Saturday, December 22, 2012

Amateur to IM (Jonathan Hawkins)

Mongoose Press sends me their books, very kindly, sometimes. Most of the time I look at them and think they are ok but ignore them, because I'm really not studying chess. I received Amateur to IM a couple months ago and put it on my bookshelf.

Yesterday, the last day of school before break, I was looking through my classroom library for books to take home and read over Christmas vacation. (Last summer, I did enormous amounts of prep work, and it got me through the whole fall planningwise, so I was thinking to do that again.)

I opened Amateur to IM and immediately got sucked in. I was so absorbed that I didn't notice during the holiday party when my homeroom put half a tube of Mentos in a 2 liter bottle of Sprite. It exploded/sprayed the contents around the room, and while many sets/desks/chairs are now coated in a fine sugar syrup-resin, it was undeniably impressive/hilarious. Amateur to IM is a surprisingly enjoyable book that concentrates on a few endgames and explains them really well. You can literally feel your understanding of chess growing as you read-- I learned 4 new things I'm excited about from one chapter yesterday. I'm hoping to finish the book over break and use it in class in the spring.

I bought Jonathan/us a food dehydrator for Christmas.
My USATE: Matan Prilleltensky, Isaac Barayev, Matheu Jefferson, me.
Happy birthday Greg!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

pictures of current and former students, a crazy parent story







I have a crazy parent story for you. Lennin (1200) comes back after round two in the reserve section and says "My opponent's parent tried to cheat." I frequently hear that opponents try to cheat, but parents is unusual, so I get him to tell me the whole story. He explained that his opponent had played badly and not really tried to win. After the game, his opponent's mother approached Lennin and offered him $20 to say her son had won. Lennin said no, so the mother offered $25, then $30, then $40. Lennin: "I really wanted to take it, but I thought you might be mad."

Just as Lennin is telling me this, my former student and now TD Kenneth Martin comes in to tell me that Lennin's opponent's mother is saying that the result of the game, which was correctly recorded as a win for Lennin, was incorrect, and her son had won. I explained to Kenneth what Lennin had just told me, and Kenneth offered that he had watched the entire game as the TD for the section and had seen Lennin checkmate his opponent.

I took this to Shaun Smith. Shaun confronted the woman, who denied it.

crazy, right? Apparently it was her son's birthday, and he is at his peak rating of 1184, so she was trying to buy him a few extra peak rating points.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


Brooklyn Castle superstar Rochelle Ballantyne wins a full scholarship to Stanford!!!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

grade nationals 2012

I took today off to recover from the weekend. We didn't have a team room (CIS used to get it for us) so I analyzed in my pretty small (esp once I've stolen 2 extra chairs from students rooms) hotel room all weekend. I shouldn't complain-- in many ways I prefer it to a team room-- it's not freezing cold, strangers don't bother you, there isn't some other coach with a booming voice analyzing right next to you, I can drink endless cups of tea, etc.

I mostly worked with the 6th and 7th graders and I learned a lot about the new kids. One thing that stood out is how big of a difference in learning curve exists between an incoming 6th grader who is 1300 and started playing chess one year ago and a 6th grader with the same rating who started three years ago.

I only took pictures the first day though...  they started looking all the same to me and I felt discouraged.

We won the 8th, came second in 7th, and tied for 3rd in 6th.

There was a Brookstone at JFK where an employee was flying little planes around the hallway, and it looked too awesome to pass up and on sale for $25. So I played with it happily for an hour at the start of round one, then I said goodbye, gave it to a kid to try, and it was broken within 10 minutes.

Watching Mubassar intently preparing with my laptop before round 7, I thought: Why haven't I borrowed the laptop cart every day, install Chessbase, Mega2013, and chesspublishing databases, and an engine, and had the top kids make a tree of all their opening lines and make game files for every variation and spend all their time looking at GM games in their lines? They would be totally into it, and I wouldn't have to do anything except install the programs and explain what to do/what the final product should look like. I'm very happy to have had that realization.

I am happy Elizabeth Warren has been appointed to the banking commission.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

back to normal

I talked to a lot of media people in the last month, and it was fun, but I'm happy life is getting back to normal.  The truth is I mostly hate talking to reporters and being on camera. I did one interview I liked, on the website creativity post.

