Wednesday, August 21, 2013

things I have learned about being pregnant

I thought I would share with you some of the more unexpected things I have learned so far about pregnancy:

1. Most people seem extremely impressed that I am having a boy, like when people ask how you did at a tournament and you won. I also learned from a recent freakonomics podcast that men are 4% less likely to divorce a woman when their first born child is male, which seems like an enormous effect, given how many other things probably count for more.

2. Certain groups of people are fascinated by pregnant me. The top three are:
   a) teenage girls, who treat me with fascination and respect and think I'm inordinately cute
   b) retarded people on the street/in the subway, who generally point to my stomach and say "There's a BABY in there?" and then sometimes tell me to push
   c) dogs: both mine and other people's. Our dog, who is normally exceptionally sweet-natured, has become extremely protective and tried to bite both our contractor and an elderly Asian granny neighbor.

3. I generally always get a seat on the subway now, except sometimes on the L and the 4, 5, 6 (the fancier lines, where people pretend not to see me in rush hour). The most reliable seat-offers are by far Chinese/ SE Asian men age 16-30. They jump up like it's some kind of reflex.

4. I have never had longer fingernails in my life, I think both because I'm much less anxious / more placid than I was, so I don't bite them anymore, but even more some super-growing effect from hormones and prenatal vitamins. It's actually hard to type.

5. I don't feel much more hungry than before, but I drink like crazy. A liter of water is like nothing to me now. I might be wrong about the hunger though, because I've gained 30 pounds and have two months to go(!). I'm constantly misjudging my size and bumping into things.

6. Pregnancy is boring. I'm tired most of the time, I can't plan interesting trips because they interfere with my nap schedule or they are somehow dangerous, and there are long lists of things I can't do. I wasn't a huge drinker before, but now I constantly see people sitting outside drinking wine and I can't contain my envy. I've also become absolutely paranoid about second hand smoke, to the extent that I hold my breath when I see a smoker approaching on the sidewalk.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

50 lesson beginner curriculum

        I've been working on laying out sequentially what I do in the first year of a beginner "shop class." It's on google docs here. (you have to actually download it, rather than view it, to see more than the first page. You can do this with the download arrow or the shortcut ctrl-s.) It's written for sixth graders who I see 3 periods a week for a school year, although obviously could be speeded up, slowed down, or started in the middle for other situations. I find if I don't have some kind of sequence planned out, then I start the year very enthusiastic rush through a number of topics, but by February, I'm panicking every morning, "omg, what do I teach today?" and then at the end of the year, I kind of realize that the lower 30% of the class doesn't find mate in one when it presents itself in their games. This curriculum is designed to take all the planning out of teaching, kind of a Chess Instruction for Dummies, so that even the laziest and least prepared teacher has a coherent, paced, unit-based study plan. I hope it helps!
      As you already know, I'm obsessed with Jeff Coakley, so references to the green book are to his Winning Chess Strategy for Kids, and to the red and orange book are Winning Chess Puzzles for Kids, Books 1 and 2. I also refer to my 6th Grade Curriculum.
     I'm presenting this at a professional development in about a week and I'm still revising it, so comments please! Also, if I reference anything else that you'd like/like more info about, email me (

Friday, August 2, 2013

my favorite lessons, part 7: trading pieces

    I start by explaining there are really two ways to win a game of chess: you can
1) attack your opponent's king and checkmate him, or you can
2) a. win material (be up pieces),
    b. trade all the pieces off,
    c. get a pawn to the other side of the board,
    d. get your queen back,
    e. do the king and queen checkmate*

I explain that we are going to look at some positions today and practice winning the second way. I then write on the board
Reasons to Trade
1. You are ahead material
and then I ask students if they can think of another reason you might want to trade pieces. I'm looking for answers like "You are being attacked" or "Your opponent's piece is better than yours" and obviously I then write that one the board.

We then look at the following positions. All of them are taken from Coakley's books: some from the green book and some from the blue book.

1. I start by asking what the material is. I then ask a student to find how white can trade off black's remaining big pieces (1. Rd8 essentially forces the exchange of both pairs of rooks). Finally, I ask how white will win after that. I'm look for an answer that involves Na4-c5xb7/a6, centralizing the king, and advancing the queenside pawns.


2. Again, I ask what the material is, then how white can trade queens. (1. Qg3+) Next, we talk about how the black king can't stop the advance of both pawns. Finally, I go back and ask what black is going to try to do if white doesn't trade queens. (Hopefully, you've done the lesson on 5 kinds of draws and perpetual check, so kids will recognize how annoying the black queen can be.)

