I’m Back!

by admin on September 19, 2019

Ryder, Emmy, me and Atlee at the state championship.

It’s been a month since I posted here, so I would like to reassure anybody who’s wondering that I have not fallen off the face of the earth! The above photo was taken three weeks ago at the Northern California state championship. I was going to play tournament chess for the first time in nine months, but in the week preceding the tournament I was just swamped by the combination of two deadlines. I did not feel as if I would be mentally ready to return to competition, so I decided not to enter.

However, I was totally mentally ready to watch three of my proteges from the Aptos Library Chess Club play in their first state championships. Actually, technically, they didn’t play in the true championship but in a separate one-day scholastic tournament for kids rated under 1300. But the fun was the same, and the challenge too. None of them managed a 50 percent score (Emmy went 2-3, Ryder 1 1/2 – 3 1/2, and Atlee a tough 1-4 after winning his first game).

I was afraid that they might be discouraged by all these losses, but I think that the photo (taken after the last round!) shows how discouraged they were.

For me as a coach, the tournament gave me a really good read on where they can improve. Both Emmy and Atlee need to work on winning “won” positions. Two easy wins got away from Emmy and one from Atlee, because they hadn’t learned how to shut down their opponents’ counterplay. Ryder just needs some variety of strategies. In every game he just traded pieces, which is a great strategy if you are ahead in material (as he was in his first tournament, where he went 5-0). In this tournament, though, he was playing against stronger players, getting behind in material… and still trading pieces. That doesn’t work. It makes for a lot of long, boring losses.

I don’t want to harp on the negative, though. I think they understand the problems, and I’m going to count on the fact that their brains are young and nimble and self-correcting. It’ll be fun to see them overcome these hurdles.

Lots of other stuff is going on in the chess world, including the most fun GM tournament of the year, the World Cup. The big news is that Jeffery Xiong of the United States is in the top sixteen! At 18, he is the youngest player still left. I’m picking him for a top two finish. Does that seem implausible? Not after round three, when he beat the #2 seed in the tournament, Anish Giri.

I don’t see Xiong beating the #1 seed, Liren Ding, but second place would still be good enough to qualify for the next world championship candidates’ tournament, making him the youngest American to play in it since Bobby Fischer at the preposterous age of 16.

As if that’s not enough, two other Americans, Wesley So and Leinier Dominguez Perez (formerly of Cuba) have also reached the top 16 and will be paired against two Russians (Nikita Vitiugov and Alexander Grischuk respectively). Should be a lot of fun!

Oh, yes. The sign in the photo says, “Think fast. Play slow. Win more,” and it was hand-painted by Emmy. I’m glad to make copies for anyone who wants one!

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