Memorizing, Understanding And Drawing Conjectures

At a job interview I’d set up two different positions. My interviewer asked me to come up with a lesson plan, or at least something that they could learn from. After quickly introducing ourselves we set those up (see below). Black’s arrangement is the same in both diagrams, but White’s one differs a little. In one he’s already castled while in the other he’s not, and the c2 pawn is occupying the c4 square.

Black can play e5

If you know a little bit about the King’s Indian then you probably know why playing e7-e5 is fine here. White is controlling that square twice and you are defending it only once. However Black’s dark-squared Bishop is x-raying the h8-a1 diagonal. So if White goes pawn grabbing, Black will be able to play Nxe4, at the right moment, and get his pawn back with an equal position.

Black shouldn’t play e5

Why is Black unadvised to play that exact same move here ? Isn’t the g7 Bishop still there, ready to jump into the game at the right moment ? He surely is but White has castled and his c2 pawn is still on c2.

Frank’s late pal, Pal Benko

Frank is a chess player. He participated in the Bankers Athletic Leagues quite a while ago. Now he harbors New-York, spreading his own memories and vision of the world through lengthy and insightful conversations. We had the chance to encounter him at the Chess Forum, a vibrant shop where chess amateurs come and go and usually play blitz games. So what about Pal Benko ?

Benko was famous as the man who, in 1970, stepped aside for Bobby Fischer to enter the World Championship Cycle. But he was also praised and recognized as an innovative opening theoretician, endgame genius and a brillant problem solver. Born in Amiens, France in 1928 to a vacationing Hungarian family, Benko grew up in Budapest, Hungary. The memorable chess player received an invitation to the 1957 World Student Team Championship in Iceland, where he played on the first board. That’s when a new chapter of his life begin as he decided to walk into the American Embassy in Reykjavik, Iceland and asked for asylum.

At first working as a mutual fund salesman, it didn’t take him long to get back to his first calling. Indeed Pal Benko started making a living with chess, and back in the 60’s it was much easier said than done. The prizes were definitely not as important as they are today, at least for major international events. Anyway the reborn chess master was thriving and even set a record winning 4 U.S. Chess Open in a row (1964-1967). His most famous game was a loss, against Fischer in a game during the 1963 U.S. Chess Championship during which the audience was stunned by Bobby’s 19th move.

In his career, he also devoted a lot of his time to writing chess articles. For instance he was a long-time columnist for Chess life from 1971 to 1981. Moreover he and the Polgar family have had an everlasting friendship, as they all live in Hungary at some point and would go on vacation together. He was also a long-time trainer and mentor of the Polgar sisters, so no wonder they’ve been so successful. Susan Polgar visited him in Hungary shortly before he passed away. Chess grandmaster Pal Benko lives on through his books, columns and games.

The Art Of Learning Chess

Being a kid I remember being told quite a few times that this was the best instant of my life, and I never knew for sure what they meant, and probably would just nod away whoever was expressing their own bit of bitterness to a child. Looking back, being a chess player myself, I realize that perhaps they were somewhat right. Quite possibly our younger years (12-18) are extremely relevant to what a good part of our life is going to look like. In my case I stopped playing chess at 12 and tried out other sports, and now that I work within the chess industry, I have to catch up the time loss in which I didn’t study chess, so I could become a prolific chess enthusiast again.

I was a somewhat quiet and jovial kid, started coming regularly to the chess club of my hometown at an early age (so early there weren’t any tournaments available for me yet), and eventually went through the different stages of basic understanding of Chess. Once I knew how to move the pieces, I was able to remember certain openings and basically gain 100 rating points every year. I was 12 years old and one of the higher rated of my category in my country, but I stopped training, competing and improving in any meaningful way.

Our destiny isn’t predefined, or at least I like to think mine isn’t. So every effort put into a positive direction will come back at you, and brighten your life, at some point. On the other hand, laziness and not getting involved within our community might have a tremendous impact on the dynamic of your future. Now that I am an adult, I still believe I can start learning again and investigating the sport of chess again, while self-consciously noticing and realizing the different course of actions that my learning curve is taking.

