Spinnin’ wheels

by on June 17, 2009

Every Tuesday I run a chess club for kids at the Aptos Public Library. Yesterday we had seven kids, whose names are (possibly with different spellings) Colin, Marius, Michael, Jesslyn, Mo, Coco, and Milo. That’s three girls out of seven — not bad!

One of my weaknesses as a teacher is that I don’t remember my students’ names very well. Yesterday I had to ask Colin what his name was for about the hundredth time. I think he’s getting really tired of it. But I am going to try out a new system for remembering their names. Every week I am going to write down the names of the kids who came, and then the following week I will look at the list and try to picture each one in my mind.

Anyway, I won’t forget Colin again, because yesterday he had a great day. For my lesson I decided to show them a couple of positions from Elizabeth Vicary’s blog. This is from a game that she played with one of her students:

Her student played 33. Rg3? I asked the students if they could figure out what was wrong with that move. I was expecting it to take several minutes, and I was going to give them a hint to look for checkmate possibilities. A second hint is to look for skewer possibilities due to the lineup of White’s king and rook.

But I didn’t need any of that! Because within 30 seconds, Colin said, “How about moving the bishop to b4?” I couldn’t believe my ears! So I asked him why he liked that move, and he completely nailed it. He said you could move the bishop to d6 next move and put the White king in checkmate.

Wow, so a five-minute lesson is now done in 30 seconds. But not quite … I asked if White could do anything about this threat. Several kids came up with 34. Kf4, the only possibility to escape from mate. And then what does Black do next? I asked. Michael raised his hand and said that 34. … Bd6+ would skewer the king and rook. I was amazed, because I didn’t even realize he knew what a skewer was!

Sometimes when I watch the kids play I get frustrated, because it seems as if they learn so slowly, and repeat the same types of mistakes over and over. But yesterday’s lesson was like a breath of fresh air to me. The wheels in those little heads are definitely spinning around, and if you give them the right kind of encouragement and ask them the right kind of questions, they will sometimes amaze you.


In my last entry I asked for advice on which big tournament I should play in next: the U.S. Open or the U.S. Senior Open. So far the votes are 3-0 in favor of the Senior Open. Not only that, my wife thinks that is the right choice too, so that makes it 4-0. Thanks, guys, for helping me make up my mind!

It will really be fun to be the youngest player in a tournament again! That hasn’t happened for a heck of a long time, like 35 years or so.

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