Monday, November 17, 2008

Saying Good Bye

Like many Bloggers my life has has gotten in the way of making new postings. This blog was started as a chess reference site for my chess students and parents. I am taking a break from teaching for awhile. It is time to concentrate on other things. Therefore, this is my last post. Should you like to know if I start this blog up again please post here and I will contact you if that happens.

Thank you!


In the mean time check out

GM Josh Friedel

Congratulations to our latest American Grandmaster.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Making Moves in Education

Josh Waitzkin is arguably one of the most recognizable chess personalities of our time. He gained popular fame as the subject of his father’s book-turned-movie “Searching for Bobby Fisher.” To the shock and dismay of many chess fans, Waitzkin left the competitive chess world at age seventeen. As part of stepping back he took time to find his true self by studying Tai Chi Chuan as he continued to explore his interest in Eastern philosophy. This study lead Waitzkin back to a life of high-level competition. This time he focused on and became a world champion in Tai Chi Chuan Push Hands Competition.

Waitzkin’s successes have caused many to question how one person could become a champion in what seems like completely unrelated pursuits. Waitzkin answered this question for himself and others in his 2007 book “The Art of Learning”. In the year following the book’s publication Waitzkin has seen his life take another turn. “My real passion is for education now; that’s what I am really excited about in life,” Waitzkin told me in May 2008 during an interview at the National K-6 Elementary Chess Championship in Pittsburg, PA.

The Birth of a New Passion
“When my book came out, I started getting approached by a lot of education groups, psychology groups, urban youth groups, gifted organizations, and groups that work with kids with learning disabilities. They were all interested in integrating the ideas in my book or the book itself in their curriculums and classrooms. Of course, a lot of groups don’t have funding for it, or to buy supplies or anything.” This is why Josh Waitzkin started the JW Foundation.

Through the JW Foundation, Waitzkin hopes to give the tools to professionals to inspire a love for learning and creativity in the lives of the children with whom they work. Waitzkin’s end-goal is to have the unique potential of every child tapped and to have it encouraged to grow while they learn and develop the ability to face challenges head on. His foundation will provide the knowledge and support to educators, educational institutions, and parents to see this change made a reality. In his own words, “The thing I am trying to do with my foundation is to open up the idea of excellence or success or mastery to children who are being told that they can not succeed, because we all can.”

Josh on Chess
Some people may feel that Waitzkin has grown away from chess, but he has not. In fact he knows that, “Chess families are often very embedded in the educational situations in their schools.” While autographing copies of “The Art of Learning,” many chess parents who were also teachers stopped to talk educational shop with Waitzkin. “There has been a really powerful response about integrating the book, or chapters of my book, into curriculums. If schools would like to do this, too, but cannot afford supplies, I can donate copies of my book.”

I asked Waitzkin if feelings of nostalgia rise when he visits scholastic chess tournaments. As we sat and talked at the end of a long day he told me, “I don’t feel terrible nostalgic right now. I do sometimes. I think if I went into the playing hall I would. It’s funny, right now, honestly, what I am looking at are the parents. I’m noticing the difference in the shine of the kid’s eyes depending on the parents. I am seeing parents who have the beautiful points, who are saying the right things, who have a good spirit. I’ve seen the parents who are just such nightmares, and you see how the kids are a product of their home environment in such a dramatic way. In this particular situation, I am isolated sitting at a table with people coming over to me while I am signing autographs. . . . I’ve seen so many parents ruin kids, and so many teachers ruin kids in the chess world. I am really thinking a lot about that while I am here. I am noticing what looks healthy to me and what looks unhealthy to me.”

Waitzkin, who speaks in a soft voice filled with passion, paused to reflect. He continued, “When I think about chess now, I think about how beautiful it can be for children, but it also can be terribly destructive for children if it is done the wrong way. Just like anything else. Something with Tai Chi - people talk about Tai Chi being health. Tai Chi is healthy if you do it with good alignment. If you have a bad teacher that teaches you slightly wrong alignment, it would be just as unhealthy as it could be healthy. I am beginning to feel like this is the central fight of my life right now. All the stuff that is going on in the ring, World Championships and other stuff that is one fight. The real fight is this. I think a lot of well-intentioned parents and teachers are destroying their kids. It is not that they have bad intentions. They just don’t know what the questions are. They don’t know what the important things are to focus on. That’s what I have been thinking about. I am not feeling nostalgic.”