For kids attending chess programs, we want them to realize that on their own. With time, patience, kindness and the right mindset we teach them the way of life while learning how to get chess. Once they get there, that’s when their mindset becomes of the utmost importance. You can show a group of kids an opening, or even a game, and hand them over more knowledge than 10 hours of private lessons could. It’s possible, everything kind of is.

Perception of your own position.

Our chess’ knowledge is somewhat representative of our strength over the board. Knowing opening moves, remembering how to convert a theoretically winning endgame into an actual victory, and turning a somewhat better position into a favorable game are some of the aspects that assess a player’s skills. But what happens when we fall into our opponent’s preparation, or if the game just shifts in a variation that you aren’t quite so familiar with ? Understanding a position that you have never even encountered is what chess is about too. Having the right mindset, experiences and instinct to properly evaluate what you can’t do, if not what you must play !

You’re looking at a variation of the French reached via the Tarrasch. White opted for a line in which his d4 pawn seems to be hanging. Black doesn’t necessary have to capture it, but a lot of players do while thinking their opponent just blundered. Let’s see what that get them into !

White just dropped a pawn but that’s not all of it. First of all White’s development is really simple and while he’s already castled and only one move away from connecting his rooks, Black is still a couple of tempo away from doing likewise. Black’s most consistent answer seems to be Qb4, harassing White’s Queen (that you’d never want to trade at this stage of the game), since letting her sit on the 4th rank could allow a possible Queen lift to the kingside, that may be really dangerous for Black if well timed. Now let’s see how wrong can things go for Black if not assimilating the ins and outs of his own game (Black should focus on developing its queenside pieces for now, after throwing in a Qb4).

A Profile Of A Chess Player.

Shernaz Kennedy fell in love with chess when she was four years old. Her family introduced her to chess, perhaps as a lark, never really expecting a small child to understand the complexities of the board, but that proved to be their blunder! Like every child she loved to play, she loved the lure of competition, and chess had it all. What the four year old could never imagine was how chess would take her to grand places and eventually even introduce her to her idol Bobby Fischer, and then bring her right back to her beginnings of chess, but this time as a teacher.

Shernaz’s family continued to encourage her love of chess no matter where her father’s career took them. She made friends through her chess teams and while competing in tournaments and, despite the general discouragement of female players, she competed in some of the most prestigious tournaments internationally. Shernaz competed in the 1986 Chess Olympiad and earned the title of Woman’s International Master in 1987.

As we think of her many accomplishments, we remember how it all started when she was just a four year old at home, playing around with family. Shernaz has always felt that chess is best when shared and learned early. She looks upon chess with the fresh perspective every chess player must embrace when approaching the board: every opponent is new yet familiar, every match is there for the win, and which strategy will be my lucky charm today! So she took her smile, confidence, and winning strategy to schools in New York City hopeful she could teach other children the joy of chess, the joy of tenacity, the joy of sportsmanship, and the community. She recruited her good friend, NM Bruce Pandolfini. At that time Bruce was the manager of the world renowned Manhattan Chess Club at Carnegie Hall. They worked side by side as Shernaz focused on the children and Bruce managed the business intricacies of creating National Champions. They remain a wonderful team. Schools welcomed their focus, commitment, and creative approach and soon recognized the value they brought as their students became more involved and advanced in tournament play.

Today Shernaz is the backbone of Top Level Chess. Top Level Chess emphasizes the many components of the sport of chess from the life skills of critical thinking, sportsmanship, and logical thinking, to the strategic skills of openings, middle, and end game conundrums. Recognizing that each child enjoys and appreciates different aspects of chess, Shernaz has developed a team of coaches who can coach the next champion or the avid player at any level. This team includes Grandmasters and National Masters and teachers. Top Level Chess provides programs to after school programs in its own space, online, and privately. Shernaz coaches her students at the top tournaments: The Cities, The States, The Nationals, and The World Championships, but you can also find her competing with her own team. Shernaz remains in love with chess!

