Friday, April 25

Advice for Chess Parents Revised

Daniel Naroditsky and Steven Zierk smile at 2008 CalChess Scholastics.

Editorial Note: I published this article first as an email in 2007 and on this blog in 2008.  The 2014 version has been revised more than in previous years. 

Once again, the week has arrived of the biggest scholastic chess tournament in California: the CalChess Super States in Santa Clara.  Many of the competitors—the children—have spent months preparing for the most challenging weekend of the year.  This article seeks to prepare their parents for the adventures (and stress) of a major chess tournament.  What role do adults have?  And how should a loving parent behave at a chess tournament?

Indeed, a youngster’s confidence and ability to play well reflect (in no small part) the behavior of the parents. I have seen far too many examples of adults (yes, coaches sometimes included) discouraging children, instead of offering emotional support and positive reinforcement. Is it any surprise that many of the same juniors inevitably will quit chess soon?

First and foremost, you should prepare your child with the necessary food and rest before and during the weekend. Make sure to get plenty of sleep; an extra hour of sleep will help during the last games at the end of each long day. Of course, the kids need a big and healthy breakfast (very important) plus lunch / snacks between rounds. Those in the older sections who tend to play longer games may wish to take a bottle of water and a small snack (chocolate, candy or chewing gum) with them for each round.

Trophies, trophies and more trophies!
More challenging is to strike a balance between keeping your child focused after their games while not draining all their energy. Refrain from chess activities between rounds, except for briefly reviewing the tournament games with a coach or a computer. Avoid blitz and bughouse; both cause kids to play impulsively instead of carefully thinking about the best move. Older kids may wish to bring a book, iPod or a deck of cards to play with friends. Younger kids may prefer video games. Some children go outside to play ball for a little while—enough to relax, but not as much to drain their energy.

What advice can you give immediately before the round? My suggestion is simple: "Try your best and have fun!” For example, “Try your best” means to take your time and think of different possibilities. As you walk to the board, maintain a positive attitude, but make sure to be respectful to the opponent and parent. While chess is a war game, the battle should take place only on the 64 squares.

The challenge inherent in the motto “Try your best and have fun!” is for parents to stick to it afterwards. If your child honestly tried their best, then you must offer encouragement no matter what the result. Never get angry with your son or daughter simply because they lost, even to a lower rated opponent. Legitimate reasons to become disappointed include moving too fast, lack of focus (e.g. looking at other games) or failure to record the moves. Most children are eager to talk about the game, and even parents who do not play chess will pick up key details. (e.g. “I blundered” or “I had a win, but I lost” or “I didn’t see his piece”) Just remember this maxim: Nobody is perfect.

Neel Apte, Daniel Liu and Fpawn at 2009 CalChess Scholastics.
Up to this point, I have described how you the parent can help your child be happy (and successful) at a chess tournament. In the second half of this essay, I will profile four common parent behaviors that I hope to discourage.

1. Parent measures performance merely by wins, losses and rating points. They become upset when the child draws or loses to a lower rated player, without considering the quality of the game or day-to-day fluctuations in the strength of both players. 

Fpawn responds: Chess ratings are based on statistical formulas that predict your winning percentage. For example, a player rated 200 points higher should win about 75% of games; one rated 400 points high should score about 90%. We must come to expect an occasional bad result against a lower rated player. Even an improving player may have one bad game or a disappointing tournament. As I have told many people, progress often comes by taking two steps forward and one step backwards.

2. Parent relies on Fritz too much. Many times a parent with modest chess skill reviews a game with Fritz (or another computer program) and determines that the child missed one or more key tactics. The parent typically quotes a computer evaluation. 

Fpawn responds: No human can play like Fritz and even elite Grandmasters sometimes overlook mate in 1 (Vladimir Kramnik) or hang a piece out of the blue. Fritz is merely a training tool, and represents a superhuman standard to measure your performance against. Parents (and even coaches) sometimes forget how much more difficult it is to play with the clock ticking than to review a completed game with the computer.