Brooklyn Castle is getting lots of amazing press, and Katie and Pobo will be on The Daily Show on Thursday.

In other news, I'm enjoying my hurrication. Nothing bad happened to me, and I got a week off work, so good. I'm trying to eat less sugar.  I enjoyed this Times article about our sea wall options.

I'm looking forward to grade nationals at the end of the month. Things look pretty good for us from the pre-entries, but it's early days still. I need to make our final list with Galvin next week.

I finished a new version of the opening book. I'm pretty excited to have completed that long-term, guilt-inducing, much dreaded project. The next project is systematizing opening teaching units, so I have all the teaching games and examples and whatever neatly stored in uniform files in google drive for when my laptop breaks.

nothing interesting is happening, but I like it. :)

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Pictures and Puzzles from 150Q

Aaron Idemudia
Aaron Idemudia and his twin brother Sean are extremely talented new 6th graders. We have been working on resisting the urge to trade whenever possible, a common theme in getting from 1100 to 1500 when you are 11 years old.

Let's see Aaron's game from yesterday against Katherine as he clearly struggles with temptation. Black is to move in the next three positions. Answers are at the end, or will be by tomorrow.

In the position above, sixth grader Lennin Antunish is black against former 318 player James Ovando. We learned the Panov on Wednesday in early morning, so Lennin does not have much experience in it yet. Name 4 reasonable candidate moves for black.

5. In this continuation of the above game, white just played 18. Nf4. Aside from moving the bishop, which rook moves protect against losing a piece?
Kirk Jobe

6. Kirk played 11...Re8 in this position against former 318 player Maya McGreen. Why is it bad?
Mikael Mongroo

7. Mikael just played 4...Bf5 as black. How should he have been punished?



8. Nasir is black in the above position. Which move is better, 5...h5 or 5...h6?

9. Nasir just played 10...Nbd7. What happened next?

Jayvon Bullock

top 6th grader, Nancy Wang

Markus Pond, top 8th grader??

Mengnan Chen, 6th grade 1350

Calvin Yang
tilt your screen way back and look at the door handle
Eldridge Calixte

top 7th grader Tristan Dalhouse

706 friends: Michael Yu and Stefek Yurgel


1. Black should not trade queens, because that just repairs white's pawn structure and gives him the open a file. Instead, black could play 1...Nc6 or 1...Rc8 2. Qxb6? Nxb6. White should not trade queens because it just develops black's knight towards its outpost on c4.

2. Black has a number of reasonable moves, including
      * 14...a5!, planning ...b5, ...a4, making a passed pawn
      * 14...h5! preventing g2-g4 and securing the f5 square for the knight
      * 14... f6!, trading off white's good central pawn, and getting black some space (i.e. 15. exf6 gxf6 and 16...Rg8)
      * 14...Nb6 defending d5 in case of c3-c4xd5.
But the trade 14...Nxe3 is not good: the knight is better than the bishop in this closed position, it opens the f file for white; d4 is now defended. But it is also a mistake because black can make this trade any time he wants to, so he should keep the tension and wait for a more favorable moment.

3. 16...Nb6 makes more sense than 16...dxe4, since the first move develops our knight and the second one develops white's. Houdini doesn't agree with me, it thinks they are about equal, but I think from a teaching standpoint I'm right.

4. Four reasonable ideas for black:
12...Nb4 13. Qg3 Rc8
12...Nd5 to exchange some pieces 13. Bxd5 (13. Nxd5?? exd5 -/+; 13. Bxe7 Ncxe7)  13...Bxg5
12...h6 why not

Lennin played 12...Qc7, which is not a great square for the queen because it gives up control of d5 and the queen can be attacked with Bf4, Rc1 or Nb5/d5.

5. Moves like 18...Rfd8 obviously defend the bishop. 18...Rac8 works in a slightly trickier way, 19. Nxd5 Qxd5 20. Qxd5 Nxd5 21. Rxc8 Rxc8 22. Rxd5 Rc1+. But even 18...Rfe8 defends the bishop, since 19. Nxd5 Nxd5 20. Qxd5 Re1! wins!