On that note, we are glad to be partnered with Top Level Chess and encourage you to be apart of this association, by signing up your children to their upcoming tournament at the Churchill School, on November 16th (click here for page event). Our CEO, (NM) Evan Rabin, actually learned chess through Shernaz as a second grader at the Churchill’s Elementary School.

(WIM) Shernaz Kennedy
(WIM) Shernaz Kennedy still is an active and strong chess player

Dr. Nava Silton’s three ingredients to happiness

Two and half years ago Dr. Nava Silton posted in the UWS Mommas Facebook group that she was looking for a chess camp for her son. Several people recommended ours and after a demo lesson and some back and forth, she signed up her two kids Judah and Jonah. Since then, Nava has become a good friend and inspiration. Last week she did an insightful talk about happiness during The Camp Girls’ Shmini Atzeret lunch. According to her, the three main ingredients are unity, giving and fun, which are three fundamentals we abide by.

With few barriers to entry, chess provides unity among age, religion, socioeconomic class, etc. We teach students ages 3-100 of all backgrounds. Whether it be a preschooler at Chabad of Stamford, a lawyer at Kramer Levin or a resident at Village Care, we teach the same business and life values through the game.
Furthermore at our monthly tournaments at Asiam Thai Cuisine, we will often get a mix of students, young professionals and adults. While during the day, we all live very different lives, we come together in the evening due to our mutual passion of chess. I have had the privilege of now playing tournaments in 10 countries; soon that number will be 11 as I play a tournament outside of Naples during Thanksgiving week.

Stephen Spahn, the headmaster of my Alma Mater Dwight, shares how each student should find their “Spark of Genius” and utilize to make a difference in the world; for me it was pretty obvious chess was it. While chess has proved to be a great source of income, it has also been a great way to give back.
There are currently four ways we are doing that:

  1. If you have a fundraiser, please email us as we’d love to donate a chess lesson to silent auction/raffle. If event is in New York City, we will donate a 1-hour group class with CEO National Master Evan Rabin for up to 10 children or adults, valued at $400. If event is anywhere else in the world, we’d love to donate  a 1 hour online private lesson, valued at $90.
  2. Next Thursday, November 7th, Evan Rabin will be one of the co-hosts at the Christodora Gala. In addition to getting a chance to help raise money, you can meet Evan and bid on many great silent auction items, including a group lesson with Evan himself.
  3. At our 1st Annual Premier Chess and Top Level Chess Grand Prix Tournament #2 on November 16, we will be hosting a silent auction to raise money for esteemed chess teacher Juan Sena, who is unfortunately currently suffering from ALS. Email us if you have a product or service you’d like to donate as auction item.
  4. We are actively recruiting for volunteers for our 3rd Annual Make a Difference Teaching Chess in Africa trip; if you are enrolled in high-school, college or adult, consider applying today!

Giving back allows us to be grateful for all that we have. In New York, we do teach in some relatively poor Title 1 public schools; however, they have many more resources; than the private catholic school we teach at down in Tanzania, which lacks simple items like toilet paper. It is also not uncommon to see kids as young as 3 or 4 taking care of their younger siblings.
While we exceed in our professions and give back, it is also important to have some good clean fun. While hard work is crucial, it is important to have a work-life balance and enjoy everything you do. A chess player should not play a tournament purely because it is going to help his career; he should also enjoy it. Likewise, while chess is obviously our main focus at camps, we make it a point to do some other exciting activities, such as a basketball lesson with Hands on Hoops or field trips to The Brooklyn Museum and Janam Tea. While you may think that hour away from work or study is a distraction, the hour spent enjoying yourself having fun will make you be more productive later on.

Everyone on this earth should be happy! While happiness is certainly not an exact science, we should strongly consider following Nava Silton’s three suggestions: unity, giving and fun. If you put a smile on your face, people will notice it and it will have a domino effect.

A Game Review From One Of Our Readers.

