Various updates

by admin on May 21, 2008

Today Alexey Root, in her blog on the MonRoi website, addressed the question I asked in my last post: should I should be satisfied with offering a non-rated tournament for the kids in my library chess club, or should I should try to get them into rated chess? I think that the three things I take away from her post are: 1) I’m not the only person to ask this question; 2) different clubs may have different goals; 3) it helps to have a plan. She didn’t specifically state point #3, but when I compared her relatively structured approach to my rather haphazard approach, it’s a conclusion that I reached myself. I should really think about what kind of experience I want the kids to have and then take action accordingly.

Two entries ago, I mentioned a new series of lectures I was going to record for ChessLecture, but kept secret what they were going to be about. As subscribers now know, they are about “The Lighter Side” of chess. Specifically, the first lecture was on quadrupled pawns, a formation that barely even seems possible in a serious and well-played chess game. I looked at what I called “The Immortal Quadrupled Pawn Game,” between François Léveillé and Jay Bonin. The second lecture was on some of the chess curiosities at Tim Krabbé’s website, which I have mentioned here before.

I was curious to see how people would react to these lectures. Although I love ChessLecture, it does seem to me at times that the site takes itself a little bit too seriously. Would the listeners agree? It’s their money, after all. If they’ve paid for the best chess lectures on the Web, maybe they will be offended by a lecture on quadrupled pawns, which (one hopes) will never actually appear in any of their games.

The other thing I wasn’t sure of was whether I could really do chess humor. I decided that the best way to do these lectures was absolutely straight. Just talk about the game in my normal manner, and let the absurdity of the positions speak for itself.

I made one discovery I hadn’t fully expected, which was that one can actually learn something from these games. They were played by strong players, after all, and they didn’t just wake up that morning and decide to mess around and give themselves quadrupled pawns. I think the most appealing examples are the ones where the chess humor manifests itself in an organic way, as a natural result of the position. The humor is not that so-and-so did something stupid, but that the game of chess itself is so rich that (occasionally) things happen on the chessboard that you would never have dreamed were possible.

The comments on the first lecture were quite positive. But the first listener comment on the second lecture was pretty harsh — he says that he did not like the “Lighter Side” series and wanted it removed from the site! Wow! Fortunately, someone else spoke up in my defense right after that. Actually, I think that the first listener’s comment came from exactly the sort of mindset that bothered me in the first place: the sense that every lecture on this site Must Be Instructive, and even more particularly, that if a lecture doesn’t cover My Particular Opening than I can’t possibly learn anything from it.

As we would say in Santa Cruz, relax! Chill out! Sometimes a little humor will open your mind so that it is receptive to new things.

I do have a couple more ideas in mind for the “Lighter Side” series, but I probably won’t do them for another couple months, because I think it’s time to get back to the “Tactical Motifs” series. I’ll give readers of this blog a special hint: I would like to do lectures on desperado sacrifices and on removal of the guard. Do you have favorite examples of either of these motifs that you would like me to show?

My last update for today is on the U.S. Championship. The final round is going on right now, and I am “watching” it on  Yuri Shulman has already won the U.S. Championship, by drawing his last-round game against Josh Friedel. Friedel wasn’t too upset about that, because the draw gave him his third grandmaster norm. This was just about the most certain draw imaginable, given that both players had such a big stake in it.

Of the ChessLecturers, Eugene Perelshteyn is doing the best: he entered the last round with 5 points out of 8, and he has a very promising position against Kudrin. He has “Alekhine’s gun” — both rooks and his queen — on the f-file, bearing down on Kudrin’s pawn on f3 (Kudrin is White), with serious chances to play … e5-e4 soon, building the pressure on f3. Kudrin can’t capture because of mate on f1.

Jesse Kraai, who enters the last round with 4 points out of 8, has a rather unpleasant position against Alexander Ivanov. He has four isolated pawns and a bad bishop, and Ivanov has two knights in a position that looks ideal for knights. My fearless prediction is that Perelshteyn will win and Kraai will lose. As for Vigorito, he has already drawn with Yermolinsky to finish with 4 points out of 9. I think he is probably pretty happy with that result.

Of the Bay Area players, Friedel has already passed the finish line with 5.5 points. Shankland lost in the last round to finish with 2.5. I’m sure he hoped for better, but as the second-lowest rated player in the field, it was a tall order for him. David Pruess has 3.5 points and looks as if he’s in big trouble — three pawns down and struggling even to win one of the pawns back.

