Thursday, December 16, 2010

Grade Nationals Report

Richie scored 6.0/7.0 in the 2010 Grade Nationals which put him in a tie for 2nd (4th on tie-breaks). He was pleased with his result since 4th was just high enough to get a four-poster (a trophy with four posts on the bottom). As expected, the deep field made for a very interesting tournament with many upsets wins and drama, but at the end of the day the event favorite, Joaquin Perkins, emerged as repeat champion. Congratulations Joaquin!

I've become a pretty decent judge of chess strength at the grade-school level, so I was not surprised at all that Richie's friend Corwin placed 2nd and came within a move of winning outright. I had been quite impressed with a couple of games I saw him play when he was just starting and even more impressed after watching him review a few games this tournament with his coaches--considering how long he has been playing, he has a very mature understanding of chess from what I can tell.

Although Richie's final placing was pretty much in-line with his pre-tournament seeding, I actually feel that he's made real strides in his play in the last few months. Perhaps I am succumbing to parental pride, but I really feel his play is more sophisticated than his rating suggests and expect that with a little more maturity he will soon pose a real challenge for players rated under 1500. Whereas many of the games at his level appear to be won by "tactical bullying," I found his wins from this tournament to be due mainly to excellent logic which ultimately is what is needed as he progresses to tougher and more careful opposition. Richie will still need to improve his defensive skills a little in order to more comfortably dispatch the sort of naive "aim everything at the King" desperado attacks that are commonplace at the scholastic level. He'll also need to tighten up his endgame and endgame transitions to convert more "won games" than he is currently, but overall I think the near-term future is bright for his progress.

+ Four-poster for the win.
+ Friends in the tournament make it more fun.
+ Mastered the art of lowering our expectations at Disney: the food ... didn't make us sick, the coffee was ... hot, the buses were ... free, and the lines ... ok, there's nothing good to say about lines.

+/- Supposedly this is the last year at the Coronado Springs. Hopefully the next place will be an uptick.
+/- Based on consumption patterns at Disneyworld, the New Normal is the same thing as the Old Normal.

- 40 degrees in Florida? So much for swimming...
- Sketchy Orlando cab driver purposely driving us to the wrong branch of a nearby restaurant to run up a tab.
- Sketchy Orlando cab driver driving our friends in circles to run up a tab.
- Why is every meal at Disney $20 a person for food court fare?
- Endgame blunders that turn losses to wins to draws to wins to losses...

Monday, November 29, 2010

How Do You Prepare Your Kids For Big Events?

I often find myself wondering what (if anything) other parents of children in these large national chess do before the large national events.

Before one of his first major events, I had Richie focus on tactics. This was the advice I had seen and heard over and over, and for good reason. Mostly I had Richie work through problem sets with specific tactical motifs. I found that he was very good when he knew what to look for, but in real-life game situations he could still miss simple tactics. The result: he did well, but got fancy in some games and sacrificed unsoundly...

As his tactical strength improved I shifted focus a bit and would (before major tournaments) attempt to prepare for him for the most common openings. Part of the reason I did this was that I ultimately wanted him to study middle game concepts and positional thinking but I needed him to get into similar positions as often as possible so that we could talk about common plans. I just wasn't strong enough to have these discussions if he played a wide variety of openings where I couldn't study beforehand the common ideas. The result: he did well, got some decent advantages out of the opening but then missed some tactical wins. On the other hand, he began playing very quickly in the opening as they became rote and didn't seem to realize he was out of his "book." Relying on "feel" to choose the right moves and coming to expect appropriate moves to jump out at him made him liable to play superficially at the early stages of a game.

Over the last summer, we worked a lot on positional chess. I tried reviewing grandmaster games with him that systematically touched on certain positional themes. The result: he'd win a pawn or get an outpost and then relax assuming his opponent would fold. Unfortunately his opponents somehow managed to comeback from positional bankruptcy with surprising regularity.

Then I thought, endgames. That's the ticket. I'll admit I don't like studying endgames. I find so much of it to being akin to learning how to spell esoteric words that you'll never use in everyday writing. So we studied some endgames. The result: I have no idea. Richie's only ever reached a handful of endgames that resembles something we studied.

Sometimes it makes me wonder if doing nothing is best.

But then I quickly come to my senses.

So for this year's Nationals I had him go through a carefully refined study program of endgame, tactics, strategy, and openings! Seriously, though, my goal has been consistency of practice rather than quantity. We decided to skip some of the local events. And to get acclimated to a slower pace of play, for the two weeks prior to the Nationals we avoided having Richie play anything faster than G/45.

This year we opted to fly out on the morning of the event so he will have a pretty rough first day. Usually parents are advised to fly out the night before to get a good night's sleep. One time we tried that, though and the wait from the time he woke up at 7am to the first game at 1:30 pm felt truly endless.

