Tag Archives: Scholastic Chess

An Important Bishop Endgame Concept

Bishop Endgame Theory

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!

A Worst Case Scenario

Anyway, a plausible scenario is the following:

This is a famous endgame study by Genovese composer Luigi Centurini (1820-1900) published in 1856. You’ll find it in every endgame encyclopedia, for example Basic Chess EndingsDvoretsky’s Endgame Manual, and Magnus Carlsen’s favorite Fundamental Chess Endings … but for years I didn’t quite understand it.

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!

How to Defeat Kids in Chess Tournaments

The Impact of Scholastic Chess

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.

Also, especially in Swiss tournaments, remember to go for a walk early in your rounds to see what potential opponents are playing. On a related note …

Put your thinking cap on

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:

Trusting my scouting report, I played 21…Nd5 confidently and … offered him a draw!

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!

What happened?

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!

Good luck!

John D. Rockefeller V Gift to USCF

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.

Positional Chess Handbook: Strategy for All Levels

495 Chess Lessons in Your Pocket

Positional Chess Handbook

Positional Chess Handbook by Israel Gelfer

Positional Chess Handbook can be considered a strategy cousin to 1001 Chess Sacrifices and Combinations, the iconic puzzle book by Fred Reinfeld. Both are pocket-sized and ideal for studying on-the-go — but PCH is definitely the superior book.

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?

              1. Instroduction; Strong and Weak Pieces
              2. A Good Bishop versus a Bad Knight
              3. A Good Knight versus a Bad Bishop
              4. Bishops—Same Colour
              5. Bishops—Opposite Colour
              6. Knights
              7. Rooks
              8. Two Bishops
              9. A Rook versus Two Minor Pieces
              10. Choosing an Endgame; Some Aspects of the Endgame
              11. Key Squares—Strong Points
              12. Strategic Advantages
              13. Exchanges
              14. Cramped Positions, Restricted Pieces
              15. Pawn Structures
              16. Pros and Cons
              17. Active King; Central Supremacy
              18. Inducing Weaknesses
              19. A Diagonal
              20. Two Diagonals,
              21. Positional Sacrifices

            Index of Players and Composers

Images from the Book

Positional Chess Handbook, page 103 Positional Chess Handbook, page 81 Positional Chess Handbook, page 49

 

 

 

 

Positional Chess Handbook is one of the books I reread portions of regularly to keep my positional skills sharp. The others are Simple Chess and Judgment and Planning in Chess. You don’t need much else. Best of all in these tough times, each of these books can be had for under $10!

Have you read PCH? What are your impressions? Comment below!

Chess Teacher vs. Chess Coach

Teaching Comes First

Teaching imparts knowledge and skills to the student that they are lacking.

Coaching helps the student use his/her knowledge and skills more effectively.

Over many years working with students in New York City, I primarily referred to myself as a chess teacher.

I have always believed that knowledge is power in chess … and most of my students needed to increase their knowledge in order to improve their results. It wasn’t only a matter of doing things better.

Knowledge must be shared in a way that is both memorable and useful. Don’t assume your student knows more than they actually do!

 

You Must Be a Teacher

classroom teacher

A good teacher must be well-prepared and engage their students.

Nowadays most players, no matter their age, don’t read chess books. They especially don’t study middlegame and endgame textbooks like I and generations of players before me did. The names Euwe, Fine, Nimzowitsch, Pachman, Romanovsky, Shereshevsky, etc. mean little, if anything, to them.

Solving tactics (recommended) and trying to learn openings through YouTube (not recommended) has somehow become a substitute for taking out a board and pieces, or at least using ChessBase.

Of the thousands of students I taught over the years, only a handful were interested in reading books, watching DVDs, or using ChessBase. If they won’t do this, we have to fill in the gaps during classes or lessons. Otherwise, the student will have gaps in their chess understanding everywhere.

This is where chess teachers earn their money! I have never *expected* my students to do intensive work between lessons unless they expressed an interest in reaching a certain rating level or aimed to win a particular tournament.

If you want your students to improve, quickly … find their weaknesses and eliminate them through thoughtful lesson planning. This is where being well-versed in classic games really comes in handy. I can turn any student weakness into a strength in 3-8 lessons.

