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Three myths about chess

Chess TalkPosted by Lars Bo Hansen Tue, May 26, 2015 20:52:55

By WIM Jen Hansen & GM Lars Bo Hansen

Chess is a game that everyone knows – either from playing the game, watching others play, or at least from hearsay. Despite this – or maybe because of it - the game is surrounded by thousands of myths.

Here are three of them that Jen and I have observed throughout the years, starting ages ago when we were introduced to chess and all the way through to earning international titles at Chess Olympics and World Championships to our current roles as chess coaches. Feel free to comment below.

Myth 1: He or she is so talented; she will surely become a Grandmaster one day.

Truth: Let’s start with the numbers. Out of 80,000+ registered members of US Chess Federation, only 54 hold the title of Grandmaster. That’s less than 0.07% of registered tournament players. While the percentage may be slightly higher in other countries – for example, in my home country Denmark it is about 0.2% of tournament players – it is clear that statistically the chances of making it to Grandmaster are very slim.

How come? Becoming a top player in chess is extremely difficult – much more than most people imagine! It really takes A LOT to become a top player in chess and earn international titles of IM or GM. It’s not impossible, but do you know what it really takes to do it?

When a parent tells me that a coach told her kid that he or she surely is on the way to becoming a Grandmaster, I am sure of one thing: the coach is not a Grandmaster himself. Most likely something like 1000 rating points away from that level. A Grandmaster would NEVER say that to young talents or their parents. In fact the more talented the kid, the less likely it is that the GM coach will direct his focus on a potential future GM title.

There are many talented 8 or 9-year olds out there – just look around at your next tournament - but very few of them will actually make it all the way to Grandmaster. Why, what is stopping them? The illusion of an easy path! As coaches, we should not feed into that illusion.

Even if the kids belong to the rare group of super talents – the Carlsen, Caruana or Nakamura kind – it is counterproductive for their growth to focus on immediate results, rating points and the illusion that you are almost there – let’s say as a 1700 player. This puts an immense pressure on the young player. Shifting focus away from mastering the game and growing your skills to obsessing with points, there is a huge risk that the young talent will become discouraged. He or she will realize how far away the dream title really is, and what sacrifices are needed to make it to the top. We have met many young talents who have left the game because of discouragement when suddenly facing adversity or slowed progress.

Myth 2: My kid is really special; he doesn’t need to spend that much time on chess, there must be a shortcut to the top.

Truth: There are no short-cuts to the top level; if you want to make it you have to give something up.

Every now and then, a parent would contact us basically asking “My kid is so smart and learns so fast, don’t you have some shortcut that can make him progress in chess without spending too much time on it?” Unfortunately, the honest answer is “no, shortcuts to the top do not exist”. Chess takes the time it takes. Every Grandmaster has spent thousands of hours on the game, playing, studying, analyzing, reading, reflecting…

Most parents want their kids to be well-rounded and try a lot of different activities. That is certainly fine when they are very young. But if they really want to pursue a path to the top in chess, you cannot spread to 5 or 6 different activities - at some point some tough choices need to be made!

Our experience is that most top players at an early age zoom in on two activities (not counting school work) – one physical sport and chess. For example, I (Lars) divided my time between chess and soccer but gave up handball and swimming; Jen focused on chess and running. This combination of physical sport and mind sport is useful to build the stamina needed for high-level competitive chess. World Champion Magnus Carlsen is known to do a lot of sports (mainly soccer and basket) next to chess.

Myth 3: Chess is a cheap sport. All you need to get started is a 5$ chess set.

Truth: If your chess ambitions go beyond the beginner level, chess costs a small fortune!

After the $5 chess set, you realize you need some books. Then some lessons, memberships for club, federation and online chess sites, databases, DVD’s, digital devices, classes, travels to tournaments, entry fees, chess camps, coaching… And don’t forget to take into account the time and money parents will be spending driving to lessons and tournaments.

Why do people spend all this money on chess? For the same reason they spend on education: To grow smarter, more creative, to make sound decisions and build a more fulfilling life. I like the famous quote by former Harvard University President Derek Bok: “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”

And here we start talking about the returns. Not only the most immediate ones like winning prizes or making money by coaching others. But also the long-term returns of building a strategic mindset.

For both Jen and I, chess has been a highly rewarding passion, in spite of all the hard work we have put into excelling in the game, and all the hard choices. We have traveled around the world playing tournaments, met awesome people and seen amazing places. And most of all, chess has always been fun and still is!

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Our Master Chess Workshops go online!

Chess TalkPosted by Lars Bo Hansen Sun, April 26, 2015 16:12:54
If you ever wanted to join our Master Chess Workshops but weren’t in the Orlando area, now is your chance! We are happy to announce that on May 7, we will launch “Interactive Master Chess”, an online version of our popular on-site workshops.

Interactive Master Chess is a month-long workshop on a particular topic, with four two-hour sessions online, playing exercises, and study material to work on at home.

The first workshop launches in May and covers the topic “How to win better positions”, a critical skill for competitive chess players. Once you have an advantage you want to bring home the full point, but unfortunately it often doesn’t happen! Join us in May, and you will learn how to do it.

Interactive Master Chess Workshops work like this: The workshop runs during a whole month (four weeks). Participants sign up for a month at a time. Each week two identical two-hour online workshops will be offered; you can sign up for one of them or attend both if you want to have the same material presented twice. When signing up, you will receive a link to a GoToTraining, the platform we use for the lectures. You will also need to have a membership for ICC (Internet Chess Club, www.chessclub.com).

Similar to how we structure our on-site workshops, the process is this: First I will present material on this month’s topic and show a number of Grandmaster games highlighting important principles, in the first month about how to win better positions. This is an interactive process where you are able to ask questions or comment. This initial lesson typically lasts 45-60 minutes.

Then we will direct you onto ICC, where you will be paired against other participants and play out selected positions from actual Grandmaster games in 5 minutes games. WIM Jen Hansen and I will be observing the games, making notes about typical problems in using the discussed principles and maybe sometimes kibitzing directly. The pedagogical philosophy is that you learn the principles better when you try them out on the board. The results of the blitz games are not important; what matters is the process. Don’t try to win on time, it is better to take your time at the critical moments to really get to known and use the principles!

After a couple of blitz games, how many depends on time, we will go back onto GoToTraining and I will show you the “solution” (how the game position was actually played by the Grandmasters) and we will discuss how the principles were used in your own blitz games. Again you are able to ask questions and comment.

When the session is over, we will send you extra study material that will help you reinforce the principles and adapt them into your own play. If you have questions when working on the study material, you are welcome to contact us for guidance.

This process repeats itself for four weeks, digging deeper and deeper into the theme of the month and practicing it more and more in the lectures, practice games, and work on the study material. We hope you will join us for this exciting and unique new concept!

Interactive Master Chess at a glance

Target audience
These workshops are designed for players rated 1500 + who see themselves as aspiring masters. Kids under age of 10, regardless of level, should be supervised by an adult during the sessions.

Class size
The workshop has a limit of 24 participants.

Participation Fee
Participants sign up for the entire month (four weeks) for 200$

You will need to have an account on ICC (for the training games) and a pgn viewer for the study material

Topics planned:
May: How to win better positions
June: Attack. Defense, and Counterattack
August: Pawn Structures


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Naman is 2014 Junior Grand Prix Champion

Chess TalkPosted by Lars Bo Hansen Fri, April 10, 2015 01:06:14

Congratulations, Naman for winning the 2014 Junior Grand Prix!

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