Scholastic Chess Gateway - The latest news about chess people, organizations and websites

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Huge (and Free!) Chess Video Collection

There are over 200 of IM Greg Shahade's chess videos at the site. An index of Greg's videos can be found here. More videos are available at the Master Hangout page, and the general chess videos page is here.

There's also an interesting interview of IM Jeremy Silman in their small Chess Articles section.

It's quite a nice site!

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Review: ChessCafe Puzzle Book 2

GM Karsten Müller has authored a remarkably readable positional primer for intermediate and advanced students of chess. In my opinion, the title, ChessCafe Puzzle Book 2, actually undersells what the book contains. Before I examined what the book offered, my expectation was that I would find a few hundred challenging tactical problems – White to move and win, Black to move and mate in three, etc. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised.

You can read the full review here.


Roller Coaster Chess

That's right - why not enjoy your favorite game while on your favorite ride? Enjoy these photos from here.


Monday, July 28, 2008

Review: Practical Chess Exercises

Practical Chess Exercises, by Ray Cheng, 2007 Wheatmark, 212 pp.

Subtitled “600 Lessons from Tactics to Strategy,” this is a great book to use whether you have two minutes to spare or two hours. Let me put this delicately: Practical Chess Exercises is a good choice for those times when you’ll be sitting down for a few minutes (I’m not talking about blitz chess) and might want something to read. But of course, you don’t need to wait until nature calls to take this book off the shelf.

No board and set is needed – Cheng presents 600 positions and simply asks, “What would you do now?” The primary benefit of this exercise book is that, in contrast to most offerings in this genre, the reader isn’t told what type of problem he’s facing. Is it a mate-in-two? Does the position call for a defensive maneuver to combat a potential enemy tactic? No clues are provided, much like what one faces in a real game. And as the subtitle suggests, it’s not all about tactics. Occasionally the reader must react correctly to an endgame position, for example, a Philidor or Lucena setup. Other times it’s knowing when to push a thematic break in the position.

The arrangement of the book is quite simple. Each left-hand page contains six problems, with their solutions on the corresponding right-hand page. This avoids the need to constantly flip to the end of the book to check your answer. On the other hand, such books typically suffer the problem of “Oh no, I just saw the answer to the next problem!” Practical Chess Exercises isn’t devoid of this problem – it may be helpful to cover the answers with an index card so that only the desired answer is seen. Another way I dealt with this is simply to randomly flip through the book, typically solving only one problem per page before moving on to another part of the book. The problems are arranged randomly anyway.

Regarding the solutions themselves, Cheng kindly provides a little explanation with his answers. This is so much more effective than just seeing that the solution is “1…Bf5!” Let’s look at a few examples. Incidentally, the number of asterisks at the start of the solution indicates Cheng’s assessment of the problem’s difficulty – from one star for “easy” to four stars for “very difficult.” In this first example, it is Black to move.

**** Do not hurry
Rather than capture immediately at d4, Black first ties down the White rook, and improves his king position. 1…Rh3! [on 1…Kxd4? 2.Rg4+ Kd5 3.Rh4 White gets an outside passed pawn, probably enough to secure a draw] 2.Rd2 Kc4 3.Kc1 Rh4. Black next captures the d-pawn under much better circumstances. (Smyslov-Keres, Moscow/Leningrad 1941)

A simple, but instructive example is the following, with White to move:

** Wrong-colored bishop
If the Black king could get to g8 or h8 this would be a draw, as the bishop doesn’t control the promotion square. The only way to secure the full point is 1.Be6+! Kf8 [1…Kxe6 2.h7] 2.Kg6 and the pawn marches forth.

Lastly, we have a position in which it is White’s turn to move.

** Fade-away jumper
1.Ne1!. There is no defense against Nd3, winning at least the exchange.

Some of the problems are easily solved quite quickly, but most require substantial thought, and some of them may well indicate to the reader the need for additional study. For example, if the reader isn’t familiar with the idea of the “wrong-colored bishop” or is clueless about Philidor, he’ll know to dig further into these subjects. This may be one of the most beneficial ways to utilize the book – as a jumping-off point to identifying, then strengthening, one’s weak spots.

The book’s production is excellent, with an attractive cover, and clear diagrams and text. Readers may not be familiar with author Ray Cheng, but his teacher, the well-known and respected International Master John Watson, wrote the Foreword to the book and lends his approbation, as does national master and multi-book author Dan Heisman.

