Learning from the Best: 44th U.S. Chess School

(From left to right): Jason, Eric, Davis and Merric taking a moment of silence at Ground Zero

A thick coat of shouting filled the room as if mocking the earlier silence portrayed during an exhausting puzzle. “Knight wins queen!”, my partner reiterated as he joyfully slammed the clock, and even it seemed to laugh in joy as chess pieces went flying like boomerangs around the seemingly endless array of black and white squares. I could still remember my debut at the 39th U.S. chess school at the Marshall Chess Club, where I was a member, right after the World Open, a tournament that “cannot be missed”.  I would say that the USCS camp could also be referred by one as “cannot be missed”, as it brought together the best chess kids in the country to learn from the best coaches and from each other.

I was delighted to receive the invitation to the 44th U.S. chess school again this year.  This camp was especially special to me, as I won the amature section at Marshall Chess Club in June and made National Master this week in the World Open. It was thus my debut as a master in chess life. I was eager to introduce New York to my friends and learn from the best.

One thing that is unique about the U.S. chess school is that the venue may be different for each camp, but IM Greg Shahade is almost always there, spreading the love of chess across the country. This year, we also had GM Josh Friedel. GM Friedel repetitively suggested to stop and pause between calculations as to avoid going too fast and missing resources for you or your opponent. Although that may seem rather straightforward and useless at first sight, it actually comes in use in a lot of positions. The one below is a great example.

White to move and win.

We were also honored to have a really special guest that was none other than the U.S. Champion, GM Sam Shankland. Listening as Sam teaches us is both intimidating and motivating because there are many instances where one would spend a long time calculating a variation only to be immediately refuted by a simple looking variation Sam only spent five seconds on. He also advised that, in a worse position, one should look at all the steps of the opponent to win and try to interfere with one of the steps to obtain the best chances for a draw.

Interestingly, the U.S. Champion is also an alumni with U.S. Chess School. He showed us a position where the young Sam, as black, resigned. Could he have done better?

Black to move.

Here’s another position taught by GM Josh Friedel.

White to play and win.

The studies were so beautifully subtle and motivating that a 9-year-old kid Ronan even created his own study the next day. Pretty nicely composed, I must say.

Ronan’s problem

White to move and win.

When you force a ketchup lover to eat a mustard hot-dog, the results are not cool. When we were given a position that required lots of maneuvering, we were searching for all the possible premature pawn breaks so persistently that Josh, frustrated in our lack of positional knowledge, made all the students write (in capital letters), “I WILL NOT TRADE OFF MY OPPONENT’S WEAKNESSES!” in their notebooks or on paper.

(WARNING: This is NOT a tactic)

Black to play.

A thin coat of sadness filled the room as gradually the campers began to leave, one by one, saying their farewells. Every time I meet my friends or one of the coaches again, I would re-envision the magnificent projector, dishing out positions of all kind and the triumphant smile upon salvation. I would say that the USCS camp could also be referred by one as “cannot be forgotten”, as it brought together the best chess kids in the country to learn from the best coaches and best positions in the country, always filling them with new knowledge, fun, and mysteries. Lastly, I would like to thank U.S. Chess School, IM Greg Shahade, GM Josh Friedel, GM Sam Shankland and Marshall chess club for making this wonderful experience for all. Thank you!

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