Friday, March 30, 2012

REAP WHAT YOU SOW

This biblical saying applies itself especially in the chess world about 90% of the time. The amount of time spent involved in the game, be it practice, study, reading and researching is proportional to the great benefits it will have to the diligent and motivated student.

There are tons of chess information available on the Internet today if one knows how to track them. Videos, pdf ebooks and even java pgn-views of grandmaster games are abound. However, it will take someone to organiseand prioritise the learning of such huge volumes of information that will spur the progress of the player. It is this area that the chess trainers's experience and erudition comes in handy, for he/she can fastrack the absorption of useful chess knowledge rather than dishing out  junk bits of crap which is incoherent with the student's understanding of the game  and can only serve to confuse even further. The result? More lessons are required, says the nonchalant guru and the vicious cycle self-perpetuates.

So given that someone is able to devote just 1 hour a day to playing 1 online game, researching the game afterward and making notes on what could be improved, who wouldn't be able to correct typical faults in move selection and calculation? But, then again the psychological aspects of chess would require a trained eye to spot indecision, inattention, lapses in concentration (plus other traits listed in Jonathan Rowson's Seven Deadly Chess Sins) etc and to provide exercises in remedying these failings.

When Singapore schoolchildren tell me that they are unable to come up with 1 hour a day for chess study and practice, I believe them. Our school system is often filled with not just schoolwork from the schools but additional homework levied by the tuition teachers. Add that to speech and drama, piano, dance or art lessons and you pretty well get the idea how tired the child can be at the end of a day. So where does chess fit into this equation of time-scarcity?

Hence, expectations that the 1 hour chess lesson in bringing about desired chess improvement has to be managed. You reap what you sow. Put in less than 2 hours a week and I'd say we can then achieve what's planned at a quarter of the pace (ie what takes a year to achieve in result will take 4 in perspective).

There are also those who diligently spend large amounts of whatever free time available to all the chess-related activities but yet still fail to perform. That is akin to eating huge amounts of junk food which does not serve to help, but to hinder. Reading a hundred books about positional chess does not make you a better player (if you read them like novels). Playing hundreds of blitz games with trigger reflexes and no thought behind the moves just creates a blitz junkie and no more. Purposeful practice and study has to be enforced and persevered in order to yield results, or else the routine would really be a waste of time.That's where you'd see many players who'd hardly advanced in their skills despite playing for years and having a big library of chess books or DVDs (the ideal customers for the chess book-publishing and chess-video trade). What counts is not the vast amounts of information you've gathered, but how well you know it.

TRAINER TAILOR MENTOR FRIEND

I chanced upon a fellow blogger who remarked wryly that the chess trainers often make their students pale copies of themselves in terms of opening play and style. He has warned that one should exercise care in engaging chess trainers as they may instill fear in the students rather than help with their learning. I am not sure what sort of "fear" he has in mind, so I would not venture a guess as the writer tends to riddle his opinion every now and then.

My approach to helping any student first comes from a deep analysis of the student - not just the games, but also the manner they play. Observing them at play helps a lot in determining root causes for any weakness. Reviewing the game right after its played ensures that the root cause is brought to the student's immediate attention. It is the job of a trainer to be able to assess the strengths and weaknesses of a player promptly and to suggest ways to improve the student's performance.

I have often made recommendations in the student's repertoire when necessary to steer them into positions that their strengths will show and their weaknesses minimised. That often means researching into openings that I do not play - which helps in furthering my understanding of openings. In doing that, I am forced to examine the variations and decide if it will truly aid the student in his selection of moves. For example, you cannot recommend the Sicilian Defence to a player who loathes giving material, or is afraid to attack, has poor memory or calculates poorly even if you are an expert in that opening.

Apart from technical weakness, most bad traits when playing can be picked up when observing a player close at hand. I found that one of my students visibly relaxed his attention on the board after he was 2 pieces up. He fell into a backrank mate shortly, signed the scoresheet and thought nothing of it till I reminded him of his carelessness. He was not prepared to admit that his lapse of concentration caused him to lose the game. His mum was told that he found the competition tougher this time round! I had to politely disagree and revealed the truth behind his losses. It was then he had to face the music and made to realise his shortcomings were all his own, not his opponents'.