It admittedly took me awhile to get around to reviewing Practical Chess Exercises (it was published in 2007), but it was well worth the wait. It’s a fun, entertaining way to spend a few minutes (in or out of the loo), and as Watson states on the back cover, “If you study this book, you will acquire the most important chess skill of all: the ability to think for yourself.”


Sunday, July 27, 2008

Don't Castle, Because a Move is Lost By It

I was preparing a review of Ray Cheng's excellent tactical problem book, Practical Chess Exercises. Searching for a good graphic of the book cover, I googled "Practical Chess Exercises" and indeed found what I was looking for.

But I also found something I wasn't looking for.

One of the Google links took me here, which is a "Google digitized" version of the New York Public Library copy of the 1818 text of the same name. In this early 19th Century Practical Chess Exercises book, most of the initial suggestions are similar to what we would say today. For example, don't play your queen out early, don't give useless checks, and the like. I did find one "rule" a bit out of the ordinary: "Not to castle, except when necessary, because the move is often lost by it."

It also became clear why a tournament book containing many games might be too thick for your bookshelf. Take a look at the way a game score is recorded:

Not quite like playing over a game with Fritz or ChessBase.


Friday, July 25, 2008

And This is Why Companies (Should) Go Out of Business

This is what I imagine a Delta Airlines employment ad must look like ... Mindless human robot needed, IQ under 50 required, personality unnecessary.

Because my son is an unaccompanied minor, Delta Airlines requires that I pay an additional $100 for him to board the plane. This is on top of the $630 I already paid for the ticket, and on top of the $100 I had to pay to move his flight from morning to evening, for a flight that was ultimately cancelled.

This is bad enough, but at least they do make this information available at their website. The problem? They refuse to take a credit card over the phone. Only a billion other businesses do so every day, but not Delta Airlines. At this point, I am refusing to even speak with these people. But my wife persists. She says she is willing to drive to our airport in St. Louis, 30 minutes from our home, so she can pay in person if she has to. I am absolutely flabbergasted at what occurred next. The "customer service" representative (an oxymoron if ever there was one) from Delta tells her, "No, no! You have to go to JFK in New York where he is boarding to pay this $100!"

So we're supposed to go from St. Louis to New York to pay the $100 unaccompanied minor fee!!!

Folks, if I wrote this in a piece of fiction, no editor would dream of accepting such trash. Yet this is the drivel that Delta Airlines dishes out - from their "customer service" office.

My wife, who has patience beyond belief tonight, simply asks for a supervisor. "Oh no, she will tell you exactly the same thing!" my wife is told. Nevertheless, my wife insists, lets try anyway. Surely someone at Delta has two brain cells to rub together. Sure enough, a supervisor gets on the phone and explains that no, they refuse to accept credit cards over the phone (don't they do so for people making reservations??), but she will be nice enough to allow my wife to pay in person at the airport.

I've totally washed my hands from the issue at this point. I can deal with stupidity, but absolute moronic non-thinking is too much for me. But wait, there's more! My sweet wife gets in the car and drives 30 minutes to the airport to pay the $100 ransom to Delta. The result - THERE IS NO ONE THERE TO TAKE OUR MONEY!

Now I ask you - do you want to deal with a company that has this (dis)regard for their customers? Do they think they can stay in business when they treat their paying customers in this manner? More to the point - why should they stay in business? If a company can't provide a needed service in an efficient manner, it's time to shut the doors. And when Delta Airlines goes under, I'll feel badly for the good employees (surely there are some there) that did put out an honest effort, but I'll happily return to Southwest Airlines or even American Airlines. The motto at Delta Airlines: The customer is always wrong.

We're not alone - take a look at the website - they write, "Complaints about the major airlines are plentiful. What's a little unusual about Delta is how angry some of its best customers are."


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Beware the Robots at Delta Airlines

So after a month at camp, my 12-year-old son is scheduled to return home tonight on Delta Airlines, flying out of JFK Airport in New York. Turns out the flight is cancelled, presumably due to poor weather. I certainly don't want him flying if the weather is a problem. But right now, he's at the airport with no flight to take.

But does Delta exhibit even an ounce of concern about a 12-year-old whose flight is cancelled? He's classified as an "unaccompanied minor" since he was brought to the airport by camp staff rather than my wife and myself. Our experience, after many frantic phone calls, is that Delta employs robots. All we're told, over and over again, is "we can't put him on another airline if the problem is due to weather." It feels very much as if the Delta staff, including supervisors, all read from prepared scripts and don't bother using their brains. Another flight on another airline is still scheduled for departure 90 minutes after my son's original flight. So is it a weather problem or not?

