Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The student I am most proud of

When the kids won the high school, that was obviously the greatest achievement of my life. Then it was fun at the junior high with so many kids, but hard for it to measure up in importance, in some sense. But what made it an amazing weekend was one special and surprising performance.

William started chess at the beginning of sixth grade, and he was very bad. He was so bad he lost his first 21 rated games. He came every weekend, and he lost and lost and lost. He also played really fast. I liked him because he reminded me a bit of myself at his age: nervous and clumsy and not comfortable in his own skin. He came to chess club every single day. He always tried his hardest; some days he would cry with frustration when he lost. ("I tried my absolute hardest against Anthony, but I still always lose.")
     His mother didn't want him to go to nationals; both years she had to be talked into it.
     William was in my homeroom this year. He had seven classes a week with me and continued coming to chess club every day. I used Jeff Coakley's "Winning Chess Strategy" as a textbook in his class; William didn't just do the reading each week, he memorized it. I could put up any position from the book on the smartboard and his hand would go up instantly ("I know this; it's mate in seven!").
      Even so, he struggled. His rating broke 1100 and he was overjoyed; chess club applauded him. It sank back down below 1000 and he started asking to study every day in chess club-- partly to improve but also because he was afraid to play and lose more .

I looked at all seven of his games at nationals.  He was losing most of his games, but he never stops trying, and he saved a lot of positions that Fritz calls -10. Round six was a good example:

Yu,William - Antino Diaz,Alejandro
Junior High Nationals, Rd 6

1.d4 d5 2.e3 Nf6 3.Bd3 Nc6 4.f4 Bg4 5.Nf3 Ne4 6.0-0 Qd7 7.Nbd2 Nxd2 8.Bxd2 e6 9.Qe1 Bd6 10.Ne5 Bxe5 11.fxe5 0-0-0 12.a4 Rdf8 13.b4 f6 14.b5 Nb8 15.a5 c6 16.b6 a6 17.Bb4 Rf7 18.Bd6 h5 19.Rf4 g5 20.Rf2 fxe5 21.Rxf7 Qxf7 22.dxe5 h4 23.Bxb8 Kxb8 24.Ra2 h3 25.c3 hxg2 26.Rf2 Qh5 27.Rxg2 Bf3 28.Be2 g4 29.Bxf3 gxf3 30.Rd2 Rg8+ 31.Kh1 Qxe5 32.Rf2 Qh5 33.Qd1

33...Rf8 (33....Rg2 is very winning) 34.e4 Kc8 35.exd5 Qxd5 36.Qxd5 cxd5 37.h3 e5 38.Kh2 e4 39.Kg3 Kd7 40.h4 Rg8+ 41.Kf4 Ke6 42.Ke3 Kf5 43.Rh2 Kg4 44.h5 Rh8 45.h6 Rh7 46.Rd2 Rxh6 47.Rxd5 Rf6 48.Kxe4 f2 49.Rd1 Re6+ 50.Kd5 Re1

White wins this, incredibly, by sacking his rook for the f pawn, then taking the remaining black pawns with his king and winning with a+b pawns vs rook.

 51.Rd4+ Kg3 52.Rd3+ Kg2 53.Rd2 Kg1 54.Rxf2 Kxf2 55.Kd6 Rc1 56.Kc7 Rxc3+ 57.Kxb7 Ke3 58.Kxa6 Rc6 59.Kb7 Rf6 60.a6 Rf7+ 61.Kc8 Rf8+ 62.Kd7 Kd4 63.b7 Kd5 64.a7 Rf7+ 65.Kc8 Rf8+ 66.Kc7 Rf7+ 67.Kd8 Rf8+ 68.Ke7 Kc6 69.a8Q Rxa8 70.bxa8Q+ Kb6 71.Kd6 Kb5 72.Qa7 Kb4 73.Qa6 Kb3 74.Qa5 Kc4 75.Qc5+ Kd3 76.Ke5 Kd2 77.Ke4 Ke2 78.Qh5+ Kd2 79.Qh2+ Ke1 80.Ke3  1-0