3. Again, what's the material?
What does that mean white should do here? (1. Qxd5 Rxd5)
What should white do next? (finish development 2. b3 or 2. Bd2, I usually choose b3 to avoid the bishop being attacked after ...Ne4)
How can white try to trade off more pieces? (2. b3 Rc8 3. Bb2 Ne4 4. Rac1):

final position #3

4. We then look at the same position (#3) but with black to move. I say ok, if white's up material and that means she wants to trade pieces, what do you think black wants to do (not trade pieces). I ask students to suggest a move that does this: the best two are 1...Ne4 or 1...Qd7, as other moves hang b7.

5. I always start with asking what the material is. It's very important to get students in the habit of counting the material whenever they first see a position, and it's a great, easy-but-important question to ask struggling students.
   I then ask who wants to trade pieces (black). It's good, incidentally, to vary how you ask this second question slightly: I usually start in the first two positions by saying white wants to trade, then I ask what being up material means you want to do, then I establish who is up material and ask which player wants to trade. Students will understand and be able to apply the idea better if they've thought about it from a couple different perspectives.
    I ask how black can trade pieces (1...Nxc3) and say let's assume white recaptures (2. bxc3). I ask what else black might do (2. Bxb7) and say we will come back and look at that in a minute.
After 1...Nxc3 2. bxc3, how can black continue to trade? (2...Bxg2 3. Kxg2)
I ask how black can try to continue to trade? (3...c5) We talk about why white can't capture on c5 (...Rxd2) and how d4 is now attacked twice and defended once.
I get someone to suggest 4. Nb3 or 4. Nf3, make the moves 4...cxd5 5. cxd5, and ask how black can offer another trade? (...Rac8):

the end of position 5
We finish by talking about what black might do after the trade of rooks (invade with the last rook to c3, win a3, centralize the king, advance the queenside pawns).

Don't forget to go back and talk about what happens if white tries 2. Bxb7: not 2...Rab8 3. Bxa6 but 2...Ne2+! 3. Kf1 Nxc1 4. Bax8 Rax8 and black is up a whole rook.
6. Who's ahead material and how much? (white, the exchange and the a pawn. I talk about what a valuable pawn the a5 pawn is to be up: both passed and advanced)
What does that mean white wants to do? (trade pieces)
What would black do if it were black's turn? (...Qxh2#. This gives white another reason to trade pieces-- refer to reason 2 on the board)
Ask for suggestions of moves for white that trade pieces. You should get 1. Rf2, 1. Re2, and (hopefully) 1. Qc8 Kh7 2. Qf5. Look at them in that order:
1.Rf2 gives black a couple pawns and the chance to annoy white's king a lot: 1...Rxf2 2.Kxf2 Qxh2+ 3.Ke3 Qf4+ 4.Ke2 [4.Kd3 Qxf3+ 5.Kc2 Nf4] 4...Ng3+ 5.Kf2 Qd2+ 6.Kxg3 Qxe1+
1. Re2 allows black to win white's valuable a pawn. Ask if anyone can figure out how (1...Rxe2 2. Qxe2 Qg5+ 4. Qg2/Kh1 Qxa5) and explain that while white is still better in the endgame, it's not so easy to win.
Then look at 1. Qc8 Kh7 2. Qf5+ Qxf5 3. exf5 and ask why the position is easy for white to win. The earlier discussion of the value of the a pawn usually means kids get the right answer: white will continue with Ra1 and queening the a pawn. Make sure you ask how white wins after 3...Rb8 4. a6 Ra8 5. Ra1 Nf4 (6. a7 Ne6 7. Rf1-b1-b8).

7. At this point, I might ask a more general question, like "What's going on here?" I'm hoping for the answer "White is up a rook, but black is threatening mate with Qe1/c1/a1."
Ask how white can stop the mate. Notice that moves like 1. Qe3 or f3 that stop some mates don't stop 1...Qe1#.
   White's only way to stop immediate checkmate is to sacrifice the rook: 1. Rh8+ Kxh8 2. Qd8 Kh7 and then 3. Qd3+ forcing the trade of queens is a much easier win than 3. Qh4+ followed by taking black's h3 pawn but allowing 4...Qxb3. After trading queens, white wins by centralizing the king and advancing the queenside pawns.

8. Again, what's the material and what does that mean white should do? (1. Rd6 Rxd6 2. Nxd6)
What's white's plan after this? (to try to win the a pawn, for example:
1.Rd6 Rxd6 2.Nxd6 Be1 3.f3 Kf6 4.Kc4 Ke6 5.Nb7 Kf5 6.Kb5 Kf4 7.Nxa5 Kg3 8.Nc4 Kxg2 9.a5 Kxh3 10.a6 Bf2 11.Nb6)
And finally, end by asking a kid to summarize what we talked about today.

* obviously, you should have done the king and queen checkmate lesson before this one.