Chess Blindness, Redux

Robert Pearson recently offered thought provoking suggestions re: the causes of Chess Blindness, a frustrating subject that I groused about a couple of months ago. Tim Hanke has also written extensively regarding obstacles to improvement and concrete positive steps forward. Today I’d like to add a bit more insight from my own efforts to improve my “advanced age” competitive results.

Nearly every Sunday morning I teach three one-hour group classes (Novice, Intermediate and Advanced) to students age 5 to 13 (roughly Gaussian, with median 8.75, standard deviation 1.25). “Advanced” is relative term – as known by parents and students alike, it does not equate to a Black Belt! As students graduate from the Advanced group, they are ready to play on even terms against the lower rated club players. We also used to have a Beginner class (and we teach Beginners during the week in after school programs) but found it more efficient to give a few private lessons to beginners, then have them join the Novice group. Students who have already learned how the pieces move and have “some” playing experience go directly into Novice; these students also may be vaguely familiar with pawn promotion and castling, but do not yet have the finer points. Typically, they respond with blank stares to the word “stalemate” and, of course, all of them at this level are clueless about capturing in passing. After they learn about capturing in passing, I ask them, in the spirit of Soupy Sale’s New Year’s Day Incident  to teach their parents. Promotion to the next level is not at all automatic, and is based on demonstrated progress in the classroom and playing results.

Soupy and White Fang

Soupy and White Fang

After class (or before class in the case of the Advanced group) students have supervised free play in a large room adjoining the classroom with the parents. Unfortunately, there is practically no sound abatement between the rooms. Although classroom rules are strict – no food, no talking, raise your hand, etc. what all three groups have in common is their proclivity for making noise from the playing room. There is a familiar pattern: first it is quiet, then the noise steadily builds, and then … the crescendo! After a brief but stern intervention, the process repeats … Somewhere near the end of the three hours begins the onset of my “Sunday headache.”

The Chess Club (adult members, teens and a few younger students who play open tournaments) meets starting right after the group classes. When we have open tournaments, registration (handled by my wife, Belle) typically “ends” as the last group class is ending. Then I, as Tournament Director, handle the computer entries and pairings, plus a few parent conversations, late entries, etc. and try to get the event started within15 minutes. Then, if we would otherwise have an odd number of players, I play in the event. This happens irrespective of how much sleep I got or anything else, because the alternative is to have a player sitting out with a Bye every round. This sounds so very nice of me, but perhaps the truth is that I’m a chess addict and will use any excuse to play!

At the start of each round I’m usually setting clocks for players who should have brought their own clocks, while my opponent patiently waits. My lunch arrives sometime during the second round, courtesy of Belle. It is also around this time that I begin to wonder  “Did I take my blood pressure medication?” All too often, the answer is “no,” and even more often, “I don’t remember.”

So, what does all of this have to do with Chess Blindness? Maybe nothing at all. After all, I’ve had chess blindness when not playing in my own events, with longer time controls, no classes to give, etc. Well, I submit the following game against one of my former students for its dark entertainment value.

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