Promoting to Queens Four: The Chess Queen Zooms Anywhere She Wants

A mere month after the third meeting of “Promoting to Queens,” which took place on a yacht, our lives had been turned upside down by the pandemic.  This postponed the final meeting indefinitely. Luckily, besides the beautiful coastline and the perfect weather, Southern California is also equipped with a tireless chess devotee named Jay Stallings. Jay quickly moved the program online to keep the momentum going. The final session of Promoting to Queens started in the middle of April and lasted for four weeks. While Zoom lessons are challenging for some, I think a lot of the kids thrive in this environment; it allows the quiet, shy kids to to feel like part of the class by typing their answers in the chat instead of speaking out. The girls were split into four groups taught by Annie Wang, Sarah Lu, Eva Keshishian, Nessa Cannon, and myself. In my classes, we briefly covered the biographies of Women’s World Champions and analyzed some of their games.

[pgn] [Event "Semmering"] [Date "1937.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Vera Menchik"] [Black "Sonja Graf-Stevenson"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D46"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "r4rk1/pbq1bp2/1p2p1p1/6Np/2P3n1/2B4Q/PPB2PPP/3R1RK1 w - - 0 21"] [PlyCount "5"] [EventDate "1937.??.??"] 21. Rd7 $3 {deflecting the queen. Black resigned} (21. Qxh5 {is the most common response by children, partly due to the excitement they feel when the spot it and partly due to the lack of the habit of looking for defensive moves for their opponents} Qxh2+ $3 {an unexpected resource. A lot of the girls found it after I asked them to pause and rethink the position} 22. Qxh2 Nxh2 23. Nxe6 fxe6 24. Kxh2 {White is still doing very well, but Black can fight}) { If} 21... Qxd7 {now} 22. Qxh5 {works} gxh5 23. Bh7# 1-0 [/pgn]
The Maia Chiburdanidze game is one of my favorite examples to use in a lesson as the variations branch out and require precise calculation. It also makes a strong impression on some, as one of the girls exclaimed that she loved the lesson after we finished with the game.
[pgn] [Event "Odessa"] [Site "Odessa"] [Date "1982.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Maia Chiburdanidze"] [Black "Vladimir P Malaniuk"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D85"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "r1q1r1kb/pp3p1p/1n1P2pB/2p2bN1/8/7P/P3BPP1/1RQ1R1K1 w - - 0 22"] [PlyCount "9"] [EventDate "1982.??.??"] {[#] When we first look at the position, we immediately notice the awkward placement of the h8 bishop and the weakness of the Black king} 22. Rxb6 $3 { the f7 square is a target but a defender on the other side of the board needs to be removed first} axb6 23. Bc4 Be6 24. Rxe6 $1 {three of White's pieces can capture on e6, but in order to find this move the player needs to realize that the rook is the least valuable attacking piece in this position} fxe6 25. Qf4 Qd7 26. Bb5 $1 {changing gears and striking on the queenside to deflect the queen. This move is challenging for many young players because they aren't used to thinking of the board as one and can't easily shift the focus on the queenside when attacking on the kingside} 1-0 [/pgn]
Although the circumstances haven’t been ideal, the girls were treated to an opportunity of a lifetime, one they wouldn’t have been afforded otherwise: The Promoting to Queens program appropriately concluded with an appearance by none other than the Chess Queen herself!

Alexandra Kosteniuk, Photo courtesy Kosteniuk

Former Women’s World Champion Alexandra Kosteniuk is a great ambassador of the game and has been ahead of the curve when it comes to promoting the game. After an introduction covering the highlights of her luminous chess career, we briefly discussed the other projects she has been involved in, including her role in a movie and the “Chess is Cool” podcast. Her podcast debuted in 2005, but to this day people still listen to it and bring it up to her. Alexandra shared words of encouragement as well,  urging the girls to always aim higher, be it in chess or otherwise. She spoke extensively about the importance of discipline and hard work, emphasizing the significance of working towards a goal every single day and setting specific objectives each day to complete, instead of simply the general goal of “I am going to work on chess today.” To my surprise, she admitted to not being very disciplined herself and relying on these tools to get work done every day. Next, it was time for some chess. Alexandra shared the decision making algorithm developed and used by her chess academy. Then she went over some puzzles from a workbook in her program that applied the aforementioned 6 principles. Finally, we went over some key wins of her career and asked Alexandra to share her thought process. The Chess Queen is a great tactician, which made this part of the day quite fun for the girls. We started off with one of her most recent wins against Carissa Yip from the 2020 Cairns Cup.

