Home Page arrow Chess Life Online arrow 2011 arrow March arrow US Chess School Comes to Charlotte
US Chess School Comes to Charlotte Print E-mail
By FM Mike Klein   
August 23, 2011
For the first time, the Carolinas hosted the prestigious U.S. Chess School. From July 6-10, 2011, one dozen of the best middle and high schoolers from around the country convened in Charlotte for five days of training from head instructor GM Gregory Kaidanov. This was the 15th edition of the camp, which is organized by IM Greg Shahade and funded by Jim Roberts of America’s Foundation for Chess.
Peter Chen, Christopher Gu, Steve Wang, Andrew Tang, Kevin Bu, James Black, Jeevan Karamsetty, Kapil Chandran, John Lodger Hughes, Justus Williams. Front row: Cameron Wheeler, Michael Chen, Joshua Colas.

The participants were Christopher Gu (2263, RI); Justus Williams (2238, NY); Kevin Bu (2210, MN); Joshua Colas (2201, NY); Jeevan Karamsetty (2169, VA); James Black (2158, NY); John Lodger Hughes (2145, OH); Cameron Wheeler (2138, CA); Kapil Chandran (2136, CT); Andrew Tang (2100, MN); Samuel Xin (2082, NC); and Michael Chen (2056, MI). Many of the names may look familiar – numerous national titles have been won and the campers crowded the leader board at this year's Barber Tournament of K-8 Champions (with Williams co-winning the title). Colas, Black and Williams also represent the future of African-American chess.

I previously profiled Kaidanov for Chess Life in January 2009, but this was my first time seeing him teach at length. He did not disappoint. Kaidanov was equal parts trainer, motivator and story teller. He never stood while teaching, preferring to remain on the level of the campers, both literally and figuratively. In his words, he planned to have “discussions, not lectures.”

In the first 90 minutes of camp, nary a chess move was spoken. The grandmaster opened the camp with a critique disguised as a challenge. After polling the students on how much each studied (responses ranged from two to seven hours per week, with three hours the mode), he replied, “I hope that the numbers you gave are very modest. You are at such an age that even if you do nothing you’re going to get better. However, each one of you can become a GM at the end of high school. There is no question that it will require a huge commitment.

 “To become a GM is something that will set you for life. Not in terms of a chess career, but in terms of success in life. [Colleges will see] you know how to organize your time and that you know how to study. To become a GM before high school (graduation) is more important than school itself. I’m not saying to drop out!”

kaidanoteaching.jpgKaidanov placed emphasis throughout the entire camp on how to study, and how to figure out what to study. He advised students to laboriously analyze their own games and identify common weaknesses, making sure not to generalize. Kaidanov pointed out that many weaker players isolate the wrong reasons that they are losing games. Real life example from a chess dad, told to Kaidanov: “I really can’t play chess but I notice that my son always loses at the end of the game when the opponent pushes a pawn to the other side.” Big laughs from the crowd – the teenagers were apparently well aware of their own parents’ neophytism.

When the chess board appeared, Kaidanov finished the first morning session with a pair of games from former world champion Anatoly Karpov. I had only attended one other chess camp taught by a grandmaster (in the late 1990s by the late GM Edmar Mednis). In each case, a strong emphasis was placed on Karpov’s style. It is both effective, and antithetical to the way many youngsters play. “There is more positional chess than tactical,” Kaidanov said. “I know the world is unfair.” While everyone at the camp surely had heard of and occasional used prophylactic moves, Kaidanov wanted to make this the top priority. He cautioned never to improve your own position until you stifle your opponent’s play.

In Karpov-Andersson, 1973, the first of these abstract positional motifs was on display.


James Black took about five seconds to spitfire the defensive plan for Black –  …Nc7, …Re7, …Ne8, …d6, …Rec7. An impressed Kaidanov – “Wow!” After 15…Nc7 16. Rfd1 Re7, fellow Brooklynite Justus Williams followed up on his teammate’s answer with a clever, Karpovian way to prevent the maneuver – 16. Qd3, and if 16…Re7 17. Ng5 with twin threats on h7 and b7.

A few moves later, Kaidanov showed the brilliant bishop redirection that defined the game. 19. Bb7 and 20. Ba6 continued the rebuttal of Andersson’s plan, since if Black ever plays …d6 then Bb5 fatally undermines black’s d-pawn. Kapil Chandran was the first camper to find it.

