Monday, January 31, 2011

SPOKEN FROM A GM

Thought I'd just highlight the importance of technical knowledge in chess training, as expounded by GM Grivas in his training lecture to his German students reported here.

Of the 6 segments he mentioned in his course agenda for the day, 1/6 is devoted to psychological factors about understanding yourself, your diet and how it affects your well-being in playing. The other 5/6 is strictly devoted to learning the game.First on this list - Building a Repertoire; Chess Literature. I  I am sure that the FIDE Senior Trainer takes this seriously to put it on top of the list of topics

Openings today determine the course of the game and working with chess literature towards improving our understanding of the game cannot be over-emphasised enough. I had a strong hunch he will dwell on this subject on personal characteristics and how they affect the choice of an opening, working with the classic games to understand the development of a particular opening etc.  We can only await the next part of the training to be posted on ChessBase.

For the benefit of readers who are also following FGM, I have highlighted the above message to him to make him see the light of how technical knowledge critical to a master-hopeful. His response?

He deleted my comment.

So much for being open, so much for being objective. I guess you've read enough of the other blogs to know who's the bigot here

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TWO ENDS OF THE SPECTRUM

On one end I have students who cannot find the time to play, yet at the other end I have to rein in some of their enthusiasm. Quite an interesting job being a chess trainer, right?

Dealing with inactivity is tough - much depends I believe on not just the interest of the student, but the number of activities he/she has. I had just lost a student because he just had too much homework to have any other spare time to rest, let alone play. Recent studies about children aged 4-10 suggest that they are not getting enough sleep (recommended 11 hrs a day for younger kids and minimum 10 for those 8-10). Will this development take its toll on the child's development? I bet it does. Flooding a child's time of a day with tuition, homework etc simply does not give him the necessary time to reflect, ponder and internalise what has been taught. Hence it is through regular, purposeful playing that the assimilation of chess knowledge takes place. Spending hours dishing out chess moves without a clear thought process in my opinion does more harm than good.

For over-enthusiastic players, I would recommend that they work hard on acquiring the thought process of analysis and evaluation by going over master games, learning how decisions are taken and why. This process helps greatly in the understanding of the game and would trump over x hours of playing. I am a firm believer of having some ideas in your head when playing rather than using the trial-and-error method of learning. It is little wonder that many including Botvinnik advocated spending only time for 60 games a year and spend the rest of time preparing. I must quantify that this applies mainly to a professional chess master. For children, a good run of 6 tournaments a year, with ample preparation in between, should suffice. It is not practice that will make perfect, but the correct application of knowledge well ingested that will yield results. Otherwise, we end up perfecting our bad habits which will take a longer time to unlearn!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

TIME

There are many cases I have encountered in Singapore when I am hired to give chess lessons weekly but the students see no improvement. Though I have strongly recommended that the student plays 1 game a day or if possible, 4 games a week (15 mins per side). Months passed, but progress is slow. Why is this so?

Ironically, many of the parents whose children are learning chess do not play chess themselves. Hence, they are not aware of what it would take for one to progress. That's practice. Without constant practice, whatever is learnt will soon be forgotten. So far, most of the students that have dropped out of my radar have not been playing regularly and their interest waned in due course.

So I hereby urge parents, before they sign their kids for chess, to first examine the child's timetable: Does the child have time for practice? Can this be enforced? If not, it would be a waste of time and resources to expect any form of progress or understanding. The same goes for learning a language like Chinese. Extra hours are required to get the child to speak, write because of the lack of the environment for it. Chess is no different, its a language too, although the demands are rather small. Unless we can't even find 30 minutes a day for our kids ( because of Learning Lab, CCA, tuition, speech and drama, music lessons etc)? Something has to give. I shudder to give homework sometimes out of compassionate grounds, for I would hestitate to add to the student's academic homework which may just break the camel's back.

I seriously wonder if parents have actually lived through their kids's life for a day and experience for themselves how strenuous it would be, let alone do it for weeks on end? Then perhaps they will think twice about signing their children for more classes.

