It is 7am in Chicago, and the final round of the World Cadet Championship in Poçosde Caldas, Brazil is about to begin. My eyes are glued to my cell phone, watching the games live as they begin. I force myself to put my phone down and close my eyes to sleep, as I have not slept the whole night. But, how can I sleep knowing that two of my students are playing for gold?
This story is about the new Under-8 World Champion, Aren Emrikian, and Under-10 Silver Medalist, Arthur Xu. It is about how they trained to achieve their goals, and how all motivated, ambitious chess players (and their parents) can use the same strategies to achieve their goals as well.
Aren Emrikian is a seven-year-old from the Chicago area. I started coaching him when he was five. At that time, he only knew how the pieces move. Within a few lessons, I realized that he is a very bright boy. I remember very clearly an important conversation that I had with Aren when he was still only five: I asked him if he was ready to train hard, so he could become a World Champion U-8, and he replied, “We can try.” On that day, I came up with a plan of intensive, yet not overwhelming, training. For the past two years, Aren would spend at least 2-3 hours a day studying chess. This is a how a typical week would look:
4 hours of analyzing grandmaster games from classical books.
3 hours of solving chess puzzles.
3 hours working on endgame studies.
2 hours working on improvemychess.com, the online training program I developed
2-3 hours playing correspondence chess online.
1.5 hours weekly private lessons.
Bi-weekly group lessons at my chess academy; in my opinion, it is vital to collaborate with other kids.
Finally, Aren would play in an average of two rated tournaments per month.
During the September 2017 World Cadet Championship, I intensively prepared Aren Emrikian (U-8) and Arthur Xu (U-10) against their opponents. It might seem very easy to prepare against an eight or nine year old. But, the truth is, you are actually preparing against that eight or nine year old’s coach or, even, his/her team of coaches. This was the process of preparation for each round:
Step 1: Find all games available online on your opponent.
On average, you will find between 20 and 30 games which will give you some idea of what your opponent plays. You are lucky if your opponent plays some side lines or something weird. In that case, you can prepare something unexpected and strong in that weird line. Obviously, online databases and your chess engine can help you with this.
Step 2: Analyze your opponent’s games, identify his or her weaknesses and, most importantly, determine which openings he or she generally plays.
Figuring out what your opponent “generally plays” is the easy part; what really matters is figuring out what your opponent will play against you. The problem is this: Your opponent might not play what he or she “generally plays.” Why? Because, he or she also analyzed your games, and, perhaps, found your weaknesses and cracks in your openings. Knowing this, it is important that you know what information your opponent can find about you online. Make sure you know your weaknesses! For example, if you have a game online that showcases inaccuracy in the opening that you played, your opponent might want to repeat that same opening in the hopes that this inaccuracy will happen again. As you can see, knowing what is available on you can help you predict what your opponent might play. (Of course, this scenario only works in your favor if you have an improvement over your previous inaccuracy!)
Steps 1 and 2 takes time and effort, and when you are only eight or nine years old, this kind of research is nearly impossible. I took care of doing this before meeting with Aren and Arthur.
Step 3: Skype Meeting.
I would start with Aren on Skype at 5am (7am Brazil time) each morning, and we would spend an hour going over variations that are likely to happen in his game. After I finished with Aren, I would meet with Arthur to prepare in the same way.
In addition, each boy had opportunities to meet with an assigned USA chess coach, Grandmasters Robert Hungaski and John Fedorowicz on site in Brazil.
Finally, there is a huge effort behind the scenes of all the coaches and members of the delegation: all those medals and rating points don’t come easy. And, the biggest support and effort comes from kids’ parents. It is impossible to imagine any kid succeeding in chess without strong support from their parents. I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to Aren’s and Arthur’s moms, Ani and Xue.
Arthur Xu at the World Youth in Brazil
For this article, I asked Aren and Arthur to pick their favorite game and analyze it by themselves.
This game I remember very well as I was watching it live on Tuesday August 28 while having a private lesson. We were trying to predict Aren’s moves and surprisingly Aren played the best moves, not according to the chess engine of course, but at least how my student and I would play.
