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Teaching Tennis and Chess: Is There a Link?

The French Open is in full swing. The action is heating up on the clay courts of Roland Garros. Rafael Nadal looks poised to win another trophy there as history shows him to be a dominant clay player. After seven losses in a row he has beaten Djokovic on clay twice this year. Djokovic, himself, is struggling against the Italian Andreas Seppi (as I’m writing these lines) who won the first two sets of their Sunday match.

So it seems appropriate to look at chess and tennis and how they may go hand in hand. This is a story about Jim Egerton, instructor of tennis and chess who combines his two loves to teach the games from a different perspective…

Teaching chess and tennis: there is a strong connection

Chess, art work by Yuri Sultanov

Game, set, checkmate

Jim Egerton has seen chess reach out and grab students of all ages. The game is their chance to control something, he believes. He also knows mastering chess can help in the world of business.

“Chess is about making critical decisions. There are no surprises,” he said. “It’s all there before you, and if you don’t see it and your opponent does, then your opponent is better than you.”

Now Egerton is trying to apply the benefits of chess to the sport of tennis — and make a business of it. He owns Chess-Now Ltd. in Glen Ellyn, with plans to teach tennis coaches and players nationwide how to use chess to better their games.

He and John Bremner, tennis director at the Wheaton Sports Center, will present a program called “Checkmate — Teach Your Players to Build Strategies Like a Chess Game,” at the Professional Tennis Registry symposium this month at Hilton Head, S.C. The Professional Tennis Registry is the largest tennis teachers organization in the world.

Egerton long has been a teacher of chess at parks, schools and libraries. Betty Roth, a program manager for the Naperville Park District, describes Egerton as “sharp and intuitive, a top-notch teacher” whose programs are well attended. She said beginner students frequently return for the advanced session.

Roth was so intrigued by Egerton’s plans to connect chess and tennis that she introduced him to the Park District’s tennis coordinator, Susan Kursar. With Egerton’s help, the Naperville Park District is planning a summer tennis program that incorporates chess.

“We are trying to develop a class, ‘From the Chess Board to the Tennis Court,'” Kursar said. “I think it’s a win-win for the tennis and chess players. A lot of chess moves are similar to tennis strategies. We’re thinking we will spend 45 minutes in the classroom on chess, and 45 minutes on the tennis court. I’m excited about it.”

Tennis strategy through freedom of movement

Le tennis, art work by Charles Lapicque. Obsession by the movement

Egerton was playing chess in third grade and became so captivated with the game that in 1971 he started the chess club at West Leyden High School in Northlake. That year he won the Illinois High School chess championship. It was the year before Bobby Fischer won the world chess championship and the country’s interest in chess exploded.

Now 55, Egerton competes in three national tournaments a year and has a master’s rating in postal chess. But his career path led him from teaching math to the corporate world, earning master’s degrees in finance and human resources along the way.

In 2004, after 20 years in global banking and business information technology, he told his wife, Nancy, “It’s time to start the chess now.” That’s where the company started, and that’s how he got back into teaching.

He teaches 20 to 25 groups a month in various chess enrichment programs. Some are drop-in sessions where children and adults seek advice and a chance at a new opponent. Others are beginner or advanced lessons. He also gives private lessons to students who are trying to up their game for competition.

He believes children are fascinated with the game because in chess they get to make their own decisions. Away from the board, they are told what to do: Get dressed. Do your homework. Eat your supper.

Charles Lapicque, artist and scientist used tennis to express the freedom of action

Another painting from Charles Lapicque’s Le Tennis series. Looking for freedom of movement

“In the game of chess, children get to say, ‘You go there, and that’s my final answer,'” Egerton said. “They are suddenly the boss, but they also discover that when they make a decision, they have to stick by it. There is no taking it back in chess. A bad decision can send your hard work up the chimney, just as it can in life.”

Egerton and Bremner met when Egerton taught Bremner’s son in a chess club, and then again when Egerton became certified as a tennis teacher. Egerton has conducted some chess-tennis programs at the sports center, and Bremner is a believer in the crossover.