Monday, January 24, 2011

PAST REVISITED

Here's a nice photo from the old boys gathering for the Kasparov dinner held last year


There were others who did not join in the photo,  however, our turnout was still much better than the ACS side (ha ha!)  

Perhaps its time to rekindle the "friendly" rivalry between the 2 chess school super-powers? Maybe a 30 board annual face-off?! ORA - ACS OBA Challenge ?? Itching for some action :-)

CAN ANYONE BE A GM?

This can also apply to professions whereby you are conferred a title not just by your own efforts, but also by the intervention of others who will test you. In the realm of sport,  table tennis, tennis, badminton players and boxers come to mind. Not so golfers and bowlers, as they would need to conquer the pressures imposed by their competitiors to perform. Their competitors would not have any physical part in how they swing the club or deliver the ball.

If one takes a outsider viewpoint of the business of grooming a GM, clinically it is possible. Just equipt the candidate with the knowledge, send him to as many competitions to learn the tricks of the trade, preferably losing enough to learn what not to do, and VOILA! You get an International Grand Master. Is that it?

Those who have tried, (not me of course) and failed would have had their own understanding of their failure. However, I would not say that they should be in any way criticised for not helping others achieve the same aim. Being a GM is entirely a personal endearvour, so it is rather a matter of choice whether one chooses to share the skills / knowledge attained in the process. Ideally, that would be nice, but then again, it should not be demanded.

No one in this world owes us anything. We arrive in this world with nothing. Progressively we get fuelled with ideas, hopes and dreams as we exist through the passage of time. One cannot discount the fact that there is this important factor called TALENT. Talent for being good at some activity say chess does not automatically equate one to be at the best of the game. Some may be talented in reaching the heights of FM or IMship, but the highest of chess honours are only open to a selected few of extraordinary talent.

One such believer of this notion is Tibor Karolyi, who has had some part in training the super-talents of Peter Leko and Judit Polgar. Even he has often lamented that he started to learn the fundamentals of chess too late in his development, which cost him dearly in his playing career. He could not understand why some bits of knowledge were just second nature to another super-talent, yet seemed unfathomable to him. If you had read his book on Judit Polgar, he will explain it all. 

So there is a difference between a talent in chess and a super-talent, who should have the means to conquer the heights of the chess Everest. Do we see such talents having doubts about themselves? NO! the chief difference is that THEY KNOW HOW GOOD THEY ARE.  

The computer chess age we now live in further accelerates the growth potential of these super-talents such that they can easily prove themselves and be at the GM level in say 3-5 years from the time they start work seriously. Hence GM talent must be spotted very young, nurtured further to learn the rudiments of it and in their teens, these super-talents will emerge amongst the top at the World Junior level. 

Hence, if we are not in this group of super-talents and want to buck the trend, it is not impossible but the odds of failing are high. Whoever embarks on this perilous journey should certain be prepared to face disappointment and be prepared to walk away after facing the true reality. Otherwise disillusions will surely develop.

Becoming a GM is simply not for everyone, much as one would like to assume or believe.

AFTERTHOUGHTS

Overall, it was a successful tournament for me as a coach - several of my students finished in the prize winners' list, some deservedly, some not. Thought I'd like to highlight the deserving ones here:


What I like about this boy was the focus and concentration he puts in every of his games. He had tough positions against the top boards, lost mainly due to his inability to handle the clock situation (most of his games finished near the 2 min mark). However, he hardly lets slip a winning game, which I'd say is commendable. If I were to describe him in one word - Phlegmatic. With more tournament exposure and diligence at his game, he should be a reckoning force in the U12s very soon.


N had a rather good tournament, though his moves are often one-move triggers befitting at his age,. His dogged determination showed once again. Though a whole Rook down in one of his games, he managed to checkmate his opponent with a lone Bishop in a rather peculiar position. Credit must go to him for spotting the mate. He also showed good tactical vision, managed to play double attacks recovering his sacrificed material (I saw him execute one and for a moment my heart was in my mouth). It's really a wonder if children were to apply themselves wholeheartedly at chess without distractions that you'd see such  growth. 

