Archive for February, 2015

One of the hard things about being a chess coach is trying to understand your students’ strengths and weaknesses so that you can tailor your lessons to suit their needs.   I usually only coach promising students who have the potential to become strong players but the other day I faced a new challenge.

My friend Jan has decided to take up chess and although she is an absolute beginner she bravely turned up to the Croydon Chess Club and decided to enter the Croydon Open the following week.  A quick phone call to me then followed with a request for some advice so that she didn’t make a fool of herself in the tournament.  Hmm.  What to do?  Learning how to use a clock and write down your moves sounded like a good first step but how could I stop her from falling into the 4 move checkmate was a bigger worry!   Fortunately she had the white pieces in her first game so I showed her an opening set-up which went for 8 moves and would give her a reasonable position and perhaps fool her opponent into thinking that she was a competent player.   This plan working reasonably well until Jan forgot to recapture in reply to BxB but she held on for 35 moves before losing on time … a creditable result.  In her second game Jan lasted 44 moves although she did blunder her queen when she was “distracted by trying to write down the moves.”   Perhaps she needs a follow-up lesson?

My attention then turned to the games that I had recorded in last Sunday’s RJ Shield for my students Shawn and Atlas.  I played through all their games in an effort to understand what was driving their thinking behind their choice of moves.  I guess that is what I specialise in – trying to improve my students’ understanding and to train them to think correctly.  It soon became apparent to me that Atlas was not paying enough attention to what his opponent was threatening and was himself trying to attack before he was ready.  My solution was to go through one of the games that he lost and after each of his opponent’s moves I would ask “what am I threatening?”  Just about all juniors think about attacking and very rarely think about defending.  My other idea was to play a few games of “progressive chess (snowball chess)” with him.  We played 3 games which I won quickly largely because I adopted a defensive set-up which tried to ensure that he could not checkmate me or win my queen.  Of course Atlas did not think along those lines and when it was my turn to move I usually found a quick checkmate.  I then explained to him why he was losing and the ideas behind my strange piece formations (i.e. I was thinking about defence and what my opponent could do).  By way of example have a look at this week’s diagram from one of our progressive chess games.  It is White to play and I have 5 moves.  Can you find a checkmate?   (For those of you who are new to progressive chess it involves White starting with 1 move, then Black has 2 moves, White has 3 moves etc. except that any check ends your moves.)

My other student, Shawn, has a different problem.  Shawn usually plays opponents who are weaker than him and he has worked out an easy way to win his games.   All he has to do is threaten things.  Sure enough, every few moves his opponent will miss the threat and Shawn will win material or even get a checkmate.  How easy is that!  Unfortunately it won’t make you a better player.   Grandmasters I’m sure have a different plan as they are facing strong opponents so a strategy of making threats and hoping that your opponent will miss the threat isn’g going to work.  Instead, I think that grandmasters are primarily thinking about their pieces and how they can gain control of the position.  They places their pieces on good squares using all their pieces and if they do threaten something it is not so much to win material or get a checkmate as to tie their opponents down to defence.  Once he has his opponent tied down the grandmaster can then calmly improve his position before landing the fatal blow.

How am I going to get this message across to Shawn?  We have a lesson on Sunday so I plan to go through one of his games and have Shawn pretend to be a grandmaster.  When Shawn (the player) makes a threatening move then Shawn (the grandmaster) is going to have to find the alternative grandmaster move and explain to me why it is better than the simple threatening move.   Hopefully the message will sink in.

My next problem?  How can I stop my primary school students from pointlessly moving a piece twice in the opening (usually Ng5 or Nb5)?  I’ve tried threatening to cut off their fingers if they do it again, but perhaps you have a better idea?

“But I really want to go to g5…..”


Archive for February, 2015

 It’s been a big chess weekend for me starting on Friday night when I had the first meeting of my little “super squad” at the Waverley Chess Club.  This week we had Shawn, Atlas, Oliver and Elijah plus Sam who had come down from Yarrawonga to play in the RJ Shield.

I started off by giving them the “Chess IQ Test” in which you have a knight which must do a tour of the board from h8 whilst avoiding squares occupied or attacked by 4 black pawns on c3, f3, c6 and f6.  The trick is to see how fast you can complete the tour and this is meant to be an indicator of your chess talent.  It was very exciting with me calling out as to who was in the lead ( a bit like a race call) and it ended up with Atlas finishing first in just under 5 minutes followed closely by Shawn in just over 5 minutes.  Elijah was next in over 7 minutes, followed by a disappointed Sam in 7 and a half minutes whilst poor Oliver was really struggling to complete the tour in the allotted 10 minutes, having hurt his finger in the process, and promptly burst into tears at the end.  Oh well.

We then played some training games and I went over one of the games with the kids after the games had finished.  All in all in think it worked out quite well and we plan to do this once a month through the year.

On Sunday of course it was the RJ Shield.  We had a reasonable roll up at the new Mt.Waverley venue and the facilities (including air conditioning) are certainly nicer than at Tucker Rd.  There were a lot of very hard-fought games, including some strange endgames which seemed to fluctuate between win/draw/loss as the players stumbled on without too much knowledge of endgame theory.  Twice, in a rook ending, I saw a player make a move which allowed his opponent mate in one when there was an alternative (sneakier) move which forced stalemate in one!  Such is the small margin between a loss and a draw.

The surviver through all this was Callum McGrath who zoomed out to 5/5 only to lose his next game and then be gifted a half point when his last round opponent accepted a draw in an easily winning position.  Callum thus finished in first place on 5.5/7 followed by Shawn and Maha on 5 points.  In the under 10s Isaac Rajit scored a solid 6/7 to win that event.