A big challenge with students of tennis and chess is that they do not know how to close the match, the men said. That is just one point where their lessons come in handy.

“A lot of my students don’t plan their point. They react. You have to think two or three shots ahead to be better prepared,” Bremner said. “There are a lot of decisions to make in tennis. And patience, learning patience is key. Students oftentimes lose patience in a match, tennis or chess.”

Egerton hears tennis commentators often say, “We’ve got a real chess match going on here today.” He hopes to capitalize on what he sees as the obvious connection.

Original article by Joan Cary was published in the Chicago Tribune, February 17, 2010

Related articles:

– Jim Egerton, Chess – A practice court for the mind (from Tennis Pro – The International Magazine for PTR Tennis Teachers and Coaches, Vol XIX, No. 6)

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How Many Letters Has Chess Alphabet? Four. What Are They?

The answer: A, P, R and B. If you are still a bit confused, read on…

* * *

The whole is more than the sum of its parts.” Aristotle

* * *

Last time we have discussed some attributes of chessmen which possess and use power in space and time, as parts of a complex system, to achieve a shared goal – to withstand and possibly to feed our hard-wired impulse to triumph.

However, properties of any given system (physical, chemical, biological, social, linguistic) cannot be determined or explained alone by its component parts and their attributes (for example, how they make movements.) Instead, the nature and behavior of the system as a whole emerges from interactions between the parts of which the system is made.

Interaction is a kind of action that occurs as two or more components have an effect upon one another. A closely related term is interconnectivity, which deals with interactions of interactions within a system: combinations of many simple interactions can lead to surprising phenomena at a new integrative level emerging on preexisting phenomena of lower level(s). Think chess.

Surprisingly complex chess phenomena emerging on relatively simple basic interactions at lower levels

Other examples may include interconnectivity of atoms and molecules emerging on the fundamental interaction of elementary particles, or consciousness emerging on nervous system.

Another example at the social level: the modern world with globalization and the IT revolution has gone to hyper-connected thanks to Internet, wireless connectivity, Google, Facebook, Twitter. This, in turn, brings new possibilities and determines how different groups and teams with their “collective intelligence” behave, showing that such intelligence extends beyond the cognitive abilities of the groups’ individual members.

Features of the group are more important than features of the individuals that make up the group for determining outcomes. It is like creating some beneficial collective energy that contributes to the success of the team.

The same goes in chess. What starts with a definite number of pieces and a small number of rules generate surprising complexity which escapes our rational analysis and full understanding. On dynamic interconnectivity and interplay of pieces, emerge some new collective properties at higher integrative levels.

These interactions between pieces range from four elementary ones we are going to cover here, to highly complex ones, urging a world chess champion to say that coordinated action of pieces is a main chess principle that runs throughout, Capablanca, My Chess Career.

* * *

Interrelationships between pieces are spatial and functional.

Surprisingly, all interactions are spacial in nature and based on geometry of the line segment. Four functional relationships are much more important for understanding and getting the meaning out of the system, but they all can still be traced back to this elementary geometric pattern of the line segment.

There are four basic relationships in chess: attacking, protecting, restricting and blocking contact. Any position in chess consists of these basic contacts. In the pursuit of understanding, we break things down into ever smaller bits. And this works, to some extent… However, putting things back together in order to understand chess as a whole is harder, not to say almost impossible.

1. Letter A (Attacking contact)

Attack is the generic contact in chess. Geometrically speaking, it is a line segment defined with two endpoints: that of attacking piece and either an empty square, or an enemy unit.

A for Attack

2. Letter P (Protecting contact)

Protecting contact does not actually protect the friendly piece from capture by the enemy. It merely allows the protecting piece to possibly recapture by establishing an attacking contact with the friendly piece post.

P for Protection

3. Letter R (Restricting contact)

The restricting contact is also reducible to the generic attacking contact. In the example below, the black king is restricted to go to squares d6, d7 and d8, as they are under attack from the rook.

