love myself. Notice that I had maybe 45 seconds on my clock. Of course, I didn't actually calculate it. 27...hxg6 28.h7+ Kf7 [oops!! ==> 28...Kh8! = 29.Nh4 (29.f7+? d4) 29...Kxh7 30.Nf5+

(don't be worried, this is just an analysis diagram!)

Kg8 31.Nh6+ Kh7 32.Nf5+ Kg8 what a cute draw. Like a swing.]

29.Ng5+ Ke8 30.h8Q Rxh8 31.Rxh8+ Kd7

32.Rh7+ Kd8 [32...Ke8 33.Nxe6] 33.Nxe6+ Ke8 34.f7+ Kd7

35.f8Q+ Ne7 36.Qxe7+ Kc6 37. Nd4+? [ok, whatever 37.Qd7#] 37...Nxd4 38.Bxd4 b5 [38...Kb5 39.Qe2+ Kc6 40.Qe6+ Kb5 41.Qb6#] 39.Qe6+ Qd6 40.Qxd6# 1-0

yay for me.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Learn the French in 15 Minutes, ok 30

Thanks to the overwhelming large number of comments (7, 3 of them mine) I decided to treat you all to some more opening summarization by me. I wrote these for the children, but honestly, I think they're good enough for most people. The Bb5 one is certainly all I know, actually a fair amount more than I really know, about the opening.

But this series of two French handouts is kinda magical in that you really can play it in half an hour. It's boring, no denying that, but it'll get you out of the opening with some vague plan and very little chance of accident. Short and Vaganian have played 3...Qd7, and all kinds of people (Karpov, Korchnoi, Shabalov, Dreev, Oll, Wojt., Hodgson, Lputian, Khalifman, Epishin, Beliavsky, Rustemov, I could go on) have played the Fort Knox, so it's not garbage. I can't post the annotated games because I stole them almost verbatim from You should subscibe to this website, it's great, but if you're really a hardcore cheapass, email me and I'll send them to you.
Chessbase diagrams disgust me, graphically, but I replaced the linares ones with them just for you.

Monday, May 26, 2008

New Creation and Fun with Color

photos: Betsy Dynako

New Creation: a teaching unit for the Bb5 Sicilian.

First, a handout I go over and the kids are supposed to start memorizing, then scripted lesson plans to illustrate ideas and plans. Finally, a "memory markers" assessment/ review page (idea taken from the Perelshteyn/ Dzindi book) with key positions from the opening that kids have to remember.

Probably you need the Linares font to see diagrams. Sorry about that. If you know me or if you ask nicely, I'll email it to you. There's also some annoying minor formatting issues that I'm too lazy to fix.

Let me know if you find mistakes or have suggestions.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


I want to write a post but to do this need to reference 5-6 word documents that are pretty long. Does anyone know how to post them so they don't appear in the main body of the blog post?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

You know who is my big hero?

You know who we should all forget about Kamsky and Nakamura and Bhat and Krush and focus our sponsorship dollars on? (No offense to the above people, who are all excellent and otherwise deserving chessplayers.)

Ray Robson.

That kid is like a sweet-tempered winning machine. I'm watching him crush Varuzhan Akobian like a little child at the moment (
Ray Robson -- GM Var Akobian
Chicago rd 2
1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 Nbd7 4.f4 e5 5.Nf3 exd4 6.Qxd4 c6 7.Be3 d5 8.0–0–0 Bc5 9.Qd3 Qb6 10.Bd2 dxe4 11.Nxe4 0–0 12.Nxc5 Nxc5 13.Qa3 a5? [13...Na6 14.Be3] 14.Be3! Nfe4 15.Rd4! Qc7.
Find white's winning move?

16.b4! axb4 17.Qxa8

He plays so incredibly well. Eugene Perelstheyn did a beautiful video of Robson beating him on, in case you want to see a Robson game.

He's also a very nice kid. I was fortunate to draw him a year ago in the New England Masters-- I can play a few good moves in a row sometimes, but I am nowhere near this kid's level. Shabalov joined us for the post-mortem and it was pretty much just Ray and him analysing, with me occasionally interrupting to ask a question or to see a line again. At no point did Ray act annoyed to draw me or incredulous at how slow I am at analysis.

Someone should step up and sponsor that kid, even just as a patriotic, here's-an-American-who-can-win-the-world-championship gesture.