The Truth
Many people feel that they know Josh Waitzkin. For many he has been part of their lives since he was a child and they have watched him grow into a distinguished young man. While we sat and visited, I couldn’t help but feel that I should myself know who he is, but I didn’t. I don’t know who Josh Waitzkin is. I know something about his chess life and that he is good at Tai Chi. I can feel his spirit and respond to his kindness, but I don’t know Waitzkin anymore that any fan does. I asked him what he wanted people to know about him since false beliefs are bound to follow anyone elevated to celebrity status.

“I wasn’t a very talented player, I don’t think, and I wasn’t a very talented or am a very talented athlete either. I think I am a moderately-talented athlete and a pretty talented kid in the chess world, but there were other kids who were more talented. I just worked hard. I loved the battle. I loved putting myself on the line, and of course there is a time when I stopped loving the battle. I think that a lot of people when they look at those who have succeeded or have been put on pedestals for one reason or another tend to focus on the results - on the glory, the championships, or the medals. A central idea about my life for people to understand is that I think that my success was defined by my disappoints and by how I dealt with loses. Every big win in my life, in my mind, has its seeds in one or two major disappointments, a lesson learned coming back. Losing my first national championship before I won the next one. Losing in the marshal arts my first world championship and my second world championship and coming back to win my third one. All of these years of work coming back integrating lessons from painful losses. I think that kind of reality liberates kids, or people too.”

Final Thoughts on Education
Waitzkin recently wrote an insightful essay on one of the growing harmful trends in education, the multitasking virus. Along with the multitasking virus and placing children into cookie-cutter molds, there is one word that Waitzkin feels needs to be eliminated from the educator’s vocabulary: perfection. “Perfection is the most dangerous word in the learning process and I hear people use it all the time, “you played perfectly,” or “you did this perfectly.” Perfection is devastating. It doesn’t exist. Creativity comes out of imperfection. All of the most beautiful creations are born out of something going wrong, and you just roll with it and you come up with something beautiful. That’s what inspiration is all about.”

Waitzkin feels that is it is far too easy for teachers to just teach their students in the same way that they were taught. The fact is that not all people learn in the same style. When a teacher only teaches in one tradition, two-third or three-quarters of the class is alienated. “You can teach a class and it can be a beautiful creative experience, the teaching of it, or you can teach a class, regurgitating information but that isn’t going to be good for the students.”

On the journey from child chess star to world Tai Chi champ Waitzkin has seen, lived, and learned a lot. His path has brought him now to a new road. This road is one of educational enlightenment and improvement. Waitzkin is hoping many will travel this road with him. It is wide and long with room for everyone. In the near future Waitzkin plans to build an online learning environment where people can share how they are using the principles from his book “The Art of Learning” in their classrooms and homes. The book is already being used for teacher training in Belize, in the New Jersey public school system, and in urban youth groups in San Francisco. It is time to move from education crisis to enlightenment.
Read the Multitasking Virus in our Classrooms
by Josh Waitzkin
Learn More about the JWFoundation

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Chess Buddies Shulman and Onischuk

If you have a good friend you are lucky. If you have a best friend that you have known forever you are truly blessed. Grandmasters Alexander Onischuk and Yury Shulman first met as teenagers and to this day are buddies. They are fierce competitors and have been forced to face off against each other for more than one title. They met because of the love of the game and the intense competition could have made them rivals, but they have chosen to become and stay best friends.

I was happy to have a chance to sit down with both Onischuk and Shulman this past January during the Chess in Education workshops held in Chicago. I think most people will agree that both young men are talented players and those of us in the United States are very proud to call them both ours.

Their first meeting occurred when the two were teens, paired against one another for the first time. Onischuk says, “We remember it well; we met in Alma-Ata. There was a junior championship taking place. We were playing so bad that we were joking – that there were three rooms over there: One room for the main players, one room for players that had some points and a third room for players that had practically no points. And that is where we played our first game.” As the three of us laughed at this description, Shulman blushed and said, “I remember, yes,” with a look that seemed to say, do we really have to talk about that part?