They did put him on another flight for tomorrow, but with no provision for how he'll be cared for this evening. We'll find someone to make sure he's safe and sound tonight, and find some way to get him back to the airport, but with absolutely no help from Delta. American Airlines said they would be happy to take my son on their flight this evening, but Delta is not cooperating in this transfer in the least. So if we want him on the American Airlines flight, it's over $800 out of our pocket.

Perhaps there is a reason my son should not be taking either his original flight or the American Airlines flight, but we will certainly avoid Delta Airlines any time we can. The absolute best in our experience? Southwest Airlines, without a doubt. They are the easiest airline to work with, by far.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Yet Another Musical Photo Montage!

After another Grand Opening of the St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center, I've produced a new photo montage. This is getting addictive!


Ribbon Cutting at St. Louis Chess Club

The St. Louis Chess Club and Scholatic Center held its second grand opening within the last week, this evening! This was a ribbon cutting ceremony attended by founder Rex Sinquefield, his wife Jeanne, the local alderwoman Lyda Krewson, liason from the mayor's office Robbyn Wahby, and USCF Executive Director Bill Hall, who came in from Tennessee for the event. In addition, the club's officers and staff were in attendance, along with dozens of other interested guests. Here are a few more photos:

USCF Executive Director Bill Hall


Chess In Education Workshop During U.S. Open

Dr. Alexey Root of the University of Texas at Dallas sends along the following update:

The deadline for early registration for the USCF Chess in Education workshop is approaching. Workshop information, including where to send fees, is here:
The workshop is held during the U.S. Open. Chess players, coaches, parents, and educators are all encouraged to attend.
One speaker, Michael Bowden of the Lewisville Independent School District, has been added. Mr. Bowden will speak from 3:00-3:30 (on August 7th, during the refreshment break) on the topic of "Academic Chess vs. Scholastic Chess, or So You Want to Establish a Chess Program in Your District."


Monday, July 21, 2008

"St. Louis Chess Club Opens" at Chess Life Online

For more information about the beautiful new St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center, see my article at Chess Life Online. It looks like the club has people drooling!


Sunday, July 20, 2008

St. Louis Chess Club Montage

Club website:


Grand Canyon Summer 2008 - having fun playing with new toy!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

More Photos from the new St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center

The man behind it all, Rex Sinquefield

Jim Voelker

Bill Wright (left) and Frank Van Bree (right)


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Magnificent St. Louis Chess Club Open for Business

The new $1,000,000 St. Louis Chess Club held a "pre-opening" gala event for the media and local chess afficionados Wednesday evening; the official opening is Thursday, July 17.

Folks, all I can say is "Wow!!"

When I catch my breath, I'll fill you in on more details. If there is a nicer chess club in America, I'd like to see it. In the meantime, here are a few photos.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

GM Joel Benjamin on Checkmate Etiquette

Chess Life Online has a nice article by GM Joel Benjamin about when it is appropriate to call out "checkmate!" to your opponent. The primary concern, notes Benjamin, is to show respect for the other player, and not to "rub it in."


Review: New In Chess Magazine, Issue 2008/4

ChessCafe has a very large inventory of book and software reviews, but until now, the exceptional international chess magazine New In Chess has not been featured.

It is now.

You can read my review of the current 2008/4 issue here, at least for the next week. It is also archived here.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Review: Silman's Complete Endgame Course

Silman’s Complete Endgame Course, by Jeremy Silman, 2007 Siles Press, Algebraic Notation, paperback, 530 pp.

I have two questions for you:

1) How many books covering the endgame do you own?

2) How many have you really read in-depth?

My guess is your answer to #1 is “a few” while your answer to #2 is likely “to be honest, none.” And you’re not alone. Every endgame book I’ve seen has something useful to offer, and it’s clear that a tremendous amount of work has gone into most of these texts.

The problem is, as you know if you’ve studied much endgame theory, is that endgame analysis is so wide and deep that it’s very easy at some point (usually sooner rather than later) to just close the book in frustration.

Silman’s Complete Endgame Course comes to solve this problem. Whereas pretty much every other endgame book is understandably organized by theme (there has to be some organization!), Silman takes a different and unique approach. “Chess students need to be told which endgames are important for their particular level,” he writes in his Introduction. “Studying endgames that are too advanced for their rating-level will only depress them and waste their time.”


Moreover, he says, “By telling players that they only need to know a finite amount of easily digestible material (based on their strengths/ratings) you give them hope and confidence.”

If you’re a martial arts student, you’re not taught black-belt level material until you’re ready for it. You start with a white belt, and gradually progress, one stage at a time, until you’re ready for more challenging moves.