William described the game in a post-nationals reflection:
        "... I remember playing round six, the most intense round I had played at nationals. It was the endgame and my opponent was about to queen. I was in a difficult choice: sacrifice or trade rooks. I chose to sacrifice my rook. After that, it was a rook and two pawns vs. two pawns. There was a problem for my opponent, though. His pawns were locked up and couldn't move. I then thought of a plan against this weakness. I chose to go after the pawns. I started after the pawns. Surprisingly, my plan worked. He was unable to catch up and lost two of his pawns. Soon, it was only two pawns vs. a rook. I knew I had to be careful now. I knew if I made a mistake it would cost me the entire game. I played brutally. I remember when everyone was standing near me watching me play this endgame almost no one could win. I played until I queened and my opponent had to sacrifice his rook for my queen. I retook and queened again. Soon it was all clear. I had won the game. I played until my opponent had resigned. I sighed in relief. This was one of the hardest endgames I had ever won. I showed the game to Ms. Spiegel, which she was very impressed with how well I had played the endgame.
      After this I won the last round. I remember telling everyone the good news. Everyone was impressed and I was getting complimented. I remember this was one of my best moments. When Mr. Galvin had told everyone who had the best performance, everyone clapped when they were told about my performance. After the announcements, we all went to the awards ceremony. When my name was called, I ran up on stage, proud of myself. I knew all this hard work all year really paid off, and holding my trophy felt like a good thing."

William tied for first in the Under 1250 Section with 6/7. I've never been so proud of or happy for a student.

Junior High Nationals, 2011: Danny Feng shows William how to use Chessbase

new yorker of the week: chess master!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Chess is Child's Play

     My friends at Mongoose Press sent me a review copy of their newest, Chess is Child's Play, and I liked it enough to overcome my laziness and read it/think about it/write this.
     Basically, Chess is Child's Play is the perfect book for someone who doesn't know anything about chess or teaching and wants everything spelled out. It could be titled The Idiot's Guide to Teaching Chess to One 4-8 Year Old Kid.  Now this could be a great thing: if I had to teach a kid how to build a motorcycle, I would want a book like this. And it tells you good things like what to do if your kid is bored or makes this or that type of mistake.
     I personally can't read it because it's insanely basic. The whole reason I teach junior high and not elementary is that I cannot stand explaining the totally obvious types of things that this book explains, like how you capture a piece by moving your piece on the square their piece was on and at the same time take their piece off the board and place it with the other captured pieces. But some parts of chess, like determining if a position is or is not checkmate, are complex, multi-step thought processes, and it's nice to have someone walk you through it in such a patient and reassuring way.
      It is also a noticably nice-looking book: hard-cover, well designed and laid-out, lots of soft-focus photos of angelic children in gardens playing chess.
     bottom line: If you're intimidated by chess and new to teaching, this is a very good book to start with.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Brooklyn Castle is coming to the Brooklyn Film Festival!

June 1-10

Repairings at Junior High Nationals

So I have a rules question for everyone.
You may remember a post from two years ago, called Repairings in Elementary Nationals, in which James Black's first round opponent did not show up, and insanity ensued.
This time no one seemed to have had malicious intent, but a strangely similar thing happened to the same person last weekend:

James Black was the second seed in the K-9 open. Five pre-registered players did not show up for round one, and it is USCF policy to repair players without opponents. The 5 players had ratings of 2300 (James), 1800, 1600, 1100, and 900. The TDs paired the 1800 with the 1100, the 1600 with the 900, and gave James a bye. Their reasoning was that this kept the pairings as close as possible to what they would have been originally (the cut for round one was about 1730). I protested, as it seems very strange to me that the top seed should be left unpaired, especially as that has a serious potential effect on his tiebreaks. Modified median is the first tiebreak, and while MM drops the lowest score, it seemed like a big disadvantage to concede that in round one. It also seemed like it would potentially affect the 2nd seed much more than a 900, and so the bye should have gone (as it pretty much always should) to the lowest rated player.