Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Blast from the Past


It was the year when ACS was dominating the InterSchool Team chess scene the last time in the 80's in the Under 18's. RI's Under 16 team won the National School's Team Championship U16 trophy, the U14s also did well. From 1982 till 1988, RI then swept the top honours in the National Junior and School Team Championships each year, with the exception in 1985 when CJC took the Under 18. Another photo from 1984:

What was the secret? The mentorship that Soh Kok Hong (on extreme left) and I (6th from right) provided, coming back to our Grange Road RI every Saturday afternoon in helping with the training of the boys during these years that made the difference. The bond between us and the boys gave them the necessary confidence to do their best and return with the titles.

One of my methods was to have the boys focus their games onto an empty chessboard and I would throw a book in the air that will hit the floor with a loud thud. The student that got distracted would be penalised, usually made to memorise a game. It was tough but we had fun.

One of my students I met on one of our Past vs Present matches told me that I punished him wrongfully because I commanded him to sit down and read 3 chapters of a book when he complained that he had backache. Years later, I learnt that he indeed had backache but he thanked me still - for I had taught him discipline.

Starting Over

I had a chat with a former student of mine, who's very passionate about chess. He lamented that he was not getting his results in spite of spending a lot of time playing chess, that his playing strength was stagnating.

Many years ago, it happened to me as well. I could not get past players 150 rating points above me. I could not figure out what seemed to be wrong. My routine of solving problems, reading as many books as I can get my hands on,playing in tournaments did not yield any breakthrough. I lost thread of the game especially in the late middlegame and endgame.

It took a lot of soul-searching to decide what was wrong. In the 80's I was mildly teased by stronger players, including IM Tan Lian Ann, that I was the best player in Singapore for the first 20 moves (mainly because of my opening knowledge). I realised that he was hinting that my chess fundamentals was not well laid and that I should review them first before anything else.

Following the advice, I stopped reading opening books. Rather, I started on chess endings. Averbakh's Chess Endings : Essential Knowledge was really hard, especially relearning the basic mates, but I stuck to it. Next, Kere's Practical Chess Endings. Then Capablanca's Best Chess Endings by Irving Chernev. It was then that I realised how pieces come to life, struggling over every square , line or diagonal, clearing them for pawns to queen. My playing strength took on a new dimension when the book Endgame Strategy by Shereshevsky was published. What a gem of a book..the themes of Do not rush, Schematic Thinking, Principle of 2 Weaknesses were firmly stuck in my arsenal.

Positional chess then took on a new meaning after reading Nimzowitsch's My System, then Suetin's 3 Steps to Chess Mastery. Max Euwe's MiddleGame Vols and Pachman's Complete Chess Strategy Vols 1 and 2 made good sense once the endgame goals are understood. Mednis's out-of-print From the Middlegame to the Endgame gave lots of good advice in simplifying positions for the advantage.

My advice to my student? Re-learn the basics, start with the endgame, then slowly plough through the positional classics and tackle the tactics. Worked for me.