Monday, July 25, 2011

MEASURING PROGRESS

In spending months and years of time in training, parents will often ask the question: "How is my child doing?" A very fair question as it involves investing precious time on the student's part and money on the parent's part in pursuing this interest of playing chess. So how does one answer this question? Is chess progress quantifiable?

I for one do not base everything just on results alone - it is too narrow a yardstick. Results from tournaments are often the quickest way of establishing the performance of the student, yet there are some intangible traits which should also be noticed, primarily in the student's behaviour, his outlook not just on chess but on other matters as well.

How about presence of mind for one? I've seen many of my students taking better care of their belonging now, being more forthcoming with questions rather than just listening. These are all encouraging traits that chess can help inculcate - a higher self-esteem, goal-oriented focus, being more pensive rather than impulsive. If we can foster these qualities in our young, it would be a lot more beneficial to them in their later years. Striving for one's goals and achieving them does wonders to one's self confidence of course, but we should also educate our students to face defeat in the right spirit. Learning from failure in chess is almost mandatory for one to succeed in later events, being objective about one's abilities is also important in assessing one's capabilities before embarking on another tournament. Those who discern these life lessons would end up being better students than the ones standing on the podium who know nothing about disappointment and loss, for often their fall is a lot more traumatic and scarring.

Values - that's the other aspect that coaches often neglect. Good values like being honest in owning up a mistake (especially in a touch-move situation), being able to congratulate one's opponent for his/her win, respecting the decision of the organisers even though they may not be right at the time..the list goes on. Learning to be accountable for one's actions (as opposed to blaming everything and everyone else)  is also a sign of maturity.

Are these not wonderful qualities that we would want to see in our youths?

Monday, July 18, 2011

MY CHILD IS INTERESTED IN CHESS, BUT...

CANNOT FIND TIME TO PLAY

For parents reading this, you should sincerely ask yourself why. If a child is truly burdened with school work and does not even have time to find a spot in a day to play, what happens generally is that weekly hourly lessons do not take much effect.Often it is pouring sand onto a sieve. Much of the material covered cannot be assimilated. It will be difficult to make progress if the concepts learnt cannot be applied, made to work and then remembered. Chess is no different from learning Chinese. It does require time and practice.

DOES NOT READ CHESS MATERIAL

Parents should also realise that some kids are only keen on playing but not learning about chess. They enjoy the interaction, socialising with other children (which is also healthy) but may not wish to spend time in learning the materials given to them because they view it as WORK which is not fun. As coaches, it is a primary challenge to motivate all students and make them understand that only hard work and focused practice yields results. This is no different from getting good grades in school.

LIKES COMPUTER GAMES MORE

This is typical of every household. Computer games are more exciting graphically and addictive. One can get hooked on MapleStory or other XBOX or PlayStation or Wii games especially those where groups can collaborate. So there are only a selected few children who will see chess as a game that requires more out of them than just pressing buttons and shooting down aliens. One also needs high esteem and conviction of one's thoughts to demonstrate a point on the chessboard. It is this quality that creates visionaries, entrepreneurs and leaders. Chess is not called the Royal Game for nothing.

All coaches desire enthusiastic and eager students with high aspirations because they are like gems which are hard to find. Once they are found, they can be honed into diamonds which shine. However, for those who see chess just as a tool for mental development and can't spare the time or effort to excel, that is fine too. But there will not be tangible results in the near term, so I would not promise any.

Monday, July 11, 2011

CHEMISTRY

"Yeah, Chemistry" said the great Marlon Brando in his movie Guys and Dolls. No, we're not talking about the science here, but the affinity that needs to exist between student and teacher. Chemistry defines the main ingredient that generates trust between 2 persons especially at the point of the first meeting, when no prior information is obtain by either parties to size up the other.

What makes a great student sometimes is not just the greatness , enthusiasm nor ingenuity of the teacher to inspire or expound. Often, it is the student's innate trust of the information that the teacher provides and the belief that this knowledge can and will certainly work for him/her. Hence, it is the onus for the teacher (who is generally the more experienced when it comes to sizing up) to first ascertain if there is indeed chemistry between student and teacher before deciding on continuing future lessons.


Generally there are tell-tale signs whether the chemistry exists. It comes in the degree of diligence that the student exhibits in his play in applying the knowledge that was taught, plus the many questions he/she would ask to know more of the subject. Another sign? Homework that's done and handed on time. Homework be it in the form of solving puzzles, or playing a minimal number of games online. When these are diligently followed, there should rightly be an improvement of the level of play and that generates into more wins, which should fuel the interest further. Correct? 

Now look at the other side of the coin.

Student is not happy with the teacher's recommendations but cannot find a good enough reason to refute the directions of the teacher. Hence he/she may put up with the lesson but mentally decides to go his/her own way in the search for chess truth. I have had one experience some years back, where my student H decided that he would want to learn about the Najdorf Poison Pawn and use it in his games. Of course, in this part of the world, there would be few takers willing to engage Black in the theory of this variation. Hence my view is that time would be better spent in studying other more regularly played variations. To begin with, I had warned him of taking up the Sicilian in the first place knowing the huge amounts of study required, but at the back of my mind I knew he could do it so I let the issue go. However, he was adamant about his view and decided to venture of it secretly. The riff between us had started and gradually we drifted further and finally parted ways. On record, he is no longer playing chess today competitively.

Most of my students who had truly listened to my advice and followed it conscientiously (without question) had made huge strides in their play. I am of course heartened, but then it made me think hard on how I can overcome the Chemistry factor - or can it be overcome in the first place when it does not exist? How can I make the student see the point of it if he doesn't? Generally, the results would speak for themselves but often this is not the best way to convince a student with his/her mind set on his/her own views. If we do plod on, over time, the performance of the student in tournaments would show and this is often what I use to verify the riff. Then perhaps it would be pertinent to re-examine if there needs to be a change in the teacher-student relationship.

Friday, July 1, 2011

SOUTH ZONE 2011

Here's Shi Hao who scored 5/7  and came in 9th, while Hui Ling scored 6/7 and was third in her category.