 

A Shortcut to Coaching Success

World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik believed the surest path towards improvement is in learning from your own games and opening analyses. I can’t disagree with him.

I offered the next best thing: to analyze my students’ games for them (with extensive text comments — not computer analysis!) and send them PDFs of my work for them to study between lessons … at no extra cost.

Few of my NYC students ever took me up on this … but the ones who did so consistently saw massive improvement, and fast. This was the biggest secret to my coaching success! Well, that and diligent lesson preparation in general.

It took me hours to analyze and comment on my students’ games … but I didn’t mind. I was immersed in chess and derived great satisfaction from their quick progress.

 

Conclusion

If most players are spending the lion’s share of their time on tactics, how do you separate yourself? Sure, you can do the same things your peers do, a little better … but ultimately, you need to create a competitive advantage — to borrow a term from economics.

Coaching, at least good coaching, will help you become more efficient and beat yourself less often. Not having critical knowledge will leave you trying to reinvent the wheel every game … that’s where good teaching comes to the rescue.

The First Master Game I Studied

A Special Birthday

Today is the 65th birthday of the man who taught me how to play chess — my dad.

One Saturday night when I was eight years old, my dad was cleaning out the hallway closet of our family’s apartment. I noticed a folded chess board, similar to this one. I knew it was a chess set — I don’t remember where I was first learned what chess was — and asked my dad to teach me how to play.

That night and the next day, he did. I understood the basic rules plus castling and pawn promotion — later I realized that he didn’t quite understand en passant! We began to play.

Well … I am no Morphy or Capablanca! My attempts to win our early games went nowhere.

My parents, sister and I soon went to the now-defunct Coliseum Books near Columbus Circle. I was looking through the chess books and other things, and my dad saw this cool-looking book that had lots of colored arrows and diagrams! This was apparently not a common thing back then. The book was also written by a Grandmaster! It was …

Better Chess by David Norwood. It combined Advanced Chess and Chess Puzzles into one volume.

My parents bought me the book and I read it over and over and over.

I learned basic strategy and solved my first tactical puzzles.

I learned about a bit about four openings explored in the book: the Spanish Game, King’s Indian Defence (sic), Modern Benoni, and King’s Gambit.

And the cherry on top? Brief, fascinating bios of great players past and present: Paul Morphy, Wilhelm Steinitz, Jose Raul Capablanca, Mir Sultan Khan, Bobby Fischer, Garry Kasparov, and Judit Polgar. I loved this book so much!

In it, I also found my first master game played by the author which I tried to make some sense of with the help of the annotations.

Today, it’s time for me to annotate this memorable game.

I didn’t become serious about chess until a few years later, but the foundation was set. With my second chess book, I was on my way.

Thanks, Dad.

Chess Strategy Lessons

Strategy and Tactics: Yin and Yang?

Chess strategy and tactics are intertwined … but ask yourself this: which side of the equation receives most of the focus in lessons and classes?

Definitely tactics. And for a lot of coaches, it’s not even close. However …

What does it take for a student to gain proficiency in tactics? I only know one method: solving thousands of puzzles, and getting regular practice applying tactical ideas in games.

This experience cannot be gained solely through lessons. I assign tactics puzzles for homework (usually Chess School 1a) and rarely work on them during a private lesson. The exception is calculation practice, but that is different from developing tactical sight.

It’s perfectly fine to spend 10-15 minutes on tactics by checking tactics homework, and maybe doing a few warm-up puzzles — but that’s as far as it should go.

Puzzle solving alone is a terrible use of time for a 1-2 hour once-per-week lesson.

I also think it’s lazy! Beware, parents.

 

The Real Purpose of Chess Lessons

Chess strategy lessons

Chess lessons should mostly focus on strategy.

You can go to Amazon, buy a chess tactics book, and work independently. Diligent study will bring results, no question about it, and you won’t need a coach for improvement in this area.

But what if you want to improve your understanding of chess strategy?

If you go to Amazon and purchase a strategy book — even an excellent one authored by Euwe, Nimzowitsch, Dvoretsky or Marin, for example — there is a lot that you won’t “get” right away. Or at all.

Chess lessons or classes can really shorten the learning curve. That is what a teacher is paid for!

