For a long time now, the chess world has tried to get more girls involved and keep them in the game long term. In my years as a chess teacher I’ve seen a similar story as many others: female chess participation is often quite good in elementary school, but later falls off a cliff.
When females don’t stay in chess, we lose more than half of our potential audience.
I admit to being selfish: I love teaching girls because I’ve found that, overall, they take coaching better than boys! Some of my very best students have been female — and I want more of them!
I wrote a post last year titled: Should Every Kid Get a Prize? In it, I argued that tournaments where every player receives a medal or trophy, regardless of results, have a right to exist. Anyone opposed to this idea simply doesn’t have to play such events.
Similarly, my stance on girls-only tournaments is that players or parents who don’t like these events don’t have to play and can stick to mixed events. But a lot of girls do enjoy them!
A New Event
The fifth edition of the New York State Girls Chess Championships were held the weekend of January 9-10, 2021. The tournament has been held since 2017 and drew well over 200 players in its debut year! It is an official New York State Championship event.
There are four Championships: Open (K-12), K-6 Championship, K-3 Championship, and K-1 Championship. The highest finisher from New York in the Open section becomes the state’s representative for the Ruth Haring National Girls Tournament of Champions. The tournament’s namesake, Ruth Haring (1955-2018), was a Woman International Master (WIM) and former USCF President.
In addition, there are four sections for less experienced players: K-12 Under 1200, K-9 Under 1000, K-6 Under 800, and K-3 Under 600.
K-1 Championship and the four “Under” sections were one day events: five rounds, Game/30 plus 5-second increment. The other three Championship sections were 6 round events held over both days (three games each day), with a time control of Game/60 plus a 10-second increment.
The NYS Girls is the brainchild of National Tournament Director (NTD), International Arbiter (IA), and International Organizer (IO) Sophia Rohde (Little House of Chess). This year’s event was also organized by Steve Immitt (Chess Center of New York); he too is an NTD, IA, and IO.
Nils Grotnes, Bob Messenger, Daniel Rohde and TDs Korey Kormick and Helen Xue also contributed much to the cause, as well as the folks at ICC (see below). I played a small part as well. It takes a village!
With the ongoing pandemic, the 2021 event was held online at the Internet Chess Club. Nearly a year ago, I discussed why I still support ICC. I was not disappointed: the NYS Girls ran smoothly with hardly any issues. Well done, everyone!
On another note: clearly, attendance in this event was not going to match the turnout of the last over-the-board NYS Girls … but a welcome sight was the entry of players from several other states.
The online format of this event made it possible for players from California, Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia to play! A total of 187 players competed across both days and eight sections.
You can find all of the team and individual results here. It almost goes without saying these days that results are only pending until the fair play review is completed in a few weeks.
At the end of the month, the Greater NY Online Scholastic Chess Championships will be held on ICC (January 30 and/or 31, depending on section). That event will also be organized by Little House of Chess and the Chess Center of New York, and sponsored by the Kasparov Chess Foundation.
Children usually have more time to devote to chess improvement.
Kids have been taking over chess for a long time now. This is great for the game in the long term, but what about the adults who have to face these youths in tournaments?
A kid or teenager is usually still improving; if an adult is getting better, it’s typically at a slower rate. I’ve never been convinced that this is because of “younger vs. older brains.” Older players simply have more life responsibilities which require focus and energy that cannot be spent on chess.
Given two players of the same rating facing off, I would bet on the younger player in the absence of other information.
All is not lost, however.
Understand Your Adversary
I have played in many quads over the years where all of my opponents were kids or teens rated similarly to me, that is, in the 2000-2100 range. Bearing in mind everyone has a different style, here are some things I learned:
Home prep can make a huge difference
Kids stick to their openings and either don’t suspect or don’t respect prepared variations.
Research! If you know what openings your rival plays, do some pre-tournament work and find wrinkles to set them challenges. You can really make hay if you regularly face the same set of opponents and can develop a game plan against them.
In one event, I noticed in the first two rounds that a player I was due to meet in the final round displayed impressive middlegame and endgame play, both tactical and strategic. His openings were quite refined as well. I asked myself: “Why is he under 2100 and not 2200+?”