Looking bad for Jesse. He’s about to lose the exchange. Resignation soon?

Hmm… Not so good for Perelshteyn either. Kudrin has closed the center and taken a pawn on a5. Now Perelshteyn’s attack has to work or else.

Looks like a draw coming up in Kudrin-Perelshteyn. They’ve traded into a bishops of opposite colors endgame where Kudrin is a pawn up, but I’m guessing Perelshteyn can hold. Jesse played a desperado rook sac and the position is messy, but I think Ivanov can shut it down, unless his time trouble gets too bad.

Final results: Perelshteyn drew, Kraai lost, Pruess miraculously pulled out a draw. In the women’s tournament, there was a tie between Zatonskih and Krush, and Zatonskih won in an Armageddon playoff. As you all know, I think that Armageddon is no way to decide a national championship.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Carina May 22, 2008 at 7:01 am

I haven’t seen the two lectures yet (am saving them for the weekend, where I have better time), but I think the concept of humour in chess is valid and appreciated on I mean, about a dozen of my chess cartoon drawings ( are based on stuff you guys have said on the site, even if it’s not written in the caption who said it, the pieces are often quoting. And ofcourse the purpose of the cartoons is to illustrate the hidden humour in chess, which I think most players appreciate. Isn’t chess played because it’s FUN to begin with? Then why lose sight of “the lighter side” when teaching the game to others?

There’ll always be control freaks in the world, and if something deviates from what’s standard or habitual in a lecture, it’s commented on. Like “do shorter introductions, Wallace”, “don’t be so hard on Dana, Jesse” or “remember the right castling expressions, Paschall”, bwahaha (and they’re not even joking). However, even if it’s true that we pay money for watching the lectures, by far the greater value is contributed by you, for choosing to serve. You can’t buy that with money (12 dollars a month? LOL), but appreciation and gratitude might. Sometimes people forget that, and try to strip lecturers of their right to be an individual and express themselves individually, maybe because the commenter doesn’t have an individuality himself. Hopefully, these attempts stay ignored and the material you think is valuable will continue to be submitted, even (or especially) if it falls outside the norm or offers a different perspective. This is usually one of the most inspiring approaches to teaching and a lot of students will appreciate it.

About the U.S Championship, I can’t wait for the players to return and flood with their games. 😀 I guess with so many participants, we can almost have a full coverage of the tournament? (in case someone has no humour, I’m joking)


Rob May 23, 2008 at 4:34 am

Hello Dana…

I also did a chess club gig at a library where mostly gradeschool age kids participated.

My experience showed me that few if any were truly interested in tournament chess. They were more interested in playing one another after the lesson was over.

I suspect if you travel up to the Mechanic’s Chess Club on a tournament weekend you will find a young person (a pre-teen) playing. But they are far and few between.

Perhaps some sort of ladder tournament amongst your group with some tournament guidelines…writing your moves, etc., would show them the way…stimulating their interest in this kind of competition.

Moving on…if there were “no humor” in chess I would not play anymore. I am a chess lecture subscriber and I am not much of a player ratings-wise. Certainly I watch and listen to the lectures with the hope of finding something that will help me to improve, but in all honesty, lots of things talked about do not often take place in my arena, nor do I play many of the openings that are covered by the lectures.

I tend to learn visually, but I also like to hear the stories behind the play.
As far as my vote is concerned, you should continue your series until you are ready to do something else.
I feel sorry for those who lack a sense of humor..they are like people who eat food without flavor.


peter adlersburg May 26, 2008 at 1:49 am

dear dana,

Yet another “let mackenzie do his thing on”-supporter. Being a long-time-visitor of tim krabbe’s website I really appreciate stuff like your “ligther side of chess”-series. Keep on presenting all this fascinating facettes that our game has to offer.

kind regards,


(Vienna, Austria)


Roald Euller June 5, 2008 at 9:51 am

Not a direct answer to your question, but the “learn from your fellow amateurs” is one of the best things on Chesslecture (and that’s saying something) Like Silman’s The Amateur’s Mind, it reflects the way chess is actually played amongst the great unwashed masses of class players (myself included), and by speaking their “language” it thus becomes a great teaching tool.


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