My Experience at the Schein-Friedman/U.S. Chess School Camp

It was a normal boring Wednesday afternoon. I was just coming back from a long day of school and I was not really expecting anything out of the ordinary to happen: some homework, some chess, and maybe I could have some free time. I lugged my three-ton backpack from the N train at the Union Square subway station, passing by some of the well-known chess hustlers in the park there. I wish I could have played some of them, but today I had to get home quickly for homework. When we (my babysitter, brother, sister, and I) finally got home, I was really looking forward to taking that backpack off my shoulders! Once we got to my apartment, I ran inside sighing with relief, just like all the other days, except today my mom was inexplicably happy.  This was the first time I had been invited to the Schein-Friedman chess camp -- we were going to Saint Louis! Our first encounter with the other Schein-Friedman campers was on the plane to Saint Louis. My mom and I were waiting at our gate, A3, (I remember the gate letter and number because I was thinking that’s not a great way to start the game). I was reading my book and my mom was texting my dad when we heard, “Akira.” I was excited when I saw it was the Shumans.  I have known Nate Shuman and his family for a long time – and had just celebrated Nate’s birthday party at a giant bughouse tournament at his house. Coincidentally, the Zhous were also on our flight -- we might as well have already been there!  Arriving at the Chase Park Plaza hotel was a truly amazing experience; the rooms were huge and we had a great view of the pool, and there was a sparkling glass chandelier in the lobby of the building. We were set for this camp. Now let’s get to the camp. This camp, which is co-sponsored by the U.S. Chess School, is an invitational camp for the top young players in the country to study with some of the best instructors in the country.  Amazingly, the camp is completely free for the players. The camp was four days long, Wednesday through Sunday and included 15 of the top boys and girls in the country for ages 9-13. For me to be included in this was a big deal and a great honor.
Front row from left: Nico Chasin, Arthur Guo, Logan Wu. 2nd Row: Aydin Turgit, Max Lu, Nathaniel Shuman, Martha Samadashvili, Christopher Woojin Yoo, Nastassja Matus, Jason Wang, Evelyn Zhou. 3rd row: Akira Nakada (me), Jason Daniels, Wesley Wang, Naomi Bashkansky.Front row from left: Nico Chasin, Arthur Guo, Logan Wu.
2nd Row: Aydin Turgit, Max Lu, Nathaniel Shuman, Martha Samadashvili, Christopher Woojin Yoo, Nastassja Matus, Jason Wang, Evelyn Zhou.
3rd row: Akira Nakada (me), Jason Daniels, Wesley Wang, Naomi Bashkansky.

Day 1:

Today was my first day at camp.  The club blew my mind. There were huge screens projecting the latest top ICC games, there were wooden chess boards all over the place, and the club looked beautiful. Our teacher for the first day at camp was IM Armen Ambartsoumian, United States World Youth coach and former Armenian national team coach (you know, the country that almost always is at the top of the list in the Chess Olympiad). Our first lesson was on a very common opening that still confuses strong players as to why it is so sound, the Ragozin. Red flags are thrown up around the 5th move in some variations!
1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 d5 3.c4 e6 4.Nc3 Bb4 5.Qc2 Nc6 For anyone who knows the Queen’s Gambit Declined reasonably well, seeing someone put the knight on c6 makes them cringe. The plan would be to put the knight on d7 and fianchetto the bishop with b6 bb7, then c5 comes and you fight for the center. Nevertheless, this opening has proven its soundness among the top players in the world. The main part of the lesson, though, was not the opening, it was the importance of knowing the transpositions in your opening. You could memorize all the lines in the world and not know how to play the middle and end game with them and you would lose every time. Here is an example from a variation in the Slav.  
[pgn][Event "FIDE World Cup 2005"]
[White "Harikrishna, Penteala"]
[Black "Vescovi, Giovanni P"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "D19"]
[WhiteElo "2673"]
[BlackElo "2646"]
[PlyCount "83"]
[EventDate "2005.11.27"]
[EventType "k.o."]
[EventRounds "7"]
[EventCountry "RUS"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceDate "2006.04.04"]1. c4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Nf3 dxc4 5. a4 Bf5 6. e3 e6 7. Bxc4 Bb4 8. O-O
Nbd7 9. Qe2 Bg6 10. e4 O-O 11. Bd3 Bh5 12. e5 Nd5 13. Nxd5 cxd5 14. Qe3 Be7 15.
Ng5 Bxg5 16. Qxg5 Bg6 17. Be2 Qxg5 18. Bxg5 {[pgndiagram] This position was more or less reached by force, and in a supposedly “dead drawn” position, Harikrishna outplayed a strong grandmaster because he knew the ideas of the opening. His opponent knew the theory very well, but when they had to play chess, Harikrishna was able to win.} 18...Rfc8 19. Rfc1 a6 20. h4 f6 21. exf6
Nxf6 22. f3 Bc2 23. Ra3 Kf7 24. Kf2 Rc6 25. b4 Nd7 26. b5 Rcc8 27. a5 axb5 28.
Bxb5 Nf6 29. Ra2 Bb3 30. Rxc8 Rxc8 31. Rb2 Bc4 32. Bxc4 dxc4 33. Rxb7+ Kg6 34.
a6 Rc6 35. a7 Ra6 36. Bxf6 Kxf6 37. Ke3 Ra5 38. Kd2 Ra4 39. Kc3 h5 40. g4 Kg6
41. g5 Kh7 42. Re7 1-0[/pgn]
After our lecture, our second teacher for the day, IM Greg Shahade gave us a test. Greg is a great teacher, and he is also the founder of the U.S. Chess League.  This brought back good memories for me since our team Manhattan Applesauce won the U.S. Chess League championship this year. The test was designed to test our intuition. With only 45 seconds for each of the thirty problems, you had to use your intuition. The test consisted of some tactical problems, but to my surprise and delight, most of the problems were positional (for example, prophylaxis, weak squares, improving your worst piece, trading pieces). One of my favorite problems from the test is very hard to see if you do not know the game, but it has a brilliant answer.