Daniel Schwarz poses at 2006 CalChess Scholastics.
3. Parent wants to beat the child’s rival(s). Sadly, the parent measures the child strictly against the results of the rival. It becomes important to score more points or achieve a milestone first. Moreover, the child is forbidden to socialize with the rival, only for competitive reasons. 

Fpawn responds: In recent years, the best young players in the Bay Area have benefited from the interaction with their closest rivals. Masters Nicolas Yap, Drake Wang and Daniel Schwarz, who graduated from high school in 2007, competed for the same trophies at the CalChess States for an entire decade, yet forged strong friendships that included dozens of hours of analysis and online blitz. The benefits of chess friends and study partners far outweigh any competitive disadvantage. Set a positive example for your children to follow by meeting your child’s rivals and their parents.

4. Parent lives vicariously through their child’s achievements. Most parents are proud of the success by their son or daughter, but a few take the competition to another level by boasting. And they become resentful when the result does not meet strict expectations. 

Fpawn responds: It is of utmost importance that your child has fun. Juniors who don't truly enjoy chess (independent of goals set by their parents) simply will not improve as rapidly. You can lead a camel to water, but you cannot force it to drink. Unfortunately, kids who are pushed too hard for years become candidates to drop out of chess entirely in teen years.

Tuesday, April 15

Strong Chess Festival in Reno on Easter

An old photo of playing hall in Reno. Do you recognize some familiar faces?

Every Easter weekend, the Larry Evans Memorial (formerly Far West Open) attracts a mix of experienced masters and motivated amateurs to Reno, the self-proclaimed Biggest Little City in the World.  This tournament has always been one of my favorites!  The trip to Reno always feels like a mini vacation.  As of last week, 111 players registered, including seven Grandmasters headlined by Timur Gareev, fourth highest rated in the country. (Update: 144 registrations posted on April 15.)

Does this sound interesting?  Then be there!  And please say hello if you read this blog.

  • Event: Larry Evans Memorial 
  • Dates: April 18-20
  • Location: Sands Regency Hotel in Reno, NV
  • Format: 6 rounds in 5 sections: Open, A, B, C, U1400
  • Time control: 40/2, G/1 (max game can go 6 hours)
  • Entry fee: $144-148 (add $11 more on-site)
  • Prize fund: $21,000 based on 250 (2/3 guaranteed)
  • See this website for complete details.
  • Check advance entries by section
  • Rating report from 2013.

A final note to chess parents: I know conventional wisdom says that casinos and kids do not mix well, but this event seems to be an exception. Dozens of kids rated from 1000 to 2400 play each year. Simply request the Regency or Dynasty tower while checking in so that the kids can take the elevator directly to the playing hall without walking through the casino.  This weekend also represents the final opportunity to practice before the CalChess Super States

Sunday, April 13

R.I.P. Neil Falconer 1923-2014

Walking into the chess room.
The Mechanics' Institute lost a giant earlier this month.  Aside from a successful legal career, Neil Falconer will be remembered as a competitive chess player and a generous chess philanthropist.  Over 75 years, he served in nearly every capacity at the historic San Francisco chess club, from one of the top amateurs to becoming a member of the Board of Trustees.  He remained a strong class A player even well into his 80s.

I saw Mr. Falconer off and on over the years, both at weekend tournaments and Tuesday lectures.  Strangely, we never crossed swords, although he battled fiercely against several of my star students.  Foremost an attorney, Mr. Falconer capably represented (pro-bono) the state organization CalChess against a rogue scholastic organizer in 2004-05.  He seemed to navigate legal complexities as methodically as Vladimir Kramnik would convert a positional advantage.
The following paragraphs first appeared in this obituary at Chess Life Online.

Watching a tournament game.
The Mechanics' Institute Chess Club has had nine Chess Directors and three Grandmasters-in-Residence in its 160-year existence, but there is no doubt that the person with the longest and most important connection with the Chess Club has been Neil Falconer. His involvement with the club spans nine decades from his first visit in 1938 as a Berkeley High School student to the end of his life.

