Chess salon

by admin on July 20, 2008

Last night I invited a few of my chess friends over for an evening devoted to chess. Borrowing a term from a century ago, one could perhaps call it a “chess salon.”

The evening’s first entertainment was a recent Chess Lecture (the one by Eugene Perelshteyn that I raved about here). Then we ordered out for some overpriced pizza. (Since when do two large pizzas cost $50? Good grief!) Kay made some apple crisp for dessert, which was a big hit. Then we looked at a game that I’m going to discuss in a ChessLecture later this week. We found a few interesting variations but also overlooked a few; let’s say it was fun but not necessarily high-quality analysis. Finally, we played doubles chess until midnight. In doubles you have a partner and you alternate moves. It’s a lot of fun when you have a clash of styles or ideas on the same team — sometimes you wonder, “What is my partner thinking?!”

The people who came to the chess salon were Gjon Feinstein, Thadeus Frei (who, as some of you might have noticed, has recently written a few comments on this blog), Cole Ryan, and Dan Burkhard. I invited Juande Perea, too, but his wife is expected to give birth any day now — her due date is tomorrow – so he decided it was too big of a gamble for him to come. Or maybe his wife decided for him! I don’t know.

I’m not sure whether I have mentioned Gjon previously in this blog, but if not I should have. He is one of the people who keeps the Santa Cruz chess scene going. He’s a national master who has not played tournament chess in about 15 years, in part (I think) because it doesn’t agree with his nerves, but more importantly because he has dedicated himself to a career as a chess coach.

Making a living off of chess is a hard, hard road to travel, but Gjon makes it work somehow. He teaches chess at several local schools, gives private lessons, and also runs a few scholastic tournaments every year. I think he does a few things on the side to supplement his income, such as pet-sitting, but basically he is a chess coach. If you’re a young player in the Santa Cruz area and you’re looking to improve, he is the go-to guy.

Although Gjon doesn’t play tournament chess any more, he loves to play blitz. I would guess that his strength at 5-minute chess is probably at least 2400. He grew up in the Northeast and played a lot at Washington Square Park in New York, where you had to move fast and be good at tactics if you wanted to hang onto your money. So he’s got an extremely high level of tactical alertness, and he’s impossible to outrace in a time scramble. If we have an even position, but he has 10 seconds left and I have 20 or 30, then I might as well resign. He can play 20 moves in those 10 seconds and they will be good, strong moves with no obvious blunders. I can’t possibly play 20 good moves in 20 seconds. Somehow he has an algorithm for understanding what is going on really fast, and I don’t.

My wife noticed it, too. She commented this morning, “Gjon’s got a lot between his ears.” She noticed it because in some of our team games last night we decided to allow discussion between teammates. While Dan and Thadeus and Cole and I would say, “I like move x because it threatens y,” in the same amount of time Gjon would say “I like move a followed by b, c, d, e.” He would be looking five ply ahead in the time it took us to look two. He would also have sound strategic reasons for his moves, too — it wasn’t all tactics. It seems to me that he is fluent in chess, while I stumble along as if it were my second language.

To be more precise: I think that Gjon’s tactical fluency probably developed from playing a lot, with fast time controls, and against tough opposition as a kid or as a teenager. I think that his strategical soundness has come later, through study and hard work as a chess coach. Coaching or teaching force you to put your chess under a microscope and confront the things you don’t understand.

So, I’m sure it will come as no surprise when I tell you that the star move of the night was Gjon’s. In one of our team games, Gjon and Dan Burkhard versus me and Thadeus Frei, we got to this position:

Here Thadeus has just played 1. … Kb8, attacking the rook on a7. Gjon replied with 2. R6a6!! This threatens 3. Ra8 mate. Also, notice that if Black plays 2. … ba, White still gets to play 3. Ra8 mate, with the rook defended by a different piece! So I played 2. … c6; what else could I do? Now it was Dan’s move, and he slightly missed the point by playing 3. Ra8+? After the game, Gjon showed us the second          half of his beautiful idea: 3. Qe5+ Kc8 4. Rxc6+! forcing mate in a couple moves. 3. Ra8+ should still be good enough to win, but they were very low on time, and if my memory serves correctly, Thadeus and I actually survived long enough to win on time.

You might wonder why Dan played 3. Ra8+ if they were allowed to talk about their moves. Well, what happened was that he played the move and punched the clock just as Gjon was saying, “No, no, no!” but by then it was too late. Anyhow, I was impressed by the way that Gjon saw all of this with so little time left, while the rest of us had no clue.

By the way, I was also impressed with Thadeus’s play. I don’t think he made a single bad mistake all night – or at least he made fewer than I did! The only weakness I saw in his game was a tendency to react defensively when his opponent makes a threat. It’s a natural tendency, of course, but what you really need to do is see your opponent’s threats and then find a way to creatively ignore them, and make him react to your threats instead. That’s not always possible, but it should always be your first objective.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Thadeus Frei July 23, 2008 at 9:35 am

hello, remember last saturday when dan and gjon were against us, gjon had done some bishop move and said it was a killer move even though it allowed us to double their pawns.


Thadeus Frei July 23, 2008 at 9:37 am

oh yeah it was the game when they played the goring gambit.


Kapil September 3, 2008 at 4:29 pm

Thadeus, Great Job at the Labor Day! I would like to see your games from the tournament, please send them to me!


Mike Splane August 5, 2010 at 2:34 am

I tried to solve the position from the diagram and found 1. R6a6 c6 2. Qe7 which also seems to win.

I like Gjon’s elegant solution. I’ve played everybody listed in your blog and completely agreed with all of your observations.


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