A Guest Sermon at Lincoln Park Jewish Center: Queen’s Gambit and Parsha Bo, January 23, 2021

By CEO National Master Evan Rabin

Shabbat Shalom, LPJC Community. May this sermon raise the levaya of Chaim Schneur Zalman Yehuda  Ben Aaron Leib  and help the refuah shleima of my dear cousin Tzofit Ben Reviva.

The parsha begin with the word “Bo”, meaning to come. Hashem instructors Moses to come with Pharoah, not to go, meaning Hashem would escort him. One should always trust in Hashem.

Levi Welton and his Young Professional Community

In 2017, I was doing sales for On The Spot Photo Magnets and sent a cold email to Rabbi Levi Welton asking what he is doing for photography at an event. He told me he was all set in terms of  photography at the event but I should show up. I did and we instantly became close. In 2018, Levi became the rabbi at the Shul and I started coming regularly. In 2019 and 2020 I hosted chess Shabbaton events at the shul.

Today in 2021, I am here doing this talk and am committed to soon becoming a member of the shul! Back in March, like all of us, I faced uncertainty at one by one, the 80+ schools we serve, shut their doors. However, as Rabbi Mark Wildes, Founder of Manhattan Jewish Experience, said, one must use the the coronavirus as an opportunity, not a problem. We quickly pivoted to virtual learning and continued our success, as mentioned in Dylan Mclain’s recent New York times article.

In Parsha Bo, we read about the last three of the 10 plagues:

8)Locusts
9)Darkness
10) Slaying of the First Born

We learn that we should  have a calendar based on the moon, a Passover offering, matzah and bitter herbs. We also learn that one should respect the firstborn. I am now making a haclachta (commitment) that I am going to call my brother once per week.

The parsha also teaches us that the Jews asked the Egyptians for gold, silver and garments, showing that they left Egypt wealthy. Not only does Beth Harmon leave the orphanage, but she also soon shows her materialism as she travels with her new mom and asks for items like clothing, chess sets and more.

with Tefillin on at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on my Oranim Birthright Trip in 2008

Parsha Bo also introduces the important mitzvah of tefillin, which one binds on his arm and head. Rabbi Moshe Scheiner of Chabad of West Palm Beach, explains in this Facebook video how the English word for tefillin is “phylacteries”, which is of the same root as “prophylactic”, a common chess word which is used to explain how players like Former World Champion Anatoly Karpov made moves to prevent future counter-play.

In Peninim on The Torah, Rabbi AL Scheinbaum shares a beautiful tefillin story:

A yeshiva high-school student David volunteered at a nursing home. Like a Chabad shaliach/mercenary, he would often walk around, asking the residents if they would like to dawn tefillin. One day one of the residents got angry at him as he did not want to put on tefillin and soon brought David to his room. He explained how he and his father were the only two for a while to survive from the Holocaust. Soon after just for putting tefillin on, his father was murdered.

The tefillin was the only thing that the man was able to keep from his father so for many years he equated it with death. A few days later, David was looking for the 10th person to make a minyan and his elder agreed to take part. When David asked if he would like to take his tefillin, his elder reluctantly agreed. After that David, would help him put on tefillin on each day… until a few months later when he unfortunately passed away. The elder’s daughter called up David explaining how he saved him and that he passed away with his tefillin on. You never know what one small act of kindness can do. I now make a second hachlachta, which is to put tefillin on each day, except of course for Shabbat and Yom Tov, before 10:00 AM.

Elizabeth Harmon is a fictional prodigy, loosely based on Bobby Fischer, Judith Polgar and other top players. National Master Bruce Pandolfini, my podcast guest, and Grandmaster Gary Kasparov were advisors on the film series so the chess was fairly accurate.

Moshe told Pharoah that not only grown men should leave Egypt to serve Hashem. Torah study should begin at a young age and even babies should be exposed. When Elizabeth Harmon was a young orphan, she saw her school janitor playing chess in the basement. When she first expressed interest what he was doing, he said that girls do not play chess and told her to go upstairs. To the contrary, Rabbi AL Scheinbaum writes “If the parent has no desire to respond, the parent has severed his/her relationship with the child.” As Elizabeth Harmon insisted, the janitor eventually taught her and she ended up being a top player in the nation; you never know what type of impact one teacher could have.