So we're trying something different this time around. We have a very early flight out (hopefully we don't miss it!), and I'm hoping that he sleeps on the plane and catches up on his rest then. Even if that backfires and he's too wired to sleep perhaps he'll have an afternoon siesta, which otherwise would be unusual for him.

His section has turned out so far to be very competitive with at least a dozen players at the 1100+ level with good chances to win it all. I think in 1st grade last year there were a couple of standout players at the 1500+ level, but only 5 over 1100. The depth of strength should make for an exciting tournament.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

2010 Grade National Chess Tournament, Orlando FL

The 2010 Grade Nationals will be held in Orlando, Florida this year. For those who don't know, there are two major Nationals each year, one held in the Winter and one held in the Spring. The Winter tournament has each grade competing in a separate sections, while the Spring nationals have certain grades combined (e.g. K-1).

The table below is mainly for my own convenience to make it easier to look up the top contenders in each section and how they have performed leading into the event (since there is a six week gap between cut-off of the December rating supplement and the actual tournament), but last year, the table got a couple thousand views so I guess I wasn't the only one using it.

This year Richie will be playing in the 1st grade section. Even accounting for late registrants, I think he should be comfortably in the top 10 rated players going into the event, but there are at least a couple higher rated players in his cohort that either haven't registered yet or aren't planning to participate.

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Monday, November 8, 2010

Rating Supplements

I was trying to work out how ratings are determined for tournaments and found out that there's an element of uncertainty that isn't obvious at first.

The basic problem is this: prior to any major tournament, sections and pre-event ratings must be determined based on some rating snapshot in time. Ratings themselves are based on rated games which should be rated in event order, but the results for rated games must be processed or submitted by tournament directors which can take anywhere from a few hours to several days or weeks depending on how they process and submit (electronically, or by mail).

The USCF approaches this problem by publishing monthly "rating supplements" which are official snapshots of every player's "concurrent" rating for events scheduled for that month. For example, the "December 2010" rating supplement is intended to be use for any events held in December. (Tournament directors have the ability, however, to choose to use earlier supplements if the desire).

For the December supplement to be ready for December, it obviously needs to be finalized before the month of December begins, so it is generally published shortly after the first Friday of November, aiming to capture all events completed in October.

The wrinkle is that some events played late in October may not actually be submitted in time to be reflected in the supplement. Players really can't be certain what goes into the supplement until it's actually published.

One point I am still confused about is how re-ratings are considered. It's my current understanding that each week, the USCF actually re-rates recent tournaments to properly take into account the chronological order of events and correct for the problem of receiving results out of chronological order. (Incidentally, the rating algorithm itself uses a two-pass system, meaning that a first pass is made to estimate each player's post event rating, and then a second pass is made to actually rate every player for that event). This process is impacted by any new incoming data for any player so I believe the re-ratings are done in batch and I assume they go back over some reasonable window and do a roll-forward re-rating of every player and every event.

In other words, eventually, your rating is always computed the "right" way, using the latest rated results for you and your opponent at the time the event was played, regardless of when those recent events results were submitted to the USCF.

But I believe the ratings supplements cannot be altered once they are published. I could be wrong about this, but historically official supplements were published in Chess Life Magazine so once they published that was it and I doubt that would have changed. So whatever is in the supplement is going to be used for that month's events, regardless of any more up to game data, even if those games were held before the date-cutoff for that supplement.

Anyway this probably doesn't have any major impact on the vast majority of players, but in some situations you may find that your rating used for an event isn't based on what you thought it would be.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

World Youth Championships

The World Youth Championships are currently running in Halkidiki, Greece. Simone has a nice blog post about the event with some links to the official site. I noticed that several US players are doing very well so it will be fun to see how the rest of the tournament goes.

I was pleased to see a few games in the U8 Open published. I thought Awonder Liang's (1807) win in round 1 over a top rated Vietnamese player, Anh Khoi Nguyen (1980) was a nice example of how sophisticated young chess players are at the highest levels. Awonder is just 7 years old, so I believe he actually has one more year to compete in the U8 should he choose to.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

10th Annual Chess-In-The-Parks

Richie played in the 10th Annual Chess-In-The-Parks event this weekend. This is an annual outdoors quick chess tournament. Before I go further I have to offer kudos to chess-director-extraordinaire Shaun Smith at Chess-in-the-Schools and his team for putting on a splendid event under challenging conditions. Several hundred players participated in five sections, I think. Richie played in the Intermediate section which boasted over 80 players (both youth and adults) rated from 1000 to around 1300. It's a credit to Shaun and his team that he is able to consistently deliver high quality chess tournaments (which are free to enter due to the generosity of the CIS foundation) that run smoothly and efficiently. This event was no exception. New York scholastic players are certainly lucky for the opportunity to play in his nearly 30 events per scholastic year.