Onischuk continued, “The funny thing after that, from the tournament I qualified for the World Junior. Yury won every single game after he made the draw against me. So it is like I gave him a push, I also started to play better after that, and I didn’t have a wonderful tournament but at least I won more games than I lost.” Shulman finished the story by pointing out that Onischuk went on to take second place in the World Junior that year, not himself.

To what do these Grandmasters attribute their chess success? Natural ability, study, personal instruction, or the Internet? Shulman answered with a laugh, “number four.” I doubt that playing chess on the Internet is really what made him great. Shulman said his success has been due to studying, especially books. Onischuk agreed, “I think that the ability to study is more important than being talented or even being a genius. I know so many talented kids from my generation that were probably more talented than I, but I worked harder. To become a Grandmaster or a strong chess player you need so many things together. Good nerves, ability to train . . . .”

Shulman cut in, “to be able to sustain the losses. Players lose the ability to play just because they can not take a draw, they can not take a loss. They take it too easy, or most of the time they take it too hard, but taking it too easy is a problem also.” Yes, they are such good friends they finish each other’s thoughts.

Since studying was such a major part of their development as chess players, I wanted to know who their most influential teachers were. Onischuk answered first. “I think my first teacher was my greatest teacher. He wasn’t a Grandmaster or anything. I believe your first teacher doesn’t have to be great at chess. What you need is just a good teacher that will show you what to do to learn chess. A good teacher has to develop in you your chess playing personality.”

Yury's parents flank Leonid Bondar

Shulman had to think a little bit before he answered, “It is really hard for me to name one. I was very inspired first by my dad, who taught me how to play and then brought me to the chess club. He spent so much time with me he would say, ‘Yury, now you are supposed to read the chess book at this time.’ At the same time, of course, there is my first teacher Tama Gorivch, who stays with me now. Her husband Leonid Bondar was helping me also and he was my teacher in university. Of course, one of my strongest coaches was Albert Kapengut; he was an International Master. He still plays sometimes.”

Shulman and Onischuk are chess teachers themselves now and will undoubtedly become another player’s most influential teacher. Shulman agrees with Onischuk that a teacher needs to help a player develop his own vision. He said, “They should believe in themselves and also try to understand the ideas of other players and apply it to their own personality. They should really try to think and apply when they play, not just memorize.”

Onischuk did point out, “I think it depends on if a student wants to become really good. If chess is just fun for you, then just play and enjoy the game.If you want to become a professional, you have to train. Not just play blitz online.” We all laughed then Shulman said, “ICC. . .” and Onischuk finished the thought, “ . . . or with your friends. You have to really train – almost every day.” He paused, “At least one hour a day.”

“But every day.”

“But every day.”

Not just seven hours on Saturday?

We all laughed.

“No, no. Everyday! Ok, say, I have a New Year’s resolution to study chess and then you study for month and forget about it.”

“But even that month would be helpful if you studied for one month. But usually when people say they study for seven hours a day they studied for two hours that day, but they feel that they studied seven hours. . . ”

I took over for Onischuk when I finished off Shulman’s train of thought, “Or they think they studied that long but they go and get lunch, then some coffee, watch TV . . .” He wouldn’t let me go for long unchecked and countered with, “. . .play on the Internet.” Onischuk put us both in our place by summing up the discussion, “Sometimes people play with chess programs and say, ‘Ok I was studying the whole day today,’ but it isn’t really true.”
I don’t think Onischuk or Shulman exalt themselves being chess idols, but they hold others with such high esteem. Shulman considers any World Champion a star. For Onischuk, his idol was easy to name: “I think Karpov was an idol for me when I was young, and then it just happened at some point that I became his second. I have been his second for many, many years since 1996. I think I just got lucky that I met my idol and I have worked really close with him. When I was a kid, he was an idol to me and then he became a colleague.” I had to ask Onischuk who has learned more, he or Karpov. Onischuk puffed up his chest and tried to speak with pride, but he didn’t quite pull it off, saying with a smile, “He was a student. . .” Shulman burst out laughing. Onischuk continued, “. . . officially, but of course I learned more – ten times more, that’s for sure.” Shulman had the same experience with his friend Boris Gelfand.

