Counterplay

Devouring December

I am writing regarding Chess Life's December 2008 cover article, "The Grand master Diet."

I am not, nor ever have been, a chess enthusiast. I don't know the difference between a bishop and a knight. However, my sweetheart is.

Indeed, the man has a genuine passion for all things chess, and pores over each page of your magazine the minute it arrives. I affectionately refer to it as "geek porn." Please, don't take offense I'm a geek as well.

But I digress. You see, years of nagging and guilt trips couldn't accomplish what your cover story did in the short time it took for my aforementioned love to devour it (pun intended). The man who got nearly all of his nutrition from "quick service" value menus now takes vitamins. He, who once ate Chihuahua endorsed fast food tacos daily for nearly two months, now supplements his diet with fish oil capsules. More rice and less caffeine are changes that don't bode well for many local pizza delivery drivers, either.

I hoped he would change his diet because we all absolutely adore him and want him around for a long time. He finally changed his diet for positive results in chess. It's truly a win win situation and his young children and I thank you.

Stephanie A. Colwell Duluth, Minnesota

This article generated an unusually high response on the uschess.org forums. A sampling:

From gusgusthegreat:

I have to agree with the idea that other foods aside from junk food be sold at tour naments. It's certainly nice to have your favorite candy bar after a taxing match, but it certainly doesn't help your next round. I lost my first game at state to someone rated significantly lower than me to a sim ple blunder, and, now that I think back on it, it was likely due to the food I'd eaten that day. A later game, I dropped my queen. The next day, I had a healthy breakfast and I did much better.

From ppwchess:

Excellent article. I'm used to reading such articles in the running and triathlon publications I subscribe to. This is the first time I've seen nutrition covered in a chess magazine. What we put in our body is the fuel that makes us function. Too much junk food has a detrimental impact on our ability to stay focused. I usually bring lunch with me, particularly if I'm playing a tournament that has very little time between rounds. This way I can control what I'm eating, and when I'm eating.

Golden praise

I just wanted to drop you an e mail to say that the last few issues of Chess Life have been better than what I remember.

I especially want to add that the article on correspondence chess by Alex Dunne ("1998 and 2000 are Golden for CC Play ers," December) is one of the best articles that I have read for a long time in Chess Life. The writing made the two tourna ments come alive as each round was explained and the top personalities and performers were given credit for their accomplishments. This was a fairly long article and to me well worth the space in the magazine.

I would love to see more Chess Life articles in the future that devote sufficient space to detail the progress of important tournaments.

Ed Addis life member via e-mail

Fischer-Random, anyone?

I am writing this letter on behalf of all students and enthusiasts of chess which includes everyone from unrated players to veteran GMs.

My major contention is that deep emphasis given to learning opening lines often dissuades genuinely good chess from arising. Yes, there are established principles that are now taken for granted, such as vying for the center, whether one does so in a style that is considered clas sical, "hypermodern," modern, or unor thodox (the last of which GM Benjamin is happily notorious for incorporating into his repertoire).

However, the statistical turnouts, such as "White gains the advantage," or "Black now equalizes," are often skewed and blatantly precarious means of utilizing one opening over another. Part of this is the pure logic that certain openings may have been clearly refuted and then no longer used: So the records may show that "Opening Line X" resulted in a vic tory for White 98% of the time. Such data does not necessarily reveal that the remaining two percent of games might have convinced players to stop using it entirely because a sound parry was dis covered.

Furthermore, openings are also affected by the dictates of fashion and simply human psychology or entertainment per spectives all of which are ambiguous beasts likely never beholden to numeri cal analysis. As an example, Fischer derided the King's Gambit, yet still used it much (even against the MIT computer, for instance). Or, consider the Scotch Game, which fell out of interest until Kas parov analyzed and re enlivened it.

So I find it hardly fair that, for exam ple, the Alapin Opening or the Nimzovich Defense, among others, are described as "relics" or having only "surprise value." Then, suddenly, because an official source has made such pronouncements, players start learning what they believe are win ning opening lines by rote. In my opinion, this denudes chess of its integral vitality and dynamism, and contributes to the atrophy of what any skilled player values: the development of profound intuition the ability, so to speak, to "play the board," not some memorized rule.

SaifPatel Rochester, Minnesota

The National Open has moved to: The South Point Hotel and Casino Las Vegas, Nevada

June 5-7

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Cornerstone School Chess Team:

Playing tough, overcoming the odds

The Detroit team raised the funds to travel to the Nationals in Dallas, but they arrived at the airport only to find their airline had gone bankrupt...

By Cornelius A. Fortune

Based in Detroit, Cornerstone School chess team was a newly minted batch of unrated players, all of whom found a love of the game under the inspiration and support of their coach, Kevin Fite.

