Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Alyssa is getting stronger

Alyssa has improved by leaps and bounds recently. She is still a little inconsistent, but when she's focused the results are much better than before. This is a nice example of the counter-punching potential of the French Defense against an over-ambitious white side. Alyssa plays black and makes some fine defensive moves to parry the initial attack and then aggressively seizes the initiative while her opponent goes pawn-grabbing. I was so impressed with it that I awarded it with our household "Great Play!" prize for the week. This is a new concept which I am starting today. I made did a little editing to change a free online award certificate into a chess certificte. I think it came out pretty nicely.

Periodically, I will select one of their games for the Great Play award. The conditions are that it must be a recorded game (ICC 15 minutes or longer, or tournament game), and it should demonstrate relatively strong play at all stages of the game. By relatively strong, I mean of course relative to their current skill level. Finally, to receive the award (maybe a choice of Blockbuster movie, or proceeds towards a book, or two hours of weekday Wii/PS3 time or equivalent), the winner must present the game to the rest of the family by demonstrating the moves over the board and telling us what is going on. I don't know yet how this is going to go, but I think I want to foster a sense of pride for creating exemplary games. Chess

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

83rd ACTA Scholastic Chess Tournament

The kids recently played in another ACTA tournament. This one was unrated and was unique in that all 65 or so kids won trophies (winners choose first)! It was very successful in terms of entertainment value. Richie, who played up in the Primary section, ended up being undefeated which would have been a performance rating of around 1050, I guess, had it been rated. Alyssa played a great tournament and won 3.0/4.0. She was very proud to have earned to right to choose one of the larger trophies. Richie reached another milestone as he recorded his first tournament game by hand. Surprisingly the game score was completely accurate. When Alyssa started she made several errors, skipping moves or making other mistakes.

In other news, I noticed that our friend Julian Wang has made it onto the Top 100 list for age 7 and under! I'm not surprised at all, but it's still a cool thing to have achieved.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

What the ...!?

The title of this post refers to a phrase that Richie has become fond of using lately. When he's surprised by something he says "what the ...!?" I'm not sure where he picked this up from but it's always amusing to me when I hear it because he's learned it in this abbreviated form, rather than it's cruder extensions.

Anyhow, it happens to be the thought going through my mind recently in some of our chess sessions, especially since we've started playing blitz.

I suppose its a natural course of things for Richie to surpass me at chess, but I really wasn't expecting him to get close for at least a few years. A few months ago I was constantly throwing games, purposely missing better moves in favor of inferior moves that would lead him to a winning position. Once in awhile, I'd blunder badly and give up a queen or a piece but generally I didn't have much trouble equalizing. I could give him odds of a queen and still win most of the time. But gradually, the blunders were becoming more regular. They started feeling less like my mistakes, and more like situations forced on me by my diminutive opponent. The easy opening advantages became more rare. If I'm down a piece in the endgame, I am forced to concede defeat rather than embarass myself with a futile struggle. Of course I thought this was due to sloppiness on my part. Or maybe it's the fast time control, but today, for the first time, I made a real effort and still lost almost half my games with him! What the ...!? Losing to a 5 year old? You've got to be kidding.
I have to officially revise down my estimated rating. Apparently, I would struggle to win a Primary K-3 open tournament so that probably puts me safely below 1200.

It worries me that I might not have much more to teach him. I guess it will turn out that I might "know" more than him and be able to "explain" more than him, but he'll probably soon be able to "do" it better than me. For example, we recently played a quick game where we removed all except the K, pawns and two knights for him, and the K pawn and two bishops for me. I intended to demonstrate the power of two bishops by opening up the position, but my lesson plan had to be postponed after he non-chalantly forked a piece and a critical pawn then rolled through his pawns... Then I tried to punish him for using a "funny" opening (1. g3) and lost ignominiously after he punched through my overextended center and went up a piece after I miscalculated the exchanges. What the ...!?

So my first real (blitz) defeats have started occurring regularly at age 5 years and 3 months. How much longer do I have before my victories become rarities? I've spoken with other parents who have proudly mentioned that they cannot compete with their children, but I always assumed that this was just because they were complete novices themselves. I mean surely that wouldn't happen to me so soon. I've probably played thousands of games of chess in my lifetime. I'll be able to hold the line until he's 7, right? I don't know what Dee's been feeding the kid over the last 3 months but something fishy is going on here.

This post deserves some video evidence which I will try to provide in awhile.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Value of Blitz Chess

I think there are differing opinions out there about whether young players should play speed chess. The most famous of these may be from the movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer," when 7 year old Josh Waitzkin's coach requests that he no longer be allowed to play speed chess in the park because it is teaching him bad habits, stating that it would make his job (of training Josh) harder. In the movie, Josh's mother ends the debate with the simple conclusion, "then I guess your job is harder."

I have to say that I side with the mother in the film. I only recently started playing blitz chess with Richie and it has had an immediate positive impact on his general playing ability. The reason for this is really simple, in my opinion. At the initial stage of learning (say rating under 600), the most common problems have very little to do with a lack of strategic knowledge, tactical strength, or even ability to calculate variations, but fall into the category of what I refer to as "sight" errors. Players become distracted or confused during the game and simply disregard the opponents last move, leading to hanging pieces or mate in 1 type errors. The best and surest way to reduce this type of error is practice. And blitz chess gives players an opportunity to practice this much faster than in slower time controls. Because blitz is fun, I found that not only do we play faster but we play longer than when we play slow chess which multiplies the number of moves played by 3x to 6x per session.

I'm sure there will come a time when blitz might begin having a negative influence, but I guess that's a ways down the road. Incidentally, many of the historical players I admire (Capablanca, Fischer, Kasparov) were fiendishly strong blitz players and are famous for their ability in post-mortem analysis for the rapidity with which they demonstrate variations. I have a theory that "intelligence," as difficult as it is to define, has a lot to do with how fast a person's brain can cycle through "variations." I have observed that even in my academic experience as a mathematics student, that my peers who had this sort of high calculation rate (as opposed to accurate or deep analysis) were generally the most successful. Of course, this may be an artifact of the correlation between practice (which would increase the cycle rate at any particular endeavor) and success. But I would suggest that there is also an inherent or innate cycle rate that gives some people a better chance of being "intelligent" than others.
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