Update: OK, he just lost, whatever, time pressure, but check out Friedel schooling Nakamura.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Elementary Cheating Accusations

At Elementary Nationals this year there was a big team cheating accusation story. I heard about it from various coaches, but nothing more than vague stuff -- "I watched them talking," "I heard the floor chief refused to do anything," "They all go to the bathroom together," things like that. Polly Wright reprints the accused coaches story here. Let me say before I start that I don't know which team was accused, who was doing the accusing, or even what section they were playing in (although I heard it was an under section). I never went on to the tournament floor, nor did I spend any time watching the fishbowl from above. I'm an entirely disinterested party.

Here's my 2 cents: it's impossible to cheat as described. There is no way that two elementary school kids rated under 1200 can systematically help each other by talking. This is not because they are bad at chess, it's because they are terrible at describing things. You know how many times a day one of my students answers a question with "e5" when he means "Queen e5" or "take and then play Rd1" when there are 3 things you could take and either rook could move to d1?
A lot.

OK, there might be certain very specific situations where one kid notices mate in one and the other doesn't, but anything short of that and the chances of helping are close to nil. Let's run through a couple scenarios:

1. The position is tactical and the teammate sees a winning line. They go to the bathroom and teammate tells player his variation.

Problem: The stronger kid will say something like "trade bishops and then play queen check." First of all, kids can't visualize, so there's a chance that the stronger player says it wrong, plus there's an excellent chance that whatever is said is ambigious, and add to that a reasonable chance that the player remembers it wrong. Even if the kid remembers it perfectly, if his opponent plays a response the teammates didn't discuss, good chances the player panics and blunders.

2. A kid sees a plan and tries to describe it.

Problem: Seriously now, a kid walking by who is in an under section is not capable of conceiving of or articulating a reasonable plan in the minute he/ she looks at the friend's board. And even if he could, the kid playing will not be able to understand what he's being told when he's in the bathroom and can't see the position.

Try this experiment. Set up a position where you understand the plan for one side, let's say this one:

Find an elementary school age kid rated 1200 or less and ask him to tell you what to do. I think you will find the results amusing.
(This is a very standard pawn structure-- it can come out of many openings in this form or reversed. White's plan is to play on the kingside, using the open e file and e5 square, i.e. Bg5, Ne5, R3e-h3 Q=> kingside. Black's plan is a minority attack, i.e. Rb8, b5-b4, Rfc8, Na5-c4, Q=> queenside. )

Just to be clear-- I'm not saying cheating is impossible. If I were hiding in the bathroom stall telling my players where to go and what their plan should be, I think I could be helpful. But this is because I know extremely well what my kids understand and what they will understand by what I say. Plus I'm good at chess. I also suspect my older and stronger students could help each otehr, but I'm talking about 13 years old and 1500.

Quite seriously, if I thought another team was cheating in this way against my students, it would not even cross my mind to complain. I would just laugh and add it to my list of Stupid Things Other People Do. There's a quote from Kramnik, "If you think your opponent is going to play the Dutch, don't do anything to discourage him." That's how I feel about this.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Differences in Scholastic Chess

It's always amusing to try to make bets on which kid is going to win a game of chess, especially when you can see a current position on the board. It's important to be aware, however, that the factors you should use to evaluate scholastic positions are significantly different than the one we use in our version of the game. I'm going to try to list them, but with the caveat that this post is a work in progress and will undoubtedly be added to/ rewritten. (= I might steal your clever comment-ideas)

When evaluating a game between two kids, you have to give added weight to

1) Passed pawns. I suspect the idea of blockading is harder for kids because it's inherently abstract. Since for the most part, kids can't blockade at all, passed pawns are like golden eggs.

2) Queens are worth ten points. Coordinating three minor pieces is not child's play.

3) A queen is much better than 2 rooks. The queen always eventually wins a rook with a double attack. Also, the best the rooks ever really do is perpetual check.

4) An attack on the king brings a much higher probability of victory than a queenside attack. This makes openings like the Scotch gambit, the Grand Prix, and the Colle-Zuckertort almost theoretically winning.

5) A space advantage is worth more than usual. Notice, this is not because kids play better with a space advantage; it's because having a space advantage implies your opponent has a space disadvantage, and kid's play absymally when cramped. This is because kids can't manuever.

6) If one kid plays slowly, this behavior in itself will have a significant and noticable negative effect on her/ his opponent's level of play in 25% of all games. Some kids are just not able to sit still that long. They (metaphorically?) lose their minds.

7) When predicting a student's next move, don't forget that if a capture is possible, it is always the most likely move to be played.

What else?