This particular tournament was a G/10 format which is slightly unusual time control because at 10 minutes per side it's not pace that anyone really practices often. It seems that most players are used to either blitz or slow chess, but this in-between time control (which is even shorter than the popular 15-minute ICC time control) seems a little odd.

Nevertheless, I had a suspicion that Richie would be in his element at this speed since quite honestly I think he plays at nearly full strength in his G/15 games (that's not really a good thing), except he plays them a touch too fast, making G/10 practically ideal. It's a very natural playing rhythm for him (whereas I think at five minutes the quality suffers quite a bit).

One nice thing about a 10-20 minute game (total) is that you can actually watch it and try to figure out what moves you would make so it's an ideal "spectator" speed.

Have a look at this final round game to see what I mean. I haven't analyzed it in depth, but while watching it live, I was really challenged to find the "right" moves and plans throughout the game and impressed by both players. Though this final game wasn't for a big prize or even for a high placing, it was exciting nonetheless and features several swings in momentum, which ultimately went Richie's way. I thought Richie did a good job in this game and at the tournament in general in searching for "even better" moves and remaining defensively vigilant. I would characterize his play as "creatively aggressive" and that seemed to be enough to win against most of the players in the class and time-control. (Of course that can tend to backfire at a slower time control when opponents have more time to work out the tactical nuances of the position better).

It's been about two years since the last video I posted, so it's interesting to see how much has changed in the interim.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Richie on the Rise

Richie has been scoring well in his recent tournaments, bringing his rating up to around 1200. Interestingly it had fallen to around 1000, after incorporating some different openings into his play. We spent most of our effort over the summer in understanding middle game concepts better and actually did almost no tactics practice. The shift in focus seems to have taken awhile to adjust to but it seems that he's gradually assimilating the new knowledge.

Interestingly, when I ask if he thinks about the concepts we've studied during his games he says he's "not sure" which indicates that at this age (nearly 7) there is still not much of an "internal dialogue" going on in his mind about longer term plans or positional considerations. His move choices are largely based on direct calculation of lines or some kind of application of rules/guidelines that he's internalized to a subconscious level.

As a side benefit of our studies over the summer, I seem to have improved around 150 points or so on ICC at blitz. Since I went many years without any significant blitz improvement I can only speculate the recent studies were directly responsible for the improvement.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Local Chess Club in Norwalk, CT.

Players from the Fairfield County Chess Club meet at Barnes & Nobles in Norwalk on Wednesdays and Fridays. Richie and I have been going periodically for speed chess and bughouse. For younger (and weaker) players its a little more accessible than some of the other meet-ups in the area because there are usually 2-4 scholastic players present. It's a fun group so I hope it continues to meet through the school year since Richie really enjoys going.

I think his recent play at speed chess has improved a little. Last weekend he tied (with me!) for 1st in the FCCC speed chess open for U1600 ahead of a bunch of higher rated players. He even scalped a 1900(!) player so I think that's a personal best. Of course blitz and slow chess are totally different, but it was nice confidence boost for him nevertheless.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Tactics from the Bradley Open

Last weekend we played in the Bradley Open in Windsor Locks, CT. I played in the U1600 section and Richie played in the U1200 section. This tournament was a great opportunity to play long time controls (2 hours for 40 moves + 1 hour for the rest). But after Richie played too fast again in several games, I've basically given up trying to convince him to slow down. I think it's just something he needs to realize on his own after he loses more games to players he feels he could otherwise beat. Still, he managed to win 3.0/5.0 which wasn't too shabby. I only won 2.0 of my games. I had really been looking forward to playing some slow endgames to work on my calculation since I rarely get to think online during endgames (either the result is decided already or there's not enough time to play carefully). Ironically, I blew both close endgames that I managed to reach.

On the bright side, Richie really impressed me with his tactical alertness. Here are two interesting moments that featured themes we had recently practiced.

Position #1.
This first one is pretty elementary once you look around at the whole board. Richie is up material but his opponent has the simple threat of c2 followed by c1=Q. What's the most easiest way for Richie to wrap up the victory?

Highlight below to reveal answer:
Richie played Ba5! Black cannot defend against the double threat to win the pawn and mate on the backrow. Note that Bxf6 is worse because it opens an escape square after gxf.

Position #2
Richie's opponent dropped a pawn early in this game but turned things around by making use of the open lines/diagonals vacated by the lost pawn to launch a severe attack. Richie attempts to hold his position together with duct-tape and string but he senses his imminent demise. The position calls for a major swindle so Richie responds with the mysterious Bc8?!, inviting his opponent to increase the pressure with f6. After all if the position is a win now, it's definitely a win with the pawn on f6 right?

