Saturday, July 21, 2018

Game of the Day 6

One of the problems we've had in the chess world has been retention of players. Lots of primary school kids have a go, but don't continue into their high school days. And once at high school, we lose players to other activities and interests, and especially during the crucial exam times. The drop off continues into young adulthood, as higher education, work, and love and life take priority. While some come back to the game it doesn't compensate the amount of players lost.

My job is mostly teaching the game at the primary school level and my aim is to make those kids value the game, rather than excel. If I find kids that excel it is a bonus, and I can and do help them to further their skills and interest in the game. What I would love to do is to make a generational change in attitude to chess. I want kids to be encouraged by their parents to play a game that those parents enjoyed when they were at school. I would like to see schools and kids accept that if someone has a different interest to the norm, then they should be allowed to express themselves through that activity. Certainly at high school level, chess is often seen as a waste of time, a high brow activity that is "boring" and "uncool". It is this attitude that I'd like to change.

So what has this to do with the Game of the Day? One of the greatest prodigies chess has ever seen was Samuel Reshevsky, and as he says in his book, "Reshevsky's Best Games of Chess",

- "To achieve world-wide fame at the age of eight is a mixed blessing."

But Reshevsky's amazing talent as a child was halted when he turned twelve year's old. "My career as a child prodigy ended in 1924, when it was decided that a formal education was long overdue". While Reshevsky never lost his love for chess he played only sporadically for the next 10 years and I always wonder what he would have achieved had he continued his amazing start uninterrupted. His sensational come back to chess saw him take part relatively successfully in Pasadena 1932 (equal 3rd behind Alekhine and Kashdan), and Syracuse 1934 (1st ahead of Kashdan, Fine etc) before heading to Europe to try his luck. At the very first tournament he played in, he faced the mighty Capablanca. In the 10-player field Reshevsky scored 7/9 to come first ahead of Capablanca who he beat in their individual game. The game is a great example of playing against weaknesses, but my favourite bit of analysis is in the following position.

Capablanca had just played 25..b6 and offered a draw. Reshevsky writes, "Here Capablanca offered a draw, but since I had a clear initiative, and pressure on Black's weaknesses I declined the offer". How many of us would have had the nerve to refuse the draw offer by one of the all time greats? It is inspirational, and this fighting spirit is something I've touched on before in this blog. A player who wants to improve has to play the game out, even if that means losing. It is a tough discipline but one that will pay dividends.

Reshevsky went on to win this game, win this tournament one of many successes in his lone chess career. He never became World Champion though he was close a few times, and I wonder whether he would have become World Champion if he hadn't been a part time chess player through his formative teenage years?


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  1. Good post, Carl. Very much agree that instilling a love for the game is the most important first step to retention. Changing societal attitude to it is much more difficult, especially in Australia, where there isn't a cultural background of chess, unlike the Eastern Europeans.

    Parents also make the mistake of thinking that commitment to chess is exclusive with pursuing education and other activities. There have been so many talented juniors in Australia who are persuaded to give up chess during VCE/HSC. Even for those who suspend chess for a couple of years to study for exams, they find it harder to continue the trajectory and momentum of improvement after coming back. Many simply don't bother as their interest has waned after that.

    The message to parents is please let your kids who are passionate about chess pursue it. With the right support and some basic organisation of time, kids can play chess AND study for exams AND be involved other activities (music, sport etc).


  2. Absolutely. I'm in my mid 40s and play chess regularly at a chess club. I was involved in Victorian junior chess in the 1980s and don't see anyone who I played with back then still playing now.