I concluded the reason was likely psychological. Probably, he gets nervous and doesn’t handle pressure on par with other players of his rating class.
When we faced off, he got a definite advantage with the White pieces, though Black has some counterplay:
Mind you, the clock wasn’t an issue for either of us.
He started to think … and think … and think. He began turning red and looked ill.
Soon he did what I expected, and agreed to the draw. I could tell he knew he shouldn’t do it, but he didn’t have the stomach to play on. I understood his emotions, because I’ve been there!
Target their Weaknesses
I faced one Expert kid five times. I lost the first game, drew the second from a much better position, and then won the last three encounters!
In the first game I went for a slow, maneuvering Chigorin Ruy Lopez as Black, with the idea that young players are generally more comfortable with livelier positions. I was outplayed and lost the game, but I got to watch some of his other games in that event and others before we met again.
In our second game I went for a kingside attack, after observing that he didn’t handle direct attacks very well. I had great winning chances, but couldn’t crash through and drew.
After seeing more of my adversary’s games, I was able to prepare effectively for the final three battles and went for aggressive play. Our fourth game began with the sequence 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 e5 (I knew he played this line) and now 4.Nf3 Nbd7 5.g4!? which had been popularized by Alexei Shirov.
I won in 17 moves.
I’m not a great attacker, but judged that he was an even worse defender.
Don’t be a Hero
Conversely, another Expert I often faced became my angstgegner. This was in large part because I was stubborn and kept trying — and failing — to refute his opening. But at a certain point, I felt I was doomed against him no matter what I did, and it affected my play. The final tally: one win, one draw, and four losses.
The bottom line: learn as much as you can about your young opponents’ playing style, openings, and likes/dislikes. Prepare well, establish a blueprint for your games in advance when possible, and trust your skills!
The 2020 U.S. Class Championships: An OTB National Event!?
Kudos to International Arbiter/International Organizer Anand Dommalapati and Capital Area Chess for holding the 2020 U.S. Class Championships over-the-board from October 30 through November 1 in Dulles, Virginia. 130 players participated!
In case you didn’t know, the U.S. Class is a 5-round Swiss system tournament with seven sections, one for each USCF class: Master, Expert, Class A, Class B, Class C, Class D, and Class E. The top two sections are FIDE-rated.
It’s held over one weekend: one game is played Friday evening, and two games each on Saturday and Sunday. The time control is Game in 120 minutes with a 10-second delay. There’s also a 2-day option, where players contest two faster games on Saturday morning, and then merge with the 3-day players on Saturday evening.
A re-entered player cannot play someone they faced “in their first life, ” unless that opponent has also re-entered. Then, the “re-incarnated” entities can play!
Most tournaments do not allow re-entries, and scholastic tournaments almost never do, but it is something to be aware of.
Are Re-Entries Fair?
I think just about any tournament policy is fair if it is announced in advance in all publicity. It is the responsibility of the player to understand the rules of a competition, and to ask questions of the Organizer or Tournament Director if they are unsure about something.
The Organizer is responsible for ensuring good playing conditions; the Tournament Director is responsible for applying the regulations of the competition correctly and fairly.
Sometimes a re-entered player will win a prize, and this can upset some players. Anecdotally, the re-entry doesn’t change the player’s fortunes and they just increase the prize fund for players in good form.
I have written before that taking up the French Defense saved my chess career. Well, that was great for facing 1.e4, but I needed something against the closed openings. One day in 1999 my dad brought home a book that helped me solve this task for awhile. Thanks, Dad.
Play the Noteboom is the title of a 1996 book written by Mark van der Werf and Teun van der Vorm, and published by Cadogan Books (now Everyman Chess).
The Noteboom Variation is a cross between the Slav and Semi-Slav Defenses, characterized by the positon after, for example:
Black takes the c4-pawn and might hold onto it!
In the main line, black gives back the pawn and a very unusual situation arises:
Black has two outside, connected passed pawns! This single factor made the Noteboom really appealing to me in the late 1990s and early 2000s: as long as I didn’t get mated, I often wound up with winning or nearly winning endgames!
