Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Someone sent me an interesting article by Adam Khoo about our kids:

"Unfortunately, I have found that more and more young Singaporeans lack this hunger for success. Instead, they like to complain, blame circumstances and wait for others to push them. Some hold on to the attitude that the world owes them a living. I shake my head when I see local kids nowadays complain that they don't have the latest handphones, branded clothes and games. While I acknowledge that the kids of today are much smarter and well informed than I was at their age (my 4 year old daughter can use my Macbook computer and my iphone), I find that they lack the resilience and tenacity they need to survive in the new economy. Some kids nowadays tend to give up easily once they find that things get tough and demand instant gratification. When they have to work first to get rewards later, many tend to lack the patience to follow through."

It appears that our next generation may have lost the hunger according to Adam. How can we correct this trend?

Introducing competition obviously hasn't helped as I feel that many will live in denial that the expats will soon replace us in our workplace in time to come. Does that mean we must introduce deprivation into our children's lives in order for them to acquire that hunger?

I would say it may be time to introduce role models. Not necessarily feature someone who's a prodigy, but rather someone who has the traits of tenacity,mental toughness,resilience and the ability to self-learn from his mistakes. I am sure that many of such are abound in our midst of chess-players. It would really be good to highlight such persons to the chess community. In this way, the young will have good role models to emulate from and understand what it takes to succeed not just on the chessboard, but in life as well.

Grooming an international chess icon may take years, but searching for a successful person who's a chess-player may be easier. Malaysia has Datuk Tan Chin Nam - I wonder who do we have in Singapore??

Thursday, March 25, 2010

First Things First

Stephen Covey wrote a book with this title, urging effective managers and individuals to work on basic priorities in life.

How does this apply to chess, especially for someone who's young and just started?


Chess involves a player being able to make a move and anticipate his opponent's possible reply, then making another to counter that reply. The process is known as calculation. This ability can be improved and strengthened if the player has good grasp of the squares on the board and the lines and diagonals without having to see them on the board when calculating.

Many children playing tournaments I notice dislike recording their moves. Why is this? They have trouble finding the squares of their moves, whether they are playing White or Black. Few take the trouble to sit down and learn them to know it well. However, I realise that those who do have much better board vision than those who don't. Interesting.

Knowing the name of each square and where they are located links chess study to how the brain "sees" the board. Stronger players do not actually visualise the entire chessboard in their mind and have graphic images of pieces when they calculate moves ahead. It's more like a blind man who used to see knowing his way around his house - he can sense where the kitchen or bathroom is, noting how many steps there are to get from the living room. He'd know where the sofa is placed, or the lampshade next to it.

So we relate this to piano playing, its like knowing your scales. Or in mathematics, your multiplication tables. You know it so well that you don't have to think about it.

Once this ability is mastered, I assure you that you will see huge benefits - less mistakes, more alertness to possibilities that can occur during the game. The best benefit of it all, children can now enjoy reading chess books and improve at their own pace!

My generation never had the benefit of coaches so most of the players among my peers are self taught using the descriptive notation. It's even more complicated than the current algebraic notation, but we got by to use it to replay the great games of the masters. When algebraic notation is introduced it was a breeze for us to pick up as there's only 1 dimension to work on.

So if there's a priority of chess skills to enhance vision on the board, get the kids to be able to locate the square on the board (without looking at it of course). Start with them doing it when White, then with Black. Or they can play battleships by drawing a 8x8 board and attempt to guess each other's ships by calling out the coordinates of the squares. These fun activities can help the young player learn the squares, then move on to learning every diagonal, every possible square that a Knight can reach from where it is and so on.

Board vision can be mastered, in fact it is one of the most important skills to work on in my opinion. Perhaps you will like to see what GM Kevin Spragett has to say on this by reading his thoughts in


Wednesday, March 24, 2010


What does a world-famous trainer like Mark Dvoretsky have to say about the choice of openings for a chess player?

‘Your choice of openings should be made primarily in accordance with your own tastes and style of play. This rule may sound obvious, but all the same it is quite easily broken,even by strong players’

Now if a player is usually afraid of giving away pawns or pieces, or is scared of complications, is it then possible that this player will be able to confront positions laden with tactics and be comfortable in them?

