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San Fran US Chess School Stars Six Instructors Print E-mail
By Kostya Kavutskiy   
February 12, 2013
The 20th US Chess School was held in the first week of January, at the Mechanics Chess Club in the heart of San Francisco, with thirteen young and bright chess players. The Mechanics is so full of history that it was quite special to analyze chess in the same building that was visited by so many great players of the past. My role for the camp was to be a second to IM Greg Shahade, the founder and organizer of the USCS, listening in to the lectures and chiming in with useful bits of advice to the players whenever I could. The second part of my job was to write this report, summing up the action-packed five day training session.

Greg's Lectures
Greg stayed true to his style and lectured on very practical topics, such as maneuvering (the art of improving a piece), and prophylaxis (preventing an opponent's threat or plan). He also gave detailed lectures on traps, patience in chess, and the psychology of a draw offer. One lecture that I thought was particularly useful was on releasing the tension. Young players often trade pawns or pieces when it is premature, or at least not necessary. This release of the tension of the position is almost always an error and hopefully the students took away that important lesson from the lecture. Greg also talked extensively about time-trouble and specifically why chess players should try to avoid it at all costs.

He also gave the recommendation to use solitaire chess as a serious training tool. He advocated this exercise, at the previous camp as well, held in Saint Louis. The point of solitaire chess is to play through a high level game, guessing the moves for one of the sides.

Guest Lectures
A different instructor guest lectured each of the five days, so the group was exposed to quite a few different styles of play and analysis.

Here are some snapshots from each of the five lectures:

FM Kostya Kavutskiy
I was the lead-off hitter for guest lecturers, and discussed calculation. I hoped to inspire confidence and convince the students to always play what they thought was the best move, regardless of external factors, such as their opponent's rating or the embarrassment of "missing something". To illustrate this I showed a few positions where they had two options: a timid but solid move, and a more aggressive, ambitious move. The ambitious move was usually difficult to justify, but objectively correct.

Roman Yankovsky - Kostya Kavutskiy 0-1
Here is one of the positions that I showed during my lecture. Black is currently down a pawn and trying to prove compensation. Should they play Bxc3 or Rfc8?

Continuing to play down a pawn and activating the pieces is the right way to play. Black shouldn't "cash in" by playing Bxc3 but instead build the pressure with Rfc8, believing in the power of their position. Even if you can't find all of the tactical resources available to you, you should trust that your pieces will be able to create "something" down the line. (18...Bxc3 was what I chose in the game, and is the safe option, although objectively an inferior move. After 19.bxc3 Nxc3+ 20.Kc2 Nxd1 21.Kxd1 Bd5 we reach an endgame where Black is without any risk of losing but stands only marginally better- with some accurate play, White should be out of danger as well). After Rfc8 White has no satisfactory defense, and here are some beautiful lines to prove the point:
19.Ka1 Nxc3! 20.bxc3 Rxc3 21.Kb1 (21.Nfd4 Bxg2 22.Rhg1 Bd5-+) 21...a5-+
Another good move. Black's pieces are incredibly active--the best White can do is Nfd2, giving back the pawn, and Black has a near decisive advantage.
20.Kc2 a5 21.Rhd1 Black's position is so good here that they can take time to play a move like 21...g6 since the threat of Nxb2 and a5-a4 isn't going anywhere, and White has no way to improve their position; 20.Nfd4 e5 21.Nb5 Rd8 and at the very least Black is winning back their pawn with Bxg2 20...Rxc3!! 21.bxc3 Nxc3+ 22.Ka1 Nb5+ 23.Kb1 Na3#

Even if you don't see the mate from far away, you should always have confidence in yourself in tactically charged positions. Eventually your tactical vision will improve and you'll feel very comfortable when there is lots to calculate.  It's a "fake it till you make it" kind of thing.