RJ Shield Winners.

RJ Shield Winners.

Tim and Frank did an excellent job as arbiters and the event finished ahead of time at 4.30.  I’m very much looking forward to the next RJ Shield and hopefully an even bigger turn-out for this fun event.

This weeks puzzle is from a game played on Friday night at the Box Hill Autumn Cup.  Black is the stronger player and has a nice position but White made it easy for him by blundering next move with 1.cxb5.  How did Black finish him off?

Archive for February, 2015

Chess Kids is now back into full swing for 2015 and I’m looking forward to the first RJ Shield tournaments for the year on Sunday 22nd February.  I plan to go to the event at the new venue at Mt.Waverley (which should have it’s renovations finished shortly) and perhaps go to the Tucker Road venue next time.

Of course a new year brings new challenges.  At Doncaster Gardens we are the National Primary School Champions but have lost our three best players.  I now have a younger group to work with and hopefully get up to speed to defend our title.  My biggest challenge however will be working with some of our most promising youngsters, aged 7-9 years, including Atlas (who I mentioned last week), Shawn, Oliver and Elijah.

Atlas ia aged 7 and rated 818, Shawn is aged 8 and rated 1045, Oliver is aged 7 and rated 947 and Elijah is aged 9 and rated 940.  It is strange how players are becoming quite good at such a young age these days.  Atlas only started playing about a year ago whilst little Oliver has been playing since he was 4 and has now competed in over 100 tournaments.   I have a weekly lesson with both Atlas and Shawn but my main plan is to get them together as a group wherever possible to get some friendly competition going between them.  I have arranged for them to meet at Chess Kids Mt.Waverley next Friday night and we are going to play training games and then do a bit of analysis together.  It should be fun.  That sort of competition worked well in the 1970s when I was running the Victorian Junior Chess League and we had a great group of juniors all competing against each other to be the best.

I know that some coaches teach a lot of opening theory and play through grandmaster games with their students.  I have a different approach.  I like to focus on a player’s own games and try to teach him what to think about and how to come up with ideas that their opponent may have missed.  After all chess is basically about out-thinking your opponent or about matching your level of understanding against your opponent’s level of understanding.  A good player should be able to look at a position and quickly work out what is going on – what is important and what is not important in that position.  If he is in trouble he must be able to come up with possible solutions (ideas) and test them out.  That’s why chess puzzles are such good training (and fun!).

For this week’s puzzle I’ve chosen a position which looks totally unwinnable, but perhaps you can come up with something?  Good luck.

Archive for February, 2015

It’s been two months since my last blog and I hope that you have put the holidays to good use and played lots of chess.  I haven’t been to any chess tournaments since Xmas, although I did pop in to the Box Hill Chess Club in January to have a look at their new venue.   It’s very nice!  But that’s not to say that I have been inactive.

I’ve followed all the major chess events on-line both with an eye to seeing how our up-coming juniors are playing and looking for interesting games or positions that I can use in my chess lessons for 2015.  Perhaps you would like a brief update?

Pre-Xmas the most exciting result was at the Australasian Masters, held at Box Hill, where Anton Smirnov played really well to give himself a chance of a grandmaster norm.   Unfortunately he lost his last round game against GM Papin and so just missed out.  The next event was the Australian Open in Sydney which boasted a very strong field led by super-GM Ni Hua from China who ended up crushing everyone and scoring 10.5/11.   The Australian Champion, Max Illingworth, tied for second way back on 8/11 and it was pleasing also to see Bobby Cheng playing again and showing glimpses of his best form.

Some unpatriotic Australians however did not play in Sydney but instead chose the NZ Open in Auckland.  One was leading junior Karl Zelesco who played well to finish =5th although (in my view) he has several gaps in his understanding of chess which are offset by his strength in tactics.  The tournament was most unusual (if not totally ridiculous) in that it resulted in no less than 10 players sharing the title of NZ Champion for 2015.  A good argument for a play-off or count-back system!

Following these events attention moved to Canberra where the Australian Junior Chess Championships were being held.  Unfortunately not many players from Chess Kids took part this year so I didn’t have many players to follow.  There was however some joy for me in the Australian U/8 Championships where Atlas Ballieu scored a dramatic come from behind victory to win the title with little Oliver Cordover also doing well to finish third.   I had spotted Atlas at an RJ Shield Tournament late in 2014 and sought to find out a bit more about him.  His dad told me that he had only been playing for a year and was being coached at Geelong Grammar by Anthony Hain who had inspired Atlas to become more interested in chess.  I gave Atlas one chess lesson before Xmas and lent him my Purdy book, which I give to all my better students to read.  Atlas does a lot of work on Chess Tempo, improving his tactics, and I’ve now signed up to give him a weekly lesson in 2015 so all you older juniors …. watch out for Atlas in 2015!

ausjunior3rdday 017

Winners are grinners – Atlas Ballieu
(Aust. U/8 Chess Champion)

Now, what puzzle should I show you to start off the year?  Maybe we should take it slowly and I should show you an amusing finish rather than something that will challenge you too much.  The position below is from the Australian Junior where Tom Maguire (1768) finds himself in a drawn position against Oscar Hermann (1042).  What is the higher rated player to do?  Accept a draw or take a big risk and hope that he can swindle his opponent?  It’s Black to play and it looks like his plan is to just sit tight.  Let’s see what happened …..