Being a trainer, one becomes a tailor or sculptor in moulding or designing the conditions that will peak the performance of the student. Not just by adding the 'positives' like better choice of openings, more endgame knowledge, but also in subtracting the 'negatives' such  as mental blocks in overcoming stronger opposition, fear of losing, poor concentration, hastiness in making moves without first examing the opponent's reply etc. Removing the negative traits can be a challenging task, as I find that talking down often does not work. One needs to find the right time and mood to confront the student of his shortcomings to make him/her see the light. Usually that moment of opportunity comes when a deeply felt loss has just occurred. At such moments, I often bring the student to a quiet location and asked him why did he think he had lost. They would be honest in their answers. It is then they would be most receptive to learning what they could have done to avoid the loss, as it mattered there and then.

As for the fear of playing stronger players, the best way to overcome this fear is for them to play against the stronger players till they win. When they had realised that it is indeed possible to defeat the stronger player (be it their good moves or the bad play of the opponent), that fear will disappear. I learnt that when I made my first win over a then NM (now IM) in a simul back 30 years ago and since then, there was no fear of playing anyone.

To help the student effectively in such areas (ie the psychological aspects), one often needs to behave like a mentor and friend to the student. It is only when the student entrusts you completely without question, can true learning and acceptance develop. Reputation and title counts for nothing if you are unable to bridge that connection with the student, often it can lead to resentment if the advice and instructions are forced down without reason or accpetance.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

39th SELANGOR OPEN 1st to 6th MAY

Are you looking for a decently priced FIDE rated Classical Chess Open tournament in May?

Do check this out:
http://selangorchess.blogspot.com/2012/03/39th-selangor-open-1st-may-to-6th-may.html

Though the timing of the event may not be suitable for school-children, anyone with 4 days of leave to spare and wish to take part should strongly consider.

THOMSON CHESS LEAGUE 2012


We've had good turnouts for the Thomson Chess League which started Feb 3 and ends tomorow. All scores shall be accumulated and the winner is the one with the most number of points. 3 prizes are given, all chess books of course. An old friend, NM Oey Liang Hien dropped by and joined the club. He is keen to participate in the next league. 

We shall start the next Endgame League in June which will continue till end July. Interested players can write to me at johnwong@pacific.net.sg to sign up. More details later.

Monday, March 19, 2012

THOMSON CUP MOVED TO 7-8 JULY

Due to the launch of PA's Community Games initiative, the weekends of May and June have caused the Thomson CC Hall to be fully booked and thus, the Thomson Cup International this year will be moved to July 7-8 instead.

Interested participants please take note. The format remains unchanged at 1 hour per side.

WANT TO DO WELL IN CHESS?

As a follow up to my last post, I guess many parents who are reading this must be wondering how on earth are they going to wean their kids off computer games and focus on chess in the first place?

For one, I would strongly recommend that they sit through a movie " Searching for Bobby Fischer" or "Innocent Moves" (as it was released under in this region. Next, appeal to the child's sense of achievement by highlighting the successes of their peers in school who have won trophies or prizes in chess competitions.

Finally, after the children are excited to want to play chess, slowly (but firmly) stash the computer games away. Replace them with chess-related visuals like Chess Titans or Battle Chess. Show the masterpieces of Paul Morphy and the combinations of the Immortal or Evergreen Game through the graphics of Chess Titans. I am exploring that right now to see if it can be done. This I am sure will win many converts.

The excitement and thrill of chess is not easily discernable for the average child so concerted effort on the part of parents can help. For one, children can watch useful Youtube videos of chess blitz games with commentary so they can start to comprehend the moves of the masters. There's some good ones out there and I will try to locate and post them here later.

Studies have shown that prolonged indulgence in computer games (especially those with the blood and gore shooting and violent content) will only serve to inculcate aggressive and belligerent behaviour in children in the long run. Surely schools can play a big part in promoting mind games such as chess over computer games by encouraging children to not just play the game, but to also learn problem solving in unravelling simple chess puzzles. In our own little ways, we can shape Singapore into a thinking and pensive nation rather than an MTV state where instant gratification and quick results virtually rule all facets of daily life.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

MY HAPPY MOMENTS FROM THE NATIONAL INDIVIDUALS 2012

This year's National Schools Individuals Chess Tournament 2012  at Northland Primary School saw significant results from my students who competed. Preparatory work started in February with close monitoring on their state of knowledge of opening lines, coupled with drills on tactics with lots of game practice online and OTB. I shall cover the various Age Groups, from the youngest to the oldest.
 