Silman has taken this simple, but previously untried approach, to endgame instruction. He divides the book into sections based on rating, as follows:

Part One: Endgames for Beginners (unrated–999)
Part Two: Endgames for Class “E” (1000-1199)
Part Three: Endgames for Class “D” (1200-1399)
Part Four: Endgames for Class “C” (1400-1599)
Part Five: Endgames for Class “B” (1600-1799)
Part Six: Endgames for Class “A” (1800-1999)
Part Seven: Endgames for Experts (2000-2199)
Part Eight: Endgames for Masters (2200-2399)
Part Nine: Endgames for Pure Pleasure

A player at any level, but particularly beginners and class players, can open this book without that familiar feeling of intimidation and pending frustration. Suddenly, it’s laid out so simply – if you’re a relative beginner, Silman just teaches simple “overkill mates” in which one side has an overwhelming material advantage. As anyone who has worked with beginners can attest, this is anything but simple for students who just haven’t been taught what to do when they’re a queen up on their opponent. Such students don’t need to be concerned about the opposition or the Lucena position.

Each instructional level then increases bit by bit, with Silman adding just enough new material that he deems appropriate for the given rating level. In addition, each section ends with a “Summing Up" summary of the key points covered. Several tests are then presented to check the student’s comprehension of the material.

The first three chapters average about thirty pages each, so readers at these levels don’t have an excessive amount of information to assimilate. Chapter Four, for Class C players, is when things get more serious and difficult. At this level, Silman explains, “You’ve probably become serious about moving up the ranks. To successfully do that, you’ll need to expand your endgame arsenal and master a series of easy to learn but critically important positions and concepts. Now it’s time to take it to another level, to digest ideas that might appear difficult and even profound, but will turn out to be easy to grasp and remember – once you put a little effort into it, of course!”

And that’s the key. Silman presents things in a very straightforward, understandable manner, with excellent diagrams, but ultimately the reader must put in the effort to see any results.

In this Class C chapter, which is one of the most lengthy in the entire book at about 70 pages, some of the topics covered include:

  • A more advanced look at the opposition, which had been introduced earlier
  • The Trebuchet position
  • King and two doubled pawns vs. a lone king
  • The special case of rook pawns in K+P vs. K
  • The square of the pawn
  • Bishop and wrong colored rook-pawn vs. lone king
  • Bishops of opposite colors
  • The Lucena Position
  • The Philidor Position
  • Queen vs. advanced pawn

“Wow! That was a lot of material!” Silman says at the end of the chapter. “However, you now have an extremely solid endgame base that puts you far ahead of most of your competition, and even ahead of players a few hundred rating points higher than you that should have mastered these endgames long ago, but never got around to it. Trust me when I tell you that the time you’ve spent learning everything in Part Four will likely prove to be the most rewarding study time of your chess life. You’ll see the effects both in your newfound confidence, and in the results you gain against people who were once your equals, but now are not in your league once an endgame is reached.”

How’s that for confidence-building?

The material continues to increase in complexity, a level at a time, as the reader is ready. The final chapter, though, is a departure from this pattern. Titled "Endgames for Pure Pleasure", it is intended for readers of all playing abilities. Silman points out that tactical shots can occur in endgame situations, and presents several interesting examples, as well as 40 tactics problems that the reader is advised to either try, or to just enjoy. For example, here is one simple but enjoyable problem:

It is White to move and win. The solution? Simply 1.Rg8+! Regardless of Black’s reply, the white king will capture the black rook, and then there’s nothing to stop the a-pawn from queening.

This final chapter concludes with a discussion of Silman’s choices for “The Five Greatest Endgame Players of All Time.” His selections were Lasker, Rubinstein, Capablanca, Smyslov and Fischer, and he presents multiple endgame snippets from each player.

International Master Jeremy Silman certainly doesn’t lack self-confidence, which is evident in his statement, “I strongly recommend that you put aside all other endgame books and trust your endgame study to Silman’s Complete Endgame Course.” But as they say, if it’s true, it ain’t braggin’!

Silman has a point when he says, “Jumping from book to book is a fast track to nowhere…This book is designed to make players who are disgusted with endgame study feel that there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

Further enhancing this endgame manual is its excellent physical production. The paper quality is good, text and diagrams are clear – it’s just an impressive book to hold in your hands.