Highlight below to reveal the missed win, and Richie's devastating counter-attack. Had his opponent followed Richie's camp coach's advice to always analyze the forcing moves in the position, he could have found the winning attack or at the very least, discovered uncovered Richie's trap before it was too late:
His opponent misses the forcing line: Bxg7+, BxBg7, Rh3+, Nh2, RxNh2+, f6+, Bf5, Qg7#. Instead the attack on the f-pawn provoked the seemingly strong f6??. How can opening up the diagonal for the bishop bringing the pawn closer to the enemy king be a bad move? No doubt, his opponent counted on something like gxh??, Qg7# or gxf?? Qg7#, or maybe just Bxf6, where he thought Rxf6 would be good enough in view of gxf6? Qg7#.

Instead, after f6??, Richie surprised his opponent with Qxf3!!, after gxQf3 (forced) comes the cute Bh3#.

What impressed me the most about this was the "trapiness" of the move. Richie realizes he's lost but plans this tricky mate with his move Bc8. From the diagrammed position he had to visualize the removal of the pawn on f5, the distraction of the pawn on g2 via queen sac, and the two bishop's mating motif.

Of course we'd prefer to not get into losing positions in the first place, but having the resourcefulness to turn things around by inducing non-obvious blunders is a valuable skill to have as well.

Monday, July 19, 2010

NSCF Westchester Chess Camp

Last week Richie participated in the Westchester Chess Camp which is run by the National Scholastic Chess Foundation. The NSCF actually runs two summer camps, one which is targeted at stronger players (over 1200) and one which is for any level. Although we had gotten permission to put Richie into the advanced camp, after finding out that there probably weren't going to be many kids near his age and that there would be some significantly stronger players we thought it probably wouldn't be too fun for him. Instead we opted for the general camp after getting some assurances from Sunil (Weeramantry) that the instruction and play would be at an appropriate level for him. Most chess players are familiar with Sunil since he is Hikaru Nakamura's step-father and coach (as well as being a FIDE master).

The camp began at 10:00 am each day and went to 3:00 pm with a lunch break and free play period. At the beginning of the day campers were paired with each other (or an instructor) for a slow, tournament style game which was recorded. I believe that this game was reviewed afterwards. Later in the day there were two lecture periods which seemed mainly to consist of going over annotated games or solving tactics.

Richie enjoyed the camp, especially after a couple of days when he had gotten to know some of the other kids. Personally I was a little disappointed with the turnout(around 10-12 kids) since I think it would be nicer to have a more boisterous atmosphere, but Richie didn't seem to mind at all. And of course, the upside to those numbers are that the student to instructor ratio was a very healthy 5 or 6 which insures an appropriate level of supervision.

One thing to note is that Sunil himself doesn't give the lessons and generally is only present for part of the day. But the master level instructor he selected seemed to be quite good from what I could tell and there were always one or two other strong players helping out as well.

Overall I was quite pleased with this camp as well. Having now seen several camps with different pros and cons I would probably say that for anyone living near Scarsdale, this camp probably offers the best bang-for-the-buck and convenience for somewhat serious players compared to other summer offerings I've seen.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Castle Chess Camp, Atlanta GA

Richie attended the Castle Chess Camp in Atlanta, GA a couple weeks ago. This camp is probably one of the pre-eminent chess camps in the country, judging by the sheer number of titled instructors.

At this year's camp, GMs Var Akobian, John Fedorowicz, Greg Serper, Julio Becerra, IMs Anna Zatonskih, Daniel Ludwig, Carlos Perdoma, and FMs Kazim Gulamali, Mike Klein and Alex Dunne led the instruction. The approximately 120 campers were divided into ratings categories and each assigned a "home" instructor.

The schedule was intensive but most campers didn't seem to struggle much at all with the load. Each morning was kicked off with an unrated slow tournament styles game. During this game instructors would go from board to board, observing play and making notes on what to address with each young player during the reviews. Immediately after the game each playing pair would go off to have their game analyzed by one of the instructors. Following that there would be three lessons spread out over the day, broken up by meals and a free play period. The first lesson was given each day by the home instructor while the other lessons would have rotating instructors. At then end of the day there was an optional quick tournament or event which took a different form each day (blitz, bughouse, endgame blitz, simul). The week is capped off with a normal rated tournament which many of the campers stayed to participate in. Each camper receives a final review and given some advice on how to improve their game.

Before I go into my thoughts on the camp, I would have to say that one of the things I found most impressive had nothing to do with chess instruction per se, but with the organization of the camp. The team of organizers, led by camp director Jennifer Christianson, the well prepared instructors and volunteer counselors put together a truly praise-worthy camp experience. Any parent that is thinking of sending their child to Castle Chess can rest easy that their child will be in good hands for the week.