A natural instructor, Fite has helped numerous children from the inner city find their voice through the rich competition of the chessboard at both tournament and recreational levels. He is also the founder and Chief Operating Officer of Detroit City Chess Club, a city wide chess club aimed at kids from the metro Detroit area.

Though he was charged with building a team of fledgling chess players from the ground up, it was a challenge he was used to overcoming. In fact, he's made it a kind of personal crusade and likens chess instruction to the crafting of an effective sales pitch, aimed at a reluc tant, though curious buyer.

"The thing is you've got to sell it to them, it's like a product," Fite says. "When I was at Duffield (an elementary school in Detroit) that was in a pretty hardcore area in the city and chess was perceived as nerdish. A lot of the kids just pretty much dogged them; called them names. Then I got a couple of 'cool' students (a basketball player and a cheerleader) and all of a sudden, if you didn't play chess you were a nerd we changed the whole culture around and that's what happened here at Cornerstone."

While the team accumulated an impres sive collection of chess trophies, Fite with the help of the parents, devised creative strategies for fundraising, determined to give the kids a shot at the Nationals. Those efforts included bake sales, skat ing parties, and anything else they could think of. After hitting their numbers, it seemed the rest would be easy.

Fite, along with a portion of the team had already arrived in Dallas, but parent and co organizer T. C. Yanish and her group of kids were having difficulty using their boarding passes: the airline (ATA) had gone bankrupt without notice and refused to honor their flight arrangements.

Yanish started making phone calls.

One such call was to the Fox 2 News, local affiliate. This served two purposes: it gave the network an exclusive and it shined an unsuspecting spotlight on the airline's economic woes, leading to an exclusive.

"Apparently the news hadn't gotten out (about the bankruptcy)," says Yanish. "They immediately came over and started doing a story on us. As the word began to go out, we were told that they would allow us to fly. Our tickets were exchanged and we were put on a waiting list." An alter nate flight was found for the group.

"We didn't make it to Dallas until 10 p.m., the night before the tournament began," Yanish says. "Imagine how tired they were, but they still came out to be number one. They kept believing."

Not only were they state and city champs, they were now the unrated National (Jr. High) section champs.

As great as winning can be, Fite is equally proud of the effect that chess has had on some of his student's academic performance. A math teacher by training, he found this inspiring.

"It actually helps me in the classroom," Fite says. "Your trouble kids are not really going to give you trouble anymore because they know if you do that, you can't play. It's a win win. Chess empowers kids. They get confidence and it really helps me as a teacher. That's how I knew it was my calling: I just saw it change kids and it was really fun. I think I had more fun than the kids did sometimes."

Chess has actually become a very big institution at the charter school, with a waiting list of would be grandmasters that's still growing. Chess, by Fite's own admission, has become more popular than basketball and cheerleading at Cor nerstone School. (The team itself has expanded from 30 to 70 members since the Nationals.)

"Who would ever have thought that you would have to have a waiting list for a chess team in one school?" says Fite, a look of mysticism on his face. "And the school is not big, probably under 300 students. Everyone plays and it's cool. The kids walk around and they talk chess and you just change the culture of it. I think that's a big reason we've been suc cessful is because we've changed the climate of the school. Now they want to think, they want to do things that's a lit tle different, a little out of the box."

Not taking last year's victory for granted, the team is busily prepping for the SuperNationals in April.

"The parents have stepped up a lot. It's gotten so big, and they've done a real good job," says Fite. "We're just going to keep doing what we're doing. We do want to plan an international tournament. That's on our radar because we've done everything but international."

Ratings, Rules, and Rockets

USCF'S 2ND DECADE: 1949-1958

By Al Lawrence

Born into a world in combat, USCF would grow to maturity in its second decade amidst a baby boom and a Cold War.

In 1949 the Omaha U.S. Open became the grand old event's golden jubilee, since the tournament traces its history back to the first Western Open in 1900 and since USCF decided to celebrate the num ber of events rather than the number of passing years. Members paid $10 to enter. Partially sighted Albert Sandrin of Chicago won an expanded, 70 player tournament,

In November, Chess Life published USCF's first rating list, showing Reuben Fine first at 2817 and Samuel Reshevsky second at 2770. (Fred Reinfeld's sixth place at 2593 reminds us that the prolific writer could play.) The under credited Kenneth Harkness was the hero behind chess rating systems. You can see his original rating calculations, literally res cued from the garbage by USCF president Bill Goichberg, at the World Chess Hall of Fame in Miami.

nization's book and equipment business, promoted the Swiss pairing system, fos tered the idea of national events being co sponsored by local clubs, wrote the first rulebooks, invented the median tie breaker, and co authored, with Irving Chernev, one of the most popular chess books of all time, An Invitation to Chess. Future executive directors found his foot prints always in front of them. Frank Graves, elected USCF president in 1954, announced the next year that USCF was

The dean of American chess, GM Arthur Bisguier, in his heyday.

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