Chess requires practice, and blitz can be part of that. We’ve probably already all heard someone saying that playing quick games is the best way to get worst at chess, or at least not to improve and grasp fundamental concepts that are required to reach new heights. But that’s not entirely true, playing a couple of short games is just as valuable as studying or analyzing other’s games. Indeed we don’t always have so much opportunities to play slow-paced tournament because those usually take at least a couple of days to come about. Moreover serious USCF rated chess events only occur a couple of time a year all over America. On that note one of our beloved readers provided us with one of his latest blitz game, so we could do a quick review and share it with you all. You can do likewise by emailing us too !

A Lawyer Tells Us How Chess And The Immigration Policies Can Be Compared.

Chess is pretty often compared to many things, but are analogies with chess and other various subjects really relevant ? Perhaps not always, but lawyer Stacy Jacob draws us a really pertinent description of the overall immigration laws and justice system in which she puts side by side the divergence of the immigration policies and the consistency of the rules of chess.

Ms. Jacob previously worked within the Department of Juvenile Justice (now called ACS) at which point she identified the sport as a great tool of redefining some of the youth’s strategic approach on their perception of any situation. In fact it forces players to keep an objective mindset along the games to better their chances of thriving and winning. Moreover anyone involved with regularly playing the game will benefit from a physiological well being, for instance Stacy noticed that chess allowed young people in detention to “refocus their energy onto something more positive and constructive that consistently helps with their brain development and their ability to think in a more strategic fashion.”

Today she concentrates on immigration law and she’s been successfully overcoming its constant modifications. Indeed if we take a look at it over a period of 30 years we’ll see that “the forms changed, the processes changed and there’s a certain adaptability that is necessary when working with the immigration system”. At this point I’m sure you see where this is going. Yes ! Similarly to a chess game, asylum seekers for instance seem to be “moved about like pawns, like chess pieces, and not necessarily appreciated for what their contribution is”. And that is why thinking like a chess player could allow you to somewhat catch up with the ramifications of the politics and the laws, by recognizing your role on that board, sometimes sacrificial, even though “every member is important from a strategic point of view”. We’re not saying that Gambits are bad and we all know that Magnus Carlsen played the Benko when he was a teenager, but as he ever lost against one ? Maybe on a bad day.

Unfortunately “from the government perspective not every member is treated with that necessary respect, so in some ways the immigration system ends up looking like a chess game for better or for worse. An attorney will have to fully understand the aspect of immigration to understand how they can help their clients the best.” Moreover there are many particular chess opening just like there are different types of immigration, and “if a person is doing asylum and their expertise is in asylum then they’re called up to understand all aspects of that and keep current with any changes”. In like manner if you play the King’s Gambit you better have opened a book or two before moving your King to c1 or you may lose your cool at some point.

Now “fortunately with chess the rules generally don’t change unless you adopt something special for anybody else or you say we’re going to set a timer to it, or some specific general aspect of it, somebody may agree to change, but the rules are the rules and you can depend on that internationally. Unlike immigration it is not an internationally dependent matter. If you go to a different country their rules of immigration are going to change. Chess is chess whether it’s in Russia or Malaysia or America, for the most part. In our country, how we do immigration is very specific to our needs” and the way chess established its own set of universal rules centuries ago, without adjusting any of its core values and principles, demonstrate a certain coherence and cohesion with the worldwide community that’s grown around this amazing sport while the continual revisions of immigration laws demonstrate the absence our absence of stability compared to how do do chess in America.

Practice in Chess ?

Chess requires consistent practice and an objective state of mind to keep on getting to the next level. Unlike other sports where presuming that you’re the best may give boost your self-confidence and push you to greater heights, doing so here is probably going to do more harm than good. I’m not saying that believing in you is bad, on the contrary we should believe in ourselves but similarly to other activities, doing something over and over again will get us to where we want only if we employ the right methodology. But which training technique is going to make us improve and should we all have the same approach to become stronger players ?

Opening knowledge is quite primordial when it comes to getting a decent middle-game position and our comfort level with the position we get. For instance at club level the dragon is quite popular at and the likelihood to reach some Tabiya is pretty likely. So you’re an e4 player and you’ve noticed that you’ve been getting this exact same position in the Sicilian and you decide to do some homework, which is a wise thing to do since the Dragon is a dangerous opening.

After a while you memorize a couple of more moves and you go back to your local club and end up with a nagging edge around move 20. But how did that happen ? Remembering moves and just re-playing a line in which White ends up with a slight advantage has allowed you to get good position out of the opening but now what ? And is this chess is supposed to work, just pure memorization ? Anyway your clock is ticking and we must dive back into the game as the you’re out of the opening in even deeper water.

Now you and your opponent traded a few more pieces, you’re a pawn up but the position looks even more unclear to you as you’re not familiar at all with this situation since you’ve never played so good against Jeffrey. Then what are the conditions to be considered an experienced and knowledgeable competitor who is able to convert some sort of advantage into a winning endgame. Well since there are less pieces at this point of the game brute calculations and forced lines should be popping in and out out of your brain. Whether it’s figuring out the best way to bail out of a dangerous situation where your opponent’s pieces are dangerously aiming at your King or thinking through how to rightly put in motion the combination of moves that will allow you to simplify the game into a simple and much better endgame, calculation will be a big part of the equation.

At this point your clock is ticking down to a few remaining minutes and you’re struggling to even remembering if you know how to win this rook endgame. A pawn up but it’s your king is somewhat far away from it and your opponent’s King is getting closer and closer to your only hope for winning. Well in times like that experience may be of importance as far as not feeling overwhelmed by the time pressure and just losing your ability to play right, but more importantly your knowledge of endgame is quite primordial, and nothing better but to do endgame puzzles for that.

What Are Some Of The Components Of The Chess Scenery ?

The Candidates Tournament is approaching as we’re getting closer to the end of the year. It will be held in Russia in March-April of 2020. There are several ways to qualify for this throughout various tournaments and other invitations based on statistics and past achievements. For instance Fabiano Caruana is already in since he was the 2018 Word Championship pretender. On the other hand whoever wins the 2019 FIDE Grand Swiss Tournament, which is actually being held at the Isle of Man, will also secures himself/herself a spot for the Candidates. By the way whoever wins the Candidates Tournament will be challenging the Word Champion for the title of the strongest chess player.

While the end of the year is arriving, qualifications are becoming more and more scarce. In fact two seats will get taken by the top two finishers of the 2019 FIDE Grand Prix, which takes a huge spotlight on the chess world. Indeed the FIDE Grand Prix is series of four chess tournaments and only the strongest players get invited. There is still Hamburg (4-18 November) and Tel-Aviv (10-24 December) left to be played but at the moment Shakriyar Mameyderov and Alexander Grischuk have gotten the most points.

Finally there is a wild card (who is eligible based on past results in some of the qualifying tournaments and picked by the organizer, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is at the moment qualified to be the wild card) and whoever has the highest rating average will also make it there (Anish Giri right now). Obviously the top two finishers at the 2019 World Cup, Teimour Radjabov and Ding Liren, have the right to compete for the 2020 FIDE Candidates. Also it is important to discern the Grand Chess Tour with the FIDE Grand Prix. The 2019 Grand Chess Tour regroups a series of 8 tournaments (rapid, blitz and classical events) in which the prize fund is quite major ($1.75 million this year as its 5th Edition increased the participants to 12 and the tournaments to 8). This ongoing event allows specific players (this year the top 3 finishers of the 2018 GCT final standings, top 4 FIDE rated as of January 1st, top 4 based on the average of the 12 monthly FIDE classical ratings for the period from 1 February 2018 until 1 January 2019 and one nominee by the Grand Chess Tour Advisory Board) to play on the International scenery of Chess and get well compensated for their time, while the FIDE Grand Prix, despite having quite a substantial prize pool, rewards the top 2 finishers by allowing them to participate in the Candidate Tournaments.

Who do you think is going to be playing Magnus Carlsen at the end ?