UNDER 8 BOYS


   Visakan did well to come in 9th position though he could have done better in my opinion. Malcolm Sow emerged 15th with 5 pts, after 1 month of training.

UNDER 9 - 10 BOYS

Royce Tan (who started with me a few months ago) made good progress this year after we made some changes in his White repertoire. He was playing the King's Indian Attack as White, which I feel was not the right choice for his personality given that he loves open positions where his pieces could attack. Generally strong in tactics, playing the KIA is akin to caging a soaring eagle. With his new weapons, Royce managed to climb to 4th position in his group.



The 2 other boys did not achieve their targets, mainly as they have yet to appreciate the need to use their eyes first to comprehend their opponent's move before making their own. It cost them dearly. As to the Under 10 Boys, Royce competed and stood at 17th place while Louis and Yuji fared poorly to finish, mainly due to insufficient practice.



The star of the Under 10 Boys undoubtedly goes to Nicholas Low, who has been diligently following my advice to play regularly online and checking his losses to improve himself. I am very proud of Nicholas mainly because he focussed on his game every round and only lost to Alfred because he was unfamiliar with his own preparation (he admitted he did not watch the video about his line and went astray.)





GIRLS UNDER 9 & 10

Tricia was playing her first National Individuals and was a little awed by the event, but she enjoyed herself scoring mainly wins over her fellow team mates. Having insufficient practice meant that she was often not perceptive at the board, lacks board vision and often missed opportunities when presented. She would need to spend more time playing if she wants to better her performance next year.


Hui Ling performed up to expectations of her 4th seeding.


 UNDER 12 BOYS

I had high hopes for Shi Hao as his performance over the last year was exceptional. We had an overhaul early this year and he enjoys his latest weapons, so he no longer scores only with White. 6th position overall is a great score, being ahead of Rudolph Lau (though he lost) and Tommy Tan who definitely spent lots more hours in chess than he did. A performance rating of 1483 will see some more rating points coming his way.


UNDER 13 - 15
 
 Sadly Adrian could not muster enough courage to beat Aw Khai Loong and brave the final game against the top 4. It is not so much the result but what I was looking for is the gumption that he must have in order to move ahead. He definitely has the talent ( even back in his younger days he was already Derek's match) but lacks the bit of guts to climb out of his comfort zone to win. Hence he had to beat his friend for the last game to score 5.5 pts depriving Samuel of a chance to come into the top 10.




The giant killer of the Under 14 must be  Mitchell Han of SJI. Coming out of nowhere, he breezed through with 4/4 before being stopped by the Champion Soo Kai Jie. After that, he threw away a win (possibly due to fatigue) in the last round after being a piece ahead and secured a draw. It would be interesting to note what happens if he did win his last game, as it would place him in 3rd place. Not bad indeed for someone who managed to bring down the top seed Calvin Ong!

My students in Victoria School, despite their jovial and often clownish behaviour, took their games seriously and I am most impressed by Zhong Yi who, though never good enough for the Junior Squad, could still perform well against the favourites. Jonah Huang and Elliot were consistent in coming in at 8th and 9th positions respectively. Joven was a little disappointed at 20th placing. Time to buck up!



All of my students did not join the National Junior Squad and most do not see the point to join. Most of them have performed beyond my expectations. I credit this success to them as all I did was to help them understand themselves, play in the style that suits them rather than me. More importantly, I have constantly reminded them not to be overawed by reputation or rating. What matters are the moves that will distinguish who's the better player, not whether he or she is part of an institution. Time effectively spent on proper methods (in improving their thought processes, sharpening their tactical senses) will go a long way in securing major improvement in chess, not on playing training games with no objective in mind and no thorough analysis of the games after the games were played. As school children, we all need to understand that their schedules are packed with schoolwork and not everyone has the 5 hours a week to indulge in chess. Hence it is important to work on first things first - to improve the playing strength of the player rather than forcing them to lead a routine which sadly, only grandmasters and chess professionals want to live on.

Having heard the announcement that for this year's Age Group Championships in Singapore, the right to participate can only go to those who enrolled in the Junior Squad. I have no choice but to look for similar tournaments elsewhere. The Malacca Heritage Tournament and the Penang Open are good choices and I hope to get my students to better their performances in these tournaments.