G: I am a philosopher and theologian, who plays chess.
E: Tell me about yourself.
E: Where did you do your chess and theologian studies?
G: I did my philosophy studies at Ole Miss in Oxford, Mississippi, my theology studies at Harvard and chess bootcamp at the Chess Forum in Greenwich Village.
E: How long have you been playing chess?
G: When I was 10, someone gave my family a cardboard box
chess set with instructions and I taught myself.
E: Tell me about when you realized chess would be a true
G: I remember as kid sitting in Church on a Sunday morning listening to a sermon and thinking about chess. My heart would race. I used to be part of a chess community at The Chess Forum in the 90s before internet chess. A lot of great players used to play there at all hours.
E: Tell me about the most interesting player you met there:
G: He was a wild-child kindergartener. He had the most mischievous demeaner ever. He would tell his opponents” move your piece here” and then he would take free pieces. His mom and dad would sit patiently in the waiting area for the lesson to conclude. They would drink tea and baklava while I would teach a class of kindergartners.
E: When did you know that Fabiano may be a prodigy?
G: I was a new chess teacher and didn’t know he was that
good. That was the first chess class I ever taught. I knew that he was head and
shoulders above all the other kids. Later when he was in 4th grade,
I played against him in the United States Amateur Team East on board 4 and he
killed me like I was little kid. His father reminded me that I was his first
ever chess teacher.
E: Tell me about where you currently teach. G: I teach curriclum and after-school classes at Brooklyn Friends, PS 40, PS 124, corporate classes and private lessons. E: Tell me something interesting that know ones!
G: I am part of a chess cabal; David Macenulty, Ron Boocock and I meet for dinner and talk shop bi-monthly. E: Where can people find you for lessons for over the summer?
G: We have a summer camp at Brooklyn Friends until 8/23. We learn a lot of chess, hone our skills, enjoy weekly field trips and eat ice cream; sign up here!
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In chess, while it’s important to study and understand openings, middlegame themes and endgame knowledge, it’s also necessary to learn how to think on your feet. A few months ago, I was teaching a private student a line in the Scotch Opening. I then asked him to regurgitate the line. I purposely played a slightly different move order to see if he would change up his moves but he was so set on repeating what I taught him that he didn’t realize I played a different variation.
The Grateful Dead could play a song 1 million times and it will never sound the same. In both their music and business, they would constantly innovate as Barnes writes, “Fluid situations demand the simultaneous blending of planning and doing.” (10-11) I tell students even if they have seen an opening or endgame many times, they still need to spend time at the board making sure they are making all the right moves. This will help them avoid mixing up the move order of an opening or accidentally stalemating an opponent when attempting the king and queen checkmate.
2. Innovate Constantly: How the Dead Stayed on the Cutting Edge.
While endgame fundamentals like triangulation and the Lucena Position will never change, opening theory changes everyday as grandmasters play new novelties. Whether you are a complete beginner or a super grandmaster, it is important to continuously improve as Brian Barnes writes, “To stay ahead, a business must keep reinventing itself, keep working to change things for the better.” (128). In chess, if you are not preparing for your next tournaments, your rivals certainly are. When I was at Oracle, my Vice President Kevin McGee would often say ” If you aren’t calling your prospect today, your competitor is.” It’s important to continually look for ways to improve and provide the best possible product and service to your clients.
3. Share the Power
Many beginners make a lot of pawn moves in the opening as they are afraid to lose their pieces. Others will faultily move one piece over and over again, rather than developing all of their soldiers. It is important for a player to develop all of his pieces so they become worth their point value. A knight that is sitting home on b1 is not worth a full 3 points.
While the queen is the most powerful piece, each piece has an important role on the chess board, including the pawn. Rabbi Levi Welton likes to tell a story about when he was the rabbi at the Hampton Synagogue. Many people were confused because instead of reaching out to the older synagogue members for contributions to the shul, he decided to talk to the ‘pawns’ Erica and Mark Gerson, some of the young professionals who didn’t have as much disposable income. Rabbi Levi was actually the chess player as these ‘pawns’ ended up getting promoted as they became wealthy Jewish philanthropists.
In this sense, Rabbi Levi and Jerry Garcia think alike; while they are both great leaders, they abide by the importance of modesty. While Garcia was technically the leader of the band, “[the whole staff’s] opinion carried weight- any major decision required consensus, from everyone at the meeting.”(173). A chess player must make a plan that will incorporate all of his pieces. A band must include all of its stakeholders, ranging from the band leader to roadies, in major decisions. Likewise when Premier Chess expands into other cities, we take into account the needs our instructors, schools, partners and more.
If you don’t think that the Grateful Dead, chess and business have a lot to do with one another, you just gotta poke around! While the Grateful Dead was a rock band, it was a also a business that used many business lessons, including improvisation, innovation and sharing of power, which are all used on the chess board. Keep on truckin’!
