Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A Lesson From Chess Camp: 10 Years Later I Know Why.

A number of summers ago I helped at several chess camps run by Shernaz Kennedy and Bruce Albertson (the other Bruce.) in Harlem and Central Park. Shernaz and I have known each other for years. We both came to New York in the late 70s. We've played a few few times over the years, and I've watched her teach and coach at various schools.

These camps were my first chance to watch Bruce teach. I watched him play some form of progressive chess with the kids. White makes a move, black makes 2 moves, white makes 3 moves, black makes 4, etc. I can't remembered if he played like that. I think he'd actually let the kid start with 4 moves in a row and see if they could construct a mate with 4 straight moves. However he had a very strict rule with the kids when they played him. When they placed a piece on a square, it needed to be centered properly. It could not be touching the edge of the square or be partially in an adjoining square. If the piece was not centered the kid lost his turn and Bruce got to make 4 moves in a row. With 4 consecutive moves Bruce would almost aways mate the player. The kids learned that the pieces needed to be placed properly on the board. He considered an off center piece sloppy.

At the the time I questioned in my mind the usefulness of such an exercise. Really, who cares if the piece isn't exactly in the center of the square? However recently after a few tournaments playing kids, I'm starting to see the wisdom of training the kids to place the pieces centrally on a square. I've begun to notice that a lot of kids that start playing in adult tournaments, have some really annoying habits that they pick up from playing other kids.

The first annoying habit is constantly adjusting pieces. It usually starts before the first move. They'll adjust every single piece on the board, and then go back and do it a second time. Then when they make their move they tend pick up the piece with a flourish, flick their wrist and casually drop it on the destination square. 9 out of 10 times it doesn't land in the middle of the square so then they adjust it. Sometimes they'll even adjust it a second or third time. Other times the piece doesn't even land upright so they have to pick it up it and place properly. Tonight I played a kid in a game that went 75 moves. I think he must have said "I adjust" on 70 of the 75 moves. That also counts the couple of times that he adjusted pieces on my time.

After all the adjusting they slap the clock using that same flourish and flick of the wrist. Sometimes for good measure they'll tap the button several times. I particularly notice they do this on the touch sensor Chronos. Since there is no sound with the touch sensor I almost think it's done to confirm that they really did press the clock. On more then one occasion if I've been daydreaming on my opponent's move I won't notice that he's moved and pressed the clock. Suddenly I see my time is running. Stealth move! On the standard button Chronos they tap it 3-4 times and each tap is noisy since the button doesn't stay down like it does on other clocks. When it has gotten particularly annoying (ie they do it on every single move, and it's my clock) I will tell the kid you don't need to keep tapping the button.

Another annoying, but sometimes amusing mannerism is when the kid thinks he's make powerful move. He picks up the piece with great flourish, flicks the wrist and slam dunks the piece onto the square, and slaps the clock. It's annoying when it truly is a strong move. Ouch! It's amusing when the kid goes into his big production number, slaps the piece down on the square, and leans backs as if to say "So what are you gonna do about that move?" Depending how annoying the kid has been up to that point, sometimes I can't help myself. If I see that the move just out right loses significant material, I end out doing a counter flourish, wrist flick and all, grab the blundered piece and lean forward as to say "And your point is?" The inner child comes out.

Fortunately for the most part I can keep the inner child in check, and not get into these oneupmanship contests with the kids. One of the other adult players and I spent time with the kids and their mom explaining some rules and etiquette. The kids who often come to my chess club and play the adults are the same kids who I've watched progress through the various sections of the scholastic events I direct. It's important to me to give them advice and instruction on proper tournament behavior, especially when playing adults. Some of these kids have watched me play bughouse with the same energy and enthusiasm as they do. That's a place where I feel like I can let the inner child loose. In a rated tournament where I'm playing kids I need to keep the inner child in check.


Rook Van Winkle said...

I had a good chuckle in your blog about kids and how they place or adjust the pieces. When I decided to take up chess again last year (after 25 years) I played in two "unrated beginner" OTB tournaments where the majority of my competition were kids - one as young as five. So I can relate to your story - and on the good advice of "coaching" kids to place a piece in the center of a square.

Visit Rook Van Winkle's Chess Blog - for the chess novice seeking to enjoy and improve their game.

likesforests said...

I was just reading over your exploits at the US Open. Fascinating stuff. It never occurred to me that higher-rated opponents are just as afraid of us as we are of them! Everyone understands if you lose to Shabalov, but it would not look so good for him if he only managed to draw you. ;)

Polly said...

I can dream about drawing with Shabalov, but in reality these guys just know how to grind you down, and as soon as you lose even a pawn it become a feeding frenzy.

egaion said...

Very interesting observations on kids. Thanks.