Kaidanov summed up Karpov’s entire career succinctly. One – What can my opponent do? Two – If my opponent can do nothing, how can I improve my position? “It usually takes forever but [Karpov] doesn’t mind,” Kaidanov said. Karpov forced resignation with the sacrifice 38. Bxg6. Channeling Karpov again, “OK, I have to do tactics, (sigh) if there is no other way.”

Next, Kaidanov showed Karpov-Yudasin, 1993.


Students saw the same pattern arise – a fianchettoed bishop relocating to a stronger diagonal, this time with 15. Bg2xd5 and later 18. Bc4. The game also featured a “faux-repetition.” With Karpov holding the initiative, he repeated the position twice before continuing his methodical improvement. Kaidanov spoke at length on why good players always repeat. He said it gets you closer to time control, gives you an idea of what your opponent’s expected result is, and offers your opponent false hope. “If you are a really good actor you can even accompany with body movements,” Kaidanov said, slumping in his chair. “If you can make your opponent feel bad by legal means, then you should do it. Some people think that it is like cheating, but of course it’s not. When you play chess your goal is to win.” He called repeating once a “tool, not a trick.”

Next came Karpov-Gelfand, 1993.

Show Solution

And Kaidanov followed with a tidbit that I had never heard. “A lot of exchange sacrifices happen when there are opposite-colored bishops on the board. These are the points from GM games you can take to your own games.” Kaidanov’s message had an inspirational undertone: the more you study historical games, the more subtle patterns you can glean.


He added emphasis with a few more examples, including Lutz-Karpov, 1993.


Show Solution

Ensured Karpov would own the dark squares from now until eternity. In true Karpov style, it took him nearly that long to win (0-1, 74).


In showing the winning technique, Kaidanov instructed students that in passive positions, you should idealize the perfect setup for your pieces, then slowly execute that plan. While the games of Tal and Nezhmetdinov may seem more alluring, Kaidanov said Karpov’s methods become more exciting the more they are understood.

Later in the first day, he added a few more didacticisms, including never spending more than 15 minutes per move and, “When you have a bad bishop, don’t trade your other bishop.”

The remaining days of camp all opened with a “best question” contest. Campers had the evening to comprise a question that each wanted answered. Again, Kaidanov favored specificity. He said the question of what to play against 1. d4 was too broad. The winning question was turned in by Jeevan Karamsetty: “In the Sveshnikov, after c4, what is White’s plan?”

After a day of studying the seeming flawlessness of Karpov, Kaidanov wanted to show students his human side. In an extremely self-effacing style, Kaidanov showed that in Kaidanov-Kriventsov, 2006, he had his opponent’s king on e7 on move nine, only to botch the advantage and draw by agreement in a dead lost position.


He spoke at length about the self-reflection he did after the game, which included a summary and lessons learned. One of his mistakes was declining an earlier draw after his advantage disappeared, a psychological mistake well covered in GM Jonathan Rowson’s texts. Later in the camp, more modesty followed when Kaidanov showed how during the opening round of the 2003 U.S. Open, an 1800 only had to move his king differently in a king-and-pawn ending to hold a draw.

Later in the day, more games and more factoids: “When you are in a worse endgame, your best chance is to aim for a rook endgame.” And, “Activity of the pieces is more important than pawn structure probably 80 percent of the time.”

Kaidanov also gave a partial reading list for players of this caliber. In addition to the Mark Dvoretsky tomes, he especially liked “Imagination in Chess” by Paata Gaprindashvili, “Endgame Strategy” by Mikhail Shereshevsky, “John Nunn’s Chess Puzzle Book” by John Nunn and “Think Like a Grandmaster” by Alexander Kotov. Greg Shahade could not lavish enough praise on “Mastering Chess Strategy” by Johan Hellston. 

Also a trivia question – which grandmaster claimed that he never read a chess book?

Show Solution

Shahade opened day three with a series of puzzles on prophylaxis. He has been cobbling together hundreds of positions, creating a taxonomy of ChessBase codes to be able to instantly produce a position fitting a certain theme (you can do this by making one of the database fields your own, for instance instead of “event” you can type in “queen endgames” to be able to group positions easily). Shahade loved solving and adding puzzles to his collection all week, and for good reason. In August, he came out of retirement at the Manhattan Open.
James Black and Greg Shahade

Kaidanov then took the helm with a lesson on pawns.
Znosko-Borovsky-Alekhine, 1933, position after 14. Nxf6+

Alekhine chose the slightly unorthodox 14…gxf6 15. Rxd1 fxe5, whereupon the central control offset the minor pawn-structure weaknesses. “A stronger player knows how to use pawns,” Kaidanov said. “When a weaker player moves pawns, he always makes a weakness. When a stronger player moves a pawn, he always gains space.”


