In a decade or so, powerful community leaders may look back to an Athens nonprofit remembering where they first gained the confidence, curiosity and passion needed to make a difference. Local nonprofit Chess and Community works closely with Athens youth by pairing games of chess with mentorship, dramatically changing the lives of kids and empowering them for future success.

The organization has come a long way since poet and social worker Lemuel “Life” Laroche started playing chess with kids five years ago, and is now expecting over 500 attendees to celebrate its 5th Annual Conference this January.

“When I started working with the kids, we used to just eat pizza and play chess. Whenever they were frustrated, they would call me and say ‘let’s play chess’ and I would just play chess with them and help them through whatever issues they were struggling with,” Laroche said.

When Laroche was younger, community elders taught him patience and critical thinking skills through games of chess. Through mirroring the games with which he grew up, Laroche hopes to help other kids gain empowering knowledge that will help them avoid cycles of under-education and poverty common to the Athens area.

Besides playing chess, the group goes kayaking, backpacking, holds debates, has a summer book club and has even visited Stone Mountain and Washington D.C. together. This summer, a select group of eight children will have the chance to visit Ethiopia for 20 days, expanding their cultural perspectives to encompass societies very different from their own.

Kids involved in the program are called the Classic City Knights, and experience an atmosphere of encouragement and brotherhood through their participation in Chess and Community.

“At first I wasn’t really into chess, but then I got into the group and it was fun. I made a lot of friends,” said Classic City Knight, Jaishon Richards.

Yolanda Parker, Richard’s mother, noted that he has been more confident and has developed good values and friendships since joining Chess and Community in 2015.

“It gives a good groundwork for him to reflect back on if he is slipping with his grades,” Parker said.

The largest chess tournament of the year will be held at the 5th Annual Chess and Community Conference in coordination with the UGA School of Social Work.

More than 150 kids from all over the country are expected to participate in the tournament, forming a friendly competitive atmosphere for the players to socialize and get to know each other. Notably, the conference hosts an impressive Justice Served chess match where local kids have the opportunity to play against Athens police officers, connecting the two groups on a personal level during the friendly match.

Other than police officers, the kids will play a match against Athens commissioners, giving them the opportunity to ask questions about the community and start networking with powerful individuals at a young age. UGA football players will also attend the conference and compete with the kids— an exciting prospect for Classic City Knights who dream of becoming future bulldogs.

Just like the organization Chess and Community, the annual conference isn’t solely focused on playing games of chess.

Accomplished speakers will present at the conference to inspire young locals of ways they can use their unique abilities to make a difference in the world. The special guests include a young entrepreneur from Athens called Lil Ice-Cream Dude, the mayor of Tallahassee and the Athens City Manager.

In addition, $1,000 college scholarships called Think Before You Move, will be presented to four local high schoolers who wrote essays best answering the question of which changes they’d like to see implemented in the Athens community within the next 20 years.

Laroche feels it’s valuable to include high schoolers in conversations about a 20-year vision for Athens because when they grow up, they will be the ones living with the choices that are made. Ideally, if current Classic City Knights end up in Athens’ leadership roles, they’ll have the tremendous ability to implement changes they feel most passionate about.

“Everything at the conference is designed to get the kids thinking ‘wow, maybe I can have some impact in my community now and 20 years from now,’” Laroche said.
“Everything at the conference is designed to get the kids thinking ‘wow, maybe I can have some impact in my community now and 20 years from now.’”
– Lemuel “Life” Laroche

While the kids are playing chess, visitors at the conference are encouraged to enjoy an art display hosted by Assistant Director of Chess and Community, Broderick Flanigan. The art is submitted by talented young creatives from local middle and high schools, and entered in a competition surrounding the theme of envisioning an ideal Athens in the future.

Flanigan feels that similar to the game of chess, the practice of creating artwork can also teach values of patience, planning and creative problem solving.

“The design of creating artwork uses critical thinking of what steps are needed to complete the piece, but a lot of people don’t think about art like that,” Flanigan said.

By showcasing talent, ideas and inspiration, Chess and Community hopes that the annual conferences will not only be a way to bring revenue into Athens, but also a way to bring teams from all over the world into the city to compete, bringing an international awareness to the community.

The 5th Annual Chess and Community Conference will be held Jan. 7 in Tate Center Grand Hall from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The event is free of charge, open to the public and lunch will be served halfway through the conference. The organization hopes participation in the Classic City Knights and community involvement will continue to grow in the coming years.

Laroche feels there is no shortage of places for passionate locals to volunteer. Thus, making a positive difference in the lives of local kids by connecting them to each other as well as shining a light on opportunities in the world surrounding them.

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Feb 12, 2017

Women’s World Chess Championship 2017 in Iran

After facing a lot of criticism, boycotts and controversies, the Women’s World Chess Championship is about to kick off on Saturday in the Iranian capital of Tehran. Following FIDE’s decision to host the championship in Iran in September last year, there had been a wave of criticism against the venue since playing in Iran will require participants to wear ‘hijab’ or a head scarf in public. Failure to adhere to this could lead to fine or imprisonment.