Nevertheless, any book this size is bound to have some inadvertent errors, and Silman has compiled a list of errata at his website:

Now time for a couple teasers:

  • In the “Class E” section, Silman introduces the topic of the opposition. In the “Class D” part, he discusses what he calls the “magic rectangle,” a simple but effective way of maintaining the opposition when kings are far apart. I have not encountered this treatment of the opposition elsewhere.
  • In his “Class B” section, Silman presents the following diagram. It is White to move and reach f8, g8 or h8 by force. It doesn’t look like it should be possible. Can you do it?

Yes, there may be a few misplaced apostrophes, inconsistent capitalization and one may quarrel with which rating division to place certain concepts. Silman’s Complete Endgame Course is not an endgame magnum opus along the lines of Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual, but this book is an excellent jumping-off point for the vast majority of players. There have been a number of fine endgame books lately (see some of my other reviews), but if you’re only going to purchase one endgame manual this year, this is your book. I know this book has been out for over a year now, but better late than never!


Daniel Ludwig Audio Interview on Getting His Second IM Norm

World Chess Live has a brief audio interview with junior Daniel Ludwig, who obtained his second International Master norm at the recent World Open. You can hear it here.


Friday, July 11, 2008

Beware of Budget Car Rental !!

Well, this is just a bit off-topic, but my wife made advance car rental reservations with Budget Car Rental, flew into LaGuardia in New York. She proceeded to the Budget counter, only to be told that they won't honor her reservation. Why? She has a debit card, not a credit card. Just last week she was in New York and rented with Avis with the same card with no problem. A month ago we rented a minivan with National, no problem. Budget? Big problem.

The Budget people were absolutely no help at all. Customer service? Doesn't seem to exist at Budget. So my wife has to go elsewhere to find a car, with no advance notice. National came through with a relatively decent rental rate, considering the circumstances.

We have rented many cars, and never have had this problem. The "supervisor" at Budget huffed and said, "Nobody in the Northeast takes debit cards!" I guess nobody told Avis and National that.

So ... the next time you're getting ready to make car rental reservations, beware of Budget. Who knows what other shenanigans they'll pull. Maybe it's their name - I guess you get what you (try to) pay for.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

GM Maurice Ashley on CNN Report

Chess Life Online reported that Grandmaster Maurice Ashley appeared on a CNN segment, which you can find here. It's a brief piece, but nicely done.


Wednesday, July 09, 2008

ChessCafe Scholastic Chess Everyman Quiz

Every month in my Scholastic Chess column at ChessCafe, we have our Everyman Quiz, offering various books or CDs from Everyman Chess.

This month, we're offering Starting Out: The Scotch Game (CD), by GM John Emms, to three winning entries. Take a look at the Everyman Quiz in the column, and send your answers to me at But note - entries must be received by July 16, 2008. Good luck!


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Review: How to Crush Your Chess Opponents

There are generally two schools of chess annotation – the Informant-style, essentially language-free, symbol-based annotations full of variations, and then there’s the wordy type that presents the critical ideas and options during a game, as well as whatever variations the annotator deems relevant. Both have their place, but most players will surely benefit more from the latter, particularly if the annotator is a strong player who can clearly convey the most important elements of the game.

In How to Crush Your Chess Opponents, author Simon Williams provides just this type of instructive annotation. The British grandmaster has selected thirty games, many from among the biggest names in chess today. J. Polgar, Topalov, Shirov, Anand, Carlsen, Ivanchuk are just some of the players you’ll encounter.

You can read the rest of the review here for the next week, and then it is permanently archived here.


July 2008 Scholastic Chess column online at ChessCafe

The Lucena Position

For my July 2008 Scholastic Chess column, I reviewed the endgame Lucena position. I found it interesting to hear the varying thoughts about the importance of this position from a number of nationally-known coaches. This column is also permanently archived here.


Sunday, July 06, 2008

New Midwest Chess Club About 10 Days Away ...

The opening for the million-dollar St. Louis Chess and Scholastic Center is only about ten days away. I stopped by this morning to peek in the windows and it's looking nice!

I saw a beautiful hardwood floor, multiple tables set up, and soft chairs, each with the St. Louis Chess and Scholastic Center logo. There are electronic boards mounted on the walls, and I counted five heavy stone chess tables just outside the doors of the club for sidewalk play.

More updates (and hopefully photos!) when opening day has arrived!


Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Review: Power Play 6: Pawns, Pieces & Plans

I love GM Daniel King's DVD presentations, plain and simple. He is clear, entertaining, and limits the scope of his instruction while providing more than enough depth to satisfy any chess player.

Read my review of his latest DVD, Power Play 6: Pawns, Pieces & Plans, at the ChessCafe current book review page, or see it archived permanently here.


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