A native Californian, Neil first joined the Institute in 1945 after finishing his service in the U.S. Army and soon after established himself as one of the strongest chess players in California, finishing third in the state championship in 1946. When former World Champion Max Euwe visited the Mechanics' in 1949 Neil was one of those who held him to a draw. That same year, Neil graduated from the Boalt School of Law at UC Berkeley, passed the bar and started working at the firm where he would later rise to named partner - Steinhart and Falconer. New responsibilities did not slow down Neil's rise as a chess player, and in 1951 he won the California Open title at Santa Cruz.

Chess tournament flag.
In 1999 Neil established the Falconer Award at the Institute which awards a cash prize to the highest-rated junior player under 18 in Northern California.  Grandmasters Vinay Bhat, Sam Shankland and Daniel Naroditsky are among those who have won the Falconer Award, which has awarded more than $35,000 to support excellence in chess.

One of Neil's defining characteristics besides his generosity of spirit and dry sense of humor has been a lifelong interest in learning. He was a regular attendee of former Grandmaster-in-Residence Alex Yermolinsky's weekly endgame lectures and has always had a keen interest in solving chess puzzles and problems. The past decade he has played with pleasure in more than one 5-minute chess tournaments at the Institute, matching wits with players almost 80 years his junior!

Thursday, April 10

Can Cats Play Chess?

I like cats and I love chess.  In dreams, my imagination seeks ways to combine these two passions.  Many of my young chess students have heard of my fictional Cat(FM), who actually existed, but did not possess any special talents beyond knocking over all the pieces.

Thanks to my friend NM Dana Mackenzie for introducing his curious kittens to the royal game and videotaping the experience.  The chess segment begins around the 1:25 mark.  Hilarious!  And click for another YouTube video featuring a compilation of chess cats.  (Not to be confused with the Cheshire cat of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland fame.)

Cat lovers may check out (pun intended) Dana's entire YouTube channel dedicated to a kitten named Max and other cute felines.

Tuesday, April 8

Close But No Cigar - High School Nationals

Cameron Wheeler - 7th place
Kesav Viswanadha - 4th place

A modest-sized delegation of 39 from Northern California made waves at the National High School Championship in San Diego, but finished short of bringing home the first place trophies.  At the end of a long weekend of competitive chess, the Bay Area teams earned eight individual and two team trophies.  Congratulations to the successful squads from Kennedy Middle School (2nd place) and Monta Vista High School (4th place), both from Cupertino.  Each school depended on the strong individual performances by their top board: FM Cameron Wheeler (7th place) and NM Kesav Viswanadha (4th place), respectively!

Robby on Chess Life cover.
By all accounts, San Diego saw the strongest K-12 Nationals ever, with 33 masters in attendance, including 15 from California alone!  Amazingly, accelerated pairings magically whittled down the number of perfect scores, and after just five rounds, only one player from 345 remained unblemished.  To nobody's surprise, GM-elect Darwin Yang of Dallas won his first six games to finish as undisputed champion with 6.5 out of 7.  On the other hand, the team competition came down to the wire, with underrated Catalina Foothills High School of Tucson pulling ahead at the end, in large part thanks to the tireless effort of legendary coach FM Robby Adamson

NorCal Final Results  

  • NM Kesav Viswanadha 6.0 - 4th place 
  • FM Cameron Wheeler 5.5 - 7th place
  • NM Allan Beilin 5.5 - 18th place
  • NM Vignesh Panchanatham 5.0 - 22nd place
  • Neel Apte 5.0 - Honorable Mention
  • NM Michael Wang 5.0 - Honorable Mention
  • NM Udit Iyengar 5.0 - Honorable Mention
  • Hans Niemann 4.5 - 15th place blitz
  • Kennedy Middle School 19.5/28 - 2nd place
  • Monta Vista High School 19.0/28 - 4th place (tied for 3rd)

Friday, April 4

National High School in San Diego

The big playing hall at National High School.  Credit: Martha Underwood.

The 2014 spring national scholastic chess championships kick off with the strongest National High School Championship ever!  By my count, there are two International Masters, 15 players rated above 2300 and 33 masters in all.  As always, the talented Northern California delegation appears poised to bring home some hardware and maybe even a national title.