There were others who require more self-reflection in their play, mainly due to the attitude they displayed at the game. Some had good positions, started becoming complacent and gave the position away. Others didn't work at their calculations hard enough when they were beginning to feel that things were not going quite their way. We shall review these at their lessons. 

THOMSON CC CHESS CLUB 2011 REPORT

Well, that's the scene from yesterday's tournament at Thomson CC. Though entries were slow, eventually we've got 23 Junior Section entries and 18 Senior Section players which is not too bad. The tournament started promptly with no zero start rule imposed, which was a relief to many. 10am would be a good time to get things going, as the majority were able to get to the venue on-time. Lunch in the form of coupons for consuming at the Target Cafe (food is good there), plus10 prizes each section. The top 5 get trophies and a book from my collection.


The results for the top 10 finishers are:


SENIOR SECTION                    JUNIOR SECTION
1  Jarred Neubronner    6.0 pts   Nathan Mar      7.0 pts
2  Jimmy Ng             5.5 pts   Adrian Yeo      6.0 pts
3  Hu Yang              5.0 pts   Heng Zheng Kai  5.0 pts
4  Tan Poh Heng         4.5 pts   Lee Shi Hao     5.0 pts
5  Melvin Ang           4.5 pts   Heng Si Kai     4.5 pts
6  Gabriel Pang         4.0 pts   Nicholas Low    4.5 pts
7  Limono Handjojo      3.5 pts   Puah Yi Hao     4.0 pts
8  Francis Guok         3.5 pts   Samuel Yip      4.0 pts
9  Xavier Chua          3.5 pts   Mitchell Han    4.0 pts
10 Neilson Lee          3.5 pts   Issac Tay       4.0 pts

For the full results, here

We thank all participants for taking part and my special thanks to Kenny, Chris, Brandon plus the staff at Thomson CC, lastly Thomson CCMC without which this tournament would not have been possible. So sorry for taking up the Sunday PickleBall space !


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

WHY STUDY CHESS CLASSICS?

I read with interest a recent interview conducted with a budding national level player and his answer when asked what chess books moulded his play.

His reply was that he did not read much chess literature, counting more on a chess server for practice and ChessBase with a decent engine for analysis. I guess this would be the trend for many younger players who based their chess learning with the advent of the Computer Learning age. However, I am more inclined with the conclusions drawn from reading Robin Smith's Modern Chess Analysis. Much as computer-generated analysis can be a powerful tool, using automated analysis without checking can lead to very misleading conclusions. That is because computers cannot understand concepts like creating a fortress where the weaker side may be able to obtain a draw. As computers generally evaluate the position in terms of material, it may still produce analysis to support the stronger side but nothing decisive to overturn the conclusion. Programs can and do make mistakes. Another realm of computer weakness is in evaluating positions in which it would suggest trading into a lost king and pawn ending. It may also give inconclusive judgement on positions where there is a material imbalance, eg Exchange Sacrifices. 

Hence I would strongly advocate that chess erudition be complete with some study of classic chess literature. I have covered the main books in my earlier post. Now I shall give the reasons.

The classics cover the evolution of chess thought from the sacrificial nuances started by the Romantic Italian School, with the main emphasis on gambit play, fast development to create possible sacrifices to drive the King into the open. It peaked with the style of Paul Morphy, however reason in chess was reinstated with the theories of Wilhelm Steinitz. The positional elements were finally introduced, made even simpler to understand by the analysis of the games of Siegbert Tarrasch. Much of what is known about 1 e4 e5 games, especially in the Steinitz variation of the Spanish was covered in his annotations in his landmark classic "Dreihundret Schachpartien" (or 300 Chess Games in English). Of course, I would not take his comments on the openings seriously as much has been discovered since he wrote it about 1896,. In spite of that, he has given many good illustrations in his games on how to exploit positional advantages, which are often used in many modern-day middlegame books. 

Nimzowitsch, Tarrasch's arch-rival, made his summary of positional chess concepts in his 2 books My System and Chess Praxis. Though I did not like the pompous presentation of the facts by the author, we have 2 up-to-date versions of this classic, one by Hays Publishing and the other by Quality Chess. Much of the pomposity is trimmed and the examples are given more diagrams.