White to move and win.

Show Solution

[pgn][White "Short, Nigel D"]
[Black "Timman, Jan H"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B04"]
[WhiteElo "2660"]
[BlackElo "2630"]
[Annotator "Rogers,I"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "2r2rk1/1bpR1p2/1pq1pQp1/p3P2p/P1PR3P/5N2/2P2PPK/8 w - - 0 32"]
[PlyCount "7"]
[EventDate "1991.10.??"]
[EventType "tourn"]
[EventRounds "14"]
[EventCountry "NED"]
[EventCategory "17"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceDate "1992.02.01"]32. Kg3 $1 Rce8 33. Kf4 $1 Bc8 34. Kg5 $3 {and Black resigned. After} Bxd7 35.
Kh6 {Black cannot prevent Qg7#} 1-0[/pgn]

The first day wasn’t all tests and lectures though. Greg and Aviv also organized a bullet tournament with us. Slowly the players went from fifteen all the way down to two: it was Aydin Turgit vs Nico Chasin. The game was very tense, but at the end Aydin pulled off the win in a rook endgame with his two rooks on the second rank.

Day 2:

Our teacher for today was again Armen, but today we were taught about a very interesting line in the Slav. The line is a forced transposition into an endgame. That is crucial because if you know the ideas in the endgame, the line could serve you well (I showed the position in Day 1, Harikrishna-Vescovi). Another example of the importance of knowing your opening’s ideas all the way to the endgame is evident in the game Navara-Jobava.
[pgn][Event "?"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "????.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Navara"]
[Black "Jobava"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B65"]
[PlyCount "83"]1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 Nc6 6. Bg5 e6 7. Qd2 Be7 8.
O-O-O O-O 9. f4 Nxd4 10. Qxd4 Bd7 11. Bxf6 Bxf6 12. Qxd6 Bc6 13. Qxd8 Rfxd8 14.
Bb5 Bxc3 15. Bxc6 Bxb2+ 16. Kxb2 bxc6 17. Rxd8+ Rxd8 18. Kc3 {[pgndiagram]Once again the opening transposes more or less by force into an endgame. Now it is not a test of memorization, but rather of who knows the ideas better. Anyone can memorize an opening but you need to learn your opening’s ideas. Navara won this game relatively easily and without noise from this position. Here is the notation for the game.} 18...Kf8 19. Rb1 Ke7
20. e5 h5 21. a4 Rd5 22. Rb7+ Rd7 23. Rb8 Rd8 24. Rb4 Rd5 25. g3 Rc5+ 26. Kb3
Rd5 27. c4 Rd2 28. a5 Kd8 29. Rb8+ Kc7 30. Rf8 Rd7 31. Kb4 a6 32. Kc5 g6 33.
Ra8 Kb7 34. Rf8 Kc7 35. h3 Kb7 36. g4 hxg4 37. hxg4 Kc7 38. Ra8 Kb7 39. Rh8 Kc7
40. Rh1 Rd2 41. Rh7 Rd7 42. g5 1-0[/pgn]
Along with the lecture, we also had a field trip to the Chess Hall of Fame! I thought we were going to have to take a bus for an hour to get there, but it turned out that the Hall of Fame was just across the street. In front of the door there was a huge chess set that I played on for some time, but then we went in the building and took a tour of the museum. 13532933_1123309531024475_7649014850977636557_n13516228_1123309427691152_766004488360691078_nI had a blast that day but you can’t relax forever, you have to buckle down and learn. Once we came back to the camp, Aviv, who thought that Greg should have a taste of his own medicine (just kidding) had made another test for us. This test was much more tactical than Greg’s test was. The last part of the day was the start of the blitz tournament.

