By CEO National Master Evan Rabin
Shana Tovah, everyone! For those of you that don’t know, that means “Good New Year in Hebrew. The last six days I was in South Florida to celebrate Rosh Hoshana, the beginning of the Hebrew Year, 5780. I went down there to surprise my dear friend Steve Eisenberg, Founder of JICNY, who moved to the area 4 weeks ago and is already hosting big events in Miami. As an entrepreneur though, it’s hard to truly take time off though; while down in South Florida, I meet with two new schools and had the wonderful opportunity to see of the great work the National Scholastic Chess Foundation (NSCF) is doing with its Sunrise Chess entity. Whether it be the youth at Pompano Youth Drug Treatment Center, the greater community at Sunrise Convention Center or the students at Bair Middle School, it was a pleasure to meet and work with everyone.
Bright and early at 8:00 AM on Friday, September 27th, I met the Director of Communications & Development of the New York Scholastic Chess Foundation (NSCF) Robert McLellan at the Pompano Youth Drug Treatment Center (R. McLellan is also the Program Director for The Sunrise Center for Excellence in Chess). I was exhausted as I arrived to my friend’s apartment in Boca Raton at 1:00 AM the night before but the teenagers there gave me a boost of energy. I briefly spoke about my background and how chess has helped me professionally. I mentioned how when I interviewed for my last Corporate America job at Rapid7, my soon-to-be director John McDonnell didn’t ask a single question about data security; all he did was inquire about the national master title that was explicitly written on my resume.
When I arrived, Sunrise Chess Instructor Chris Goldthorpe was playing one of the students, who decided to capture a pawn without realizing that Chris could simply take the student’s knight with his queen. I asked him is $1 worth the same as $3 and he replied “of course not”. This interaction inspired me to offer the class a short guest lesson about captures. I had two main points :
- Grandmaster Maxim Dlugy describes how chess is like a duel. In a duel, if someone asks to you to do something, chances are you would not blindly cooperate. Likewise, in a chess game, if your opponent offers you something- a piece, square, sacrifice, etc., you should not immediately go for it. While it’s possible your opponent made a mistake, you should first double check the position and see why he made that offer.
- One should not make an exchange solely because it’s a “fair trade.” Would you exchange 5 $1-dollar bills for a $5 bill? Sound’s reasonable- right? What if I told you that the nearby vending machine did not give out change and you wouldn’t be able to purchase that refreshing $1 ice-cold Coke? You may not be so happy then! It’s always good to consider trades but you should only do one if it benefits you.
Like the students we teach every year on our annual Make a Difference Teaching Chess in Africa trip, these students were easy to work with; I was able to speak without many interruptions. While some of these teenagers come from rough backgrounds and have drug and behavioral programs, chess serves a great way for them to make friends, build self-esteem and develop more critical thinking skills.
The next day, I had the honor of attending Sunrise Mayor Mike Ryan’s Chess Challenge in the convention center. There were over 300 people there, including our US Champion Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura. Mayor Ryan made an official proclamation, stating that in the City of Sunrise, Saturday, September 28 was “Jocarey Bynum’s day”. Jocarey, a Bair Middle School Student, was recognized for recently ranking in the top-100 list for 11 years in the United States, two years after learning how to move the pieces through Sunrise Chess, where Mourice Hylton (Area Coordinator of Sunrise Center for Excellence in Chess) provided him with more than enough chess for him to learn the foundations of the game. After that, Mayor Mike Ryan shocked NSCF Executive Director Sunil Weeramantary with the “Key to the City”, an award he has given out three times over the years. The first went to none other than Sunil’s stepson Hikaru, a Sunrise resident.
After the awards, while participants of all ages played skittles games, a lucky dozen players had the opportunity to play Women’s FIDE Master Amelia Hernandez and I in a tandem simul. While I’ve conducted several simuls before, there were two firsts for me with this one :
- Never have I played a tandem simul, where it’s challenging to have to adapt to your teammate style, openings, strategies, etc.
- Never have I had to deal with the extra pressure of a US Champion watching the games. One simul participant mentioned he was concerned he was putting up enough of a good fight; I quick responded “Trust me; I bet you Hikaru is judging Amelia and I more than you.
The work NSCF and Mayor Ryan are doing has not only built a great community for all ages in Sunrise but it has also had a big domino effect; this school year, 18 near-by Florida cities are hosting Mayor Chess Challenge events. Other mayor’s are supportive of chess; see a piece Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild wrote about the relationship of politics and chess here. Mayor De Blasio works with Chess in the Schools every year to host the Mayor’s Cup, one of the biggest scholastic chess tournaments in New York City each year. More mayors around the U.S and throughout the globe should support the game more as it connects citizens from all ages, socio-economic classes, religions, etc. and helps people learn life and business values.
As a follow-up to Mayor’s Challenge, I enjoyed going to give guest lecture at Bair Middle School yesterday. Like many school programs, it started with the part students love most- snack time! While the kids ate, I had a chance to chat with Robert and Maurice Thompson, the school’s Language Arts instructor and chess coach. Afterwards, while the kids wanted to play at first, they enjoymeed my introduction, in which I spoke about how chess has helped me make income since I was 12 years old, boost my career and bring me to tournaments in 9 countries. In my Q and A, Jacori asked me “How much do you make with chess currently?”. While I wouldn’t give him a straight answer, I did mention that in my first full year in the business with Premier Chess in 2018, I had the best financial year of my life. I then went into my thought process lesson, where I discuss the seven steps it takes to come up with a good move:
- Write down your opponent’s move.
- Ask why he went there.
- Come up with 3-4 candidate moves.
- Use tree method and pick which move has the biggest ROI.
- If you see a good move, look for a better move.
- Do a blunder check.
- Play move.
This process can be used in all parts of the game- opening, middlegame and endgame.
As the students were so interested in lecture, time flew by; a few students were disappointed that we did not have much time to play afterwards but Robert McLellan reminded them the importance of studying if they want to get better and have the possibility of going to the nationals. Since we only had about 10 minutes, I decided to let the students play as a team against me; you can see live footage of the game here. While I would like to say I won, I have to say it was hard-fought draw!
Looking forward to visiting some of these programs again soon; meanwhile I will soon be meeting other chess communities soon as I play Canadian International Open in Montreal Oct 11-13 and Los Angeles Open Nov 1-3.