Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Ernesto Labate Grand Prix, November 4th

This coming Sunday, November 4th, The Westfield Chess Club is hosting the Ernesto Labate Grand Prix, with 30 Grand Prix Points and $2000 in guaranteed prizes. Here is the basic info:
  • Five Round Swiss Game/40
  • Westfield Y, 220 Clark Street, Westfield N.J.
  • $2000 Gtd: $650-$350-$250-$150-$100 U2200: $200 U2000 $150 U1800: $100
  • Best game prize $50 (Judge Ernesto Labate)
  • EF: $75, $60 by October 28th Reg: 9:30-11:30 a.m.
  • Rds: 12:00,1:35,3:10,4:45,6:20 p.m.
  • Early EF: Todd Lunna, 36 Maple Drive, Colts Neck, New Jersey 07722.
  • Make checks payable to Westfield Chess Club please bring identification to enter the building. Todd Lunna 732-946-7379.

IM Dean Ippolito

New Jersey IM Dean Ippolito, who has been playing Board 2 for the NJ Knockouts, is profiled in a nice interview by New York Knight WFM Elizabeth Vicary. Neither Ippolito nor Vicary will play in the NJ vs. NY match-up tomorrow to determine the final seat for the USCL playoffs.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Knockouts Keep Playoff Hopes Alive by Drawing Kingfishers

In Round 9 of US Chess League action, the New Jersey Knockouts drew the Baltimore Kingfishers for the second time this season to keep their playoff hopes alive. New Jersey plays rival New York next week in a match that will decide which of those teams makes the playoffs.

When New Jersey played Baltimore in Round 3, they were only able to draw due to a lucky break that turned a possible loss into a win for Dean Ippolito. This time it was Baltimore that got lucky, scoring wins in two games that seemed headed for an even result.

White was victorious in every game, even though all of the Black players were able to gain equality using rather unusual defenses. On Board 1, Benjamin reached his favored Ruy Lopez-like position out of the anti-Sicilian against Blehm and used it to gain enough of an edge to carry him through to victory in a very close game. On Board 2, Friedman used the Chigorin Defense to reach a very drawish position before he blundered badly and lost to Enkhbat's swift tactics. On Board 3, Molner played an interesting line against Kaufman's unusual Nimzo-French (1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nc6!?) and ended up sacrificing a Bishop to gain an intuitive attack that eventually carried him to victory through some very complicated thickets. And on Board 4, Khodarkovsky seemed to gain easy equality with the Alekhine Defense only to lose to some very interesting endgame tactics by Battsetseg.

Other coverage of Round 9 action:

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Kasparov on Bill Maher

Kasparov's book tour continues, also serving (it appears) as a public relations campaign to solidify Western support behind his bid for the Russian presidency. It almost makes you glad that Kasparov has given up chess, since that means he is more likely to appear on TV. His appearance on Bill Maher's show went much better than his mock-interview with Colbert. But both appearances made me recognize the accuracy of Paul Hoffman's portrait of him in King's Gambit as a pugilistic interlocutor, always out to win an argument--or to turn ordinary conversations into arguments to be won. In this case, it served him well and he ruled the board according to ChessBase, Maher's guests, and even Maher himself. I'm curious to see if he can sustain this level of play into the endgame.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

NJ Knockouts Stop the Blitz

Williams - Shen, USCL 2007 (8)
Black to play

In last night's US Chess League action, The New Jersey Knockouts answered their critics and kept their playoff hopes alive by drawing the most highly ranked team in the league, the Boston Blitz. I have annotated the games and posted them online.

The best games of the night were the decisive ones. On Board 2, Jorge Sammour-Hasbun played an attractive tactical game using an underestimated line of the Scotch Gambit (beginning 1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.Nf3 Bb4+) against Dean Ippolito. Though Ippolito held onto the gambit pawn and made no obvious errors, Sammour was able to use his initiative to create a decisive attack that left him up the Exchange, which he was able to turn into a win despite evident time pressure. This game will certainly be a contender for game of the week. The loss for New Jersey on Board 2 was fortunately balanced by a win on Board 4 by the young Victor Shen in a wild game where both sides created second Queens. Shen has struggled against his usually more mature opponents, but this game showed him at his best.

The common criticism of the New Jersey Knockouts has been that their even record was achieved against the lowest ranked opponents in the League. They continued their even record, but they raised their level of respect considerably last night. Let's hope that the draw also raises their spirits so that they can make it to the playoffs.

Other coverage:

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Kasparov on Colbert Tonight (Must See TV)

Garry Kasparov will appear tonight on Comedy Central's The Colbert Report. The former World Chess Champion and Russian presidential candidate will likely use the time to promote his book How Life Imitates Chess, but he will no doubt talk politics with the brilliant fake-conservative talk-show host. BTW: if you do not know Colbert's work, be sure to check out the amazing video of him roasting President Bush (and the press) at the White House Correspondents Association dinner.

