Hours 31-40 focus on strategy, with lots of good explanations.
I definitely recommend this title ahead of, for example, Chess Fundamentals. Teschner doesn’t hold your hand, but he guides the reader very efficiently. There is plenty of prose, and all the important variations are there — though the novice will need to stretch themselves a bit to make all of it stick.
No need to rush. Instead of 40 hours, don’t fret about taking 60 or 80. It wll be worth it.
I believe a motivated novice who seriously works through Learn Chess in 40 Hours two or three times could reach at least 1600 — maybe 1800 if they have a bit of talent and lack bad habits.
One side of the equation will likely have a bigger impact on your overall chess progress.
Many people are experiential. They learn best “by doing.” Such chess players are able to learn from their mistakes, and don’t repeat their errors so much. When coaching, I can recognize such players very quickly.
Other players, like me, are more thick-headed. We can make the same types of mistakes — maybe the same exact mistakes — more than once. Perhaps several times … before hopefully learning from them.
“Ok, everyone learns at a different pace, understood. But they do learn! So the improver should simply play a lot, then?”
Not so fast, parents and coaches…
Some players love competing, others only like winning … and plenty more are borderline nauseated by the whole tournament experience!
We need to be honest about this. It’s common to say “wins and losses don’t matter,” or similar things about “the process” of improving.
But results do matter. Not in the sense of “Ha ha, I beat you!,” but rather in dealing with losses.
Not everyone has the same competitive psychology. I advise you to not force your child or student to have the same psychology you have, or that you think they should have.
Some players are quiet, timid, or lack confidence. They can achieve success in chess, but not if you try to “toughen them up” from the get-go. That’s how you get a kid to quit.
As a parent or coach, your first responsibility is the well-being of the child. And please: don’t judge a player for “being too sensitive.” Kids can feel annoyance and condescension. Support them, genuinely care about them, and build them up gradually.
So how do you “build them up?”
A “Four-Letter Word” in Chess: PREPARATION!
Many players and fans groan when discussing chess study or home preparation. They almost seem to view it as some kind of low-key cheating.
“Just wing it and see what happens!”
“Let the best player win!”
Fans often accuse top players of “hiding behind their prep.”
I believe this is jealousy: lots of people want to increase their rating fast, but don’t want to put in the hard work for it. They would rather bash the player who gives all to “get good.”
The best way to build confidence in a player who lacks it? Great coaching and prep work!
If a nervous player knows they have been putting in a lot of work on openings and endgames, working properly on tactics, improving their grasp of strategy…they will feel a lot more optimistic about their chances in tournaments.
This work will lead to more victories, bigger trophies, a higher rating…
And then they’re on their way!
One last thing: over-preparing is not an issue in chess. Don’t use it as an excuse to be lazy. Just don’t leave your prep to the night before an event, to the point where it stops you from getting proper rest.
Lichess seems to be taking over, and deservedly so.
Nearly a year ago, I said that I still preferred to play on the paid Internet Chess Club (ICC)because of the consistent good level of professional competition. I knew that GMs, IMs, and other strong players used Lichess, but I wondered if the site was merely had some really strong players, and a bunch of weak opponents for players like me in the 2000-2200 range.
I was also concerned about opponents on free sites not always … shall we say … playing fairly.
Well, I have now regularly used Lichess for the past few months, and must admit to being converted. In fact, I rarely log into ICC any longer.
There are many features I have not felt a need to try yet, but I can recommend playing and solving puzzles on the site. I haven’t yet had the thought that my opponents are dishonest, and the puzzles are typically quite good.
I also recommend it as a platform for (virtual) classroom tournaments. In my opinion it is far superior to ChessKid.
Official tournaments: a new lease on life for ICC?
I’m ready to proclaim something I never thought I would: after all these years, I don’t think I will renew my Internet Chess Club membership when it next runs out, and I’ll stick to Lichess.