6.  11...Re8 loses the d5 pawn to 12. Bxd5 exd5 13. Rxe8 Qxe8 15. Nxd5

7. White could have won a pawn with Ob3, attacking f7 and b7.

8. 5...h5 is much better, but kids get confused with the advanced variation, where h5 is hard to hold, so ...h6 is better. Black got punished in this game after 5...h6 6. h5 Bh7 7. e6 fxe6 8. Bd3 Bxd3 9. Qxd3 Nf6 9. Nc3 Nbd7 (next diagram)

9. 10. Qg6#!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

a lot is happening!

a lot of amazing exciting things are happening to me.... Brooklyn Castle is coming out Oct 19 at the Landmark Sunshine. Please go see the movie if you haven't yet and live in New York. The receipts for opening weekend determine if it's going to open in other cities, so it's kinda important!

I love these new posters....

more here
       Jon Hamm (=Don Draper) is hosting a small, exclusive screening at Soho House this Tuesday. I was invited, but initially said "no way, I'm very busy managing a critical USCL match vs. league leaders the Dallas Destiny" but then Jon Hamm called the publicist and said he is a big fan of me (!!!!!) and is there any way I could make it, so obv. now I'm going. I love Mad Men. 1000 thanks to Marcus Fenner at the Marshall for covering for me!
        I'm excited that the NY Knights are 3.5-1.5, although I'm exhausted beyond belief the next day --my normal bedtime is 9pm.
        I started IVF treatments. I'm proud to say I gave myself an intramuscular injection with a 1.5 inch needle in the Marshall bathroom during a USCL match. Go Knights!
       I love Paul Tough's book, (How Children Succeed) although a couple people have commented on the disconnect between how nice I am in the movie and how hardcore critical I am in the book. I think both are true in their own way, both are obviously also edited versions of me, in the sense that when you become a character, people want you to mean something. and I have my bad days, obv. But I also think that I am different to different kids and in different situations. Some kids need discipline from me, while some kids are hard on themselves and someone to tell them it's ok and it's a game. Definitely, if you see me at nationals, chaperoning 55 kids, 45 of them boys, I'm more on edge, more of a drill sergeant than in my classroom, but I know there is some real chance they might think it's funny to set the hotel on fire.
       There was one unforgettable awards ceremony where they tried to dump a huge water cooler on Galvin and missed and poured 50 gallons of ice water on the hotel ballroom carpet. Galvin beat a quick retreat, leaving me to frantically pick up ice and apologize. Various other coaches and USCF types pointed out what a bad chaperone I was and that my kids should be banned from these tournaments. sucked.

Jonathan and I talking with Paul at his recent GothamSchools talk.
School is going very well--  In my classes, I'm doing my best to do a great job every day, and that keeps me focused and happy. I have 110 students in my afterschool; between 50 and 70 come on any given day. It's a complete and total madhouse, but I'm excited to be reaching so many kids. I do a lot more giving directions than going over games, but I guess that's the price of it.

Friday, September 14, 2012

school starts...

hi everyone,
   School started last week. I was nervous about it, because in June when it ends I'm always tired and disspirited and convinced I'm unfit to be in a classroom, but so far it's going much better than I remembered. The genius 8th graders have graduated, making me suddenly the best player in the school again. I had not realized how intimidated I had become.
      I also did a lot of prep over the summer, and that's meant I've felt on top of things, even when I have to juggle nine classes and multiple learning groups in each class. I've also become better about automating homework, so 4 classes have a standing assignment of 20 correct problems per week, which makes my grading life 10 times easier. I've pre-made a unit on the (advanced) characteristics of each piece, and so I just turn on the projector, click the forward arrow, and start talking. I'm using Johan Hellsten's Mastering Chess Strategy for my 8th grade class, and it's going beautifully. Greg says he disagrees with much of the book, accuracywise, but I don't care.
    My early morning class is awesome this year: 20 kids, all rated between 500 and 1450, totally enthusiastic, and I have them all 5 periods a week, and most of them 8. If we don't win the k-6, I'm a total failure as an educator.
    I destroyed them all at bughouse this morning. (Friday mornings, 7:30-8:20 is the only time that bughouse is ever allowed in my room, but I agree it's really fun.)
    The funny thing is that Greg's team, Masterman, will probably be our main competition this year, as we'll probably both choose a section to avoid the unstoppable-looking Cameron Wheeler team. We were talking last night about sharing a team room and coaching each other's kids through the tournament, which would be hilariously strange, and only conceivable with Greg, or possibly Matan. :)
    I'm managing the New York Knights, which is fun. So far, we seem to be underperforming, but I don't care, so it's fine.
    I saw my sister recently, and she took me to a Chinese supermarket near her house, where I saw things I had never seen before:
live frogs (?)

no idea what this is, some kind of seafood

assorted Chinese fishballs


super-long beans

a green vegetable I am totally unfamiliar with

I do not know what this is
 If I had brought a backpack, I would have gone shopping-crazy, but I did not.