Considering Richie's young age, we decided to attend as observers. It seemed that most campers under the age of 9 or so were either local commuters or attending with a parent. I was able to observer first-hand most of the camp activities and came away appreciating some things that I might not otherwise had noticed.

I'll start with the obvious though: 6 to 9 hours of chess related activities every day for 7 straight days is bound have some positive impact on your chess, no matter what your skill level. For children, the impact is probably magnified, even. But the big open question is how does a camp experience, and specifically, how is does the Castle Chess Camp experience compare with other chess activities like playing tournaments or taking lessons with a coach, or even other less structured non-overnight camps? The answer is simple in a way: people (and kids especially), learn better when they're having fun. Fun and enthusiasm are sort of infectious in a way. I don't think it's possible for a kid with even a moderate degree of interest in chess to not get really excited about chess during a camp like this.

Oddly enough, the single biggest bonding experiences for the kids that I saw (since we didn't stay in the dorms) were meal times and bughouse sessions. These social activities proved to be great enablers for of the formation of friendships at the camp. The subject of bughouse probably deserves a separate post, but suffice it to say that I wouldn't take bughouse away from Richie even if it held him back years in development (which I don't think it does).

You never know what's going to trigger a child's fascination but I think for Richie, seeing IM Daniel Ludwig win a blindfolded speed chess game against one of his friends left an indelible impression of what strong players are capable of. Watching Kazim Gulamali, live up to his reputation as one of the strongest bughouse players in the world as he played at a lightning pace against all comers was also a unique display of human talent.

The sheer amount of chess energy at this camp is something I've never witnessed before (even national tournaments with thousands of players don't compare). Of course Richie had a blast, and already has asked to return. The impact on his chess isn't totally obvious but there's a notable uptick in his keenness to play. Just a few things he did which would almost have been out of character before camp: He couldn't wait to show off Anna Zatonskih's impossible mate in one puzzle to his sister. He specifically asked me to help him prepare for an opening he had trouble against which was also something novel. And after a couple of his tournament games he actually told me he thinks he can play better.

As part of his review I learned something about Richie's play that I had not noticed so much before. (He often overlooks piece mobility and he needs to work on breadth of calculation, not necessarily depth). Knowing what to focus on in the immediate future is in itself pretty valuable. At least until we have made some decisions on chess instruction, I'll have something to try and practice with him.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Fairfield County Chess Camp

I sat in on the first day of Fairfield County Chess Camp taught by NM Dan Lowinger. This camp is clearly just getting off the ground this year so some allowances need to be made, but overall I'm pleased with what I saw for reasons I'll briefly outline.

For balance, however, I'll start out with two minor criticisms. The venue (Just Dance Studios in Norwalk) leaves a lot to be desired compared to other locations I've seen chess classes held (typically schools or public community centers). It's a bit of a run-down building with a warehouse look and the room used for the lessons was an interior room with no natural light. It certainly made me appreciate places like the Norwalk Community College, and the Greenwich Civic Center where Richie has also attended clubs.

The second criticism is probably just a result of being new but there only five students had signed up (and on some days even fewer). I personally don't mind the small classes because it makes for more individualized experience but I think for the kids more is better.

Despite these criticisms, I am pleased with the camp. Based on what I saw, I think Dan is a talented instructor. He came well prepared with a planned curriculum and clear goals in mind for what he wanted the students to get out of each lesson and the week as a whole. On the day I was there he reviewed four games by Greco in the King's Gambit. Dan's approach is sort of standard game review approach where he uses a Socratic method where he uses an example game to pose questions about the position at hand. He's diligent about making sure all the students are participating, and basically polls the students for an answer and then reveals the winning tactic or strong move. Over the course of the four games it became clear that in the first lesson he was striving to convey a couple of key related themes that allowed the hero to win: each game was a clear example of early, purposeful development with tempo, immediate central control, and converting the position to a win through a tactical breakthrough. In some ways this is was really basic stuff that any 1000 rated player should have a firm grip on, but it never hurts to review the basics.

At one point in the lesson, he asked for each person to evaluate a position by giving a numerical rating from 0 to 10 with 10 being completely won for white. I found it interesting that to me the position looked completely won, but Richie only assigned a rating of 7. In the position in question white was just 2 or 3 moves from a decisive material advantage due to threats on both sides of the board, impending breakthrough to an uncastled king through the center, and no immediate counter threat from black. I'm pretty sure if he had said 'white to move and win' Richie would have found one of any number of winning continuations, but posed as an open ended question without any hint that white was on the brink of victory left the students unsure of themselves (answers ranged from 6 to 9).

