From my seat at the 53rd American Chess School

I attended the 53rd US Chess School held at the Marshall Chess Club in New York from June 20-23. The American chess school, founded in 2006 by IM Greg Shahade, organizes annual free invitational camps for the best young chess players in the United States. This year’s camp hosted 12 participants, ages 9-17, with a score above 2250 and was the US Chess School’s first in-person event since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Marshall Chess Club, founded in 1915, is renowned for being one of the oldest chess clubs in the United States, but recent updates with new chess pieces and chess boards give this club a more modern atmosphere.

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Participants of the 53rd US Chess School at the Marshall Club in New York. Photo: Eugene Yoo

Our teacher for this American chess school was IM Alex Ostrovskiy, who signed up for the camp himself when he was 11 years old. This was Alex’s third time teaching at the US Chess School.

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IM Alex Ostrovskiy teaches at the 53rd US Chess School. Photo: Eugene Yoo

While chess tournaments are a very serious and competitive process, the environment at US Chess School was more lighthearted and inviting. Pawns fell awkwardly every five minutes, students collaboratively invented clever positions, and clocks were furiously slammed in impromptu blitz games. Alex contributed to this welcoming environment by infusing humor into his classes.

Day 1: Careful Calculation

The first lesson Alex taught us was the importance of finding candidate moves. Often chess players fall into the trap of only looking for tactical patterns or forced lines. To break this habit, it is important to look for alternatives. According to Alex, finding candidate movements is “the ability to go beyond conventional ideas”. Sometimes, even though a position may seem like it only has one or two good continuations, having an open mind can lead to the discovery of amazing solutions.


Annotations by Eugene Choi Yoo

For a very difficult tactic, our class spent over an hour in analysis. We had to calculate 5 deep moves in one position, but it got even more complex when we had to calculate different lines for black.


Annotations of IM Alex Ostrovskiy

After math puzzles, we split into groups to analyze compositions, positions specially designed to help train math. Just when it looked like one side was completely winning, a teammate signaled a move the opposing side might make, forcing us to calculate more. The composition below was my favorite because it required ingenuity and thought through all the possibilities of a position. Just when it appeared that black should just quit, there was a resource to continue the game.


Annotations by Eugene Choi Yoo

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An interesting composition created by campers Aditya Das and Eric Liu! Photo: Eugene Yoo

Breaks: Blitz & Bughouse

An integral part of the US Chess School camps are the blitz and bughouse breaks which provided the opportunity to meet and network with other players, fueling collaboration on many chess-related projects. I know I will keep in touch with a lot of campers and see a lot of them at future tournaments – a lot of us are playing together at the World Open!

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Campers playing Bughouse at the 53rd US Chess School. Photo: Eugene Yoo

Day 2: Sophisticated Strategy

The theme for day 2 was strategy. After a grueling first day of long calculations, I was looking forward to something more dynamic. To start the day, we talked about the mini-plan, a short, concrete series of moves that improve a position even if it doesn’t lead to a forced victory. Mini-plans maximize the potential of pieces, while creating opportunities for the opponent to make mistakes. Here is an example in action:


Annotations of IM Alex Ostrovskiy

The mini-plan particularly stuck with me because it emphasized the biggest lesson of finding creative ways to promote equal positions. For example, Alex showed us a game in which Magnus Carlsen won a rook position and four pawns against rook and four pawns against Ruslan Ponomariov, a strong player who was 2737 FIDE, simply by being willing to play and allow his opponent to make mistakes. .

In some of my own games, I’ve drawn because the hardware is equal or I can’t see a concrete way to win. But sometimes it is not so easy for the opponent to hold such positions, and even a slight inaccuracy can completely change the position.


Annotations by Eugene Choi Yoo

We also learned the importance of having a space advantage.