Day 3:

We started off the day by talking a bit about ourselves and our chess. Greg gave us each six questions to answer on that topic. Some of them were, “What openings give you the most trouble?” “What do you do for your chess?” Or rather, “What do your parents do for your chess?” There was also, “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” This was a really interesting session.  I knew most of these kids from World Youth and from other big tournaments, but I never got a chance to hear them talk about their strengths and weaknesses and how they study. In a way it was also very motivating for me. To hear that all of these kids are working so hard to get better made me want to work harder as well. After our conversation Greg gave us another intuition test like his other one. Here is one problem that I should have gotten right (hint: superfluous knights, knights that double each other).

White to move.

Show Solution
[pgn][Event "Continental Class Championship 2007"]
[White "Shahade, Gregory P"]
[Black "Kaufman, Larry C"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "A37"]
[WhiteElo "2449"]
[BlackElo "2406"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "r3k2r/pp1q1p1p/3pp1p1/2pP1n2/2Pn4/2N2NP1/PP2PP1P/1R1Q1RK1 w kq - 0 16"]
[PlyCount "35"]
[EventDate "2011.10.06"]
[EventType "swiss"]
[EventRounds "9"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceDate "2011.10.28"]16. Nd2 Ne7 17. Nde4 O-O-O 18. Nf6 {and the game continued:} Qc7 19. b4 Kb8 20.
e3 Ndf5 21. Nb5 Qc8 22. e4 Ng7 23. Qa4 a6 24. Nc3 Ne8 25. bxc5 dxc5 26. Nxe8
Rhxe8 27. Qxa6 exd5 28. exd5 Nf5 29. Rb6 Nd6 30. Rfb1 Re7 31. Nb5 Nxb5 32.
R1xb5 Rdd7 33. Ra5 1-0[/pgn]
At the end of the camp, we finally got to finish the blitz tournament that took too long before the break. When it was time for the championship game we all crowded around the board: it was Wesley Wang vs the winner of the bullet, Aydin Turgit. The game started and it was crazy; Wesley sacked his rook early on in the game for an attack and made Aydin spend much of his valuable three minutes thinking about his defense. Early on it looked like Wesley might checkmate Aydin, but Aydin played a very tricky combination and traded queens, stopping Wesley’s attack. I was almost certain Aydin would win, but with his dwindling time, Aydin blundered and Wesley won in a completely drawn position. The ice was broken by a handshake and everyone sighed. All the tension was gone, and now it was time for some fun.

Earlier that day, Greg had scheduled a pool party. We had a blast at the pool playing a bunch of pool games like Sharks and Minnows, and Marco Polo. Here is a photo from the pool.


On the Official U.S. Chess School Twitter, you can find more videos and information about the camp. 

Day 4:

Today was the last day of camp and I had to leave early because I had school the next day. I had one last lesson from Armen, and he decided that he would give us an intuition test. This one was very different. We had one minute to solve each of the ten problems and then after we wrote our answers, we would have an additional five minutes to calculate lines and write another answer. This test would help us see if we should trust our intuition, or if we should calculate further to find the best move. 13466444_1123309724357789_8484982448194921839_nThe last stop of the camp was the downstairs area. That is where all of the filming is done, where GM Maurice Ashley does his interviews, and where Jennifer Shahade and Yasser Seirawan commentate on the games in progress. There is even the famous brown couch that you see on TV (although it looks more comfy on TV). The best part of the trip downstairs was getting to film our own analysis of a made up game live from the Saint Louis Chess Club. If you want to check out the video, it is on U.S Chess School’s twitter. As it turned out, our flight got delayed 4 hours! We could have stayed for the simul and finished camp if we had known that. As we waited, about two hours later, the Shumans came to the airport and saw us at the gate. Nate and I played around for I while.  Then more people came -- it was Evelyn Zhou and Nastassja Matus. I guess I was still in St. Louis. We played bughouse for a while and then our gate started handing out pizza since the plane was so delayed! My mom and I then got on our flight and at 2:00 in the morning got home.

Special thanks to the Schein-Friedman Foundation, the U.S Chess School, the St. Louis Chess Club, Greg, Aviv, Armen, and everyone that worked to enable us to stay at this wonderful hotel, use this incredible chess club, and have this amazing camp free of charge. Thank you.

13501950_1123309767691118_3699803003532450381_n Jason Wang

Stay posted on the US Chess School on their homepage, twitter and facebook. 

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