Tuesday, September 24, 2013

REDRESSING THE BALANCE

On Chess: A Singapore Column, we saw how Dr John Nunn introduced a Queen sacrifice to win against our IM Hsu Li Yang. Not to be outdone is this once-in-a-lifetime GM scalp by our own GM Wong Meng Kong to make things even.

Monday, September 23, 2013

SCHOOL TEACHERS AND EDUCATORS, WATCH THIS PLEASE



We see a resurgence in the use of chess in education all around the world..surely Singapore shouldn't be left behind??

LIFE AS A CHESS PROFESSIONAL?!

Recently there was a post by English GM Danny Gormally who laments about his woes as a chess professional. By that he hopes to be able to make a living doing what he loves, playing chess.

As he'd described in his post, found here , the cash returns from winning tournaments in England are dwindling in view of a weakened EU economy, not forgetting the deluge of Eastern European and former Soviet GMs who now reside in Europe thus heightening the competition. So the few avenues left open to the GMs who wish to eke out a living from chess are to consider teaching students or write books/produce instructional videos. Unfortunately he's not interested in these activities, hence he finds himself stuck in a rut as he put it.

There are 2 main points in his post, ie
a) He chose to be a GM, hoping to make his livelihood through playing chess and not willing to consider other chess-related forms of income, and
b) There is no way he could turn back the clock and do something else to make ends meet.

This is indeed excruciating for someone who'd already sunk his feet into the business and not being able to achieve his ambition, simply because the big bucks in tournament prizes is no longer attainable as compared to the past 20 years where sponsors are readily available. The pace of events in the chess world has quickened thanks to the introduction of computer chess engines, which has somewhat demystified the charm for the game. In fact, the chess audience pool has also shrunk with the advent of computer games created from social media that has converted many chess fans because they are more appealing (and less taxing on the brain to play). Naturally, chess events are no longer attractive to organise and of course with the decline in participating numbers, the sponsors too do not see it viable to come forward. Hence the vicious cycle of dwindling numbers and sponsors plague the chess world and does pose a major dilemma to would-be GMs and titled players whether they should pursue their dream.

As I have long given up any ghosts of trying to be top player, my main livelihood comes from teaching and I put my whole being into this in the hopes of developing young minds into their fullest potential - not on the chessboard but in imparting useful life skills as well. My students will not end up as geeks and misfits because I do not steer them into the path of no return, rather they should see chess as a means to discipline their thinking, sharpen their decision making, able to cope with adversity and other stresses in life. They will surely end up better human beings than just being able to manipulate the 32 figures on the board. Hence being able to expound the benefits of chess in my view far surpasses the notion of moulding the child into a top player. My satisfaction comes mainly when I hear of their successes either in the corporate world or in their field of expertise. My only wish for them is that they continue to play and support the game that has helped them in achieving what they are today.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

DATABANK OF GAMES - HOW DOES IT HELP?

As we have over 5 million recorded games of chess known to man, they present a huge reservoir of ideas and precedents of what has been played, correct or wrong. It would be useful to look at past games to derive ideas and innovate on what's played to try something new yet based on solid fundamental ideas played by the past players.

Somehow in the games I've played with the juniors, I can discern that they have played lots of games and hence their practical ability to spot tactical threats is strong. However, when it comes to making strategic decisions to steer the game in their favour, they seem to hit a blank. I attribute this to spending too much time studying variations but not full games. One of the main areas of study in my opinion for a competitive player is not just to learn the variations but also the games of how the variations may turn out. Playing over master games based on the variations will allow the player to have a preview of what's to come, what positions to envisage and particularly the endgame possibilities that may occur. So memorising full, useful key games in the variations played can be useful in allowing the player to develop new ideas based on older ones.

A case in point - my game against WIM Gong was indeed based on a famous 19 mover sacrificial attempt by Edward Lasker against Sir George Thomas which is usually found in every book on attacking chess. It was a masterpiece of how the King was dragged from its castled position all the way into White's first rank and mated there. With that in my mind, I am sure that even if the moves were not all duplicated, the attack that arose should be sound enough to venture a try. The same thing goes when we hazard a sacrificial try in our blitz games - it has to be based on some presidential game in the back of our minds, with the rough details of the continuations. Interestingly, I just saw a puzzle in another blog and readers asked to find the move by Black that wins. This was played by Dr John Nunn against a Singapore IM. Without giving too much away, all it takes is for the interested reader to look at the famous game Averbakh - Kotov, Zurich 1953 and they will figure the moves out. I am sure Dr Nunn must have had the Kotov game in mind before he ventured his idea.

