The US Chess School in Atlanta: A Student's Perspective
By Daniel Gurevich   
January 28, 2010
Members of the 11th session of the US Chess School prepare for a long day of study, Photo Inga Gurevich

The 11th US Chess School was held in Atlanta, Georgia, December 26-31, 2009. Organized by IM Greg Shahade and taught by GM Gregory Kaidanov, the school brought together ten top scholastic players from all over the country. The participants included NM David Adelberg, Michael Bodek, Kevin Bu, Kevin Cao, Stuart Finney, Robert Perez, Arthur Shen, NM Kayden Troff, Sean Vibbert, and myself. This session was sponsored by Dr. Jim Roberts, Mark Schein, and FM Aviv Friedman. Aviv also attended.

IM Greg Shahade playing blitz with David Adelberg as Kayden Troff, Daniel Gurevich and Aviv Friedeman look on. Photo Kim Troff
The instruction was split between the GM Kaidanov and IM Shahade. Greg Shahade concentrated most of his attention on analyzing the games of the participants. Of the about 150 games submitted, he selected the most instructive ones. Greg identified the critical positions, and all the participants were asked to independently analyze them. After that, he randomly picked someone to discuss his analysis, followed by a collective analysis with Gregory Kaidanov's help. This analysis taught us a number of valuable lessons. Most importantly, we realized that when first analyzing a game or an opening, an engine should be used sparingly. It's better to check the engine later on, to see if we missed a tactical opportunity in our initial analysis. Also, we were reminded to go through all of our games, even blitz.

GM Kaidanov showed us a great way to use Chessbase 9 and Chessbase 10. We learned how to use the reference tab to find all games in a chosen database where a position set up on the board appears. This feature is especially useful for studying openings as it not only shows the different lines, but also makes it easy to find the latest variations played by top grandmasters.

However, most of his time Gregory Kaidanov spent on solitaire chess, one of the most effective self-study techniques. He explained that it is a good idea to pick players with styles opposite to one's own. For example, a positional player may benefit from studying the games of Alexei Shirov, while a tactician might get more out of studying Anatoly Karpov's games. A couple of the games we analyzed using this technique is shown below.

Evgeny Tomashevsky - Simon Ansell

24th ECC Kallithea GRE, 2008
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 d5 4.e3 Bg4 5.cxd5 Bxf3 6.Qxf3 cxd5 7.Bb5+ Nc6 8.Bxc6+!
Creating a weakness to attack later.
 8...bxc6 9.b3 e6 10.Bb2 Be7 11.0-0 0-0 12.Na4
White doesn't want to play d4 because it clogs the bishop.
12...Nd7 13.Rac1 Rc8 14.Rc2 Qa5 15.Rfc1 Qa6
Now Black is pinned to the defense of the c6-pawn. White can now attack on the kingside. Clearly doing this is h4 or Qg4 or Qg3, so that is clearly what he played...

A stunning positional retreat with the idea of Qf1!, forcing Black's queen to b7. Tomashevsky, an extremely positional player, doesn't even look at such opportunities such as h4!?.
Preparing Bf8 to protect g7.
17.Qf1! Qb7
Now how about a plan of Qe2, d3, e4? It looks pretty good...
As Gregory Kaidanov explained, in a position where there are little concrete ideas, sometimes you should make a slow move that slightly improves your position and doesn't weaken anything. This move suddenly becomes obvious. White wants to prevent back-rank mates 20 moves away.
18...Bf8 19.d3 g6 20.Qe2 e5 21.e4 Bh6 22.Rf1 Re6 23.Bc1
Trading bishops clearly favors White.
23...Bf8 24.Bg5 Ba3 25.Be3 Rd8 26.Qf3
Here, Kaidanov explained that whether it is an A class player against an expert, an expert against a master, a master against a grandmaster, or a weaker grandmaster against a stronger grandmaster, the weaker player, in this case a strong IM, will not keep the tension. One of the most important lessons we learned from Kaidanov is that the stronger the player, the more comfortable and adept they are with keeping the tension. We later learned this lesson in a slightly different form. 26...d4?! is also not very good. White plays 27.Bc1 Bf8 28.Nb2 and eventually uses the weakness of the c4 square. White can also play f4 eventually; 26...Rd6! was the best, just waiting.
27.dxe4 Rd6 28.Rd1 Nf8 29.Rxd6 Bxd6 30.Nc5
Now Black is clearly much worse. His pawn structure is bad, White has an outpost on c5, the dark squares around Black's king are weak. Black is in trouble, and mostly because of his mistake on move 26.
30...Qc7 31.Qf6 Bxc5 32.Rxc5 Rd6 33.Qf3 doesn't make much of a difference.
31.Rxc5 Nd7 32.Rc1 Re8 33.Qe2
Sending the queen to attack Black's queenside weaknesses.
33...Nb6 34.Qc2 Re6 35.Qc5 Kg7 36.Rd1 Qe7 37.Qxe7 Rxe7 38.Rd6 Re6
Now comes the final important decision of the game. Should White play Rxe6 and Bxb6 or Rd8 and Bc5? The former looked more attractive to me, but GM Kaidanov proved me wrong.
39.Rxe6? fxe6 40.Bxb6 axb6 41.Kf1 Kf7 42.Ke2 Ke7 43.Kd3 Kd7 44.Kc4 Kc7 45.a4 Kb7 46.b4 Ka6 47.h4 Kb7 48.g4 Ka6 49.g5 Kb7 50.a5 Ka6 51.axb6 Kxb6 52.f3 Kb7 53.Kc5 Kc7 is a draw. Even if it weren't a draw, why allow Black any chances? The R+B vs R+N endgame was a simple win.
39...Re7 40.Bc5 Rb7 41.Bf8+ Kf6 42.Rd6+ Kg5 43.Rxc6 Nd7 44.Ba3 f5 45.Bc1+ f4 46.g3
Black had no more chances left, therefore he resigned. 1-0