    I have been thinking about teacher evaluations recently, what with the Chicago strike and all. These are my conclusions:
1) Cheating is an enormous problem. A freakonomics podcast looked at elementary schools in Chicago and found 3-5% percent of teachers cheat. Let's say it's 4%. In general 5th grade teachers are more likely to cheat, because if 4th grade teachers cheat, they penalize their friends, the 5th grade teachers in the same building. But when 5th grade teachers cheat and the kids go on to other middle schools, the teachers don't directly deal with the consequences and are also less likely to get caught because classes are broken up and the kids are dispersed more randomly. The kids that these 4% teach are scattered into different middle schools, so lets say an average of 2.5 dispersal rate, or 10% of 6th grade teachers are affected.
    Let's agree that it is absolutely impossible to raise the score of a child who has been helped. I had a girl in my homeroom last year who had a perfect score on her 5th grade ELA test. Then she scored a 2 (out of 4) in 6th grade. She was a nice girl, but slow. There is no way she was not helped (also she told me she was), and there is no way her 6th grade teacher will not be judged a failure.
    This means that the top 4% and the bottom 10% of teachers are not accurately rated. In fact, the best teachers are probably cheaters (nothing is more effective than a teacher taking the test for you) and the worst teachers are probably victims. That means that evaluating, rewarding, and punishing teachers based on test scores is probably 100% counterproductive.
2)     Ok, let's say you could fix that, I'm prepared to accept that evaluating math teachers on a standardized test is reasonable. But evaluating English teachers on a multiple choice test is silly. There is no way to measure good reading and writing instruction on a multiple choice test. It just doesn't make any sense.
3) Aside from that, the tests are terribly written. The first time I took the 7th grade ELA test, I scored abysmally, almost failing, despite getting a 1560/1600 on the SAT and a 2340/2400 on the general GRE. So many questions were ambiguously worded or totally nonsensical that I could not understand even what answer the test writer wanted me to give.
       English teachers should be evaluated on aggregate student work. If you can get a class of 30 kids to write 8 good essays each, 1 per month, you are doing a fine job. There should be someone in every school who spends one period a week reading the writing that each class produces and grading the teacher on the results, taking into consideration, obviously, the background and ability of the class. Stop paying Houghton Miflin billions to write nonsensical tests, and hire some retired ELA teachers to give their professional opinions. That way, if a teacher helps her kids, it's actually instructive teaching, not cheating.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

ear, ear!

well done to Jonathan for taking this "double ear" photo in the 14th St. ACE station!
well done to me for being called a good teacher in the NY Times!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

NY Knights lineups: you choose!

I'm excited about the upcoming USCL season! The NY Knights roster is below, as well as some of our possible lineups. Now's your chance to vote on who you'd like to see playing, in the poll to your right!

1.GM Tamaz Gelashvili2720
2.GM Giorgi Kacheishvili2681
3.GM Alex Lenderman2665
4.GM Pascal Charbonneau2565
5.SM Matt Herman2394
6.FM Michael Bodek2345
7.NM Justus Williams2255
8.NM Alexander Katz2222
9.Isaac Barayev2027
10.Nicolas Checa1942

Watch our first match against the Manhattan Applesauce, on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 7 pm on ICC! I'll be online: kibitzing, trash-talking, and posting photos!

Thanks to our sponsor, ChessNYC!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

IS 318 visits Jane St. Hedge Fund

Last Friday, I took a small group of kids to visit Jane Street Hedge Fund. Sandor Lehoczky, our kind host, gave us a quick but extremely informative lesson on stocks, currencies, and trading, and then took us on a tour of the trading floor.

Danny, Alexis, Miguel, Tommy, Anita
After the markets closed, we played bughouse with the traders.

On a quick break, near Battery Park City
A German Enigma coding machine from World War II.
more photos here