So rather than spend time taking part in tournament after tournament, my advice to budding players is to read as many games played by the masters in their openings to develop their knowledge and feel for the positions they are about to play. This will give them ideas to work on in their games and confidence to play the moves they want.

Friday, September 20, 2013

GETTING BETTER

It's no secret really.

Ask any older player what it takes and invariably you boil down to 3 things:

USE YOUR TIME

CONCENTRATE

THINK CHECKS, CAPTURES & THREATS

Somehow I find the chief failings of our young players (based on my observations at the recent Serangoon Inter-team tournament) is that their level of concentration is generally lower to that of the older players. When a player concentrates, he starts to work out relationships between his pieces and his opponents. He will be aware of what can happen when one of his pieces leaves a square, which can be occupied by his opponent if there is insufficient control of it.

I am guilty of this in my first game whereby I lost a Queen, so really it can happen to anyone. No excuses! I could have paid dearly for it but I was lucky. That lesson woke me up real fast and for the remaining games I concentrated hard for every game and it was amazing how much the mind's eye can see once in that mode. I didn't waste any time working out my moves, although I must say my intuition was on form that weekend and allowed me to quickly pick the best moves on the board. Well, it did falter towards the end when tiredness crept in. Other than that, I generally played up to my expectations.

My opponents generally did not play their best moves, much a times I was surprises that they often did not follow the thread of the game and surprised me with their responses. It was as if I was doing my thing and they did theirs, only to be rudely shocked when loss of material or mate stared at their faces. Here I am convinced that many simply do not ask themselves what I was doing with my move, whereas I could not understand what they were doing in the light of my threats. So converting the wins was simple.

If there is anything to learn from our games, I think, its simply this: If you don't think your opponent opposite you is trying to win the game and pay no attention to his moves, then be ready to face defeat again and again until you wake up. This advice goes to my students, especially those who have lost badly. To get better, one must learn to question what went wrong and be up to facing the lessons to be learnt. Otherwise, playing tournament after tournament does nothing to help - only to perfect your "mistakes".

IMPORTANCE OF READING AND SELF-HELP

Since so many parents are reading right now, perhaps time to re-issue an old post?

http://www.chessfood4thought.blogspot.sg/2010/10/importance-of-reading.html

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

CROSSING SWORDS FIRST TIME

At the recent Serangoon Inter-Team competition where I partnered my students, I had the chance to cross swords with several of the juniors from the other teams. As I do not get the chance to play in tournaments often, there are few opportunities to meet them over the board. Here are some of my first impressions of their play  (I hope the parents reading about their children do not take it too personally).

My first encounter was round 2, playing White against Steffi Lim. She's played in many competitions, generally quite calm, but tends to give up easily when things do not work out her way. One of the most important qualities in a chess-player is to be resilient and always being resourceful out even when things do not work out. Only this way can one improve and succeed.


 

My next junior opponent is Carwyn Yeo, an aggressive young man who has got ambition on his eyes. He concentrates well and was eyeing me for breakfast that morning. I feel that I have to tread very carefully as he's generally sharp in tactics but not so alert positionally. So that's how I chose my approach to his opening which sadly I feel does not suit his style of play. The tactical player should go for the main lines of the Yugoslav rather than avoid theory with the Levenfish which is generally positional in nature and offers less opportunities for wins against Black.




I played Steffi as Black in the Knockout 1st round but this time she chose an insipid line against the Sicilian and got ground down to defending the f3 square, mainly because she transposed to a French-like structure which she did not quite understand how to play. Sorry for not annotating so vigorously but I do not have too much time to spend over these games and usually refer to the computer for their assessments. Hence my notes are mainly in words which reflect my thoughts at the time of play.

MY MOST SATISFYING LOSS YET

Spend the last weekend with my students at the Serangoon Inter-Team tournament and we called ourselves the JW's Musketeers, in the company of teams like 152, ChessKids New Generation to form a total of 19 teams. It was time to play chess for fun and enjoyment rather than worry about the result. So much fun I was having when I realised I blundered a Queen against a very scared Royce Ho (whose brother Josh had lessons from me 2 years ago). I managed to compose myself and grinned throughout the game, laughing at my carelessness and trying to calm my team-mates that everything was under control. Soon the boy lost on time in whirlwind complications and I told myself its going to be a fun-filled day!

Saturday's 4 rounds earned me a perfect score, so I was looking forward to extending that when I met WIM Gong Qian Yun from 152. This was her first chess outing I think after a long time, so with perfect peace of mind I started:

Though I lost this game, I was very happy to have had the pleasure of playing all the attacking moves, perhaps re-inspired by the reading of the Tal book that I had just bought. When reviewing the game with the engines, they in general agreed with my assessment and  the best moves found matched mine as well. That in itself is satisfaction, never mind the result.