If properly motivated we can see that sometimes desire to win overpowers the desire to draw. In this game Mishra offered a draw twice, which would clinch him the gold medal. In my opinion under any conditions young players shall never play for a draw. To make it simple for my young students, I made a rule: “Never agree to a draw nor offer one.” This simple guidance eliminates any thinking about offering a draw or playing for a draw. It is better to lose the game and gain experience rather than agree to a draw and end the game prematurely. At this young age, kids must develop bravery and a desire to win. If you see that your kid or student is trading pieces too much, almost in every game, this is a sign that he is aiming for a “peaceful” result.
Mishra’s desire to draw is easy to understand, draw would give him a World Champion U-8 title. Analyzing Mishra’s games I see and realize how strong he is. This boy has a bright future in chess and if he continues working as hard as he is now, he might become the youngest grandmaster in the US.
Now, let’s see if Arthur and Aren’s three year age gap change their game quality and analysis.
Arthur’s general advice to youngsters is: ” I think the most important things you need to succeed in the tournament is good preparation, wise use of time, good training if not intense, a healthy condition, getting through the opening safely. And of course, make good moves.”
I truly enjoyed Arthur’s analysis. In it, we can see his understanding of prophylactic moves, understanding of the weaknesses in the opponent’s camp. His calculation and positional understanding is on a very high level, and I like how Arthur feels the initiative and does not waste time, while taking care of his own King.
Arthur started chess when he was five years old. It was five years ago when I first met him, and I certainly remember that Arthur knew how the pieces move and most of the rules (except the en passant!). I had a different strategy back in 2012: I would teach my students chess through the openings. We would go over moves and try to understand why each move was played. We never tried to memorize moves during the lesson, as Arthur could do it at home, because all our moves would be recorded in a chessbase file. Daily puzzles and playing online was a “must” home routine for Arthur. At least once a month, I would show all fundamental endgame positions and assign homework on certain endgames. Arthur also analyzed grandmaster games and played two tournaments in a month. My friends Grandmaster Dmitry Gurevich and Grandmaster Vladimir Georgiev played an important role in Arthur’s development as well.
Here is a brief list of the chess books that I recommend for chess players who are seeking to improve their game:
Understanding Chess Move by Move by John Nunn (I recommend for rating 1000-1700.)
The Mammoth Book of the World’s Greatest Chess Games by Graham Burgess, John Emms, John Nunn (I recommend for rating 1200-2300)
Quality Chess Puzzles by John K. Shaw (I recommend for rating 1000-2300)
Chess Evolution – all series by Arthur Yusupov (I recommend for rating 1500-2500)
If you are looking for an online training program, I recommend my program improvemychess.com. All my students use it in addition to their private lessons.
Aren accepting his first place trophy and medal
But back to Brazil. What happened that morning? I stayed up till 9 am, I was able to reach middlegame where both Aren and Arthur had good positions and fell asleep… That was a tough night for me; I started my research at 1 am and analyzed each game that I could find on my students’ opponents. I finished preparing at 4.30 am, right before meeting with Aren and Arthur. It paid off pretty well; we were able to avoid all opening traps and obtain very good positions. To become a World Champion, Aren would need to win his last round with black pieces against #1 seeded Mishra Abhimanyu, and he would need for a boy from Russia not to win his game. As for Arthur to become a World Champion, he would need to win or draw his game, but the tournament leader Zhou Liran would have to lose his game.
At around 11 am my fiancée woke me up and said, Aren won! and the Russian boy lost, that meant Aren is clear first! As I was waking up, I saw that Arthur drew his game and he got clear second, Zhou Liran won his game and got clear first. It was an emotional morning, huge relief came down from my chest… I went back to sleep as the happiest coach in the world…
Mesgen Amanov was born in 1986. He is a Grandmaster who has represented Turkmenistan national team in 4 Olympiads and numerous international tournaments. He graduated from Sport and Tourism University with a degree in Chess Coaching. In 2008, Mesgen moved to the USA, and now resides in Illinois. He has recorded over a hundred online video lessons for improvemychess.com