NJKO - Blitz Preview

The New Jersey Knockouts and the Boston Blitz meet tonight in US Chess League action with important playoff implications. If New Jersey can pull out a win or draw, they will have a very good chance of making the playoffs, despite their ups and downs this season. If Boston wins, they are guaranteed a playoff berth. I thought it would be interesting to preview the action by looking at a couple of games from the past which suggest that this could be a very tight contest, despite the two teams' recent records.

Here are the match-ups:
  1. GM Joel Benjamin (2653) - GM Larry Christiansen (2663)
  2. IM Dean Ippolito (2447) - SM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun (2558)
  3. NM Evan Ju (2268) - NM Denys Shmelov (2251)
  4. NM Victor Shen (2218) - NM Chris Williams (2175)
GMs Benjamin and Christiansen have met many times before, of course, including in a critical US Championship match in 1997, from which I take the main game in my preview. They have played many interesting games over the years, including a fascinating game in the Kevitz Variation in the 2000 US Championship in Seattle which was nicely annotated online at TWIC by John Henderson. I expect this to be a very tough slug-fest. Though they were major rivals about a decade ago, they do not seem to have played each other recently. But one of Benjamin's Anti-Sicilians articles may offer a preview to the opening we might see....

Sammour-Hasbun and Ippolito have only one match-up in the databases, where Ippolito played the opening poorly and then struggled to hold on in a complex double-rook ending. I imagine his opening preparation will be a little better this time, and I think the games on every board could go either way.

Follow the action on ICC or with the NJKO's "Real Time Blog" of the match. Other good sources include the Boston Blitz Blog, the BCC Weblog, US Chess League, and USCF.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Sloan vs. Truong / Polgar

I have not wanted to discuss this case, but it has become so newsworthy that it would be wrong not to mention it, especially as it will likely cast a pall over the US chess scene for some time to come. As you have probably already heard, Sam Sloan has filed suit against Paul Truong, Susan Polgar, and the USCF, seeking to void the recent election, reinstate his own position on the board, and hold new elections due to election fraud. That fraud amounts to the Trulgar camp making a number of misrepresentations, including: posing as Sloan and others on the internet to post highly defamatory statements about Sloan and other candidates and concealing the marriage of Truong and Polgar from the electorate (both of which appear pretty much proven). You can read the lengthy, sometimes rambling, and artfully written filing online (also available from Sloan's website). It is worth reading for some of the interesting facts, opinions, and speculations it reveals. Some may wish to balance that by also reading Bill Goichberg's assessment of Sam Sloan and his character.

Dylan Loeb McClain has done an excellent job of covering the story for The New York Times and in his Gambit weblog:
Other worthwhile commentary and coverage around the net includes:

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Magnetic Sumo Kings

Continuing the theme of teaching the basics of chess one piece at a time, I present you with my handout on "Magnetic Sumo Kings," which makes a game out of lone Kings in order to teach "the opposition." It's practically the chess equivalent of tic-tac-toe.

The Kings are set up opposite each other and the first to force his way across to the other side of the board wins (unless they reach a position where neither can make progress, in which case it's a draw). The idea of imagining the Kings as "magnetic" (of the same polarization) struck me as a good metaphor to help explain how they can influence each other even though they must remain one square apart. A puzzle position from Capablanca then helps show how the principle of the opposition can be used to win games.

The main idea of "Magnetic Sumo Kings," as with "Pawn Battle," is to create an active learning environment where kids pick up complex theoretical concepts by engaging with them directly in practice. Active learning has its limitations, but it does keep kids involved and having fun, especially in group lessons. Have you ever tried to lecture to a group of 8-year-olds? Good luck.

Another good game to get kids to try is "The Szen Position," which is especially effective for brining home the idea of "zugzwang"--though it's unlikely you will get kids to cement the lessons from their practice by playing over the detailed analysis of the position by Jon Speelman in EG 73.5 (July 1983): 185-190. My group of a dozen 8-year-olds seemed to enjoy playing with the Szen position last week. Will they really gain much from the experience without some study? Tough to say. But at least I have made a start and sparked their curiosity and engagement.

It would be nice if the kids I teach would use what they have learned so far to go study the ending some more on their own. But it takes a rare child (or especially committed parents) to do that. That's too bad, since there are so many excellent online resources for learning the endgame these days, especially in the ChessCafe Archives. I especially enjoyed the following articles, which reinforce the themes of "the opposition" and "zugzwang" I have emphasized so far:
Will any of the kids I teach read this stuff? Maybe in a few years....