As Parsha Bo teaches us to remember Exodus, l’dor v’dor, from one generation to another, Elizabeth Harmon teaches us to remember The Cold War.

Both stories show how we can depart our limitations and become wealthy. Elizabeth Harmon is an orphan who would not let her challenges stop her from international fame. She reminds me of my podcast guest Pastor Bill Wilson, who 50 years ago was left on a street corner by his mother for 3 days in Florida and now runs Metro World Child, an incredible non-profit that supports 200,000+ children around the world with food, education, sponsorship and much more.

As the Jews went from slavery in Egypt to Klal Yisrael, Elizabeth Harmon went from impoverishment and addiction to widespread success. Both cases required teamwork.

Let us all be inspired by Elizabeth Harmon, the modern day Moses. Live up and be strong. Trust in Hashem. As Rabbi Wildes said, consider all of your challenges opportunities, not problems. Despite the challenges of Coronavirus, we have been successful, with exposure in the New York times and recent contracts with Berkshire Hathaway and Google. We may not know it but Hashem always a plan. Shabbat Shalom!

Guidelines vs. Rules

By CEO National Master Evan Rabin

The king moves one space in any direction; that is a rule.

Develop, control the center and castle as soon as possible; that is a guideline.

In a podcast episode with business coach Sharon Richter, we spoke about the important of knowing the “rules of the game”. Of course, in addition to how to move the pieces, we were also referring to the position evaluation and basic strategy. While one should follow basic guidelines like developing knights before bishops, trading when up material, etc., it is important to think at the board and not automatically rely on them. 

In this easily winning position, my student Luke decided to use the guideline to trade when you are up material and played 19…Bh3. While he did eventually win the game, it would have made more sense to think at the board more and realize that white has a king near the center that can easily be attacked. Better would have been to not rush to trade and play 19…. Bf5+.  A sample winning variation would be:

20. e4 Rad8
21. exf5 Rxd4+
22. Kxd4 Rfd8+ (winning a queen)

In the Sicilian Defense, there is often a tension with the white knight on d4 and black knight on c6. The general guideline tell us that you want to let your opponent be the one to relieve the tension; i.e, white does not want to play Nxc6 and black does not want to play Nxd4. However, in this position, Grandmaster van der Wiel played 7.Nxc6 against Grandmaster Ulf Anderson. His idea was to get some quick development and a strong attack….. Several moves later, they got to this position:

In this position,  van der Wiel played the crushing blow 15.. Nxd5 and found himself in a winning position. See the full game here.

This position arises from the 150 attack against the Pirc Defense, a variation I read about in Attacking With 1.e4, a book described in this post. According to basic opening principles, black should castle kingside in this position. However, if he plays 5…0-0, he will be walking into trouble. White will play 6. Bh6 and black will have a tough time defending against a quick attack after a simple plan of exchanging bishops, marching up the h pawn to trade on g6, and playing for mate. Black is much better off delaying castling with 5….c6.

One should distinguish guidelines and rules. Do not play an idea just because it is the type that a chess teacher would fundamentally recommend. Do not forget to analyze of the board and make the best move. Disability Lisa Cunningham, once shared how when on deadline and or trial, an attorney needs to learn how to take everything he knows about law and think on their feet. On or off the board, be confident, distinguish rules and guidelines and use your intuition and you will be successful.  

3 Ways to Build Confidence

By CEO National Master Evan Rabin 

Last weekend I was screaming on the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at the Magic Kingdom in Disney World. It was my first time in years riding a roller coaster and was certainly out on my comfort zone. The truth of the matter was that I did not have to scream; while the ride can intimidating, thousands of people take it each year and almost no one gets hurt. Later that day, I rode several other thrilling rides and I started to feel fine; the biggest challenge is taking that first big step! Confidence was a key topic of my recent podcast episode with Grandmaster Alexander Shabalov. On or off the chess board, here are three tips to become confident: the 50 point rule, repetition and self-reflection. 

