The Weekend that Wasn't and Was
By Betsy Dynako   
January 14, 2008
GM Alex Onischuk playing a blindfold exhibition against 8 children. Photo Betsy Dynako

Dr. Mikhail Korenman had planned for a weekend of chess education, exhibition, and chess champions. 

The festivities began on Friday, January 11th in the Chicago suburb of South Barrington. Yury Shulman’s Chess Without Borders teamed with Barbara B. Rose Elementary School to welcome Anatoly Karpov for a simul. Unfortunately, Karpov had to cancel because of a visa issue.

Luckily Susan Polgar was able to filled in at the last minute. She joined Alex Onischuk and Yury Shulman for a tandem simul with 58 participates, ages 6 to 70. Shulman offered full refunds because Karpov was not there, but many people chose to donate the money to the not-for-profit Chess Without Borders, which in turn donated the event’s proceeds to La Colonia Women’s Cooperative in the Dominican Republic.

Susan Polgar filled in at the last minute for Anatoly Karpov. Photo Betsy Dynako.

On Saturday and Sunday the venue changed to a hotel that seems to be ever popular for chess events in Chicagoland – the Double Tree in the suburb of Oak Brook. On Saturday, Karpov was scheduled to give a presentation about his best games and the rest of the day was to be filled with training sessions for participants to improve their individual chess skills. The teachers originally scheduled included Alexander Onischuk, Yury Shulman, and Anna Zatonskih. Unfortunately, Zatonskih was home with her sick baby Sophia, and Karpov missed his last minute attempt to secure his visa by 45 minutes.

I spoke with Karpov by phone on Saturday morning. He said, “I wanted to be there. I didn’t expect the U.S. Embassy in Russia to be closed for so many days over the holidays.” After hearing about the efforts he and others had made to get him to the states in time for the weekend, it seems this trip to Chicago was ill fated. But even fate can’t tell a world champion no. Dr. Korenman helped Karpov search his calendar for an opening wide enough to make the trip later this year, and Karpov has booked the weekend of March 14th to return to Chicago. Karpov told me, “I look forward to being there in March. It is important to talk about chess in education, especially in public schools.”

Despite Karpov’s emphasis on chess education, many people were more focused on him coming to visit because they wanted to meet their chess idol. I asked him how being so revered felt. He says he has grown used to it since he was in the spotlight from an early age, but after 40 years of being in the public eye, he is concerned about people thinking he is older than he is. Being born in 1951, he is relatively young given the number of years he has enjoyed popular notoriety in chess.

Due to Karpov’s absence, Saturday’s schedule was changed and focused on training sessions. The participants were split in groups by rating and went to their respective classrooms. There they were guided, lectured, and drilled until their heads hurt by teachers Onischuk and Shulman. Yury Shulman also debuted his new book, "Chess! Lessons From a Grandmaster", that he co-wrote with student Rishi Sethi.    
A student holds up GM Yury Shulman's new book, "Chess! Lessons From a Grandmaster" Photo Betsy Dynako
A highlight for the youngest participants was a blindfolded match against Onischuk. Eight children gathered before two boards and Onischuk sat with his back to them. It was easy for the children to decide on their opening moves against the 2006 U.S. Champion, but as the pressure grew bigger, their nerves became shorter.

The 8-player team faced off against Onischuk. Photo Betsy Dynako

It was obvious the bunch was determined to conquer the GM. As one player was convinced his move was best, he would work to lure the others to his side, while an opposing idea was lobbied for by another player. The team captain was forced to take votes, but many were deadlocked four-to-four. When the heat was too much to take, one player would throw his hands up in frustration and exclaim to nobody in particular, “He’s a GM, a GM!” Onishuck was able to end some disputes by pointing out the flaw in one of the two proposed moves. It was amazing that he could think straight with the yelling of various moves just a couple feet from his head. Several players began to talk about resigning, and the game was sure to end in Onishuck’s favor. Afterwards, Onishuck reviewed the game with the players to look for improvements and mistakes. He asked the group what it thought one of its mistakes might have been. One boy replied, “I think we would have done better if their weren’t so many of us, because too many cooks spoiled the soup.”

Enthusiastic chess students. Photo Betsy Dynako

Sunday ran pretty much as scheduled. It began with a blitz tournament. The winners of each section, Gopal Menon and Roshan Shankar, played blitz games with Onishuck and Shulman. Teachers and coaches went to an afternoon seminar while the children settled in for a tandem simul against Onishuck and Shulman.

Dr. Korenman said he was inspired to host a weekend of chess education and champions because, “Chess is a tool. Chess is what is bringing people together,” a vision he has had since the Chess for Peace convention in 2005. “I have one interest now in chess – international scholastic. I want to bring kids from other countries to the United States. American kids will have a chance to compete with kids from other countries. The visiting children will come not just to play chess but to visit schools, see Chicago, and learn something more than chess. Plus, when the international kids come they will introduce their country to our children.”

Yury Shulman teaches. Photo Betsy Dynako

Dr. Korenman will be taking a bigger step towards realizing his vision March 15-25, 2008 when Anatoly Karpov returns to Chicago to take part in the International Scholastic Chess Tournament and Convention. Children from Siberia and Russia are already planning to attend, and a team from Columbia is working on raising funds for the trip.

The weekend might not have run completely as it was envisioned, but new ideas were born and friendships strengthened.

For more about the International Scholastic Chess Tournament and International Scholastic Chess Convention

To order the new book “Chess Lessons From a Grandmaster” by GM Yury Shulman and Rishi Sethi, visit .