I had a ridiculous score with the Noteboom Variation when my opponents allowed it, including some nice upsets. The fun didn’t stop there, however.
The Marshall Gambit
White can avoid this situation by playing an Anti-Noteboom system. The most common and best choice is the Marshall Gambit:
This early central thrust is not possible in the Slav or Semi-Slav because Black has a knight on f6. The main line continues:
When White has definite compensation for the missing pawn: open lines for the queen and bishops, and a drafty Black king to target.
I believe the main move here is 8…Na6. But as a firm adherent of the “take and hold” school of chess, I used to play 8…Nd7, threatening to shut out white’s monster bishop with 9…c5.
Four of my tournament games reached this position. My opponents played 9.Bd6 or 9.Qd6. Then I held on for dear life after…
…and won all four games! Now, I probably had losing positions in three of them, but sometimes Caissa is on your side. My opponents included an A-player, the same Expert twice, and my first master scalp in tournament play.
Um, yeah. Don’t try this at home!
A newer book by a Noteboom Variation expert.
Now I view all of this very differently. In the main line Noteboom Variation White has a strong bishop pair and his central play could end up being … shall we say … problematic. 15 years later, I wouldn’t try a “rope-a-dope” strategy against the Marshall Gambit. Not a recipe for success…
Also, amateurs are more familiar with the opening now than in the late 1990s, notably with The Triangle System (2012)by Ruslan Scherbakov.
Desperate people do desperate things. I was a weak player without much confidence and relied on a material advantage to win long, drawn-out endgames. I didn’t think I could win any other way. That led me to playing these semi-bluff openings.
Funnily enough, nowadays I have a massive score against the Noteboom on ICC! A great thing about playing an opening is that you understand how to play against it, too!
To me, this implies he plays 1…e6 in response to at least 1.e4 and 1.d4, and possibly other first moves as well. If my assumption is correct, it means he plays the Classical Dutch (…f5, …Nf6, …d6, …e6) or Stonewall Dutch (…f5, …Nf6, …e6, …d5, …c6), but not the Leningrad Dutch (…f5, …Nf6, …g6, …Bg7, …d6).
What Does the French/Dutch Player Want?
Rich, counterattacking play!
The choice of the Dutch as d4-defense is revealing and makes me think this player favors lines like the Winawer, Classical, MacCutcheon, or Burn Variations in the French after 3.Nc3 — and not quiet passive lines such as the Rubinstein or Fort Knox.
In my years of playing the French, I never considered playing the Winawer or MacCutcheon in tournament play — it’s just not my style. The Classical and Fort Knox were my favorites. But how do you identify what to play?
I don’t believe that the Sicilian is necessarily the “best” opening, or that everyone should play it. I do believe, however, that any player who wants to answer 1.e4 with 1…c5 can find a system to their liking.
I’m talking about how to answer the Open Sicilian (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3):
As you probably know, there is a huge array of options. Traditionally, they are grouped by black’s reply from the diagram: does s/he play 2…Nc6, 2…d6, or 2…e6?
Instead I’ll consider popular variations based on my opinions about they rank on two scales:
Aggressive — Neutral — Solid
Tactical — Neutral — Positional.
Of course, white has a hand in which line is played also, so these won’t be 100% accurate, but I’ll characterize some popular lines.
If you want an excellent overview of the Sicilian mainlines and Anti-Sicilian setups, get Mastering the Sicilian Defense by the late Danny Kopec (1954-2016). It is probably the best book I have seen on the subject: good prose, good examples, and sensible recommendations.
Kopec always shined as an author when discussing structural play in the opening and middlegame.
Okay, here we go:
Aggressive and Tactical
High risk, high reward! Probably the most aggressive line in the entire Sicilian universe is the Dragon Variation (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6):
The “Dragon bishop” plans to breathe fire on the long a1-h8 diagonal. White’s most critical try, the Yugoslav Attack (6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 Nc6 8.Qd2 0-0):
When the first player will castle into an attack on the queenside, while starting one of their own on the kingside.
Despite this, I have never considered the Dragon super-tactical, because many of the sacrifices are standard and repeat themselves over and over again. Still, compared to other options, I will place it in this bucket.