Nice Pictures From the New York Times

Thanks to Josh Haner, Photo Editor. More are at (no commercial use). Article is at

I should mention that I think (I'm not 100%, but I think) I'm embarrassed about what I'm quoted as saying. It's an obnoxious thing to say on a couple levels, and while the funiness and possible kernal of truthiness (It's a frequent complaint of private school coaches, for example, that for their students, chess is just the scheduled activity for Tuesdays, sometimes interchangable with violin. ) as I was saying, the moderate funniness and possible relevance/correctness of the thought do not excuse its flippancy. My bad.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Elementary Nationals Part Three: People Are Super-Weird to Me

A lot of people are really really nice to me at these tournaments, but a significant number of people seem really angry at me for reasons I mostly don't get at all. Three examples:

1. I Am Accused of Playing the System By Using Unfair Advantages
I haven't been to the elementarys in maybe 4 or 5 years, but ok I go this time and my first impression of the blitz tournament Thursday night is that it's a total zoo. Hundreds of tiny children run at breakneck speeds everywhere. Well-dressed chess moms all sit on carpeted floors. Everyone is talking very intensely to someone. I wander around, dazed and gaping, finally I start chatting with a New York parent I know slightly (I recognize the face but don't know the name, kid, or school). Everything seems just fine.

Then the parent coordfinator of PS 166 in New York comes up to me, visibly agitated.
"I have to let you know something," he begins, hands shaking. "The parents from my school are going to complain. We think it's very unfair that 318 is a junior high school and you are playing in an elementary tournament."
So I say, "But the section is K-6, and we are just playing sixth graders." I wasn't trying to be condescending, honestly, I just didn't understand what he was objecting to.
"But it's not fair, because they are junior high school kids. I just think it's really unfair."
So I tell him he should go to the TDs, that it was no problem for me and if his parents felt anxious it was better to clarify the rules. But he wouldn't stop trying to argue with me about it, implying I was consciously trying to trick everyone and that a 6-8 school in a K-6 program had an obvious large advantage. After a while I said something sharp to him and walked away, but I think this might be the stupidest thing I've ever heard. Here's why:

I get to teach my students for 8.5 months; most K-6 coaches get to teach their students for SEVEN YEARS.

Now let's take a look at the rating progress of my K-6 team since they entered the school until the May supplement:
Alexis 1532-1721
Pobo 1141-1572
Myles 1210-1448
Orlando 0-1225
Brittanie 862-1409
Abadel 0-1226

So here you go, Mr. Parent: maybe we are not cheating your system; maybe we are just working harder?!

2. A Private School Coordinator Objects to My Predictions.
You know that guy in track suit pants who you always see hanging around but you never know who he is? He's my boss/ assistant principal/ assistant coach, John Galvin. I'm a big fan of Galvin--- he's a great boss, a very decent chess player (1650), and a good friend of mine.

So this coordinator woman goes up to him Sunday afternoon and complains about my CLO article predicting the Elementary Nationals results. She said all the parents at her school were outraged and she tries to argue that I should be fired for it. Of course she doesn't say a word to me about it all weekend, she just goes directly to my boss. Galvin keeps a straight face and suggests that she should leave a comment on the online article, to which she replies that she doesn't have time for such things.

Does she really think Galvin is going to fire me because she recommends it? Because, what, I'm implying there is a competitive element in all of this? You have to understand, this tournament is by far the most overtly competitive space I have ever been in. Parents stand in enormous viewing galleries 2 floors above the playing hall and peer down at their children-- hundreds and hundreds of them do this, pacing back and forth the whole entire game. You can't even see the positions. But they still stare desparately, as if by looking hard enough maybe it will magically come into focus, or maybe they'll be able to mentally transit a message of "make a good move" to their kid. It's really strange.

This is not something I created with predictions in a CLO article.

3. A Random Idiot Threatens Me With a Negative CLO Comment
Our return flight to Newark was cancelled because of bad weather on the East Coast, so we were forced to remain in Pittsburgh Monday night. Normally airlines don't put you up for the night when the delay/ cancellation is weather-related, but a little old lady at the check-in desk took pity and gave us 4 free hotel rooms and some meal vouchers. So it's all great fun; the kids are thrilled about missing anotehr day of school, we hang out in the Hyatt and have a blitz tournament/ watch a movie. Galvin runs into a Bronx team who are also stranded-- he tells them to ask for free rooms. They try but get told no.

So that evening I'm meeting the kids in the hotel lobby when Random Idiot asks if I have a minute. I don't really, but he's already started waving his hands at me, shouting, and demanding that I tell the story of the discrimination against the unfortunate team from the Bronx in the tournament report, and include the fact that ANOTHER TEAM got FREE HOTEL ROOMS. It's like he's implying I used some corrupt influence to get them.
At this point, I'm just trying to get away, so I say, "I don't really... do investigative reporting on ... airline cancellations?"
Then RI says "If you don't include it, I will tell the whole story IN A COMMENT!"
"I'm not doing the report on the tournament."
So then he says, almost triumphantly, "I will speak to Jennifer about this!"
You do that.