In a way it's sort of surprising that he's sometimes able to play as well as I can when his "evaluation function" is so fuzzy. I've always been a little curious what he thinks during his games that he loses when he's been in a winning position. I'm not sure if he realizes the extent of his advantage.

Anyway, I really like the fact that there's an overarching theme to the lessons which hopefully provides a context that allows the students to really internalize the material being presented.

Of course, aside from my thoughts on the quality of instruction, Dan scores highly in my book for the simple reason that everyday I ask Richie if he had fun at chess camp and get a cheerful affirmative. I was even told by my wife that she saw Richie moving around pieces on a board by himself at home (apparently trying to figure something out after camp) which is actually something he rarely does, as surprising as that may be.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Summer Doldrums Intervention!

If the last couple of years can be taken as precedent, without active planning we'll be heading for another lazy summer with little chess activity. This year, however, I've got some strategies to keep the ember burning a little better than previous years. We're planning to try out several of the local and not so local chess camps. If they are anything like the Go camp we attended last year Richie will have lots of fun and learn a lot too.

I have found several chess camps and programs within the greater NYC area that are of interest + one camp that is well known nationally.

Darien HS Chess Summer Camps (Darien, CT)
Fairfield County Chess Club (Norwalk, CT)
National Scholastic Chess Foundation (Westchester, NY)
NYChessKids (New York, NY)
Chess-in-the-Schools (New York, NY)
Castle Chess Camp (Atlanta, GA)

These vary in terms of the average strength of the players and seriousness with the Atlanta Camp being on one extreme and the Darien HS at the other.

The first one to kick off in our area is the Fairfield County Chess Club which is starting out before school even ends. I like the idea of this one because it seems to incorporate some of the history of the game as part of the program which would be a nice change. Incidentally, FCCC is apparently opening a new dedicated chess facility in the area which, as far as I know, will be the only one of it's kind in the state of CT.

I am most excited this year about going to the Castle Chess Camp in Atlanta which we learned about during the last nationals. Richie saw some videos of the Grandmasters on the website and became very excited to go. We heard good things about the camp so we decided to try it out and see how an immersive chess experience goes over with Richie. (The nearby Red Wall Studios offers Art Camp at the same time which seems perfect for Alyssa).

After that we're not sure what our plans are but assuming Richie is up for it we may even try some of the other camps listed above. I'll also be on the lookout for interesting local tournaments--preferably those in locations that make for a fun trip and which will give Richie experience with longer time controls.

If all goes well Richie should have plenty of opportunity to play in fun environments. Unlike previous summers, I hope he will be able to maintain and even increase his playing level this summer even without dedicated coaching.

Speaking of dedicated coaching, sadly it has become apparent to me that even my best efforts are likely to slow his development down from this point relative to having a dedicated chess coach. We're still not sure if a professional coach is the way to go yet but it's clear that if he is going to aim to stay near the top of his age group he'll need more help than I can give him.

I am still on the fence about coaching, however, because I do find it somewhat perverse to for a six or seven year old kid to have a professional coach. But on the other hand it seems like that's what it takes barring exceptional self-motivation or talent. At this point, I still don't know where Richie stands in those two dimensions. I believe with work he'll become quite strong, but I have no idea if he'll want to put in the effort later on in life to bring himself to say the master level. But on the off chance that he does turn into a serious chess player for the duration of his scholastic years, I would probably regret it if I didn't give him the same opportunities as I see other kids getting.

Decisions, decisions. More later on this one.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Nationals Round-Up (Continued)

Richie finished the event strongly, picking up wins in all his remaining games to end up with 6.0/7.0 points and a tie for 3rd place (10th on tie-breaks). Overall his play was not bad but I think that if he had to face the top players (a fate he avoided by having the early loss) he may have struggled to win. Even as it was, his final round against none other than Alexander Medina (the kindergartener from the Grade Nationals who played a 2-hour final with Joaquin Perkins), was only won through a terrible oversight by his opponent in a won position. At every Nationals I hear so many stories of games that were given away in won positions that I wonder if parents realize that in virtually every game, each player gives up "wins" multiple times, and it's really just the player who makes the penultimate egregious error that emerges victorious. This is especially true at the lower scholastic levels which can to have more in common with roulette than grandmaster chess. In Richie's case this event was similar to the prior nationals: he was swindled in round 2, and he swindled in round 7 so I guess it balanced out. Even more interesting, from the standpoint of karmic neutrality at least, was that his 7th round swindle was almost the exact same situation with roles reversed--his opponent was up material but with queens on the board still and he maneuvered his queen to a position that seemed to offer a trade of queens or a mating attack, but in fact, simply forced Richie to execute his own mating attack first. Had his opponent thought for a just a few seconds about where Richie was going to move his queen if he didn't want to lose the game on the next move, he would have seen that his own King was perilously close to being mated and he could have avoided the upset easily.