john-donaldson.jpgIM John Donaldson
John lectured about using the Botvinnik setup as a reliable response for Black to the English Opening, 1.c4. He showed us a few games of the Swedish GM Wedberg employing this setup with success, and then discussed the modern theory of the line. I really enjoyed his lecture, because he focused on the different ideas and strategic plans for both sides. I hope this had a good impact on the students, as young players are often too concerned with the computer's evaluation rather than understanding the positional aspects of an opening. Here is one of the games he presented, where GM Wedberg executed Black's plan of playing on the queen side, as well as in the center:


GM Sam Shankland
Sam's topic was rook endgames, where both sides had passed pawns. He went over a few endgames and showed lots of tricks and ideas, featuring both attacking and defensive resources. There were various points where it was necessary to come up with a strong plan, based on endgame principles, and other times cold-blooded calculation was the only way to find the right solution. One of the games he showed was a training game he played with GM Jon Ludwig Hammer, which came from a very complicated endgame. Sam also took the time to point out the many benefits of playing training games with serious training partners.

IM David Pruess
David's lecture was on using principles in complex positions in order to guide calculation. The students enjoyed the lecture very much, as it made the calculation process more efficient and prevented them from getting lost in endless variations of analysis. One of the games that David showed was his win over GM Daniel Fridman:


GM Jesse Kraai
Jesse's lecture was on Game 11 of the 1960 Tal-Botvinnik World Championship match. The game was strategically complex, giving the students a wide array of different positional themes to explore. The topics covered throughout the game varied from planning to the psychology of evaluating a chess position. Jesse explained how certain misconceptions about the position can lead players to make further bad assessments/decisions.

Here is Game 11 from Tal-Botvinnik 1960:


Student Bios

Awonder Liang
Age: 9
Hometown: Wisconsin
What I Learned: Positional and abstract concepts in the English opening (John Donaldson's lecture)

Nico Checa
Age: 11
Hometown: Westchester, New York
What I Learned: The value of understanding the ideas behind moves and how they fit in your plan and what you are trying to do.

Albert Lu
Age: 11
Hometown: Los Angeles

Maggie Feng
Age: 12
Hometown: Dublin, Ohio
What I Learned: How to defend worse rook endgames and that you can study by doing solitaire chess.

Cameron Wheeler
Age: 12
Hometown: Cupertino, California
What I Learned: How to be patient in positions where your opponent is desperately defending his position.

Udit Iyengar
Age: 12
Hometown: Cupertino, CA
What I Learned: The importance of preparations and how important it is to spend a lot of time on game analysis.

Vignesh Panchanatham
Age: 13
Hometown: Cupertino, CA
What I Learned: The most important thing I learned from the camp was the value of solitaire chess.

Agata Bykovtsev
Age: 13
Hometown: Santa Barbara, California
What I Learned: I learned a lot of important positional concepts that I did not know before.

Colin Chow
Age: 13
Hometown: Folsom, California
What I Learned: How you can use principles in complicated positions to find the right move.

Kesav Viswanadha
Age: 13
Hometown: Cupertino, CA
What I Learned: "...that you can save time and mistakes by figuring out what you would like to do next and start by calculating moves which achieve that goal.

Craig Hilby
Age: 13
Hometown: San Diego, CA
What I Learned: It was really instructive to me and was very interesting to listen and participate in.

Allan Beilin
Age: 13
Hometown: Atherton, California
What I Learned: How to further improve my study habits and how to take my chess to the next level and onwards.

Nicholas Rosenthal
Age: 16
Hometown: Plantation
What I Learned: How to maneuver. Maneuvering is a very important part of chess and it'll improve my positional play, which needs a lot of work. I also learned some good studying techniques from Greg.

The U.S. Chess School is made possible by the sponsorship of Dr. Jim Roberts and the America's Foundation For Chess. Another thanks goes out to IM John Donaldson and the Mechanics Chess Club, for hosting the 20th U.S. Chess School, as well as IM Greg Shahade, the founder and director of the program.