This may surprise some people, but I consider the Najdorf a blend of Tactical and Positional. Black doesn’t necessarily aim to attack the king, and often uses a “whole board” strategy. It is not as aggressive as the Dragon in a “kill the king” sense, but a positionally aggressive opening where black willingly takes on some risk. I learned how to play this opening from the first edition of The Sharpest Sicilian, one of the finest opening books I have ever read.
Black seeks aggressive counterplay in this line, but the risks are more structural than anything else, with the potential outpost on d5. A knight ensconced here can be paralyzing. Still, neither side is too likely to get mated during a Sveshnikov battle, and the tactical play is relatively tame.
This is a dynamic, combative system with a large array of possible setups for both sides. Not only do both players need to be well-prepared and alert, some of the tactical motifs are strange. There are more solid lines a player can choose than the Taimanov, but more aggressive ones as well.
When I play 1.e4, it is my least favorite Sicilian to face because of its chameleon-like qualities. I should probably take a look at Emms’ book!
I’ve given a traditional move order, but this exact position is now infrequent because of the strong Keres Attack (6.g4). Nowadays the Scheveningen is more often reached through the Najdorf: 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be2 e6.
These positions are among the most balanced in the Sicilian, with something for everyone.
For more than a crash course on the Scheveningen, get Dynamics of Chess Strategy (2003) by Czech Grandmaster Vlastimil Jansa. His most notable pupil is David Navara.
Jansa’s comments on the Scheveningen, Ruy Lopez, and other lines will help you understand these rich, maneuvering openings. Garry Kasparov, devoted Scheveningen player during his career, might also agree with Jansa’s recommendation against the Pirc as a “turkey shoot!”
This is one of the most underrated strategy books in many, many years. Get it if you can find it.
Neutral and Positional
Kan Variation (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 a6):
This branch of the Sicilian is much tamer than, for example, the Sveshnikov or Taimanov. There are more solid or positional alternatives, however. Black’s play is restrained, but not plodding. White has very different ways of answering this opening, from the space-eating Maroczy Bind (5.c4) to the solid 5.Nc3 to the more aggressive 5.Bd3 followed by Qg4.
Honestly, this is a Sicilian I don’t like for either side! Of course, your mileage may vary.
I’ll say it plainly: I don’t think the Accelerated Dragon is very good if white plays the Maroczy Bind (5.c4!) and doesn’t allow black to make a bunch of exchanges. I’ve never understood why this line is so popular in books/DVDs and with chess coaches. Can someone please explain it to me? Everytime I face it I feel like I’m shooting fish in a barrel.
Black has some tricks in non-Maroczy lines, but if white is prepared this defense will be a most welcome sight.
The polar opposite of the Dragon? I think so. Black hangs back and develops solidly, reacting to white’s ideas. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, if you’re the kind of player who likes to bait the opponent into overextending themselves.
The Classical has some distinct advantages. Like the Dragon, there is only one really challenging line against it, the Richter-Rauzer (6.Bg5). Unlike the Najdorf or Taimanov, in the Classical you pretty much know what’s coming if your opponent doesn’t play an Anti-Sicilian.
An aggressive player might opt for the Sozin Attack (6.Bc4) and a very aggressive opponent will head for the VelimirovicAttack (6.Bc4 e6 7.Be3 Be7 8.Qe2), but the prepared Classical player has nothing to fear in these lines.
Another benefit of the Classical is its flexible move order: black can play 2…d6 and 5…Nc6, or 2…Nc6 and 5…d6. That’s helpful when trying to get your preferred setup against Anti-Sicilians.
I hope this overview helps players considering playing the Sicilian for the first time or, maybe, a player considering a system change! Which Sicilian is best for you?
I’m not talking about an early tournament withdrawal because of another commitment, or because you’re feeling legitimately ill. I’m also not talking about scheduling a last-round bye in advance. Let’s exclude withdrawing in order to return as a re-entry, too.
I’m talking about those cases where you could continue, but don’t want to — usually, because you’re having a bad performance and want to “stop the bleeding.”
