Saturday, November 5, 2011

Recent Updates

We've settled in to life in Hong Kong. Of course the first priorities when we got here were finding a permanent place to live, getting into school and adjusting to life in a new town. I didn't really expect to find much of a chess scene here. Certainly compared to New York, you can't really call it a scene at all, but there are actually a number of instructional programs for children and a couple of organizations than run small tournaments.

I will post later about what we found. In short, the quality of instruction is sort of spotty so it takes some effort to find something that works depending on your child's level. There are only 6-8 scholastic tournaments each year but there are a few kids/parents that seem quite into it nevertheless.

Richie went to just one tournament and finished 3rd in his age group (9 yrs and under). He actually had first place in hand when his final round opponent offered a draw, but Richie declined and pushed for a win as he didn't know he only needed half a point for clear first. One thing that's different about the tournament compared to the ones in the states is that all age groups (up to high school) were in the same player pool, but results were then determined by age group. That put Richie at a bit of a disadvantage as he had to play much harder players in the end as he was winning his games early. Anyway it was a good tournament that spanned two days with 8 G/60s.

Richie is entered for another tournament in two weeks and has participated in a couple of warm-up sessions conducted by one of the organizers.

One interesting thing for Richie this year is that he will actually have some teammates. His school turns out to have had a pretty decent chess team in the past (completely by chance). There's a weekly chess club which he joined, of course, but it's completely non-instructional. They just meet to play and then the strongest players are selected to play boards 1-4 in the team competition which happens I think a few times a year.

Otherwise, Richie has not been practicing at all and only plays for fun with his classmates once a week.

I did get a chance go gauge his play during a recent visit to Australia where he played a game of blitz in the park. It was a pretty fun game. I feel a little guilty for unleashing him on unsuspecting old guys... Ah who am I kidding, I love doing that!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Moving to Hong Kong

I've been very busy with a lot of change recently and haven't kept up with blogging at all. Long story short, we are relocating to Hong Kong! We did try to keep up with chess to the end, we attended what may be our last nationals in Dallas in May and in the lead up to it Richie had an opportunity to work with Ian Harris, a coach at the Chess Club of Fairfield County.

I don't really know how much chess we will play in HK. I was recently there for a business trip and investigated the local scene a bit. Chess is no where near as well organized as it is in NY and the number of players is quite small. I think it will be difficult to find local coaching of high calibre. If Richie wishes to continue playing he will probably need internet coaching. But I think the lack of local tournaments and players may negatively impact his enthusiasm.

I was expecting to find a much better Go scene than in the US, but surpisingly, I found very few established go clubs in the city. Chinese chess seems to be the only game that I saw played casually in parks and such. It's a shame because in Mainland China there are plenty of strong players.

Well I haven't done all that much investigation so maybe I'll find more when we get there.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Odd skill transference

I often wonder how the brain and behavior is affected by frequent chess play at an early age. In Richie's case, I would say most of the impact has been behavioral. His school teachers, for instance, often tell me that he is very methodical/careful in his work and demonstrates a lot of patience for his age. That shouldn't really come as any surprise when you consider what it takes to play a competitive 3 hour chess game.

Yesterday, while cleaning house, I dug up some flash cards I made for Alyssa and Richie to help them understand numbers as quantities. They consist of approximately 50 cards with 1 to 50 red dot stickers arranged in random patterns. When they were around 3 years old, I would teach them the numbers by asking them to count the number of dots and as they got a little older I taught them to group into sets of 5.

Well it had been several years since I had seen these cards so I decided to trot them out and asked Richie and Alyssa to identify the quantities using the grouping tactic.

Strangely, Alyssa is still quite facile at grouping by fives and could quite easily and quickly identify any number up to 20 or so within a second or two.

But what I found quite fascinating was that Richie would stare at the card for two or three seconds and then close his eyes (!) and count with his eyes closed. I couldn't imagine why he'd do that so I asked him what he was doing and he said he was memorizing the image and counting the dots one by one... I was skeptical so I tested him several times and even removed the card from sight to make sure he wasn't peeking, but he was really doing it that way. His accuracy dropped above 18 or so, but my interest was piqued nonetheless. I can only speculate that hours of visualization at the board has trained this particular visualization skill. I asked him whether he was actually seeing the image or if he was was remembering them in groups or something and he claimed that he was just seeing it as if his eyes were open. That is interesting in that it contrasts with how strong chess players are able to play blindfolded. Typically they are relying on relationships of the pieces on the board rather than holding a photographic image in their minds.

Monday, March 14, 2011

US Amateur East and Upcoming Nationals

The Spring Nationals will be held in Dallas, TX. This is a convenient location for us, in a way, since we have opportunity to combine the trip with a visit to family there. I have been quite remiss in my recent blog postings owing to many factors. In fact, as happens with almost everyone involved in the game at one point or another, chess has been put on the back-burner recently as the kids have been more involved in music and language lessons and I have been busy with other things.

Richie's practice has schedule has suffered recently. He has scarcely been playing or studying the last few months. Just yesterday I asked him to try out a few games online and he was summarily dispatched in several games in a row. It was a little like listening to an out of tune instrument. Hopefully he'll get back in tune before the Nationals, otherwise he may be disappointed with his placing.

We did manage to sneak in a trip to Parsippany, NJ for the US Amateur East tournament. I had heard over the years that this was one of the most fun events for chess players of all ages and I was really looking forward to it. We formed a team with our friends Daniel Levkov and his father Dmitry. Dmitry played board 1, I played board 2, Richie played board 3, and Daniel played board 4. Richie had a lot of stiff competition on board 3 and mostly played "up" in his games. But even accounting for that, I couldn't help but feel that the mistakes he was making were not typical of his strength, and was left with the impression that a lack of recent practice has dulled his game somewhat. He even lost to a mate in 1 in a winning position, which has much more to do with carelessness and lack of desire than anything else. That last game stung a bit, but overall, I think he enjoyed himself.

Our experiment with coaching didn't really work out so well. I think the lack of a local coach has certainly cost him, particularly in the last 6 months or so as I have been less focused. He could have used some guidance from a professional coach, but we made the mistake of not committing enough to coaching and ended up with a few scattered lessons here and there rather than any purposeful training.

I don't think it's easy to make up for so much lost time in the next six weeks, but we'll see what we can do within reason.
Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide