Partnership with The Chess in Education Coalition

By Sophie Lee, Operations Intern

Premier Chess is excited to announce that we have recently joined The Chess In Education Coalition (CIE). We are glad to be growing our partnerships and to be a part of this wonderful coalition. CIE’s mission is to “create awareness of chess as an educational tool and to provide resources for the education community”. 

Chess in Education

Our CEO, National Master Evan Rabin, recently spoke to Jerry Nash, National Chess Education Consultant with Chess in Schools, on his podcast where they spoke about chess and education.

We are very proud to be partnering with this wonderful organization. We also look forward to helping in spreading the word about the power of chess as an educational tool. Stay tuned for a virtual fundraiser we are hosting to raise money for the organization.

 

 

An Introduction: Sophie Lee, New Operations Intern

By Sophie Lee, Operations Intern

When I was growing up, my grandmother worked at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. For almost every holiday or birthday, she would buy me and my sister abstract toys from the gift shop. One of these toys was a chess set, designed by the artist Karim Rashid. I can still remember the way it smelled and the exact spot where it sat in my sister’s closet. My dad taught me how to play but eventually, I lost interest and the chess set remained in the closet for many years.Karim Rashid Chess Set | My Design Life

The Queen's Gambit (miniseries) - WikipediaThe game of chess rarely crossed my mind since then until I, like many others, watched The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix during quarantine. Being a student majoring in Film, Television, and Interactive Media, I had a great appreciation for the mini-series, as it was wonderfully directed and had stunning cinematography. The show also re-introduced me to the game of chess, and it gave me a newfound appreciation for the game. I immediately wanted to relearn the game and went to my sister’s closet to find our abstract chess set. Unfortunately, my sister recently moved out and cleaned her closet in the process, and the shelf that once held the Karim Rashid chess set sat empty. 

When I returned to Brandeis, I found out that three of my roommates quite enjoy playing chess. I bought a ten-dollar chessboard at Target, which does not quite compare to my MoMA board, but it does the trick just fine.Game Gallery Chess, Checkers And Chinese Checkers Board Game Set : Target

One of my roommates was apparently in his high school’s chess club, and he volunteered to reteach me the game. Luckily, watching The Queen’s Gambit taught me some very basic rules, so I did not have to  start from scratch. As we played our first game, my roommate helped me along  and I ended up winning the game! Granted, I would not have realized that I had won if he had not told me, but I was thrilled nonetheless. Unfortunately, this was a classic case of beginner’s luck, and I have not won a single game since then.

The art of turning losing into winning

I am excited to learn more about chess its community through interning for Premier Chess, . Hopefully, I can eventually win a game against one of my roommates. I was able to sit in at a Youth class yesterday and was shocked by the skill level of the students, I’m sure any one of them could beat me. I cannot wait to continue to learn from the Premier Chess community and to help spread the word about the game of chess. Now if only I could find my old chess set!

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; those are a guidelines.

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? 

2020: A Year in Review

By CEO National Master Evan Rabin

When National Master Jesse Lozano, National Master Bob Holliman, Shelby Lohrman and I won “Best Team Name” at the United States Amateur Team East last February with “Caruanavirus”, I had no idea the virus would have a major effect on my life.

“Caruana Virus” at 50th United States Amateur Team East, Feb 15-17, 2020
Bd 1: Jesse Lozano, Complete Chess
Bd 2: Evan Rabin, Premier Chess
Bd 3: NM Bob Holliman
Bd 4: Shelby Lohrman, American Chess Equipment

Two weeks later I did my last trip in several months, down to Raleigh, North Carolina for the United States Amateur Team South.

with Make a Difference Now student Revo on Duke University Campus

Shortly after, one-by-one, all of the 80+ schools we serve closed their doors. While this year most certainly had lots of challenges, I took a key lesson from Rabbi Mark Wildes, Founder of Manhattan Jewish Experience, shared last spring: “Use the coronavirus as an opportunity, not a problem.Some of my highlights of 2020 have been pivoting the virtual world, our new school programs that started since the pandemic,  my podcast and our rise in public relations: 

Pivoting to the Virtual World:


In mid-March, I got plenty of emails and calls from all our schools, telling us that they were shutting down. At first I thought some of our schools would operate, in particular our programs outside of New York, but one by one, they all shut down, especially after the New York City Department of Education announced the closing of all its schools. I quickly realized we would have to drastically pivot our business if we wanted to keep it alive. I had an in-person meeting with my friend Greg Magarshak, owner of Qbix to see what he could do for us in building a community platform.  As I did not know what our cash flow would look like for several months, I ended up looking for more cost-effective solutions.

Working with Brian Wilmeth, our Director of Virtual Programs, we ended up building a simple solution for virtual group classes with a combination of Zoom and Lichess.org. Before COVID-19, we did do some private lessons virtually but we did not run and group classes online. Since then we have converted many of our school programs and corporate classes to virtual classes, have had 300+ students in our camps and 100+ students in our group classes for all ages and skill levels. Thanks to the abolishment of geographical boundaries, we have also had the honor of working with students all over the nation and beyond, including one student from The Netherlands, a few in Israel and several in Canada.

Not only were were able to convert our programs to virtual learning but we have also started several new programs since the pandemic, including:

1) New American Academy Charter School 

Technically this program started a week before the pandemic but Brian Wilmeth only taught one class in person. I honestly thought this was the first school that would stop chess for the year since we just started but the school’s Director of Teaching Olawa Gibson was enthusiastic as could be about chess and would not let the school’s doors closing stop the chess program kicking off with full-steam. Since then the school’s chess program has grown to 40+ kids,  the students have been frenzied in classes, tournaments, ChessKid practice and more. We have also been in constant communication with Olawa Gibson and Lisa Watkins, the school’s Marketing Director, and we look forward to seeing the school’s progress.

2) DOROT

In October, we started facilitating a virtual intergenerational program for 25 Westchester high-school students and senior citizens. Each week I do a short lesson and hop around between breakout rooms as the seniors are playing against high schoolers.

3) Yeshiva of Flatbush 

We started our program at The Yeshiva of Flatbush earlier this month after one of my private students, who is a senior at the school, introduced me to the principal. We have started several of our school programs thanks to parent referrals but this was the first time we got warm introduction by a student.  Every Tuesday afternoon, I teach a 1-hour after-school program for their Yeshiva League team, which has 20 players, including 1 female student. Will she be the next Beth Harmon? That is too be determined; meanwhile, read my Queen’s Gambit review.

Podcast:

It feels like it was yesterday when my good friend Adam Shuty, the owner of Atomic Total Fitness, encouraged me to start a podcast; however, it was December of 2019 when that happened. On the contrary, in 2020, I recorded 121 inspirational podcast episodes about business, life and chess. Some of the highlight guests include National Master Bruce Pandolfini, Grandmaster Susan Polgar, Business Networking International’s Founder Ivan Misner, and Metro World Child’s Founder Bill Wilson. Stay tuned for many great episodes in 2021 and beyond.

Rise in Public Relations: 

We have organically built our public relations and online presence through our blog, Facebook page, Twitch stream, podcast and more. However, we also definitely got a lot of outside help! Check out these plethora of articles and podcast episodes were featured in:

How ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ Is Inspiring Women to Take Up Chess, New York Times, December 10, 2020

Pen For Hire Podcast with Matthew Harms, Episode 22, December, 2020

Exclusive: Founder Evan Rabin Talks Bringing Chess To The Masses Virtually Through Premier Chesstristatetaxresolution.com/the-benefits-of-learning-how-to-play-chess

The Benefits of Learning How to Play Chess with Evan Rabin

From Teenage Chess Students to Exemplary Adults

In-Person Chess Teaching in Time of a Pandemic

Use these Lessons from the Game of Chess to Rebuild your Company While the Coronavirus Crisis Fades

Thank you to all of our clients, partners, and others who have helped 2020 be a a successful year for Premier Chess, despite its challenges. While COVID-19 will still certainly be a nuisance in 2020, I am going to do what Michael Deutsch, owner of Hands on Hoops Skills, often suggests: “Control the controlables.”

Here are my business and personal New Year’s resolutions:  

1) Partner with four new monthly corporate clients for lunch and learns.  

2) Record at least 1 podcast episode each week. 

3) Create bigger work life balance; stop working each night at 9:00 PM. 

 

Chess is An Art of Titans

By Dmitriy Belyavskiy 

Chess is a wonderful, exciting and intellectual game, which has been around for almost 1,500 years, played around the world by different ages from schoolboys and schoolgirls to scientists, artists, and even “played” by politicians and world dictators.

History of chess does not keep the exact record where precisely this wonderful and intellectual game originated at first. Chess historians haven’t found any written proof yet that chess existed before the 7th century CE. However, some believe chess originated in India in about the 6th century CE and is said to have been the creation of an Indian philosopher who set out to invent a game symbolizing a battle between two Indian armies. He called his game chaturanga, which means army game. War was the chief means by which territory was annexed or rulers defeated in ancient India, so the newly developed game was very relevant.

There is no evidence as to when chess actually reached Europe, so historians put the date between 700 and 900, and the first contemporary evidence of the knowledge dates back to the year 1010 when the Count of Urgell left his rock-crystal chessmen to the Convent of St. Giles at Nimes (France). The early medieval times were the years of the Crusades and the church dominance and the looming 1215 Magna Carta, and because of these pious and liturgical times one of the chess pieces was called a “bishop.” The name of this piece, which moves diagonally, is still preserved.

Vikings brought chess to northwestern Europe, eventually spreading over the entire European continent. Just when you thought that Columbus discovered America, half a millennium before that, a Viking, Eriksson did a “discovered check”-one of the types of a check in chess-sailing by or even possibly setting foot in the New World. Vikings were brave, intelligent and explorative warriors constantly fighting wars and conquering new territories, and the chess game was the perfect imitation of their lives.

Both the rules of the game and the names and shapes of the pieces have changed over time. Still, we can find some resemblance, e.g. a piece that looks like a tower or castle called a Rook, and used to be called a castle about 500 years ago…And still, we have a special move called castling when a Rook and the King are switching places and this is the only time when a player can move two pieces at once. Nonetheless, by 1290 the differences had become so great that it was necessary to draw up a set of rules to govern play when players from different countries met. About 1500(!) innovations started to reappear, and it was not until 1900 that uniform rules were adopted throughout Europe. Today FIDE (Fédération Internationale des Echecs, World Chess Federation), founded in 1924, unites more than 150 countries.

The game was at one time the pastime of the nobility, but it gradually spread to the lower classes. It was played a lot in ghettos, and by the 16th century, it had become a recognized pastime for Jews on the Sabbath and other festivals. Jewish people throughout the millenniums have greatly appreciated and cherished intelligence and education, and chess was always to represent that. There is still an inside joke amongst the Jewish people, that every Jewish “kindale” (means a child in Yiddish) is an Albert Einstein and either has to be a violinist or a chess player, preferably both.

Knowledge of chess became an essential part of the equipment of the troubadour and traveling minstrel. This was during the Shakespearian and Cervantes times when manners, courting, and chivalry still existed. Imagine, instead of saying, “Hey babe, you wanna go out” you would say something like, “excuse me, my fair lady, would you care for a game of chess?” How sexy and orgasmic this is!

Eventually, chess became the game of intellectuals, as the first chess books were written and published, for instance by a great 18th-century chess player and theoretician, Philidor, who was also a prominent composer. Philidor considered both chess and music as art, and famously said, “The pawns are the soul of chess.”

Prominent chess players had been gathering in cafes in two major cities, Paris and London, which were considered the chess capitals of the world, and finally the very first international chess tournament was played in London in 1851. This was soon followed by the first chess world championship match when Wilhelm Steinitz defeated Johannesburg Zukertot in 1886, becoming the very first chess world champion.

By the late 19th century and early 20th-century chess became very popular around the world, thanks to the prominent grandmasters and the champions. They showed how intellectual the chess is, and its benefits to the brain. A good example, which illustrates just that, is chess and science. Many prominent musicians, chemists, physicists, naturalists, and indeed philosophers not only spend much of their spare time playing chess but also were fabulous and very strong chess players. A famous Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev was a strong chess player of the first category.

At the same time many chess champions and professional chess players (grandmasters) earned a doctoral degree. Emmanuel Lasker (1868-1941), the second world champion had a doctoral degree in math, Alexander Alekhine (1892-1946), the fourth world champion had a Ph.D. in law, Mikhail Botvinnik (1911-1995), the sixth world champion obtained his doctorate in math and cybernetics, and in 1949 he published a major work on electrical engineering called Regulation of Excitation and Static Stability of the Synchronic Machine. Garry Kasparov (1963- ), the 13th world champion was born on April 13th, lived in a building number 13, got admitted into a university on June 13th, and finally became the 13thworld champion. How about that for a superstition! Richard Reti (1889-1929) a famous Austro-Hungarian/Czechoslovakian (now the Czech Republic) grandmaster and a chess theoretician also studied math (obtaining later Ph.D.) and physics at Vienna University. He also set a blindfold simultaneous record by playing 29 games simultaneously in 1925 of which he won 20, drew 7 and lost 2. After he finished, the grandmaster left the building and forgot his briefcase. The grandmaster was chased down the street by one of the event organizers, telling him, “Doctor, you forgot your briefcase, here it is.” Reti at first became embarrassed and then exclaimed, “Thank you very much! Forgive me; I have such a bad memory!”