Don’t worry, I won’t judge you. I’ve made this kind of quick escape more often than I can count. Plenty of my tournaments at the Marshall Chess Club have ended with this sequence:
I have a hopelessly lost position…
Repeatedly shake my head, make faces to no one in particular, and finally stop my clock…
I quickly shake my opponent’s hand and reset the pieces before others see the carnage…
Run to the pairing sheet…
Mark the win for my opponent…
Write OUT next to my name and circle it…
Race out the door without saying a word to anyone.
This way no one has to see me explode or make an @$$ of myself. I do that in private…
Hypocrisy? Fake Encouragement?
Yes, I realize this “procedure” goes against my recommendation to do a post-mortem analysis with your opponent…but do as I say, not as I do, OK? Anyway, I said that step is optional!
I don’t condemn the “bruised ego tournament withdrawal” because I know it’s not easy to play your best with a sub-optimal state of mind. In fact, I don’t try to cajole my students into carrying on if they really don’t want to. That could do more harm than good.
There’s always another tournament. We can recharge and come back stronger next time.
Some parents and coaches won’t agree with my stance and will counter with platitudes like “never give up,” or “quitters never win.” My dad once threatened to never register me for a tournament again in my early years when I suggested withdrawing after a poor performance. I had to play, but didn’t learn some deep life lesson — I was just annoyed and lost badly.
Anger and disappointment can be powerful motivators. The same cannot be said of despair.
Experienced players can skip this post, but it might be helpful to newer players and to parents.
I would also encourage Organizers to keep in mind the following advice given to me by the late Mike Anders at the 2008 National High School Championship:
How do you split $100 three ways? Give each player $35 and thank them for coming!Associate National TD Mike Anders (1955-2013)
Important: US tournaments almost never apply tiebreaks for cash prizes, unlike with trophies! Every player’s points count the same.
Well, what are the prizes, anyway?
Fully-guaranteed prizes are as advertized: they do not increase or decrease.
One possibility is to guarantee some of the prizes, say 1st and 2nd place, and calculate the rest based on entries, as we’ll see next.
The organizer could also guarantee a certain percentage of the prize fund, say, 70%. In that case he or she would be on the hook for at least 70% of each prize, assuming there is at least one player eligible to win it.
The event is unlikely to get exactly 32 entries, so the prizes will probably be higher or lower than advertised.
20 entries? Prize fund is $480 x (20 ÷ 32) = $300.
42 entries? Prize fund is $480 x (42 ÷ 32) = $630.
Each prize in the total prize fund is calculated the same way.
Now that we are sure what the actual prizes are, there are two magic words to prize calculation:
Add and Split
Let’s take the basic example of three prizes:
1st Place: $100
2nd Place: $50
3rd Place: $25
There is no issue if the top three places have different scores (for example, 4-0, 3½-½, and 3-1 in a four-round tournament). This seems to happen rarely, however!
Player A and Player B both score 3½-½. Player C scores 3-1.
Players A and B do not both receive $100, and Player C $50! A player once got upset with me at the World Open when I explained that all players tying for 4th place do not get a full 4th place prize!
Players A and B share 1st and 2nd place equally: $100 + $50 = $150. $150 ÷ 2 = $75 each.
Player C receives $25.
Player A scores 4-0. Players B, C, and D each score 3-1.
This time Player A receives $100. Players B, C, and D share the next three prizes, if they exist. There are only two prizes, so those two prizes are split three ways:
Players B, C, and D share 2nd and 3rd place equally: $50 + $25 = $75. $75 ÷ 3 = $25 each.
Class Prizes and Under Prizes
Open tournaments often feature additional prizes beyond “place” prizes. This is to give lower-rated players a chance to win something for their efforts as well.
Compare the following prizes:
Class A: $35
Under 2000: $35
The first two prizes are synonymous, because Class A is defined as 1800-1999. A tournament ad could use either wording.
The third prize is not the same as the first two! It’s available to any rated player Under 2000, so a 1680 who has a good event can win this prize for himself or herself. If the Organizer wants to make unrated players eligible for this prize, it should read like this:
Under 2000/Unr: $35
Note: One cash prize per player. A player can only win the highest prize available to them, not multiple cash prizes. So if they go 4-0 they get 1st Place (using $100 as before), and someone else gets the Class or Under Prize.