Later in the day Kaidanov played “solitaire chess” with his students, where the goal is to guess the next move. He said it is one of his favorite ways to study. “I love to do solitaire chess so much that I don’t like to look at games any other way,” he said. Unlike most teachers, Kaidanov usually does not scan through the moves before playing solitaire chess. He prefers to be on the same unsure footing of the others in the room.

Perhaps reacting to three solid days of Karpovian incrementalism, campers selected a Morozevich game from the recently concluded Russian Championship. The bold play of the dashing Morozevich flummoxed student and teacher alike. Kaidanov reacted with boyish delight at every mouse-click reveal of the super-GM’s moves.

Day four gave Shahade a chance to introduce another collection of puzzles, this time on defensive chess. Both trainers insisted on dogged determination in the face of a worse position. Kaidanov revealed the story behind a memorable example.

Strikovic-Kaidanov, Yerevan Olympiad, 1996, position after 15. cxb4

Kaidanov seemingly ignored the b-pawn’s advance with 15…Nf5, assuming he had a tactical defense. However, he became mortified after 16. b5 appeared on the board anyway, realizing that he was snakebitten after the intended 16…Ncd4 17. Nxd4 Nxd4 18. Qg4! Nxb5 19. Qa4. After being despondent for a good amount of time, Kaidanov did not want to let his teammates down. He redoubled his analysis and miraculously conjured the idea 19…Rfd8! and the bishop is immune thanks to …Nc7, leading to a queen-trap. “I was lucky, let’s be honest,” Kaidanov said.


The lessons closed with several more pithy bullet points from Kaidanov. “In positions with seven or eight pawns for each side, a pawn break is usually the only plan,” he said. “It’s an extremely important rule to remember.” Also, “In openings with colors reversed, the extra tempo for white almost never offers an advantage.”

He also discussed the hugely important need for students to take advantage of database and engines. Kaidanov said he thinks Firebird, Houdini and Stockfish are just as good as Rybka. In what was the only proprietary part of camp, he gave the campers seldom-used “secret” techniques for maximizing the functions of chess software. Kaidanov arrived at camp with two laptops and had many more he left behind in Kentucky. “I have five computers at my house and they are constantly complaining that they don’t have enough work to do,” he said. “Please send me your positions!”

The day concluded with a giant round-robin blitz tournament. Together with a few local players, the campers played a 14-round event. Williams, who plays with a smooth, confident demeanor, routed the field with 13.5/14. “The last time I finished with 13.5 out of 14 was in my previous life,” said Kaidanov. Christopher Gu and James Black shared second with 10/14.
Justus Williams facing off against GM Gregory Kaidanov in blitz

The final day, Kaidanov opened camp with a cautionary tale: the story of a former student whose talent was squandered in his formative years. Much later in life, during a brief return to chess, the student came to realize his ceiling was much lower than it could have been.

He then showed one classic from his teaching repertoire.
Salov-Akopian, Wijk, 1993, after 13. a3

Here Akopian played 13…Kd8, and Kaidanov received an explanation that he had never heard in all his years of showing the game. Steve Wang, a local player whose respectable performance in the blitz tournament earned him an invite to the final day of camp, suggested black’s idea was 14…Nb4! “I’ve shown this game to hundreds of people,” Kaidanov said, “and I thought the idea was …Ne8 and …Bd6.” Salov would eventually use all of his pawns to gain space and stifle his opponent. Kaidanov even took time to praise minute moves like 35. h3, even though the Nh6 probably could not leave the protection of f7 anyway. “h3 is not a necessary move, but it is good if you like torturing people. Maybe it reflects a little bit on your personality.”


Kaidanov’s final lesson for chess players came on phonetics. Upon showing an Ivanchuk game in the Pirc Defense, Kaidanov said the Yugoslavian player’s name is pronounced “Pierce.”

“He’s been dead for a long time, but if he knew Americans would pronounce his name “Perk” then he would be really upset.”

FM Mike Klein's cover story on the 2010 US Chess Championship earned top honors for the CJA's top tournament report of the year. See a full list of award winners of CLO. Find out more about the US Chess School on the official website and look for a piece next week on the Saint Louis session by Victor Shen.