Three years ago my good friend and mentor Peretz Chein, the Chabad of Brandeis Rabbi, called me; I thought he was going to ask for a donation. He surprised me when he told me he wanted to take his fundraising platform to other organizations and wanted to consider hiring my previous company Pillar Sales to find him deals. A few days later, we met for lunch at Milk Street Café in Boston. When I asked him whether he would like to focus on Chabad houses, other Jewish organization or secular ones, he told me, “Evan- I want to make thing clear to you; I am in this venture to make money. I do a lot of chesed (good deeds) to Brandeis students but this is a way to make money. Whichever clients you think will bring in the most money, I am game. Some of the money will ultimately go back to Chabad of Brandeis.” As I continue to grow Premier Chess, I realize the importance of giving back to the community. Therefore, when my friend Theresa Grant, Founder and Director of Make a Difference Now, offered me to come back to Tanzania July 11-20 to teach another group of students at Uru Secondary School, there was no doubt I would.
This year, I came to Africa with Louis Cuerdo, a teacher
from San Sebastian Spain, who was on the 1st Make a Difference
Teaching Chess in Africa trip in June 2018, and Jason Bui, the co-founder of
the Philadelphia Chess Society. Unlike last year when I was clueless about the
country, this year it felt nice to know a lot of the people and geography of
Moshi, on the foothills of Mount Kiliminjaro. When Jason and I arrived at the
airport, I gave our driver and friend Paul a big hug immediately. We then went
to the guest house for dinner and rest.
On our first day, we had an orientation, including a Swahili lesson, and went to Uru Secondary School. Unlike Royal School, which is the traditional private school we went to last year, Uru Secondary School is Catholic. The students and teachers were happy when I mentioned Premier Chess is the preferred chess vendor for the Catholic Youth Organization in New York. The first day we were a little cramped in a classroom but managed to get by.
Last year at Royal School, one of the students asked us an amazing question-
“What is the most important thing chess has taught you?” Our driver Paul
explained “ The first time you make a
mistake, it is a learning experience. The second time you make it, it is a true
mistake.” Inspired by that, I asked the students, “If there is one quality that is important to
have to get good in chess or anything else in life, what is it?” I explained
how David Macenulty states “The golden rule in life is being a good listener”.
Many sales managers recommend the 80-20 rule, where one listens 80% of the time
and talks 20% of the time. After the rest of the teachers gave answers, the
students felt more comfortable giving theirs, which included practice,
competence, thinking, games, persistence and confidence.
Fellow volunteers Luis, National Master Kola Adayemi, Expert
Jack Mo and Rohan Gupta had a great time at Royal School last year and did
plant a framework for chess at the school. Peter, one of Make a Difference’s
students, who transferred this year from Royal School to Uru Secondary,
explained how the Royal School did start a chess club every Wednesday; however,
the teachers were never vested. We only occasionally had teachers visit our
classroom. To the contrary, the Uru Secondary sports instructors were
enthusiastic about chess and wanted to learn themselves. Most days we had three
teachers in the room with us and we almost always had at least 1. Two of them competed
in our tournament the last day and promised that they would help run a chess
club before we leave: We are going to create a chess club and have competitions
and ask other schools to try and learn about it as we are ambassadors.”
In addition to helping out the kids, one of the main
benefits of our trip was exchanging chess pedagogy ideas with one another for
us to improve as teachers. We taught the students, who mostly did not know what
a pawn looks like, board geography and the pawn game. Jason creatively put out
his arms out and demonstrated how pawns move and capture. The next day to improve the pawn game, we
had the boys play against girls using the demo board. Generally speaking, I do
not let students come up to demo board as I want them to practice notation and
I do not want them to waste a lot of time running back and forth to their
seats. However, Jason picked a perfect solution, where we had boy and girl
representatives to make the moves after their teammates would call out where to
go. On Day 3, Luis shared a metaphor that I plan on using in the classroom:
“With the queen’s beauty, she needs a matching dress.”
In my sophomore year of Brandeis University, we learned
about glocalization in my Introduction to Anthropology class. Jason took this
concept to heart when he taught the point system. Instead of talking in points
or dollars, he decided to assign values in Shillings. Didn’t you know the pawn is worth 1000
shillings, the bishop and knight or worth 3,000 shillings, etc.? To help
students grasp the importance of not losing material, I shared with them and
the instructors a game Nelson Dunn taught me at PS 40- “No Free Pieces.” In
this variant, if you give your opponent a 1- point material advantage for no
compensation, you lose.
On our final day of teaching on July 18th, we had a tournament with 67 participants, made up of our 61 Uru students, two of their teachers, three older Make a Difference sponsored students, Paul and four students from Born to Learn, where Luis has volunteered for six months at a time for the last four years. The students played a four-round swiss. While we got off to a rocky start, as many of the students played on the wrong boards in round 1, we caught up by round 2. Since we had to finish four games, we adjudicated many of the games. In the end, we were happy that Peter, a Make a Difference Student, won the 1st place trophy!