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

First American Chess Congress, October 1857

GM Andy Soltis's ever-excellent Chess to Enjoy column in this month's Chess Life and Chess Life Online reminded me that the First American Chess Congress began 150 years ago this week in New York on October 6, 1857. You can find his column online, along with the puzzles section that features six selections from the tournament. You might also like my own "Puzzles from New York 1857" along with the selected games from which the puzzle positions come.

I would like to take a moment to compliment the editors of Chess Life for producing one of the best issues I have seen (not to mention the sexiest-ever chess magazine cover photo!) and for putting all of this excellent content online for the entire chess community to enjoy. Bravo!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

NJ Outwitted by Inventors

The New Jersey Knockouts lost to the Philadelphia Inventors in a tough match in which they could easily have been blanked on every board last night in early USCL action. The more experienced top board players managed to hold draws, but our young bottom board fell in the sole decisive game. The loss leaves New Jersey with an even record so far for the season as they prepare to face league leader Boston next week.

Friday, October 05, 2007

NJ Knockouts Slay Carolina Cobras

Friedman - Zaikov
Can White try for a win here?

The New Jersey Knockouts won their second match in a row on Wednesday night by defeating the Carolina Cobras 2.5-1.5 in Round 6 of US Chess League action thanks mostly to a brilliant victory by 15-year-old Expert Jayson Lian over a master on Board 4. I have annotated the games, all of which featured very interesting opening struggles. The most complex and interesting game of the night was Friedman - Zaikov, where Black played a very interesting gambit in a wild line of the Najdorf to which White responded with a gambit of his own -- giving up three pawns for a strong initiative. In the diagram above, could White have tried for more than the drawish ending he achieved after 26.Ng7+?

You can read more about the match at the NJ Knockouts blog. The victory places New Jersey a respectable 6th out of 12 in the US Chess League Quantitative Power Rankings.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Pawn Battle Rules and Strategies

I have posted “Pawn Battle Rules and Strategies” on the web for chess teachers to use in their classes. I developed it for the dozen 8-year-olds I am currently teaching once a week after school. I found it very effective for covering complex terms, strategies, and ideas in chess all within the first two sessions – and this in a group where over half of the kids had never even learned the rules prior to taking the class. I especially liked that by the end of the first session they already knew some fancy foreign words to impress their parents with...

I am trying something a little different this year with the kids, since many didn’t even know the rules and all but three never had any formal instruction. Generally I start all my teaching to groups by getting the kids to play simplified games such as “Pawn Battle” and “Sumo Kings.” But this year, I’m trying to stick to a strict program where I introduce only a piece at a time and get them engaged with an activity with that piece (or in combination with any others we have discussed).

Pawn Battle

Usually, because the kids already know how the pieces move and are anxious to get to play with the full set (as they are used to doing), I generally have to give up on the strict progression method and just jump into full-blown play. One of the inevitable problems with full-blown play, though, is that the kids start to teach each other the game, so a lot can go wrong. If one kid doesn’t understand that there are three ways to get out of check (you don’t always have to move the King, of course!) then he can start spreading that mistaken idea to the rest of them as fast as a stomach flu. And if the kids have only a tenuous grasp of how en passant capturing works, they’ll be using their pawns to capture Knights, Bishops, and Rooks en passant and exercising that right in every mistaken situation conceivable. Besides getting the rules all muddled, they also start to learn bad strategy, like the inevitable plan of getting their Rooks out first or, for the somewhat more sophisticated, going for the three move mate every time. I’d prefer to have the chance to teach them some good ideas before letting them loose on each other.

So far the approach is working well. Whereas last year, I struggled to the bitter end to teach some less attentive 10-year-olds the meaning of “stalemate” and “en passant,” this year’s younger group already have mastered those ideas completely and even understand things my previous kids never got, such as “zugzwang,” “a pawn majority,” and “the passed pawn’s lust to expand” (OK, maybe I didn’t put the last one quite that way with them). And when one of the kids pulled off a masterful stalemate combination in Pawn Battle, I knew I was already making more rapid progress than I’ve ever seen before.

The handout helped a lot, and eventually I hope to have several like it, including one on “Kings and the Opposition” featuring “Sumo Kings,” “Queening a Pawn,” “The Szen Position,” and “King and Pawn Battle.” I’ve even decided to get them learning Rook endings by lesson four. I’ll tell you how that works out. But if I succeed, none of them will have my own nagging doubts about playing an endgame if they go on to take chess more seriously. As a friend once told me, winning an endgame is at least 50% attitude. If you believe you are a great endgame player, your chances of actually winning in the endgame go up tremendously, no matter what your actual skill level. I hope I can instill such confidence in these kids. And I think we are off to a great start.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Articles List Updated

I have updated the list of Articles on the Kenilworth Chess Club website. It's not quite the ChessCafe Archives, but easier to navigate than Jeremy Silman or Chessville.