Anyway, that's all. I'm not trying to imply most people are unpleasant to me-- most people are super nice. Maddy Bender's mom, for example, is almost unbelievably chatty and friendly.
But, wow, I sure seem to rub some people the wrong way.

National Elementary Part Two: Pictures and Positions

IS 318 won the K-6 Open section by 1.5 points.
Coming soon: Elementary Nationals Part Three: People Say Weird Things to Me

Alexis Paredes

Ruan, George - Paredes, Alexis
black to move

Myles Foster

Myles Foster- Lilia Poteat
white to move

Miguel Garcia

Pobo Efekoro and Miguel Garcia

Miguel Garcia - Edward Pinzon

White played 12. Qe2. Can black take on d4?

John Hughes- Miguel Garcia

Black is down two pawns for nothing. How does he slime the opponent?

Someone- Rawn Prowell

White played Ke2 here. Why can't he play Kc3?

Brittanie Uddin - Kunal Lobo

White to move

Orlando Gonzalez


Ameer, Myles, Lovedeep


Ruan -Paredes

1...h4 2.Re6 hxg3 3.Rxd6 gxh2+ 4.Kf2 g3+ 5.Ke2 Rxd6 6.Nh3 Re6+ 7.Kd2 Rxh3 8.Qc2 Ne3 9.Qg6 Nc4+ 10.Kc2 Re2+ 11.Kb3 Rxb2+ 12.Ka4 b5# 0–1

Foster,Myles - Poteat,Lilia

19.b4! Bb6 20.cxb5 Na7 21.Re7 1–0 (21...Rg8 22.Nf6+ Kh8 23.Nh4)

Garcia ,Miguel - Pinzon,Edward

12.Qe2 so he plays this and I say "hey, why are you hanging your d pawn, why not Rc1?" He starts laughing because he's been waiting for me to say this and then I get the joke and realize if Qxd4 Rd1 traps the queen.

Hughes, John - Garcia, Miguel

32...Rg8 33.Qf3 Bf6 34.Qh3? [34.Rfb1! Rxg2+ 35.Kf1 Bh4 36.Rxh7+ Kxh7 37.Qh5+ Kg7 38.e6+ Bf6 39.Bxf6+ Kxf6 40.Qf7#] 34...Rxg2+ 35.Kh1 Rh2+ 36.Qxh2 Qe4+ 0–1

1.Ke2 [White can't play 1.Kc3 because of 1...g4!]

Uddin,Brittanie - Lobo,Kunal

Britttanie played 30.Rg8+ which is good, but she has forced mate with [30.g4!] 30...Kh7 31.Rh8+ Kg6 32.Rag8+? big mistake, but she went on to win anyway [32.g4!] 32...Kf5 1–0

Elementary Nationals Part One: Greg Shahade Is a Perceptive and Insightful Genius
Pictures and positions coming later tonight....

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Shy Guest Blogger



During a chess lesson yesterday I asked my coach, a strong IM, whether he had ever sat around doing a book of tactical exercises early in his chess career. He replied that he hadn't, and seemed to suggest that such tactical study is not so helpful. This is of interest to me since I've been working through exercise books more or less regularly for the past few years. Does it really help?

World opinion is divided on this matter. At one extreme there are those who recommend doing some tactical puzzles every day. Susan Polgar recommends this, and in fact provides daily puzzles on her blog ( Michael De La Maza (Rapid Chess Improvement) lays out a more detailed and stringent plan, which he calls the "Seven Circles." Closer to the center of the spectrum, GM John Nunn (John Nunn's Chess Puzzle Book) wrote that "Every young player should, at some stage, go through such a book [as Reinfeld's 1001 Ways to Checkmate] solving every position." He stops well short of advocating a lifelong habit, however. GM Larry Christiansen acknowledged a similar debt to Reinfeld in his book (Storming the Barricades), saying that Reinfeld's 1001 Sacrifices and Combinations "became a constant companion at home and school." NM Dan Heisman (in a ChessCafe article) recommends focusing easy tactical problems, and trying to do them quickly. Then we have the contrarians, such as my coach. GM Alex Yermolinsky expresses some doubt about doing puzzles (The Road to Chess Improvement): "...solving chess problems is a mind-boggling exercise, and I, for example, was never keen on that." He even blames a colleague's stalled progress on an over-reliance on tactics. Then we have Martin Weteschnik (Understanding Chess Tactics) saying that "asking them to solve a huge number of puzzles" did not help his otherwise strong students improve tactically.