The biggest benefit in studying these classic theoretical books and game collections comes from renowned Soviet trainer Shereshevsky. He remarked that it would be much easier to see a middlegame plan executed in its entirety in a game played by the old masters, as their opponents were often much weaker and allowed their plans to succeed. We can therefore learn much more from studying such games. Today's games, however, would not be so easy to fathom as each plan meets with a counter-plan and when time-trouble occurs the logical thread of the game is disrupted and the game becomes unclear.Hence, I should think that any young player would do himself /herself a favour by reading these books.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

THOMSON CC CHESS CLUB CHAMPIONSHIP 23 JAN SUNDAY

Thomson Club Championship details are in the 2 forms below

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/18282504/CLub_1.jpg
http://dl.dropbox.com/u/18282504/Club_2.jpg

We have 2 sections, the Seniors (no age limit) and Juniors (12 years and below). Players join as members of our Club by paying the entry fee,which means you play the tournament for free!  You are then welcome to our activities on Friday nights from 730pm.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

BOARD ORIENTATION

I find that this aspect of chess is not adequately covered in most chess literature. Much of the books today convey ideas on the ideal execution of plans and concepts, while telling the reader to be aware of traps and resources concealed  in the position.

Being aware of the situation is only inherent in the chess-player's mind after he has played many games and analysed the identical positions to note how the pieces can interact favourably or unfavourably. To the beginner and post-beginner, their games are often marred by oversights rather than missed opportunities. Some of the major ones:

a.  Missing a significant check
b.  Moving a piece from defending a critical piece or square, resulting in loss of the piece or square. Losing control of squares often seems to be taken too lightly I find in younger players. But they have not had the knowledge yet of the consequences, this will correct in due course when the knowledge is imparted.

Yet we often hear of coaches' screaming at their charges to THINK, THINK, THINK. What is this THINK? If this is not spelt out, then I do not think it is wise to put children through an ordeal of 90 minutes when they have absolutely no clue what to think.

Is this WHAT TO THINK taught to them in the first place?

I label the first WHAT TO THINK : Board Orientation.  Sorry but I've yet to learn how to put diagrams onto the page, but if you are to go through a child's just concluded game, you'll find that he does not have much knowledge of what's in front of him/her, ie what are his pieces doing, what squares can they safely go to. Half the time, the child waits for a move before his/her thinking cap activates. While the opponent is musing away, he/she gets bored waiting and starts looking at the games of others. When the clock is pressed, the player then switches back to his/her position, only to study it one more time, recollecting the pieces of knowledge of where his pieces can go to etc. Sometimes the recollection is not complete and he/she misses a detail that can be fatal, eg not seeing that the back-rank is unprotected due to his latest Rook move and BANG! comes the checkmate. The hapless parent would then rush to the victim and often the first words were " NEVER MIND, try harder next game".

When such a problem exists, coaches in my opinion, should set the tone right by asking the student to check his understanding of the pieces in the position. Were they aware of the role of each piece? Did they try to ask what their pieces are doing? Did they ask what is the latest move of their opponent is for? If the child did not do these, then it is the responsibility of the coach to drill in the routine during lesson or homework time.

Perhaps parents can also help but asking their hired coaches if this is being done? I am sure lots of unnecessary lost points and tears can be averted.

Monday, January 3, 2011

THOUGHTS ON SINGAPORE vs MALAYSIA

This year we see the Tigers triumph over the Lions at the annual Singapore vs Malaysia match. The games were well-fought, both teams should be commended for their tenacity and dogged determination. 

I was there as usual on both days, catching up with my friends Greg Lau, Michael Yeap whom I had not met since the Merdeka in August. Both are MCF officials now and we exchanged several views on how to take the sport further in our countries. Though both teams are competing for the covet Tan Kim Yeow trophy, the spirit of friendship and camaraderie pervaded so we did not get any major disputes.