AN OLD CLASSIC REVIVED!

Some time ago (about 5 years maybe?) I stumbled on the idea of converting my old copy of  " STUDY CHESS WITH TAL" which was a great classic written by the World Champion in collaboration with his then trainer Alexander Koblenz. I'm often curious as to who the guy in the old cover is. Koblenz wrote many great books on tactics and strategy in Russian but so far this has been translated to English:




It took me close to 10 years in hunting down the out-of-print book from an old bookseller in UK who offered it used at  US$15, where most second-hand booksellers were pricing it way above US$50. Naturally I treasured the book and thought many times if I should want to undertake the project to convert the notation from descriptive to algebraic. A painstaking job no less - finally I decided to start work on it last year during this time when my students are having exams and I had a little more spare time on my hands. But lo and behold! I found this!


Someone at Batsford must have read my mind and saw the potential of releasing it in algebraic! This is indeed a blessing for all attacking players who have not played over the comments made by the trainer. There were great insights given in how Tal would prepare for the sacrifice when he smelt one in the air, as well as the World Champion's understanding of the workings of his pieces once they roamed freely on the chessboard. The intuitive notion of choice of Tal's moves are indeed useful lessons for any chessplayer, noticeably when Koblenz often prepares your state of mind to think like Tal with very useful questions just before the sacrifice. This book has elevated my attacking play better in my opinion than Vukovic's Art of Attack which in my time was the definitive attacking manual. In fact, I have structured my chess lessons very much in his style of leading the player into the train of thought to understand the concept at hand. It is very much more effective to learn this way as the lesson becomes interactive rather than a lecture.

Naturally I recommend it but I think there are very few copies available in the Singapore bookstores..I got mine the very day I knew it was available. Let's see if you can too!


Friday, September 13, 2013

SUMMARY FROM THE COMMENTS

Judging from the comments I've read (published or otherwise) from real parents, impostering ones, trolls and all, here's what I gathered:

The SCF should indeed take a hard look at the way current large-scale junior competitions are run. We have seen recurring instances of ill discipline amongst the students, over-crowding at the pairings corner, mis-communication regarding rules of the competition in general. There are of course solutions to be found and I'm suggesting some of them right now.

A) TECHNICAL MEETING

In view of the changing personnel taking charge of the school teams, I feel it is best to address basic matters such as pairings, board order of players, protocol inside the tournament hall etc in a technical meeting with teachers and SCF officials. This of course cannot be done on the day itself. The technical meeting can be conducted at SCF premises perhaps a week before, on a Saturday so that teachers concerned can attend.

Issues such as discipline should be communicated to the teachers at the meeting, who shall be solely responsible for their wards' behaviour. Regarding punishment, I propose that should anyone be caught misbehaving in the tournament hall, his/her entire team shall be given a yellow card or 1 match suspension but the team can compete after serving the suspension. In a 6 round competition, a 1 match suspension technically rules the team out of any contention for the top places. Students can then learn the consequences of their actions and we will not have future instances of any SCF official seen as rude or imposing when all they are doing is their job of keeing order in the tournament hall. This should be reiterated at the start of the competition and thereafter carried out with no exceptions should any student insists on breaking the rules.

B) USE OF TECHNOLOGY

Pairings I feel should be uploaded once done, so that teachers and interested parents can then check them online with their smartphones and not rely on students milling round the pairings corner for it. There may be a difficulty in entering the round results of every team due to manpower shortage and time constraint at the time of the tournament, could they be added on after the tournament?

C) IMPROVING THE FORMAT

I've talked about this at my earlier post to increase the number of prizewinners in the competitions.

These are my views on the other issues raised:

CHESS COACHING

Parents are of course paying good money and have every cause to examine the training given to their children. I wish more parents can be forthcoming in expressing their woes so that this feedback can be channelled to the relevant parties without malice. When I tried to address the concerns of Raymond and Christina who wanted help, they did not communicate with me. Strange, unless..

IN CONCLUSION

I have withheld several postings which I deem as inappropriate, incendiary and mischievous. At the start of the post I've pleaded with readers to keep it clean. However this does not mean that I harbour any legitimate queries which may place the organisation or person concerned in a bad light. At the same time, I urge those giving comments in the guise of anonymity to exercise fair comment and not use my blog as a battleground to grind their axes because really, it wastes everyone's time and does not do anything constructive. Those who do care to get it off their chest and feel that they are right should identify themselves.

Once again, thanks (and no thanks to those who know who you are) for your comments and till the next comment request...