How can we reconcile these views?

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Sexy Chess

I have to apologize for this picture: I googled the post title, it came up, and then I just couldn't resist. The rooks crack me up. Sorry, Underage Readers!

A post or two I mentioned Charles Hertan's new book, Forcing Chess Moves, and I promised to show you some problems. I'm a huge fan of this book, especially of some of the more unusual sections like "Forcing Retreats" and "Surprise Forcing Moves." Also, the first couple chapters, "Stock Forcing Moves" and "Stock Mating Attacks," are beautiful for advanced level lessons. But "Quiet Forcing Moves" is my favorite chapter, because, for me, these types of problems are the only kind I've ever found "sexy." (By which I guess I mean:
1) they send a mental shiver down my spine and
2) that I feel the same sense of butterflies the second and third times I see them.)


Portisch - Berger 1964 white to move

Filguth - De la Garza white to move

Spassky- Hubner white to move

OK, some meaningless chatter from me to delay the appearance of answers on your screen before you're ready... I've decided on a way to improve the intellectual quality of my life: magazines. I will subscribe to a number of high quality monthly magazines and it will be like I have thoughtful, well-informed friends with whom I can discuss the important issues and questions. Friends I can take on the subway with me for one low annual fee. So far I think I'm going to get The Economist, maybe Harpers, the Atlantic Monthly, Time or Newsweek probably both and The Wilson Quarterly. Anyone have any other suggestions?

I got an email from Steve Goldberg this morning, letting me know he has a lesson on the Lucena position up at Which got me thinking: why do I teach this? In nine years of full-time coaching, I've only ever seen it once, and even then it wasn't actually the Lucena, just a position from which a kid could reach a Lucena in 10 moves. I don't think I've ever gotten it in 21 years of playing. The one compelling argument I can see is that it's a pretty good example of how rooks interact with kings on an open board. I just feel like I don't really get all that many rook endgames. Thoughts, anyone?

1.Nxh7 Kxh7 [1...Qa1+ 2.Rd1] 2.Rh5+ Kg7 [2...Kg8 3.Qxg6#] 3.Be5+ f6 4.Rg5 Line

1.Qh1 Qf6 [1...Qh5 2.g4] 2.Bg5 hxg5 3.hxg5 Line

1.Bg6 Nxe7 2.Bf7 Ng4 3.Rh3+ Nh6 4.Rxh6# Line

Thursday, May 1, 2008

I Lose To Michael, Again

This one kid I have, Michael Peguero (below, center, with bunny ears, about to open a shaken can of soda), seems to crush me every time we play now. Of course I am secretly happy that he is so good, but it's also annoying. How is he so much better than me?

(195) Vicary,Elizabeth - Peguero,Michael [B52] afterschool 01.05.2008

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bb5+ Bd7 4.Bxd7+ Qxd7 5.c4 Nf6 6.Nc3 g6 7.d4 cxd4 8.Nxd4 Bg7 9.f3 0–0 10.Be3 Rc8 11.b3 Nc6 12.Nde2 a6 (maybe I should try to punish this with 13. Bb6?) 13.0–0 Qd8 14.Qd2 Nd7
15.Rab1 I wasn't sure about this, but Dave said something about Rb1 and b4 ideas, I figured white often has to play a4 to stop b5 in this line, and b3 can become weak, so...

15...Qa5 [15...Rab8] 16.b4?!? [better was 16.Rfd1 because black can't play 16...b5? because of 17.b4 Qd8 18.cxb5 axb5 19.Nxb5] 16...Qd8

17.Na4 This is a very stupid move, which I unfortunately spent most of my time on. I considered Nd5, but figured he would play e6. I considered Rfd1 but thought he would just play Ne5. I did think about c5, but .... but I don't know. It's the right move: [17.c5 dxc5 18.bxc5 e6 (18...Na5?! 19.Rfd1 Nc4 20.Qxd7 Nxe3 21.Qxd8+ Rxd8 22.Rxd8+ Rxd8 23.Rxb7+/-) ] 17...a5 18.bxa5 Nxa5 19.Nb6 Nxb6 20.Bxb6 Nxc4 21.Bxd8 Nxd2 22.Bxe7 Nxb1 23.Rxb1 Rxa2 24.Nf4 Be5 25.Nd3 Bd4+ 26.Kh1 Rcc2 27.Ne1 Rf2 28.h4 Rf1+ 29.Kh2 Be5+ 30.Kh3 h5 0-1

Stupid kid. Incidentally, he only learned how to play two and a half years ago.