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.
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