It is possible to win a cash prize plus other prizes such as a trophy, plaque, qualification, or free tournament entries.
One Last Example
1st Place: $150
2nd Place: $100
3rd Place: $50
Under 1800: $50
Under 1600: $40
Amy (2231): 4½
Bob (2174): 3½
Charlie (2071): 3
Diana (1993): 3
Edward (1770): 3
Frank (1692): 2½
Gabby (1575): 2½
How are the prizes calculated?
Amy gets 1st Place ($150), and Bob gets 2nd Place ($100).
Charlie and Diana are only eligible for 3rd Place, but Edward is eligible for 3rd Place and Under 1800. We figure out which prize is larger for Edward: either 3rd Place + Under 1800 divided by three players, or Under 1800 alone. Clearly, it’s the latter. Therefore:
Charlie and Diana share 3rd Place ($50) and receive $25 each.
Edward gets Under 1800 ($50).
Gabby gets Under 1600 ($40).
This is by no means an exhaustive treatment, but I hope it demystifies prize-giving for those new to tournament play! Good luck!
If you’re new to chess, you may not know that a player can offer a draw for any reason, almost whenever they wish. Fans of other sports and games argue that this should not be allowed, but there are a lot of positions in chess that are impossible to win. Many more can’t be won without a lot of help from your opponent.
Players can sensibly agree to a draw when it is clear no other result is on the cards.
Of course, if you’ve been a fan of chess for any length of time you know that draws can often puzzle observers…even anger them!
Players sometimes agree to draws because they are afraid to lose, or because they want to secure a prize or other achievement (such as qualification to another tournament, or a norm).
While pre-arranged draws are illegal (players agreeing to a draw before even starting a game; both players can be forfeited, each receiving zero points), two players often have an incentive to not risk losing.
A common example is two players leading a four-round tournament with a 3-0 score who are paired in the last round. By making a draw they each get to 3½ and will share 1st and 2nd place, unless a player with 2½ also wins to catch them.
Losing would give them a much lower place, whether in a cash or trophy event.
Another example is a last-round game where one player wants a draw to secure a prize, and the other needs a half point for a norm.
Most players have to pay their own way.
I am never against these kinds of draws in open tournaments as a player must pay their own expenses. Fans shrieking in horror won’t compensate the “brave” player who goes for glory but loses and gets almost nothing.
An invitational event where players receive conditions (money and other compensation just for showing up) is another matter — players in these events have more of a responsibility to the organizer and to fans.
To short-circuit early draws, some tournaments employ Sofia rules which prevent draw offers before move 30 (excluding move repetitions). These “anti-draw rules” are so named because they were popularized by the M-Tel Masterssuper tournaments held in Bulgaria’s capital city Sofia from 2005-2009.
Unlike draw claims, a draw offer involves you and your opponent, and not the arbiter. Here’s how you do it.
You can only offer a draw when it is your turn!
Decide on your move.
Play your move on the board.
Write down the move on your scoresheet, followed by =.
Offer your opponent the draw. “I offer a draw” is fine.
Press the clock, stopping your time and starting your opponent’s.
Now your opponent considers the offer. They may:
Agree to the draw.
Decline the draw verbally.
Decline the draw by touching a piece.
The opponent can also do nothing, but eventually they must take one of the actions above (or run out of time). Once you have offered the draw, leave them alone to think. Don’t ask them if they heard you!
Note that with a draw claim you never start your opponent’s clock (and sometimes don’t even play your move on the board). WIth a draw offer, you always start their clock after offering the draw.
One More Thing
If your opponent has declined your draw offer, don’t offer another one unless the position has changed significantly. There’s no formula for this, but:
If your position deteriorates, your opponent definitely will not accept a draw!
If your position improves, there is no reason to offer another draw!
My rule of thumb is: never make two draw offers in a game unless your opponent has made one in-between (that you declined).
Draws are part of the game, no matter if some fans like it or not. I hope this post has shown you how to properly offer a draw to your opponent…whatever your reasons!