At any rate, Alexander's play until that point was commendable. He played an uncommon opening which Richie handled poorly and built up a sizeable advantage. I can see why he's had good results at these large events and is certainly capable of being a dangerous opponent.

I witnessed another fascinating quick skittles game between Max Roberts and Richie. It's a joy to watch them play because their play always seems to create devilish complications with unexpected and creative solutions being found at nearly every turn.

Kindergartener Praveer Sharan from Oregon emerged victorious with the only perfect score for the event. This was all the more impressive when you consider that the field had at least 20 higher rated and older players include a handful with current ratings over 1200 and he defeated at least three experienced 1000+ players on route to victory. So congratulations to Praveer! Update: It turns out that Praveer's pre-event rating may have been as high as 1300 in the Northwest Scholastic system which put him in among the top seeds but of course doesn't diminish his accomplishment at all. I expect we'll see more of Praveer in upcoming events.

+ Atlanta venue was great. Even though we stayed in the overflow hotel (Marriott
Marquis) it was connected by covered walkways through the Peachtree Centermall.
+ Kudos to the organizers and volunteers. Job well done!
+ Comeback kid.
+ iPad. Perfect place for an iPad for many, many reasons.
+ Mary Mac's Tea Room.
+ My that's a really big aquarium.

- Swindle and re-Swindle? I hope he outgrows that soon.
- Lazy until it's too late. Richie didn't want to warm-up with tactics or review until after his first loss.
- Alyssa didn't do 2/3rds of her homework because she didn't have a ruler(??). C'mon...

=/= Hibaaaachiiii. We went to Benihana the first night and it was great. The kids loved the fried rice, so we were back again for an after-event celebration with our friends. But the 2nd chef overcooked my steak which lessened my enthusiasm for the place.
=/= Paying for the first bag on the airplane. But I guess that's just part of the new world order.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Nationals Update and The Importance of Tictacs

After four rounds (out of seven) Richie has a score of 3.0/4.0. His early loss in the tournament was a bit of Deja vu from his last appearance at nationals. He obtained an objectively winning position up the exchange with just a queen and rook versus queen and bishop for the endgame but blundered badly and lost his rook. I think strategically he had the right plan to trade off the queens and shutdown his opponents counterplay, but he overlooked a simple response by his opponent in an almost forced position. This kind of blunder is probably one of the most common reasons for losing and I think the main reason for it is the natural human bias towards egotism. In a winning position we become fixated on our own attacking prospects and a little over confident. It's easy to stop looking at our opponents tactical resources and blunder away the game.

Every player knows the importance of tactics in chess. Some would argue that tactics is the single most important thing to practice to improve at the early stages of development.

The title of this post wasn't a typo. I've seen many different tactical training programs and books and the all have one thing in common: the vast majority of puzzles are posed as attacking motifs where you are looking for the best move for your side. That is to say the board is arranged from the point of view of the person to play.

I've often wondered why Richie can sometimes find really difficult tactical solutions when he is the aggressor but will overlook even simple tactics for his opponent. I think the problem has to do with not being adept at putting himself in his opponents shoes.

I decided to conduct an experiment with the help of's excellent tactics app for the iPhone/iPad. In addition to having a great selection of problems (not just mate in N, but also winning material) with this software you can flip the board to view the problem as if you had just blundered (I.e. If this was a candidate move the tactical refutation would be a reason to discard the candidate). Plus it has a score keeping mechansim that punishes incorrect guesses and gauges tactical strength. Interestingly i found that both Richie and I consistently score about 100 points lower on average just by flipping the board around. And just experientially it really feels harder to find the tactics (or tictacs as we took to calling them) when the board is "upside down."

So for developing players I highly recommend flipping the board once in awhile to improve your awareness of tactical danger which hopefully will translate into better move selection and fewer blunders in real games.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

2010 Burt Lerner National Elementary K-6 Chess Championship Player List with Most Recent USCF Ratings

We finally got off the fence on the K-6 Nationals and (surprise, surprise) we decided to attend! That gave me the motivation I needed to make the small modifications necessary to be able to publish the current ratings data on Socrata.

The Grade Nationals were just 5 months ago (Why are there two nationals each year anyway? Is Don King involved in anyway with the USCF?) but in that time span many scholastic players will have improved significantly thanks to in-school programs, plenty of weekend chess tournaments and other practice. In the winter I thought that Richie was playing a little better than his published rating for the event. This time around it may be a bit of the opposite.

More recently his "form" has been a little off as other activities have attracted him (primarily video games and play-dates). So it seems we'll be "going fishing" for the month before Nationals. (10 Extra Chess Nerd Points if you know what the quote alludes to).