However, despite all the criticism and protests, FIDE has stood by its decision and the tournament will be played from 11 February to 5 March in a 64-player knockout format. Each player will indulge in a mini-match of two games against their opponent. If the match ends in a 1:1 tie then they will go to the rapids (25 mins + 10 sec increment), before finally moving to the blitz.

While many female players have chosen to avoid putting on the obligatory uniform by withdrawing from the event, the tournament boasts of a strong league of female players with Ju Wenjun from China being the top seed. The Indian charge will be led by IM Harika Dronavalli and IM Padmini Rout.

Below is the 1-st round results:

The top seeds gradually overcame the tough opposition being shown on all boards but one can see from the above that the gap is not so wide and WGM Mona Khaled from Egypt was the first big surprise, upsetting number one Georgian player, GM Nana Dzagnidze, with black ! Overall fourteen draws reflected the nervousness of the first game as the regulations of the World Championship allow the competitiors to design their own match strategy and draws are allowed at any time in the game.

Harika, with a rating of 2539, is the fourth seed at the event. She faces Bangladesh number one Shamima Akhtar Liza (2077) in the first round. With an Elo difference of nearly 450 points, this won’t be such a tough match for Harika. Round two will be much more interesting as she will take on the winner of Dinara Saduakassova (2428) and Marina Nechaeva (2408).

Regarding the hijab controversy Harika said, “Of course, it is not comfortable to play with head scarves but for me the most important thing is the World Championship so wherever it happens, it doesn’t concern me much.”

Padmini Rout, the other Indian in the fray, will have a tough first round battle against Armenian number one Elina Danielian. Elina has been in the world’s elite players for many years now and is a full-fledged grandmaster. Both of them had played against each other in Bhubaneshwar Women’s Cup in 2013 and Danielian had emerged as the winner. But it has been four years since 2013, and now Padmini is a much stronger player. This will be a very interesting match to follow and if Rout manages to overcome this hurdle, she will most probably face the eighth seed Zhao Xue in the second round.

Padmini would be playing at such an event for the first time in her career. Speaking to Firstpost, she said, “I have played many times in Iran before! So wearing a head scarf won’t be a new thing and I am just too happy to have got this opportunity to play and that the tournament is finally taking place.” She further added, “Iran organizes well. It’s not very comfortable to play with a head scarf, but okay, nothing to miss a World Championship for.”

Despite its strong field of participants, the championship does seem to be incomplete due to the absence of some of the elites of the circuit. Although the reasons given by these players for backing out are manifold, they all seem to be connected with the venue in most cases.

Following FIDE’s decision to go with Iran as the host for the WWCC 2017, Nazi Paikidze was the first one to lash out and protest against playing in Tehran saying she would “rather risk her career than being forced to wear a hijab”.

The women’s world number 6, Mariya Muzychuk, also backed out from playing in Iran since she thinks it is not a suitable country for holding such a prestigious event.

Hou Yifan, current World Champion and highest-rated female in the world, decided not to participate in the championship as she did not like the current two round knock-out format to decide the Women’s World Champion and thought it is mostly a lottery, since if you lose the first game, there are good chances of being eliminated.

The Indian number one, Humpy Koneru, has also decided against participating in the event. Although no reasons are known yet, she had been quoted saying she felt “uncomfortable” while playing in Iran at the Grand Prix last year.

“I went to Iran for the first time this year to play in the FIDE Grand Prix. For a few days it was a bit awkward to play with the head scarf, but slowly I got used to it. I feel we need to respect their culture and customs,” she said. It is unclear why Humpy has withdrawn from the event.

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While many have expressed their displeasure with the venue, it must be noted that Iran was the only country which had put a bid to host the Women’s World Chess Championship. Besides, as the 2015 Asian Continental Champion from Iran, WGM Mitra Hejazipour, pointed out, “These games are important for women in Iran; it’s an opportunity for us to show our strength.”

Whatever might be the argument of the debate, fact remains that the championship is going to take place. And with a line-up of such strong participants which includes several former world champions and other bigwigs of the royal game, the tournament promises some rich chess content.
See also:

  • Official website
  • All the games with computer analysis on chess24

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Apr 24, 2018

Topalov and Carlsen strike at Shamkir Chess

Veselin Topalov is the sole leader of the Gashimov Memorial on the first rest day after he brought an end to the draw curse by scoring consecutive wins over Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and David Navara. He now has to look over his shoulder, though, since Magnus Carlsen is also off the mark. Both the World Champion’s choice of opening and the way he played the game to beat Radek Wojtaszek in Round 5 was a silent tribute to Vugar Gashimov.

Magnus Carlsen quipped, “We’re both in the lead, what’s not to like?” while Teimour Radjabov explained he’d done better with the black pieces against the World Champion and, given the importance of rating points, couldn’t simply play for the crowd: “You’re entertaining the public and then you don’t get any invitations in the end!”

Karjakin-Carlsen will be a warm-up for Carlsen-Topalov in Round 7, which is currently looking as though it could decide the tournament. Follow all the Shamkir Chess action from 13:00 CEST on Wednesday!