 

On my first day working at Oracle, my sales trainer Bill Petersen taught an important business phrase: “Underpromise, overdeliver.” It is a lot better to forecast a smaller dollar amount of revenue and exceed it than the opposite. Chess players need to focus on appropriate expectations; one way to do that is use my famous 50-point rule. No matter what your opponent’s rating actually is, play as if he is rated 50-points higher rated than you. That way you give them a little respect and are not overconfident but do not get nervous and play passively.

On our last Annual Make a Difference Teaching Chess in Africa Trip, Luis Cuerdo asked a kid “do you know your name?” in front of the whole class. Confused as to why Luis would ask such a simple question, the student said, “yes, of course.” Luis thank asked the student what a a pin is in chess. While the student knew the answer, it took him a while to figure out how to explain it. It is not enough to the know what a pin or any other tactical theme is; it is important to review ideas many times to make sure they we know them, almost just as well as we know our name! Some good ways to repeat these ideas is to solve lots of puzzles and review whole games. You can find some good books for game collections here.

In this podcast episode, Elliott Neff shared how in chess you “win, draw” or learn.” There is no such thing as losing in chess. As long as you have a growth mindset and constantly self-reflect, there is no need to have any fears. One area I have always struggled with is last-round situations where all the money is on the line. Often a win will equate to a substantial prize and a loss will leave you with nothing at all. However, U.S Women’s World Champion Grandmaster Irina Krush recently shared on a Facebook post how you should treat each last round as any other as there will always be more last rounds. Compared to other masters, I have read very few chess games but I have improved in the game and gained confidence by playing in over 950 tournaments and reviewing all my games, by myself, with coaches and using the engine.

Draw the curtains I don’t care ’cause it’s alright
I will get by I will get by
I will get by I will survive
As the Grateful Dead teaches in “Touch of Grey”, if we set our mind to it, we can get by! The highest rated player in a tournament often will not finish in first place; the winner is usually the one who controls his emotions the most. As our close education partner Michael Deutsch tells his basketball students, they just need to say “we can do it” and the magic happens. Now, go ahead and use the 50 point rule, repetition and self reflection to be confident and win! 

Chess and ADHD: For Therapeutic and Educational Purposes

By Andrea Elrom, Certified ADHD & Executive Function Coach

The Pandemic has allowed me the luxury of watching way more Netflix and Hulu than I ever could have imagined. A year ago, I would not have seen this as a positive but now I can confidently say that it has opened my eyes into new worlds and has sparked interest in areas that I would have never taken the time to see.

“My Octopus Teacher”opened my eyes to a love story between a mollusk and a man on a journey of self discovery, “ Unstoppable” the one armed surfer who proved with determination almost anything is possible and “The Queen’s Gambit,” bring a focus to the game of chess.


As an ADHD coach and an Adder myself, this opened up an awareness to the incredible impact chess can have on the ADHD brain. Spending most of my coaching career on teaching and strengthening Executive Function skills, I am intrigued by the power that chess has on attention/concentration, decision making, problem solving, flexibility, sustained effort and self
regulation.

Why had I not thought of this before? I am always looking for ways to gamify Executive Function skills, to find interests to ignite the brain, find passion and increase self
esteem; maybe Bobby Fischer was on to something.


I do believe that the treatment for ADHD/ADD takes many shapes and sizes but one shape I am looking forward to getting acquainted with is that of the — king, Queen pawn bishop and other pieces of the board. Having had the pleasure of working with Evan and Premier Chess,
my son and I are awaiting the beginning of the
Winter Rookie class. I am not sure I will be the next Beth Harmon but  am anxious to learn how to focus and solve problems.

Although Chess will not take the place of medication, it may be a component of strengthening executive functions. 

Learn more about Andrea Elrom’s ADHD and Executive Function consulting here.

11 Books for Chess Improvement

By CEO National Master Evan Rabin

Compared to most chess masters, I have read a minute amount of chess books cover to cover, likely under five. I made master mostly because I played 950+ rated tournaments and went over all of my games with some help of my coaches.

With that said, there were certainly several books that helped me grow from beginner to master:

Beginner Books

(Suggested Rating: Unrated-1200)

1) The Chess Tactics Workbook by Al Woolum 

Chess teachers probably make more photo copies from this book more than any other. It has lots of great practice for beginners and some intermediate players, ranging from piece movement exercises to forced checkmate in three puzzles.

