Friday, May 9, 2008

On The Road Again: Pittsburgh, PA

Welcome to Pittsburgh! The city of bridges! There seems to be a bridge on every block. I've been told that Pittsburgh has the most bridges of any city in the Western Hemisphere. From what I can see from the convention center, I can believe it. In this city I guess one has many opportunities to "cross that bridge when they get to it."

Here is a view of the playing floor from the upper level of the convention center. My dumb little point and shoot camera does not do the vast scene justice. There are a lot of tables off to the left that can't be seen. Then there is the K-1 section in the Westin Hotel next door. This scene is very calm. Tomorrow I'll shoot another picture before the round starts when there's hordes of parents and coaches making sure their kids are in the right spot.

As I mentioned in my Junior High Nationals post, I travel with several different schools. For this tournament I am here as the coach for one of the elementary schools that I teach chess at. Working with this group of kids is presents different challenges then the kids from the junior high championships. Dealing with 7th and 8th graders who are very tournament savvy and have several years of nationals experience under their belts is have different issues and needs then 2nd through 5th graders who are for the most part brand new to the nationals scene.

With my junior high group, I'm the assistant coach and much of what I do is simply answer the rules and ratings questions, play chess with them in between rounds so they can try out stuff. Sometimes they just need to curse and vent a bit. My role with that group is technical grunt. Also there are certain non chess issues that one has to deal with when you're talking about teenage boys and girls.

With this group I am the only coach. Their regular teacher has not made the trip with the team the last couple of years. Some of the kids attend my session on Mondays along with the other teacher's session of Thursday. Some of the kids never have attended my Monday class until I insisted that they come so I could at least get to know a little about the kid and put a face to the name. With the Monday regulars they're used to my style, and I know what to expect in terms of skill and how they're going to deal losing and my instruction.

With the newer kids I have the delicate job of trying to show the kid what he or she did wrong, help make sure he or she knows what to do next time, but at the same time not make him feel bad for missing a good opportunity to take advantage of the opponent's oversights. It's taken me the first two rounds to kind of gauge reactions to my instruction. After I went over one kid's second round loss I realized I got a little over zealous in explaining how to take advantage of a player who has traded off his fianchettoed bishop on g7 for something besides the other dark squared bishop. It appeared that he had the opportunity to stick his bishop on h6, driving the rook of f8, and then sticking the queen on h8 diagonal and forcing mate on g7. He felt so bad about missing this that he burst in tears. I can deal with the kids coming in crying, but I don't like it if I cause the child to burst into tears. I assured the kid that he should not feel bad for missing it. I wanted him to learn how to take advantage the holes in the king side. Perhaps it was a bit over the head of a 3rd grader with a 300 rating.

Then I had the little girl who fell into her first four move checkmate. She was so embarrassed to lose so quickly. She came into the room in tears. She had even beaten me back to the team room. One of the parents was trying to work with her, on figuring out how to stop. He didn't really know. I quickly gave her my anti-four move checkmate lesson. By the end of our session she had it covered. As long as she remembers it I won't see that happen again.

Then I had the kid who on his first move grabbed the queen pawn and had to move it. Being very inexperienced and doing things on automatic pilot caused his game to go up flames almost immediately. The teacher at school has taught all the kids how to play the Giacco Piano. They're pretty proficient with it, but some of the kids learn the opening but don't understand what they're really trying to do. This particular kid played 1. d4 d5. 2. e4 (trying to get back to his familiar e4 opening 2...dxe. 3. Nf3 (again thinking about trying to get back on track, but overlooking 3...exf3). He simply panicked and tried to make it into some familiar, but became oblivious to the fact that the opponent's pieces were not in the same spots they'd be in if the game had started 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5. So in 3 moves he managed to give up a pawn and a knight.

It's been a tough day for the group. Half the kids are 0-2. 5 kids are 1-1, and 1 kid is .5-1.5. The kid with the draw had one of the most amazing games for a kid with 500 rating. He kept coming up with good moves and find the correct responses to various threats. His missed mating with a pawn, and at the end he moved the wrong piece to cut of the king and it lead to stalemate. I hope to get it into Chessbase and share it. It was very interesting.

Internet access has been a major pain the butt. The free wireless at the Hilton has been impossible. I finally was able to borrow an Ethernet cable from someone and get access back in my room. If I'm not totally trashed after 3 rounds of trying decipher scores I will post an update. There will be no Parents & Friends tournament for me at this event. Coaching 14 kids by myself is quite enough. Though for round one "King Kong" had a quick game and came into the team room afterwards. He asked me if he could go over some of the kids games. I think the kids enjoyed getting pointers from one of their peers. They asked me if Kevin had ever beaten me. His mom and I got a chuckle out of that question as we'd answer it, "Yep a few times."


BlunderProne said...

You are a real gem. Great work and mentoring you provide these kids. It's not easy doign what you do.

wang said...

Great job Polly. It is very challenging working with little ones, you are a brave soul to do what you're doing. I mean 14!?