Today’s modern engines will give a huge advantage to the side with more space, and for good reason. More space means more room to coordinate and maximize each piece’s utility, while leaving less room for the opponent to do the same. As general manager Boris Gelfand once said, “If I control 40 squares, you only control 24, no matter who you are.”

The critical space advantage for which openings such as Benoni or King’s Indian Defense can be risky for black because they don’t offer much space in the position and, if played badly, black can end up completely tightened. Below is an example of Alex, who plays White’s pieces, controlling all of Black’s major plans while simultaneously harmonizing his pieces and preparing a lethal push down the middle.


Annotations of IM Alex Ostrovskiy

Next, we touched on psychology, which is closely related to strategy. When I was younger, I thought psychological pressure was all about getting off the board at the right time, delivering draws in critical positions, and playing with little hesitation. However, thanks to this camp, I realized that there can be psychology in the movements themselves. If a queen leaves a particular file, for example, placing a rook on that file could cause the opponent to guess.

As GM David Navara said, “I like to play moves that highlight the downside of the opponent’s previous move.”

Day 3: Elusive Endgames

To start day three, we were asked to go around the group and name a different endgame position that we knew by heart. The first person said Philidor. Then I said Lucena. Then the third person didn’t get an answer, nor did the fourth. Alex opened the question to the whole group, to which there was dead silence. Everyone was puzzled. No one could name another critical late game position.

Alex pointed out a few more, like the bishop and the knight against the king, or two knights against the pawn. Nevertheless, the fact that a group of 12 experienced chess players struggled to find even five critical endgame positions illustrates that the endgame is primarily a calculation, not a fundamental knowledge. Alex summarized the crucial elements of endgames like knowledge of concrete theoretical endgames, calculation skills, patience and perseverance.

One endgame theme that I enjoyed was king, queen, and pawn. These positions can be tricky because of queens checks and perpetuals, but what I love about them is that they create rich positions that revolve around strategy. Although an opposing queen can almost always find check, by placing our king next to the enemy’s pawns, the opponent will have to give up their pawns if they wish to continue in check.

At the end of day three, we played practice games from the starting positions, to emphasize using strategy and calculation rather than opening preparation. The time control for games was G/25 + 5 seconds behind, and before we started playing we were given three minutes to look at the position and come up with possible shots. It was a nice way to wrap up a long day of tough endgame analysis.

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Campers playing positions in practice matches at the 53rd US Chess School. Photo: Eugene Yoo

Day 4: Analysis and review of the personal game

On the fourth day, we analyzed our own games. It was an interesting exercise because, unlike the model games which were well executed, the camper games highlighted the natural volatility of chess and how a player can always come back from a position regardless of the circumstances.

After reviewing the games, we discussed how to improve as players and what resources are available to us. For tactics, which help with calculation and strategic thinking, one can use online trainers such as Chesstempo. For theory, using resources such as books, databases, and Chessable is helpful, as well as playing games online with new openings can help develop a better understanding of different positions. For the finals,

Alex also gave some other important advice, like playing in tournaments where the opponents’ ranking differs significantly from ours, forcing us to challenge ourselves and learn from more skilled players, while practicing our own skills on more skilled opponents. weak.

An interesting point that came up at the end of the camp was the role of coaches. Alex said that up to a point coaches can help a player improve by pointing out weaknesses and areas for development, but as that player becomes more experienced the role of a coach shifts slightly towards a role of guide, in particular with regard to the repertoire and sharing their experience. In other words, as a player improves his chess skills, he is ultimately responsible for initiating his own chess improvement.

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The author playing fellow master Eric Liu (left) at the 53rd US Chess School.

Thanks to Dr. Jim Roberts, Chessable and Chess.com for sponsoring the US Chess School. Special thanks to IM Greg Shahade for organizing the camp, and to IM Alex Ostrovskiy for teaching us not only the essential topics of calculation, strategy and endgames, but also practical tips for use in tournaments. chess, whether it’s the importance of declining draws in advantageous positions, using psychology, or being mindful of the clock.

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