 

Example of a Chess Strategy Lesson

I recently taught an online class and showed the following position, which comes from the famous game Capablanca vs. Tartakower from the celebrated New York 1924 tournament, before White’s 23rd move:

I asked the students (roughly 800 to 1400 in strength) to give me ideas for the first player, and got what I expected: suggestions to attack or win tactically. Chiefly 23.d5 to open the center “for an attack,” and 23.c5, trying to skewer the Black queen and rook with a further 24.Bb5.

First, the d4-d5 advance will only lead to mass exchanges and the Black knight will be able to use the newly opened c5-square (probably with the maneuver …Na5-b3-c5).

Second, c4-c5 does not set up a skewer, as after 24.Bb5 Black can reply with 24…c6.

They were surprised to learn the World Champion played 23.h4!

The idea is to follow up with 24.h5, giving Black a very difficult choice: either allow 25.hxg6 which creates a permanent weakness on g6, or even worse to play 24…gxh5 when after 25.Rh1! White wins back the h5-pawn, is closer to getting a passed pawn on the kingside, and maybe wins the h7-pawn as well:

I could see the mental light bulbs going on through their Zoom cameras! Tactics and attacking play are not always the right tools for the job.

How well would most books explain these ideas, while anticipating your questions and being able to demonstrate exactly the variations you need to see in order to understand the position?

This is what lesson or class time is really for.

Scholastic Chess in 2020-2021

Scholastic chess education in the near-term

Scholastic chess programs might be on hold in 2020-2021.

My elementary school, though I’m not sure they offer chess instruction. Photo: ThisIsTheBronx.info

We have been blindsided by a pandemic that has changed our lives. Schools have a tough road ahead — positive outlook notwithstanding.

Parents are concerned about sending their children back to school; teachers are nervous about returning as well. Not that I blame them.

Let’s imagine what effect all of this will have on chess over the next year or two.

I expect a lot of schools to seriously cut down or eliminate their chess programs for awhile, as they are not “core” subjects.

The elevation of chess to mainstream respectability has transformed this industry, especially the rise of chess in charter schools. I fear COVID-19 will cost us years of progress.

Scholastic tournaments?

Huge, in-person Swiss tournaments with hundreds of children and parents will likely be on hold for a long time to come. I do think tournaments will return quicker than anticipated, however — albeit in a different form. To understand why, we have to look at “tournament economics.”

8-section, 200-player tournaments are more expensive to run than smaller events. Organizers have to spend more money in staffing and especially prizes (trophies and medals). They may also need to pay for more space, depending on the agreement they have with the host school.

More prizes than ever are awarded in scholastic tournaments. Naturally, this has raised entry fees significantly over the years. In the next year or two while the virus keeps things uncertain, organizers can put a hard cap on entries and control expenses for prizes and staff accordingly.

I also expect more smaller events to emerge, especially quads.

An organizer can take a max of, say, 32 entries (8 sections of 4 players each). For this they might only need one tournament director to assist them. A group of quads is much easier to manage than a big Swiss, so a good TD could be persuaded to work for less than their “Swiss” rate.

It’s like comparing a stroll in the park to an uphill run!

Anyway, the organizer can charge an entry fee of $30 or $40 per player, and pay half of the fees collected in cash prizes to first and second place in each quad.

Alternatively, the organizer could charge $30 per player and award trophies to all players. This would be more appealing to primary (K-3) students.

These are examples, but very easy to make a reality if an organizer has the necessary space.

Post COVID-19 realignment?

It will be interesting to see what the scholatic chess landscape will look like post-pandemic … especially in major markets like New York City.

I predict smaller programs and tournaments for a few years. I also expect less students to take chess lessons in the near future.

How many chess professionals will leave our industry under these conditions, and who in, say, 3-5 years time, will step in to fill the void?

Leave a comment and share your thoughts!

Re-Entries: Fair or Not Fair?

What are Re-Entries and How Do They Work?

A re-entry is what it sounds like: a player withdraws from a tournament and is allowed to enter it again for a second time. FIDE refers to this as the restart option.

A player who re-enters a tournament has to pay another entry fee; some tournaments offer re-entered players a discount for their return.

(See the glossary for definitions of more chess terms.)

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.