Malaysia started the match on a loss in the Rd 1 Classical time control, drew level in Rd 2. The turning point came in Rd 3 when they commanded a 10 pt lead in the Rapid round. This raised the hopes of the Malaysians who for the first level reckoned they have a clear shot at beating Singapore. Some nerve-wracking moments in Rd 2 ensued, with several cliff-hanging games and the tension was mainly on the last few games in the Ladies. When the smoke cleared amidst the musings and calculations, it became clear that the visitors had won and applause and cheers filled the hall - a  long-awaited one I'm sure. 

While the victory cheers of MALAYSIA BOLEH rung in everyone's ears, it was heart rending to see the reactions of the vanguished. Some were non-chalant, some silently disappointed, but there was no comforting words or gestures to even pat them for their efforts over the last 2 days. The Malaysians were treated to a meal but sadly the Singaporeans trooped out of the hall amid stolid silence and disappointment. 

This is surely not what the match is all about? This is a annual meeting of friends and comrades in chess, regardless of the result. Our ties in chess go way back, over 30 years or more, so this spirit of togetherness in chess should prevail. A fitting end to this should be a good get-together meal with both teams, to share thoughts and ideas that bond , build partnerships and mend strained differences that may have occurred in our dealings with other. This is the legacy which should be passed on to the next generation of chess players so that the right tone  is set for future matches and other collaborative activities involving the 2 chess federations.

 Even a simple send-off by our Federation officials at the railway station will have gone a long way in fostering good relations with our neighbours. In the respect, I hate to say but we have not been good hosts. Time to reflect on this - as Singapore, we need to do better.


BACK TO VICTORIA SCHOOL


2011  marks my return to coaching the Victoria School team, back from 2004-7 days when the U16 managed to come in top 6 positions. Some of the older boys were playing for the JCs but they came back for a reunion photograph.

My best result was with the 2005 U-16 team (seen battling ACS I below):

Here we faced the Champions ACS(I), with none other than Jason Goh (now IM) on first board, the Lee brothers Wei Loong and Wei Cheng. Meeting the challenge was Heng Jun Kai (Sec 2!), Obey Wibinov from Indonesia, Ng Qing Yang and Roy Lau. This memorable encounter ended in a 4-0 whitewash for the VS boys, but what was shocking was not the result, but that at the first 20 moves, all boards were better for the VS boys! Jason had trouble defending the White side of a Benko Gambit, but experience told and Jun Kai fianlly succumbed. After he lost, the rest of the team lost steam and morale and started going under 1 by 1.

I had to give them a pep-talk to rally themselves and pull together for the last game against Maris Stella. Only a 4-0 will do to get them into 3rd position. We did well, leading 3-0 but unfortunately Obey lost on time in an unclear position. So they finished 5th - the best ever result in the decade for the U16 team.

After checking the performance of the current team (in 2009 they finished 6th  in the U16 and 15th in the U14, but 11th in the U16and U14  in 2010), I have my work cut out this year then. I am looking forward to it.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

THOMSON CC CHESS CLUB 2011

Another new year beckons. We intend to have a good program of tournaments and league games spread throughout the months for all our members, young and young at heart.

CLUB CHAMPIONSHIP

The Thomson CC Club Championship would tentatively be held at Thomson CC Hall , 194 Upper Thomson Road on Sunday 23 January 10am. Entry forms shall be released on this blog and on the SCF Website upon approval. You join the club by paying for a full year membership and play the tournament for free! Prizes are awarded. Lunch provided too.

THOMSON CUP INTERNATIONAL

 The 5th THOMSON CUP International shall be tentatively be held on 28-29 May, traditionally the last weekend of May. Format remains at 1 hr per side, 7 rounds Swiss.


WEEKLY  ENDGAME LEAGUE   JANUARY - APRIL

 We shall be starting our Junior Endgame League where they get to replay famous endgames of the masters, specially chosen such that the position is only slightly superior for the winning side. Those taking the inferior side shall score 1.5 pts if they win and 0.5 pts if they lose. The stronger side scores 1 pt for a win and 0 pt for a loss. Each player gets to play the same endgame twice, as White and Black.

The time control for each game is 25 minutes a side. This takes place every Friday evening during our session and starts 8pm, ending about 940pm. What better way to learn about the endgame but to recreate the winning plans of the masters and improve your endgame strength?