We learned that keeping the tension is a vital skill. One example of releasing the tension is by trading or moving a pawn that is being attacked by another pawn. Another way that weaker players often let go of the tension too early is by trading pieces.

Evgeny Pigusov - Gregory Kaidanov

Moscow, 1987 
Here it is Black to move in a difficult position. Gregory Kaidanov had to choose between ...Kc7 with an unclear pawn endgame, or ...Ka6 with the king in danger. He used this example to illustrate a typical mistake. If you like a move, the GM explained, you tend to calculate only the variations that reaffirm your choice. For example, during the game Kaidanov himself thought that going into the pawn endgame was the better choice. Therefore, he calculated variations where ...Ka6 loses and ...Kc7 draws. I remembered how Kaidanov had said earlier that, given the choice between defending a pawn endgame and a rook endgame, the rook endgame is almost always the right choice. This game was not an exception to the rule; ...Kc7 was the losing move.
43...Ka6! 44.Kc5 Rxf2 45.Kxc6 Rc2+ 46.Rc5 Rb2 47.b5+ Kxa5 48.b6+ Ka6 and Black is the one with the advantage. 49.Ra5+? Kxa5 50.bxa7
50...Rb6+! 51.Kc7 Ra6-+ No one who liked 43...Kc7 saw Rb6+ when calculating, while those who preferred 43...Ka6 surely saw this simple way to stop the pawn; their brain just wasn't seeing the variations.
44.Re7+ Rd7 45.Rxd7+ Kxd7 46.Kc5 Kc7 47.f3 f5?!
This move just makes White's job easier.
47...Kd7!? 48.b5 cxb5 49.Kxb5 Kc7 50.Ka6 Kb8 51.f4 f6 (51...Ka8 52.Kb5 Kb7 53.a6+ Kc7 54.Kc5 Kd7 55.Kd5 Kc7 56.Ke5 Kb6 57.Kf6 Kxa6 58.Kxf7 Kb5 59.Kxg6 a5 60.f5 a4 61.f6 a3 62.f7 a2 63.f8Q a1Q 64.Kxh5+-) 52.h3 f5 53.h4 Ka8 54.Kb5 Kb7 55.a6+ Kc7 56.Kc5 Kd7 57.Kd5 Kc7 58.Ke6 Kb6 59.Kf6 Kxa6 60.Kxg6 Kb5 61.Kxf5 a5 62.Kg6 a4 63.f5 a3 64.f6 a2 65.f7 a1Q 66.f8Q Qd1 67.Qf5+ Ka4 68.Kh6!+- (68.Qxh5? Qd6+)
48.f4 Kd7 49.b5 cxb5 50.Kxb5 Kc7 51.Ka6 Kb8 52.h3 Ka8 53.Kb5 Kb7 54.a6+ Kc7 55.Kc5 Kd7 56.Kd5 Ke7 57.Ke5 Kf7 58.Kd6 h4 59.gxh4 Kg7 60.Ke6+-
There was also a fair share of fun throughout the week. The blitz tournament took place on the fourth day of the session. It was a round robin, as always, with Aviv and all of the students participating. During his bye, each player had an individual evaluation with GM Kaidanov. The tournament lasted for about two hours. After the battles over the board were finished, it was time for everyone's prizes. I won the tournament with 8.5 out of 10, but foolishly refused the prize, a two-game match with GM Kaidanov, not to ruin my victorious mood. The second and third prizes were matches with IM Greg Shahade and FM Aviv Friedman (Greg won 2-0, while Aviv won his match 1.5-0.5.) The rest of the prizes (in descending order) were: a handshake, a glass of water, half a glass of water, a piece of paper, half a piece of paper, an empty glass, and - what else? - NO COOKIES!
A bughouse break: Daniel Gurevich, Robert Perez and Kevin Cao (in red), Photo Inga Gurevich

The instructors never ran out of jokes and funny stories. The very first morning, Gregory Kaidanov showed how fun this US Chess School would be: "Kayden," Kaidanov joked, "You stole my last name and made your first name out of it!" Greg Shahade played blitz with all of the students during the breaks. Everyone was always ready for more study, but we were also looking forward to playing with each other and making new friends.