Being such accomplished players, I knew they both have had to have victories and losses, which have stuck with them more than others. Onischuk’s biggest win was easy to guess: “For me the top accomplishment was winning the U.S. championship. When I won the U.S. championship it was like, now what?!” Shulman and I laughed at Onischuk’s joy and exasperation all tied up in one. “Maximum that I can do now is win the championship two times. I will never be the world champion. So it was like, I guess I could just retire after that.” I hope he doesn’t really believe that he won’t become world champion someday. The U.S. would love to see him pull it off, and there is no reason he isn’t able.

For Shulman, there was no one major tournament win that came to mind: “I think I remember more the individual games. I remember my loss to Alexei Shirov, which was a really tough loss for me. I had a winning position. I could have advanced. And again I remember the World Cup 2005 when I was able to eliminate Alexander Khalifman. Those events I tend to memorize more, they are short but full of emotion. When I won the European Junior Championship, I didn’t even realize it. Some wins aren’t as connected to you personally. Sometimes it is not what is the biggest accomplishment, but what it means to you.”

I turned to the question of the losses. Shulman, of course, picked his second round loss to Alexei Shirov in the World Championship as his most painful/memorable loss. Onischuk needed to think about it longer for an answer, “I’ve definitely had many.” He paused for a long time and looked to the ceiling. He finally said with a shrug, “Somehow I cannot remember them.” The three of us burst with laughter. Shulman pointed out, “You see this is a really good quality of a chess player, he forgets the troubles . . . ” Onischuk cut in, “. . . there are so, so many losses.”

“I am sure poor Alex can recall our last game when if he’d beaten me in the last round he would have qualified for the World Cup.”

“The World Championship.”

“That is why maybe he doesn’t want to recall right now.”

“No, actually I have already forgotten about it.”

After another round of laughter, Onischuk did share this: “I was leading in some strong tournament, a round robin, and I played the white pieces against the weakest player. Everyone was a top Grandmaster in the world. I played the lowest rated guy – not a bad player – an International Master master with a rating of 2400. Had I won that game I would have at least shared first place. Of course, I lost, with white. I thought I was going to crush this guy. I lost and it was very disappointing. But I have had so many losses it is hard to recall them all.” To aspiring players out there, remember the Onischuk school of chess: Not remembering all of your losses is key to becoming a Grandmaster.

All of the talk of big wins and losses led me to ask Shulman and Onischuk to share their experiences of this year’s World Championship. They looked at each other and started to laugh, “It was the same experience,” Shulman said. Onischuk agreed, “More or less it was the same experience; we lost to the same guy. Unfortunately, Yury didn’t make it to the third round so we would,” in unison with out missing a beat they said, “play each other.”

Onischuk felt that round one was harder than both he and Shulman expected it to be, saying they were favorites in the round. Shulman claims only Onischuk was a favorite.
Onischuk summed up the tournament, “We managed to go to the second round and then Yury managed to lose to Alexei Shirov, the famous turn in the famous game. I beat Predrag Nikolic. Surprisingly, the second match was much easier for me than the first. So then I lost to Shirov. I drew the first game with black and the second game I felt obligated to play for the win. I didn’t really want to play rapid chess against him. The same thing happened in the World Championship in 2000 I played against Shirov. It was the same situation. I drew the first game with black, I quickly made a draw in the second game with white, and I lost in the rapid. So I decided this time I am going to get him with white in the second game. Somehow it didn’t work out. Actually, he played great chess against me. It was a fair game, fair match. What can I say? I wasn’t lucky like Yury.”

Shulman wasn’t going to let the “lucky” comment just pass, “He (Shirov) quite misplayed the game against me. I think Alex was watching this. I was playing black and my advantage was around six points at some point. If I played the move, I am sure I would have won the game, and it was the second game.” Onischuk echoed what must have been stuck in Shulman’s mind, “Yes, you were just one move away.”

Since the interview was starting to take a sad turn, I asked what they thought might happen in the Kamsky-Topalov and Anand-Kramnik matches. Both Shulman and Onischuk went on about how they don’t make predictions and why it is a futile exercise, but each of them ended up having an opinion of the matches.

“These matches are of a high level. Of course we are going to support Gata. I hope if a U.S. player is going to win that chess will be been given a boost, like in Fischer’s time.