ChessKid is a wonderful concept, but needs a lot of improvement before it reaches the level of ICC, Lichess, or even its parent chess.com. Their issues for me are mainly about ease of use for children in getting a game, and flexibility for coaches in setting up and adjusting tournaments.
I hope its developers continues to work, because it has promise. The more good chess sites, the better for the long-term growth and health of chess.
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.
Empire Chessis the long-running magazine of the New York State Chess Association (NYSCA). It published my article How to Defeat Kids in Chess Tournaments on pages 4-5 of its Winter 2021 issue. An earlier version was published on this blog on November 25.
You can download the entire issue of Empire Chess magazine here. At the end of my article, you’ll find an ad where I offer a special promotion…
Pick Simple Chess by English Grandmaster Michael Stean. The original edition of the book was written in 1978, a few years before Stean retired from chess at the age of 29. Fred Wilson edited the book and translated it to algebraic notation for Dover Publications in 2003.
Why this book in particular? An argument could be made for the “best” book in many categories of chess: tactics, endgames, and especially openings. In each case there are a number of comparable titles, though we all have our favorites.
But I think there is no argument about the most useful strategy book for most players.
In particular, we’re going to discuss the same-color bishop endgame. The attacking side has one pawn, and the defender has none.
If the defender can sacrifice their bishop for the last pawn the game is drawn, so the attacker must proceed carefully.
What the Defender Wants in this Ending
The position is completely drawn if the defending king can reach a square in front of the pawn opposite the color of the bishops. The king stays put and the defender moves their bishop around forever … or until they can call over the Arbiter or TD and claim a draw. Here’s an example:
Things get much more complicated if the defending king is behind the advancing pawn. In that case, the bishop desperately tries to control a square the pawn needs to cross in order to prevent it from queening. The attacking king and bishop look to attack the defending bishop, forcing it to move and give up control of the pawn’s path.
This is why you nearly always want your king to blockade passed pawns in the endgame: he can control all of the squares around him, and it’s harder to push him away than a rook, bishop, or knight!
The Black bishop can stop the pawn on either the long b8-h2 or mini a7-b8 diagonal. If White can gain control of both diagonals, the Black cleric will be unable to stop the pawn.
Chase the Bishop!
More Room to Operate
Notice that Black lost because of the short a7-b8 diagonal. To draw, Centurini taught us that the defender usually needs both diagonals to be at least four squares in length. Then, there will always be at least one square on one of the diagonals that the attacker cannot control.
Here’s a famous example of successful defense:
Hopefully you now understand this classic bishop endgame if you previously struggled with it!
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!
Yesterday, the US Chess Federation announced a huge $3,000,000 donation from John D. Rockefeller V. These funds will be used to perpetually endow many USCF Invitational Events, old and new.
One of the best parts to this story? Mr. Rockefeller is a Senior Tournament Director and has directed over 100 tournaments! That tells me more than anything else that he loves chess. We are very fortunate.
Congratulations to the USCF, and chess in the United States!
And from one Senior TD to another: thank you, Mr. Rockefeller, for your generosity.
I recommend Positional Chess Handbook to players (and coaches!) of all levels. Players rated from zero to at least 2200 will benefit. The book will give beginners ideas about strategy; it has much to teach club players; and it is a good refresher for the 2000+ crowd.
Originally published in 1991, it is filled with instructive game fragments from famous and not-so-famous players and composers. You’ll find examples from Morphy and Steinitz, as well as from Fischer, Karpov, and Kasparov. In all, there are 495 diagrams over 208 pages (plus index). I’m sure author Israel Gelfer (FIDE Master and FIDE Senior Trainer) spent many years compiling the examples that helped his students the most.
So what does it cover?
Positional Chess Handbook: Contents
Most of the 21 chapters isolate a certain positional feature, making it easy to reinforce understanding of a particular concept without distraction. A few sections are more general, but very instructive nonetheless. Of course, tactics are everywhere in this book, too — strategy cannot exist without them, right?