Daniel Gurevich and David Adelberg, Photo Inga Gurevich

December 29, the third day of the session, was my 12th birthday. It was one of my most memorable, because I got to celebrate it with a bunch of my very good friends. Also, the opportunity to participate in the 11th US Chess School was my best birthday present ever.
Daniel Gurevich, Photo Kim Troff

Of course, I also got a cake and candles, and the happy birthday song, and a card that everyone signed. The festivities continued after the blitz tournament the next day, when the participants all went bowling. I was bowling for the first time, and it seemed everyone was doing much better than I, but it was a lot of fun anyway. In the end, the leaders were Kevin Cao and David Adelberg, but many were close behind. When we weren't bowling ourselves, we were cheering the others on.
Arthur Shen, Photo Inga Gurevich

Here is what the other participants said about the session in their online interviews:

David Adelberg
: "I really enjoyed the US Chess School in Atlanta.  Led by GM Kaidanov with significant contributions from IM Greg Shahade, the school included 9 other chess peers. This session really concentrated on recent games that we all played. I gained much knowledge from reviewing not only my games but also of the other attendees. The most significant lesson is to study my games in greater depth, annotation, and critical analysis before and after reviewing with my coach.

Although the 9 other attendees are talented players with high ratings that play in many events, the amazing thing is that I have never played one game against any of them in a rated event. Even though they may be opponents for one game, the reality is that they are my chess friends and peers perhaps for many years. This week is a great opportunity to get to know my peers and develop friendships that can build over the Internet or occasional tournaments across the country or even international events."

Michael Bodek
: "The themes I learned were trading is bad and to not take draws from stronger players because if they offer me a draw I am probably better. I think not taking early draws against stronger players will help my game because I will be able to beat stronger players instead of drawing in those positions. I think that not trading will help me get better because I will get (and since the USCS I have already gotten) better positions and more winning chances.
I also enjoyed meeting other strong rated player from other states and playing lots of blitz."

Kevin Cao: "I learned many things during the camp. The camp was fun and easy to learn more about chess. Some themes I learned were: Don't automatically trade pieces and keep the tension by not trading pawns unless it gives you a clear advantage. This will help me because it keeps my play in the middle game so it will be easier for me to attack my opponent (I'm the strongest there). My favorite part of the camp was solving puzzles together and playing bughouse against each other during breaks. My favorite moments were when we all went your birthday bowling and played Bughouse against each other. One time while we were playing bughouse, my opponent was low on time and I said, "look, there's a bug on the wall!" and he turned around and flagged. We were all laughing and still laugh about it on ICC."
Kevin Cao, Photo Inga Gurevich

Stuart Finney
: "The US Chess School in Atlanta was a very enjoyable experience. I learned a lot from Kaidanov including themes based on prophylaxis, tension, and changing pawn structures. I have been doing Solitaire Chess and think it is helping me improve my overall game. The Dvoretsky puzzles were also helpful and interesting to look at. Besides the learning experience, I had a lot of fun interacting with the other kids. We could relate to each other through chess and I got to know everyone there much better."

Robert Perez
: "In the camp my favorite themes were prophylaxis, maintaining the tension, thinking 'what is my opponent going to do?', and how to study openings with chessbase. The camp was beneficial to me in many ways. The most obvious reason for this is that it was 9 hours of chess study daily, but other ways in which the camp has improved my game include that it taught me how to study more effectively and that it has motivated me to study more. The camp was extremely fun for me, and this due to both the interaction with the other participants and the large amount of chess that we would study. It was an opportunity for me to establish new friendships and renew old ones while studying chess for a week with Kaidanov and Shahade."
Kayden Troff

Kayden Troff: "One of the themes that I really liked that I learned from the chess school is the idea that you need to analyze your own games before putting them into something like Deep Rybka.  I liked that they taught us how to analyze our games and why that is important.  I think that using Deep Rybka has really helped me improve my game, but I like the idea of analyzing it myself first. I can see how this will really help me when I am in a tough position in a game, which is similar, but not exactly like one I have previously played and analyzed. 

I really liked all the tools and information they gave us that we can use at home when we are studying like learning how to make two engines play against each other in a position that you choose.  I think these things will really help in my study at home.

My favorite thing from the school was being with the other kids.  It was fun being in the classes together and figuring out the best moves and it was especially fun when we got to play chess together after the classes were over."

Sean Vibbert: "I had a great time and learned a lot at the U.S. Chess School. GM Gregory Kaidanov taught various things about chess, and my favorite topics were solitary chess, prophylactic moves, and the best way to study openings. I learned about other things like how to play against lower rated players and what kind of moves to play in open and closed positions. I enjoyed going over Grandmaster games, and some of the students' games with GM Gregory Kaidanov and IM Greg Shahade. I had a lot of fun playing blitz and bughouse and hope to see everyone again soon."

Thanks again to the US Chess School, Dr. Jim Roberts and two special sponsors for this session, Mark Schein and FM Aviv Friedman, who also founded the Schein-Friedman Scholarship. US Chess School founder Greg Shahade said, "Without people like Jim, Mark and Aviv, we would not be able to have such sessions, which the chess community benefits so greatly from."

See the official US Chess School website here, and also see Elizabeth Vicary's Best of CLO 2009 #2 article for her report on the 2009 Arizona US Chess School.