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Finegold on the Summer Chess Academy Print E-mail
By IM Ben Finegold   
August 19, 2009
Spencer Finegold, a Chess Academy Student and Ben Finegold

‘Duck season, wabbit season!  Duck season!  Wabbit Season!  Duck season!’  Chess Camp Season!!  That’s right folks; chess camp season runs from around June 15-August 15 each year.  This year, I worked at 7+ chess camps.  Also, I was able to get in some nice chess tournaments as well.

My travels this year took me to Las Vegas, NV, Charlotte, NC, Englewood, NJ, Rochester, MI (Not a typo for the Rochester in Minnesota or New York; Eminem has even decided to take up residence in Rochester, Michigan!), and even a couple of weeks back home in Ann Arbor, MI.  I was even able to sneak in good results at the National Open in Las Vegas, and the US Open in Indianapolis, IN. In this article, I'm going to focus on a camp that I had a lot of fun at, the Summer Chess Academy, in Tempe, Arizona. The Summer Chess Academy was a two-week chess camp, held July 6-17, 2009.

The 2009 Summer Chess Academy was held at the Tri Christian Academy.  The camp, like last year, had almost 100 participants (99!), and the staff is probably the strongest in the United States.  Along with the usual suspects, GM Gregory Kaidanov, IM Ben Finegold, and IM Nikolai Andrianov, the Summer Chess Academy welcomed new addition, and 2008 US Chess Champion GM Yuri Shulman, and local FM Will Wharton (not Will Wheaton from Star Trek, TNG, he is more into poker).

A typical “lesson” lasts about 1.5 hours (P.E. and snack are important too!), and I like to focus on a few key ideas, which are probably foreign to most of the campers.  In one class, I spoke at length about the benefits of not trading, even when ahead in material.  For example, I showed the class one of my better efforts from the 1994 NY Open.  Luckily, none of the campers had been at that event, so they had to figure things out on their own!

Yumol-Finegold, NY Open 1994.


I was Black, a pawn to the good, and White had just played 25.c3.  Most book maxims would probably recommend 25…Qxd2 (‘trade when you have a material advantage’, or some such….) but I never agreed with that ‘philosophy.’  Instead, I asked the class “When should you trade queens?” Right away, someone said, “When your opponent is attacking your king,” an excellent answer.  I explained that looking to see which king is safer is the way to go.  Here, everyone agreed that black’s king was safer, and so I played 25…Qa3!

Another important concept was “concrete analysis.”  Many youngsters take a long time with positional and strategic ideas during a game, but sometimes get “excited” when they see a tactical opportunity, and do not analyze objectively. I said to the class “Making small positional errors can occur from time to time, but, making an error in calculation leads to losses!  When you calculate variations, and they are critical to your play, you need to spend more time.  It is easier to win from a worse position, with equal material, then one where you wonder where your bishop went!”

Here is a nice example, where my opponent was rated about 1900, about the same as many of the students.  He makes a tactical error, which was not difficult to see, but it was clear he did not spend enough time calculating.

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 g6 4.h4?!
Probably not the best idea, but, it does not lose material! 4...h5 5.Bb5 Bg7 6.Qe2?!  Developing the queen too early.  Now, I calculated a long variation, and, luckily, my opponent goes right into it, and loses the game. 6...Nd4 7.Nxd4 cxd4 8.Nd5 e6 9.Nf4?! Qc7!


This is a funny position.  If you ask VERY low rated players how to defend the Nf4 and Pc2, they usually cannot find it.  However, finding the way to protect them both is even worse! 10.d3 Qa5+ 0-1

My opponent was so confident and proud of his 10.d3, and was expecting my 9...Qc7, that he actually played the move instantly as I was going to hit the clock after 9...Qc7.  If he had taken more time to analyze concretely, I am sure he would have seen 10...Qa5+.

The main idea I wanted to focus on in the above game was that, even if you are strong enough to see complicated tactics, it is still easy to occasionally miss those same tactics.  And occasionally is too often!  It is more important to spend extra time on tactics, and cut down on blunders.

The local PBS station, Channel 8, came by one day to shoot a segment for their show “Horizon.” The segment was quite long, and one day at camp we were all able to watch the segment on DVD, which starred many of the young campers.

The chess camp is set up into 6-8 groups by rating, and the top three groups are so close in strength, that Yuri, Gregory, and I were able to teach more than one group, and keep the level of the class virtually the same.  The highest rated players are experts and Class A players, with some of the Southwest’s best junior players participating.

Here is one of my favorite games from a simultaneous I gave in week one:


This year, Will Wharton’s brother also taught in week two, and the Finegold family got more involved with my son Spencer teaching for two weeks.  Spencer starts Michigan State University this month, and wanted to get a taste of the tournament and camp circuit before studying more academic pursuits.
Alan Anderson works all year to get sponsorship from people (like the amazing Dr. Norm Saba and John LaLonde) to big corporate sponsors, like General Dynamics.  Alan works on the camp all year round, to make sure all the campers, instructors, volunteers, and sponsors are all taken care of properly. He also puts together a wonderful staff.   A special thanks to Norm and his wonderful wife and kids, who throw the BEST party each Saturday between the two weeks of the camp.  The ping-pong, food, and chess are simply the best! For info on the 2010 edition, contact Alan Anderson at:[email protected]