See also:

  • Official website
  • All the Shamkir Chess games with computer analysis on chess24
  • Mamedyarov on the Candidates and Shamkir
  • Shamkir Chess 1: Carlsen and Mamedyarov draw
  • Shamkir Chess 2-3: Why all the draws?
Jan 13, 2017

Analyzing your games is one of the main ways of improving in chess

Analyzing your games is one of the main ways of improving in chess. During this procedure you will be able to pinpoint your typical mistakes, as well as weaknesses & strengths. Your games are your business card in the world of chess.

Each person has their own approach to game analysis. Nevertheless, there are some common traits. When communicating with other chess players, I often learn new interesting ideas. The article offers some of the methods for you to consider.

There are two types of analysis – preliminary and deep. The first type is performed right after the game has been played, before the next round. The second one takes place after the end of the tournament.

Preliminary analysis

After the game has been played, it is useful to discuss it with the opponent. Nowadays this tradition is becoming less popular for a number of reasons. One of the common arguments is “why should I care what the patzer thinks, if I can go home and have the engine show me the right options?”. This snobbish reasoning doesn’t make much sense, because we humans learn by exchanging ideas and comparing opinions. If you understand why your partner made a good/bad move, it will help you much more than if you just take a look at the line suggested by your engine. Also, computers don’t give practical advice (“here you had weak light squares, so I decided to trade bishops and fix your pawns on certain squares to attack them in the upcoming endgame”). An interpreter is required to explain the ideas behind computer’s moves. At the recent Grand Prix in London you might have seen the world’s leading players hold post-mortem discussions. Notably, men are more likely to analyze games together than women. Of course, it is important not to overdo. For example, if you are playing in a demanding tournament (many rounds, 2 games per day), you might need to save yourself some time and energy. Try to find the right balance.

Second round: preliminary analysis at home (hotel room). Optimally, you should have a chess engine and a coach/second/friend to discuss the game with. Sometimes you can skip the post-mortem with your opponent, but this second round is a must. Don’t get too carried away: at this stage your goal is to fix some critical mistakes (bad time management, forgotten opening lines, poor tactics vision, etc.) in order to avoid them in the following rounds. Important: you have to review ALL the games. Some people think that if they won quickly, then there is nothing to look at – everything was great. Or, another shortcoming, some people don’t want to review their losses, because it depresses them. A strong chess player should be merciless towards himself, but in a constructive way: don’t blame yourself, just try to perform better next time.

How does one analyze? There are many options. Some people write down their emotions and plans that they had in mind during the game. Others simply jot down the main lines they had been calculating. It depends on your working style and on the amount of time that you have at your disposal.  Also, you should assess your emotional state before and after the game. This will help you see the whole picture. As you all know, psychology plays a vital role in chess.

After a preliminary analysis you should leave the game alone and start preparing for the next round. Don’t waste your energy on things that don’t matter anymore: “could I have saved that endgame?”, “what if I played c5 instead of e5 on move 1?”, “is there a middlegame plan that could have helped me trick the opponent?”. Also, don’t get too upset about losses/missed wins. What’s done cannot be undone. You can’t change the past, but you can affect the future.

Deep analysis

When the tournament is over, you can start working on increasing your chess mastery by correcting the weak spots in your game. Again, there are numerous ways of doing it. For example, you can start by analyzing the game yourself and then check your ideas with the chess engine. If you are lazy or don’t have enough time, you can analyze with the chess engine right away (not recommended for sub-master level). Performing some sort of automatic analysis is a strict no-no (some chess engines have those seemingly appealing modes – “the computer will take 30 seconds to review each of your moves and offer recommendations”). Your brain will degrade if you rely too much on computer evaluations. Remember that a PC won’t be at your fingertips during the tournament, so you have to learn to make choices on your own, without the guidance of our electronic assistants. Also, like I have already mentioned, we have to enhance our experience and knowledge by understanding certain principles and game situations, while computers have a unique solution to each particular situation. We can’t afford to follow in their footsteps, because our calculative skills are much worse.

During deep analysis you should find new ideas, the right continuations, outright blunders and hidden inaccuracies. Also, like a doctor, you should come up with a diagnosis: how the game proceeded, why, what “medicines” you should self-prescribe. Of course, having a coach is also helpful, because not all of us have the required expertise and objectivity.

By comparing your preliminary and deep analysis you can arrive at the right conclusions on what was going on, what you did wrong and why. Reminder: apart from the moves, ponder your psychological and physical states. Sometimes there are trivial matters that greatly affect the playing strength: you were nervous after being late for the game and having to run from the hotel room to the tournament hall; you didn’t eat well enough; your opponent won three games against you before, so your brain mentally gave up in advance, etc.

Chess is a complicated game, so even a deep analysis can sometimes include mistakes. For example, you might remember how the readers of Garry Kasparov’s “My great predecessors” books used to send him their suggestions and improvements which were included in the later editions. However, while perfection knows no limits, studying your own games carefully is the key to becoming a better player.