Most grandmasters were highly educated people, scholars, and also absent-minded geniuses, yet with a great sense of humor. While playing in the New York 1924 chess tournament, an Austrian grandmaster and one of the wittiest, Savielly Tartakower, visited the Bronx Zoo. There he became friends with a local orangutan, Susan, and the very next day dedicated the opening to his new friend, dubbing it as the “Orangutan Opening.”

One of the greatest chess players ever, a Polish grandmaster, Akiba Rubinstein, who sadly never became the world champion, once played in a tournament and was extremely preoccupied with the upcoming game. He left his hotel room thinking about the game, went to a local restaurant, ordered a three-course dinner, ate it, paid the bill, and left the restaurant, still thinking about the upcoming game. Then he took a walk around a lake still thinking about the upcoming game. After that, he came back to the very same restaurant, ordered the very same three-course dinner, ate it to complete astonishment of a waiter, paid for it, and left the restaurant, absolutely oblivious that he did exactly the same thing 30 minutes ago, still thinking about the game.

Regrettably, for the first half of the 20th century most chess players struggled financially unless they were born into a wealthy family. Chess was financially unappreciated, and the better part of chess players was forced to play exhibition games, simultaneous display games to entertain the crown in order to make the ends meet. A very few were lucky in finding Maecenas, i.e. generous patrons of art, including chess, who would fund their living expenses, tournaments, and even matches for the chess crown. Before 1948 a challenger for the chess crown must have provided with a $10,000 prize money, while the chess champion had a luxury not just go for the prize money but to pick and choose whether he wants a convenient opponent or just go for a real challenge. $10,000 was a lot of money back then.

Dawid Janowski, a Polish/French grandmaster, and once a challenger for the chess crown in 1910 had had a Maecenas for a long time. Janowski had a very ill-temper, and also was an inveterate gambler. Once, after winning a tournament in Monte Carlo in 1901, he lost all the prize money-a few thousand dollars-he just won in a casino at the roulette wheel. Janowski due to his bad temper managed to fall out with his Maecenas when the latter asked the grandmaster for a game of the chess and the former replied that he doesn’t play with tailor’s dummies. Dawid Janowski died in poverty from tuberculosis in 1927. Many prominent and famous chess players of the first half of the 20th century shared this very ill fate, dying in poverty as paupers or dying in mental asylums and/or suffering from schizophrenia, including the American master, the greatest chess master of his era, Paul Morphy, as well as Akiba Rubenstein and the first world champion Wilhelm Steinitz. It was not until the 1950s when the Chess Federation established international chess rules and laws, including the format for the qualifying matches, and the match for the chess crown. Still, financially chess was greatly unappreciated. As of today, compared to other sports and arts, chess players make such a minuscule amount from $20,000 to $100,000 a year, and sometimes even less, in addition to paying their own expenses and accommodation fees. The match for the chess crown only has a fund of only $2.5-3 million divided between the winner and the loser in the ratio of 60 to 40.

After the end of WWII and the beginning of the Cold War chess became a very powerful political and ideological weapon between the USA and the evil Russia/USSR. It seemed like Russia had hegemony over chess since the end of WWII, spending a fortune on it, paying a fortune to the soviet champions. In the Soviet Union, this manifested in receiving a 5-room apartment in an elite neighborhood, a car, a dacha (a country cottage), an ability to attain good food, and also availability to travel abroad and buy Western products.

It was only until a young prodigy Robert Fisher stormed and climbed at the very top of the “Chess Olympus.”