2) How to Beat Your Dad in Chess by Grandmaster Murray Chandler

My coach National Master James Lewis gifted me this book when I was 12-years-old and I now teach with it all the time. While the title is funny, it is actually good for children and adults. It demonstrates 50 key checkmating patterns, including the Anastasia’s Mate, Arabian Mate and the famous Greek Gift sacrifice.

Here is a fun fact about the Arabian Mate that I once learned from David Macenulty: The reason it is called “Arabian Mate” is that when chess was invented in Persia, there were only pieces that move exactly the same way that they move know- the rook and the knight.

3) Pandolfini’s Endgame Manuel by National Master Bruce Pandolfini

My podcast guest Bruce Pandolfini  signed “future master” on my copy of the book when I was 8-years-old; his prediction came true! I learned lots of the basic checkmates and fundamental endgames through this book.

Intermediate Books 

(Suggested Rating: 1200-1800)

1) Michael Adams: Development of  a Master by Bill and Michael Adams


Former World Champion Bobby Fischer’s second Grandmaster Bill Lombardy once shared me some key advice: Go over full games!

My father Keith Rabin, President of KWR International, bought me this book in a used bookstore as a child but it wasn’t until years later that I read it. One late night at the Chess Forum, the late Bill Lombardy told me I was spending way too much time reviewing openings and endgames and that I should pick a top player and review all of his games and focus on transitions. I therefore picked up this book and started focusing on all of perennial British Champion Mickey Adam’s games and learned a lot of about openings, preparation of attacks, middlegame strategy and more.

2) Modern Chess Strategy by Ludek Pachman 

Before my first lesson with Grandmaster Leonid Yudasin, he suggested I carry all of my chess books so he can make some reading recommendations. When I showed them all, he instantly suggested Modern Chess Strategy. This book has helped me evaluate positions and come up with the best middlegame plans based on positional factors. For instance, if your opponent is expanding in the center,  you should get counter play in one of the wings.

3) Winning Endgame Strategy by Grandmaster Alexander Beliavsky

This book was another recommendation of Yudasin and taught me most of the fundamental endgame knowledge I know.

Advanced 

(Suggested Rating: 1800+)

1) Counterattack! by Grandmaster Zenon Franco

I have been using this book a lot with many of our intermediate and advanced students in recent years. It gives a lot of ideas about attacking, psychology, defense and more. One main point of the book that I learned was how one should always spend time searching for additional candidate moves that may not appear so obvious.

Openings

(Suggested Rating: 1200+)

Students rated under 1200 should have a few basic moves as white with either 1.e4 or 2.d4 and black against both moves but should not do any serious openings study. Students above 1200 should still primarily focus on middlegame themes and endgames but should have a basic repertoire.

One should focus on opening books that have full games, rather than variations, to abide by the teachings of Bill Lombardy.

These are two of the opening books that helped me the most:

1) Beating the Sicillian 3 by John Nunn and Joe Gallagher

While this book is a little old and does not have the latest and greatest theory of the Open Sicilian, it is a good overview of all the lines and shows lots of instructive games, including a few from the authors themselves.

2) Attacking with 1. e4 by Grandmaster John Emms

Bobby Fischer once said “1.e4 is best by test.” While that may be true, I’ve been an 1.e4 player pretty consistently my whole chess career. I have dabbled with 1.d4, the English and 1.Nc3 over the years but 1.e4 has always been my main opening move. While a 160-page book certainly cannot fit in all lines against 1.e4, this book provides a nice survey. I enjoy its lines against the Pirc, Modern, Scandinavian, Alekhine and unorthodox defenses in particular. I do not agree with the suggestions of the Closed Sicilian, Bishop’s Opening and the Kings Indian Attack against the French. This book also does not show complete games; however, you can take the games quoted and search for them on Chessgames.com  or Chessbase Online.

For d4 players, I would suggest Grandmaster Boris Avrukh‘s 1.d4 series:

1)Volume One: D4, D5 Lines

2) Volume Two: D4, Nf6 Lines 

There are many black opening books that helped me; too many to name. If you would like a suggestion regarding a particular black opening, check out the great supply at our close partner Chess4Less. What chess books have helped you to improve the most?