Jennifer on Threats, St.Louis and Belize
By Jennifer Shahade   
August 4, 2008
American chess fans have more tournaments to keep track of this summer than fingers on  hands. Our top three players  (Kamsky, Nakamura and Onischuk) are taking their shots among the world elite in Sochi , Biel and Mainz . Meanwhile, American's headline open, the U.S. Open kicked off this weekend.
It's also been a busy summer for me. I visited the brand new Saint Louis Chess Club for an opening of Diana Thater's video art, which until further notice, will be on display at the club. I'm sure the American chess community will see a lot of great things from Saint Louis in the coming years including two goals close to my own heart—highlighting our elite players and reaching inner city kids with chess.

Diana Thater in front of her video art at the Saint Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center

After Saint Louis, I volunteered for a few days in Belize at a chess camp for girls. Ella Baron, who I used to work with in New York, co-founded the Belize National Youth Chess Foundation after a vacation in which she fell in love with the country, the children and the owner of Caves Branch, the lodge where she stayed.

Belizean girls work on their chess
notation in pairs.

Ella's energy is contagious- she has already arranged visits by two other chess celebrities: David MacEnulty, played by Ted Danson in Knights of the South Bronx and Josh Waitzkin, author of The Art of Learning.

Can rapelling your chess? At a chess camp in Belize, girls practice on a tree.

Located in the middle of the jungle, Ella's camps include many creative activities like creating chess pieces out of clay, chess-dancing and "postal chess", team games that help kids hone their chess notation.

During the final breakfast of the camp, a man dressed as the king walked in, talked with the girls and then asked them to look at a gorgeous butterfly in the distance. The king ran after the butterfly but didn't return—it was then announced that he was kidnapped. To find him, the girls split up into two groups, tubed along a rocky river, hiked through the jungle and rapelled off a 100 foot cliff. This last part terrified me, which you can read more about here.

Whether these activities actually help to create championship chess players is besides the point- using chess to tie together physical, creative and intellectual exercise draws newcomers in. Those fascinated by the game itself will rise to the top anyway. In Belize, I was particularly impressed by one talented girl, Coleen—but she played way too quickly, because she was surrounded by slightly weaker players who she could beat without thinking too hard. After a few days of being harangued by her coaches and counselors to play slower, Coleen faced me in the finale simul. She lost but was the last to finish and played tenaciously. Belize does not have an Olympic team yet, but I hope to see Coleen leading it one day.


I'm now reading Forcing Chess Moves by Charles Hertan. The book was reviewed by Elizabeth Vicary in CLO and excerpted in the August Chess Life Magazine (Read the August issue online if you are a USCF member .) When I remind my students to look for forcing moves, I often say: "look at all checks and captures." Forcing Chess Moves explains eloquently that this advice is along the right lines but distorted because finding the most forcing move is not always as simple as checking out Qxh7+. Sometimes the most forcing move is not a capture or check, but a surprising way to make a threat--even a quiet move. In the following ICC blitz game, I missed the right forcing move.  

Black to Move and Win

Show Solution

Even at a longer time control I may have started and got lost on Rxf1 because my brain is hardwired to look at checks and captures first, and Rxf1 is both. But what's more forcing, a checkmate threat or a check? Before reading Hertan's book, I would have said a check, but now I'm not so sure.

This all reminds me of Kamsky's disappointing third round loss to Ivan Cheparinov in the Sochi Grand Prix. Kamsky was winning but he had just a couple of minutes to stymie White's randomizing kingside flurry.

Cheparinov-Kamsky, Position after 40...Kh6,
White to Move and Win

If the crushing 41.Qf5! was a capture or a check rather than a mate threat, maybe it would have occurred to Kamsky a millisecond faster and he could have avoided this line. Sure, this is total speculation. I watched the game on ICC among hundreds of fans plugged into Rybka and Fritz and I lost my sense of how tough it is for Black to defend with so little time. When I watch Gata battle throughout the next couple weeks, I'll try avoid computer analysis.

Whether you're following Kamsky from your laptop, playing chess and attending meetings in Dallas, or one of the lucky few Americans at the Curacao International, enjoy the heat while it lasts.