[pgn] [Event "Saint Louis Cairns Cup (Women) 2nd"] [Site "Saint Louis"] [Date "2020.02.10"] [Round "4"] [White "Yip, Carissa"] [Black "Kosteniuk, Alexandra"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C43"] [WhiteElo "2412"] [BlackElo "2504"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "2r4k/6pp/4P3/1B3p2/1P1bbP2/3p2q1/R4BP1/5QK1 b - - 0 52"] [PlyCount "3"] [EventDate "2020.02.07"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "USA"] [EventCategory "11"] [SourceTitle "Mega2020 Update 18"] [Source "Chessbase"] [SourceDate "2020.02.21"] [SourceVersion "1"] [SourceVersionDate "2020.02.21"] [SourceQuality "1"] {[#]} 52... Bxg2 $3 {According to Alexandra there are several ways to win this position but she felt that the move she played was the most beatiful} (52... Rc1 {is th emost common answer and also wins but less convincingly} 53. Bxd4 Rxf1+ 54. Kxf1 Qxf4+ 55. Bf2 Qd6) {Carissa rseigned in view of} 53. Qxg2 (53. Bxd4 Bxf1+ 54. Kxf1 Rc1#) 53... Rc1# 0-1 [/pgn]
We moved on to common tactical themes that we see in books.
[pgn] [Event "RUS-ch (Women) 68th"] [Site "Satka"] [Date "2018.08.30"] [White "Kosteniuk, Alexandra"] [Black "Goryachkina, Aleksandra"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C11"] [WhiteElo "2559"] [BlackElo "2535"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "2rr3k/4Pppp/b7/pq3N2/1p6/1B1nB3/PP3QPP/4R1K1 w - - 0 25"] [PlyCount "13"] [EventDate "2018.08.24"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "11"] [EventCountry "RUS"] [EventCategory "8"] [SourceTitle "CBM 186 Extra"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "2018.08.24"] [SourceVersion "1"] [SourceVersionDate "2018.08.24"] [SourceQuality "1"] {[#]} 25. Nh6 $3 {setting up a beautiful windmill} Nxf2 (25... gxh6 26. Qf6+ Kg8 27. Bxf7#) 26. Nxf7+ {Black resigned in view of} Kg8 27. Nxd8+ Kh8 28. Nf7+ Kg8 29. Nd6+ Kh8 30. Nxb5 Bxb5 31. Bxf2 1-0[/pgn]
[pgn] [Event "Geneve Masters GpB"] [Site "Geneve"] [Date "2013.06.28"] [White "Kosteniuk, Alexandra"] [Black "Edouard, Romain"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B01"] [WhiteElo "2489"] [BlackElo "2666"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "2r1nrk1/p1qn1ppp/2N1p3/P3P3/4B3/2p3QP/1P4P1/R4RK1 w - - 0 24"] [PlyCount "3"] [EventDate "2013.06.26"] [EventType "tourn (rapid)"] [EventRounds "3"] [EventCountry "SUI"] [EventCategory "17"] [SourceTitle "CBM 155 Extra"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "2013.08.26"] [SourceVersion "1"] [SourceVersionDate "2013.08.26"] [SourceQuality "1"] {[#]} 24. Bxh7+ {a thematic sacrifice which we see in textbooks!} Kh8 25. Qh4 { Black resigned as Ne7 is checkmate regardless of where the king escapes} 1-0[/pgn]
We also went over her only win against Hou Yifan from their match in the 2008 Women’s World Championship finals. To my surprise, Alexandra didn’t consider winning the World Championship title the most important milestone of her career. She felt that her performances in team events securing Team Russian Olympiad and World Team Championship medals were more meaningful.
[pgn] [Event "Women's World Championship Knockout Tou"] [Site "Nalchik RUS"] [Date "2008.09.14"] [White "Yifan Hou"] [Black "Alexandra Kosteniuk"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C90"] [WhiteElo "2557"] [BlackElo "2510"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "8/3b1pk1/p2p2p1/1p1Pp1n1/4PqP1/P1P1NPN1/1P1p1QK1/8 b - - 0 36"] [PlyCount "25"] [EventDate "2008.09.14"] {[#]} 36... Nxf3 $1 (36... Qxe3 {the first logical move that comes to mind after we see that the knight is the only piece stopping the pawn} 37. Qxe3 d1=Q 38. Qxg5 Qc2+ 39. Kh3 Qxb2 40. Nh5+ {and Black is the one running into trouble! After calculating this line, we realize that the knight on g5 can be given away in a more favorable way}) 37. Qxf3 Bxg4 $3 {the bishop is untouchable} 38. Qf2 (38. Qxg4 Qxg4 39. Nxg4 d1=Q) (38. Nxg4 Qxf3+ 39. Kxf3 d1=Q+) 38... d1=Q 39. Nxd1 Bxd1 {Black achieved her objective and is now two pawns ahead} 40. Qe1 Bf3+ 41. Kg1 f5 42. exf5 gxf5 43. Qf2 Kg6 44. b3 e4 45. c4 bxc4 46. bxc4 Qg5 47. c5 f4 48. cxd6 fxg3 0-1[/pgn]
After some Q&A it was time to say goodbye to Alexandra and for the younger participants to move on to the online playing area. The day concluded with the special appearance by Jennifer Yu and Annie Wang, Harvard and MIT students respectively come fall. The girls in seven grade and up were treated to some excellent college application and acceptance tips from Jennifer and Annie. The main two takeaways for future college applicants are finding a program that best suits your goals regardless of the ranking of the school and showing a long commitment to an extracurricular activity. Jennifer even had three pages of notes prepared with tips from her friends who aren’t as high rated as her. While the impressive resumes of our young stars are unique, everyone can utilize their involvement in chess, whether it be playing, volunteering, or teaching. 

This program was made possible by a grant from US Chess and the St. Louis Chess Club, and most importantly by Jay Stallings, who always leads with compassion and an abundance of patience. Find out more about Jay Stallings work at Follow Tatev on twitter and read about her recent triumph in Isolated Queens here.  US Chess Women hosts weekly online classes for girls, email for more information.

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