“Anand-Kramnik will be the more unpredictable match, because when Kamsky and Topalov are playing you know their styles real well. I don’t think Kamsky and Topalov are going to switch away from their styles, but Anand and Kramnik are more flexible chess players. Topalov is a sharp and attacking player. Kamsky has his own original style. I don’t think they will play something different. I think both matches will be very interesting. In Topalov vs Kramnik it will be about whose style is better. In Anand-Kramnik it will be decided by who is better prepared.”

“More or less I think the same thing. With Anand-Kramnik, I have no idea. It is very equal, anything can happen. For me it doesn’t make sense to make any predictions. I think recently Anand is playing better but Kramnik also had a busy year.”

The interview came full circle, as this one ended on the same note that it started. Even though I was interviewing Grandmasters about chess and their professional lives, most of what we talked about came back to personal relationships. The final question” What is the best and worst parts of being a chess professional? Onischuk answered quickly, “I think the best thing is you can travel and meet your friends.” Shulman seconded the motion, “In general you can have more friends than anyone who doesn’t play chess. It was really, really fun when I was a child, because I could see so many friends and new people. I remember I was taking addresses; we were writing letters to people 5,000 miles away from each other, in Siberia.”

On the contrary, the worst part of being a professional player for Onischuk is, “realizing that at some moment this will stop. Your lifestyle will change and you won’t see those friends you have all over the world, because you will settle down and do something else.” Once again Shulman completed Onischuk’s thought, “Also at some point you realize you cannot do the things you use to be able to do.” Somehow, despite their premonitions of slowing down someday, I don’t think either Shulman or Onischuk will be giving up chess anytime soon which I think is just fine with the rest of us.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

IHSA Team Chess Championship

Congratulations to all of the teams that made their way to the Peoria Civic Center to compete in the 2 day event. It was once again a great success. (pictured above first place team Stevenson High School of Lincolnshire, IL.

1 Lincolnshire (Stevenson) 7.0, 159.5
2 Chicago (Whitney Young) 6.0, 138.5
3 Winnetka (New Trier) 6.0, 130.2
4 Skokie (Niles North) 6.0, 126.5
5 Mundelein (Carmel) 6.0, 111.9
6 Chicago (St. Patrick) 6.0, 100.6
7 Normal (University) 5.0, 134.3
8 Barrington 5.0, 122.9
9 Chicago (Lane) 5.0, 115.6
10 Cary (C.-Grove) 5.0, 115.2

Special Guest GM Yury Shulman watched games, spoke with coaches, and went over games.

Special congratulation goes to Coaches Kevin Dailey of Lincoln-Way Center and Ken Lewandowski of Evanston Township for 20 years of service to High School Chess.

For more standings,prize winners, and photos please visit:

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Chess Etiquette

·Offer to shake hands with your opponent before and after your game. Before the game wish your opponent a good game and following the game thank them for playing and or compliment them on their play.

·Promote your pawn correctly. Place your pawn on the last rank and state the piece you wish it to become, than remove the pawn and replace it with its promoted piece.

·Castle properly. Move your King first, than your Rook.

·It is not necessary to say check when you place your opponent in check, but when you do, announce it quietly and politely. If your opponent asks you to stop announcing when he or she is in check than do not continue to announce check.

·Don’t be a sore winner or loser. Wait to fully express your reaction to a game until you leave the playing area so you do not disturb other players.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Tournament Director

Chess tournament directors run chess tournaments. A TD (tournament director) decides parings (who plays who), maintains a quite, clean playing area, takes the results of each game, and makes sure all rules are followed. Should disagreements arise it is the job of the TD to solve the problem. When the tournament is over the TD calculates the winners, often needing to use tiebreaks. The organizer of the tournament decides the site and date of a tournament; sometimes the organizer is also a tournament director at the event.

True tournament directors are certified by the USCF (United States Chess Federation). There are several levels of certification. A Club level TD is some one that has a USCF rating and meant to director small tournaments of 20 or so players and no tests are required. Local level directors are expected to handle larger tournaments of 100 players. They are required to direct a minimal number of tournaments and pass a test. Senior is the next level, they have similar requirements to the Local TD, but they are much more experienced required to work more tournaments and pass a harder exam.

Associate National and National are the two highest levels of TD certification in the United States. Those holding these titles have had years of experience, passed written exams, and directed tournaments on a national level with large prize funds and as many as 1,000 players. Like all tournament directors certified by the USCF they are held to a code of ethics.