Not only was he was defeating and eliminating his opponents, but he was also simply humiliating them. Finally, at the peak of his form in 1972, Fisher defeated Boris Spassky in Reykjavik, Iceland and became the 11th world champion. This was an extremely heavy blow for the soviets especially when the blow came from the Americans. So they threw all their dark forces, evil, and conspiracy to return the chess crown back to the “evil empire.” To make a long story short, the late Bobby Fisher was stripped from the chess title and a new soviet chess player, a very mediocre and talentless, Anatoly Karpov was crowned as a new champion…Viktor Korchnoi, a soviet Jew grandmaster and Soviet Champion in 1960, 1962 and 1964 was persecuted a lot for being Jewish and for refusal to help Karpov defeating Bobby Fisher. Korchnoi secretly fled to Switzerland, becoming a dissident, and played Karpov twice in 1978 and 1981 becoming the challenger for the World Championship, but lost twice because he was pressured and blackmailed by the Soviet authorities since he still had his family in the USSR…

Nowadays, chess is still greatly marginalized and unappreciated both intellectually and financially. The 13th world champion Gary Kasparov, just like Bobby Fisher grieved and lamented that chess isn’t paid much, let alone that compared to other sports it is very minuscule. Kasparov argued that boxers, who entertain the crowd by throwing punches are paid 20-30 million dollars, and the chess players, who use their brain cells, and the grey matter for 5-6 hours, merely are paid anything. Kasparov tried to sign a contract with General Motors to boost chess popularity.  However, with no avail; after the contract had expired, GM refused to extend it. Sadly, many chess players nowadays, choose something else, terminating their chess careers, because chess won’t provide and put food on the table. As a very young man in 1999 at the Chess World Championship in Las Vegas, I had an opportunity to talk to Valery Salov, who was once ranked the third best chess player in the world, in the mid-90s. He told me that he was going to retire from chess because it didn’t provide for his family as he was struggling financially. He added that realistically only 10 best players in the world can survive playing chess professionally

So, what is chess? Is it an art, sport, a great tool for education and improvement of one’s counting abilities, or merely a game that played and enjoyed by millions? The answer might not be an orthodox one, however, should not be a shocking either. Chess is everything! Most important chess is an art, as the fourth chess world champion Alexander Alekhine (1892-1946) once noticed. Indeed chess is an art of titans, which helps to develop memory, mathematical and analytical skills, sense of responsibility, perseverance, and improves problem-solving, critical thinking, scientific method, and approach.

Chess is an amazing game and sport of beauty, art, and intelligence. Whether one is playing blindfolded, solving chess problems, showing great endurance by playing a 6-hour chess game in a chess tournament or simply playing a pastime easy game with a friend, he or she is exercising and improving memory, math, calculation, analytical skills, and most important critical thinking. So perhaps next time when parents watch their children playing video games, watching Star Wars or something like that, or even playing outside with a baseball, football or basketball, maybe they should consider chess. It won’t hurt!

 

Growing in Chess and Judaism

By Premier Chess CEO National Master Evan Rabin 

 

I was born and raised on the Upper West Side as a reform Ashkenazi Jew. I had my bar mitzvah at Stephen Wise Synagogue and went to Churchill and Dwight. In 2008, thanks to some inspiration from Alanna Katz, I went on an Oranim Taglit trip. While on the trip, I quickly developed a longing to learn more about Jewish roots and Judaism. Soon after I started regularly attending Peretz and Chanie Chein’s Chabad of Brandeis University

Dancing at Chabad of Brandeis Gala, 2009

and studied abroad with Masa Israel at Tel Aviv University in 2011.

While representing Masa Israel at the 2016 Israeli American Council Conference, I experienced an instance of divine providence as I sat on a table at the gala dinner with a JIC Board Member who a few minutes later introduced me to Steve Eisenberg. After the conference, I started regularly attending JICNY events and went on Steve’s Israel Recharge trip in 2017.

 

Since then, in between my ‘day job’, running Premier Chess, which does corporate classes, school programs and private lessons, full-time, I have spent a lot of time growing in Judaism, in Steve Eisenberg’s Torah classes and the Manhattan Jewish Experience fellowship/senior fellowship.

 

For more about my growth in Judaism and experiences with JICNY, check out my reflection of Founder Jodi Samuels’ book Chutzpah, Wisdom and Wine.

 


Whether it is chess, business, life or anything you would like to improve on, you should realize there are transferrable skills on all of the above. A good coach does not just teach his trade but rather demonstrates life skills like confidence, thought process, evaluation methods and more. Therefore, all of the experiences referred to above may have not taught me any openings, middlegames or endgames but they all have helped me improve a chess player.