In his book Opening Preparation, Dvoretsky recounts how he once gave advice to a quiet sober-minded player whose openings were that of fashionable and sharp variations like the King's Indian and Sicilian. In other words, the choice of opening depended not on his own taste but that of the coach. He advised the player to switch to quieter openings by playing 1 d4 instead and that player's results were better as he was better adjusted to the positions that arose.

There are many examples of course, esp when Mikhail Tal tried to lead Botvinnik out of the main lines in the Caro-Kann by playing the Advance Variation. Though he thought he could surprise the great strategist with something new, his results with it was poor. That's mainly because Tal specialises in open positions with great complications, while Botvinnik was at home with closed pawn structures where play was largely strategic and positional. Hence it was easier for Botvinnik to find moves than Tal.

Mark Dvoretsky also suggests that every chess player should takes a hard look at his powers of memory. For those who have limited memory, its best to steer clear of openings which are very theoretical and demand a huge knowledge of games and refinements. Such is the Sicilian Defence. You can only play such lines if you possess a good memory. For players who are not good at memorising, its better to stick to 'opening schemes' , ie logical opening systems with limited theory but easier to play once the typical ideas of the position are understood and less emphasis is on move-order.

Those interested in the subject should get a copy of the book, Page 111-112 and read the rest.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Sicilian Labryinth

Here's what I found at the SCF website lately:

"The Singapore Chess Federation announces its National Junior & Youth training game Programme 2010, which shall promote best opening play as White and best defense/counterattack as Black.

The “Open Sicilian”, starting with 1.e4! c5! 2.Nf3!, followed by 3.d4! cxd4! is regularly played by leading International Grand Masters, who consider it as practically the best modern way to play for a win by both White (with 1.e4!) and by Black (with 1… c5!). Then again, White’s best practical options remain with the “Open Sicilian”.

1.e4, followed by 1…c5, further followed by the Open Sicilian, ensure asymmetrical and dynamic positions at the very start of the game. On their way to the top, World Chess Champions benefited – mostly from these.

In an effort to nurture and promote Singapore Chess Lions into Roaring Lions, starting at the Developmental level of our Training Pipeline, trainees shall intensively practice, by their own choosing when with Black pieces: the Najdorf, Dragon, Classical, Scheveningen, Sveshnikov, Accelerated Dragon, Gaw-Paw, Kalashnikov, Four Knights, Taimanov or Kan Sicilian variations, and when with White – by choosing own responses to these variations.

We are confident that our new and improved training play guidelines and instructions will help all our young chess players in achieving their highest potentials from the earliest age and sustain these throughout their chess playing careers."

Uh-oh, no, this leads the children straight into the Sicilian Labryinth. What's a labryinth?

The Oxford Dictionary defines it as a a complicated irregular network of passages or paths. That is precisely what the Sicilian Defence is.

Most active chess players know what it takes to play this opening, which is the most complex yet sophisticated enough to warrant the attention of the Masters and Grandmasters of the game.

My gripe with this approach is this -

To study and play the Sicilian well (whether for White or Black), there must be a few pre-requisites on the part of the player.

1 The player requires strong nerves to press on his/her attack and not shirk to defend his/her position when threatened. Good calculating skills and strong tactics are required.

2 Great knowledge and a good memory is required to learn about the many traps and pitfalls which has already been uncovered over the last 40 years. One needs only to look at the large number of books written on Sicilian miniatures where Black or White can be demolished quickly due to a slip in move-order. Hence, it would be pointless to know the first 13 moves and forget the remaining ones as this often means victory would go to the player who knows it more. There are also many thematic sacrifices that one must be familiar with when playing the Sicilian as these may easily occur. Strong players spend hours re-playing the latest games from the major tournaments to know the latest word on their variations so there's no substitute for time-consuming hard work.

3 Extra time is required not just to memorise the main variations the student is playing, but also the numerous Anti-Sicilians where White plays other than 2 Nf3, especially 2 c3, 2Nc3 etc.

To do all this within 5 hours a week, in my opinion, not a realistic way to go for children who nowadays pack a hefty school, tuition and other courses in their school-term. I am simply wondering how on earth the kids are going to find the time to learn all this, that is if they are suited temperamentally to play this opening in the first place.

My deepest worry is that we are committing the children in this training program to undergo a very time-consuming approach to rote-learn the variations, without having sufficient time to understand the characteristics of the complicated twists the games can result. They could end up, as a world-famous Russian coach points out," Play the opening like an expert and the middlegame like an idiot".

Time will tell if this happens in the performance of these children in the December competitions. Good luck.