Out of 950 total participants, about 340 signed up for the competitive High School Championship.  Given the convenient location at the Town & Country Resort in San Diego, 39 local players made the trip down I-5 for an intense weekend of chess.  Of the 27 Bay Area representatives in the strong Championship section, 9 are rated above 2150, including 2300+ rated FM Cameron Wheeler, NM Kesav Viswanadha and NM Vignesh Panchanatham.

In addition to the battle for individual honors, 3  Silicon Valley schools have entered teams of 4+ students.  Last year's CalChess K-12 Champions Kennedy Middle School of Cupertino, now boasting three masters and two strong 1900s, figures to challenge perennial national power Murrow High School from Brooklyn, New York.  Monta Vista High School, comprised of graduates from Kennedy Middle, should be competitive as well.  Finally, Saratoga High School, no longer quite as strong as last decade, fields a team of four B and C players.

NorCal Watch List
National High School
Final Results
Congratulations to GM-elect Darwin Yang for clear 1st with 6.5/7! 

  • FM Cameron Wheeler (KMS) 5.5 - 7th place - drew Darwin Yang in last round
  • NM Kesav Viswanadha (MVHS) 6.0 - 4th place - beat Y.Xia (2286) in last round
  • NM Vignesh Panchanatham 5.0 - 22nd place
  • NM Siddharth Banik 3.5
  • NM Allan Beilin 5.5 - 18th place
  • NM Udit Iyengar (KMS) 5.0 - Honorable Mention
  • NM Michael Wang (KMS) 5.0 - Honorable Mention
  • Neel Apte (MVHS) 5.0 - Honorable Mention
  • Joshua Cao 4.5 
  • Hans Niemann 4.5 - 5th grader!
  • Kevin Rosenberg (MVHS) 4.0
  • Daniel Zheng (MVHS) 4.0 - drew Rosenthal (2274), S.Liao (2189) and T.Lu (2185)
  • Arhant Katare (KMS) 4.0 - drew S.Liao (2189)
  • Pranav Srihari (KMS) 4.0 - drew Miller (2258)
  • Faisal Albannai (SARA) 3.5 
  • Alex Li (SARA) 3.5 - rated just 1435, played up all 7 rounds, +167 rating points
  • Kennedy M.S. 19.5/28 - 2nd place 0.5 behind Catalina Foothills H.S. (Tucson)
  • Monta Vista H.S. 19.0/28 - tied for 3rd with Murrow H.S. (Brooklyn)
  • Saratoga H. S. 12.0/28 - 27th place

Here's wishing plenty of good luck and skill to all!

Sam Sevian Chases GM Title

Sevian at Bay Area International in January.
Now a fully fledged International Master, 13 year old Sam Sevian aspires to the highest title in chess: Grandmaster.  If he completes the requirements before December 2015, he would break the record for the youngest American GM, currently held by Ray Robson at 14 years and 351 days old.  After earning his first GM norm for a 2nd place result at Foxwoods Open in January, Sam appears well on track to shatter the record.

The following article about Sam's quest appeared in the Boston Globe on March 30.

In many ways, Sam Sevian resembles a typical American teenager. Just a touch stocky, with a mop of brown hair, a round face, and wire-framed glasses, he’s slightly awkward, especially around adults he doesn’t know that well. He likes to watch sports, specifically the NHL and the NBA — he roots for the Bruins and the Golden State Warriors. And he does his best to avoid household chores, having recently managed to wriggle his way out of one particular task. ("He was supposed to do vacuuming," says Armine Sevian, Sam’s mother. "It was very ... not good," she says with a laugh.)

Sam Sevian receives the U12 gold medal from
Kasparov at the 2012 World Youth in Slovenia.
What makes Sam Sevian different from his peers is that he can play chess better than any other 13-year-old in American history. Last November, a month before his birthday, the Southbridge resident earned the title of International Master. He’s the youngest American player ever to attain that second-highest ranking in chess, besting the mark set in 2008 by Ray Robson, then 13. Bobby Fischer, the gold standard of American chess, didn’t reach the International Master level until he was nearly 15. ...

"We’ve been watching him for two and a half years," Garry Kasparov writes of Sam via e-mail. "He’s a very hard-worker and has all the talent needed to become a top player as he matures and gets his emotions under control."

Read the full article at this link.