I was a little surprised to see when I registered him that he's seeded in 5th in K-1. I expect before the tournament starts that we'll see a handful of higher rated players register, but nevertheless it makes for a more interesting event if he's a dark horse contender.

We're looking forward to seeing some of our friends. Just in K-1 I see many of the strong local players we know (Hudson, Ethan, Manaav, Jonathan) as well as a couple familiar names from the grade nationals (Max, Diego, Daniel). And of course many others. Good luck to all!

2010 Burt Lerner National Elementary (K-6) Chess Championship

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Recent Chess Events

Auntie Kumi has pointed out that I have not been keeping the blog up-to-date so I thought I'd do a quick recap of recent events:

Recently Richie played in the NY City Championships which is held at the New Yorker Hotel annually. He placed 3rd overall in the K-1 section with 4.5/5.0 points and got a nice plaque for being top Kindergartener. There isn't too much to say about the event itself or the result which was about in-line with ratings based expectations.

He also placed well in the NY State Championships, scoring 4.0/5.0. His third round loss was to a player rated a few hundred points below him but after looking at the game score I would say that his opponent is likely on the way up so I don't think the game result was as much of an upset really. The event winner, Hudson Beaudoin, has been a frequent co-participant in recent major events we've attended and I was not surprised at all to see him come out on top.

For a change of pace, we took Richie to the Eastern Class Championships in Sturbridge, MA. This was a two or optionally three day event with very long time controls (90 minutes for 30 moves + 30 minutes after the time control, I think). Richie was very excited for the opportunity to play for a substantial cash prize (his section winner received around $900). He participated in the Class E section (under 1200), and most players were adults which was a bit of a challenge for him. In fact, his one win came against another scholastic player while most of the adults played carefully against him and capitalized on his lack of experience at long time controls. Having said that, he actually put up quite a strong resistance in several games, including one in which he probably missed a win in a difficult game where his opponent had 4 pawns vs. his bishop + 1 pawn. It was actually a fun mini-trip for the family though, so I think these adult class tournaments will become a more frequent part of our chess calendar. It's nice to be able to combine a chess trip with a visit to the the Old Sturbridge historical village, among other things.

The other notable event he played recently was the CT State Scholastic Championships. After last year's experience, we had almost decided not to attend this year's event but we had a change of heart since a few of his CT chess friends were going so we decided to go at the last minute.

Richie didn't have a great tournament, scoring 2.0/4.0 in the K-3 Open section where he was actually seeded #2. I may be partially to blame for the result, however, as I committed the cardinal sin of chess parent/coaching and didn't give Richie the chance for a good night's sleep. We had dinner at a friend's the night before and were goofing around on the computer until nearly midnight after we got home. A review of his games for the tournament adds confirmation to my completely unscientific estimate that getting fewer than 8 hours of sleep for a 6 year old is the equivalent of handicapping him/her by 100-200 ratings points.

On the bright side, we did run across the Suryawanshi brothers who have also been to some of the NY tournaments we've been playing in. Rohan, the younger brother, is another promising kindergartener from Connecticut. He played a scrappy game in round 1 and was able to overcome a 3 pawn deficit by capitalizing on a piece blunder by Richie and efficiently guiding the game to a winning endgame. It seems that there are now a handful of very promising K-1 players in the Fairfield county area. Of particular note from this tournament: From the K-3 Reserve section, event winner and 1st grader Tyrell Staples breezed over Richie in a skittles game afterwards--from what I can tell he already has the foundation for great chess results. Cogan Lawler, Sadie Edelman, and Terry McGrath are a few more young players from the area to highlight. If there was a K-1 regional team event, I think CT could be right up there with NY, TX and CA in this age group.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Game from Nationals

Originally this post was meant to be in the grand tradition in chess of cherry-picking the best games for annotation. But it's been so long since the tournament, that I feel obliged to combine it with the equally grand blogging tradition of apologizing for my lack of recent posting activity.

But without further ado, I give you Richie's penultimate game from the nationals. This particular game is an interesting example because I think it very much highlights how his chess has developed in the last six months or so.

The first aspect I would point out was that until move 6 both players were playing along what is widely considered to be the critical main line for the two knights defense.

The main move of interest in the game was 8...Bxf2! This was part of a basic combination that nets a pawn and prevents the opponent from castling but from a chess development standpoint it is interesting because it shows a reading depth of around five or six plies (half-moves) even in the early opening and it appears to have been part of a plan to simplify into a probably winning endgame which is something he would have been reluctant to do half a year ago.

In general I would say his moves are beginning to involve more positional considerations than before (although this game was ultimately decided by a simple fork tactic).

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