R for Restriction

4. Letter B (Blocking contact)

All three contacts so far involved two pieces, or one piece and a square. Interposition, or pin,  features three pieces: attacker (Rd1), blocker (Pd5), and actual target (Kd6). Pin is actually a double contact. It consists of a direct attack (Rd1->Pd5) and a threat of attack (Rd1->Kd6) which in reality is an indirect, or concealed attack, just one move away from becoming an actual attack (you can find out more on all levels of chess hierarchy here)

B for Blocking (Interposition, or Pin)

And that is all!

All chess revolves around these four letters of the chess alphabet. The meaning of any chess position is coded with some combination of the letters A, P, R and B in the same way that the meaning of words and sentences lies in the sequence of alphabet letters.

* * *

It becomes perfectly clear now that we should start teaching and learning the game by introducing the chess alphabet first. Not individual moves. The good thing is that pieces make movements along lines of fire, or contacts anyway(with partial exception of the pawn, of course.)

In the same way that you never think of alphabet letters consciously when you read or write, the chess alphabet should become your second nature too. Your brain’s mind’s eye should see all board contacts effortlessly. This is what we call good chess vision.

Nimzovich was right…

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I give a 30-minute free consultation on how to get started in chess most effectively to get your game on the fast track. Forget about a boring and confusing 30-page introduction with all those rules on how pieces move, en-passant, 50-move draw, threefold repetition rule etc., most chess books start with.

Let’s go right away to the heart and core of the whole chess thing…

You may contact me at iPlayooChess(at)gmail(dot)com

What is CoG in Chess Actually? Interestingly, US Military is Using the Same Concept Too

According to U.S. Army Doctrine for Joint Planning Operations, CoG is “those characteristics, capabilities, or localities from which a military force derives its freedom of action, physical strength, or will to fight.” (Now, chess people, just replace a military force with a chess force, okay?)

US military doctrine is using the CoG concept that is developed by Prussian strategist Carl von Clausewitz. “Out of the characteristics [of the conflict] a certain center of gravity develops, the hub of all power and movement, on which everything depends. That is the point against which all our energies should be directed.”

Chess students defining the concept of the center are like blind men describing an elephant. They know the center is huge one, but they describe it according to their own understanding. “The center [of gravity] is too important a concept to guess at,” Colonel Dale C. Eikmeier, U.S. Army, assures us. It’s OK Colonel, we’ll take a look at it and revisit the chess center again in this post (only I’m not quite sure should we report back to him?)

The center in the traditional chess doctrine

Under a common definition in the chess doctrine, centralized pieces are: (1) more active and having greater fighting value (=activity), and (2) can be quickly transferred to either of the flanks (=mobility), which makes the center the most important place on the whole chessboard.

True, but once again we look at one of critical concepts in chess too simplistically.

Stronghold, by Samuel Bak (see how the enemy is drowning after failing against our stronghold constructed in the right of the picture? and this Bak guy is so helpful for us to see chess concepts! after seeing this picture you'll never ever forget how strong points are vital for your battles)

As we know, every complex system consists of:

  1. Parts
  2. Interrelations
  3. Goal, or purpose

In very much the same way as we start teaching chess with a focus on individual piece movements, we make another similar mistake by looking at the center in terms of individual parts only. We are ignoring (2) and (3) above, conveying an amputated view of chess reality.

Let’s try to come up with a better view by using what we’ve already covered in this blog: strategy, attack and defense, piece harmony — we need them all to bring forward a more adequate definition of the role of the center.

Act from the position of strength!

Let’s start with Sun Tzu:

“One attacks when his strength is abundant. One defends when his strength is inadequate.”

To possibly accomplish the goal of the game and win, it is clear from above that we need to act from the position of strength.

How do we achieve this? By building up a strong structure in the center of the battlefield. We want a source of power from which our chess forces derive physical strength and freedom of action to act. We want to establish a source of power that will provide strategic focus and order (think coordination of troops) for our army. The center gives our fighting forces unity and cohesion.

How is the strength, or structure we are talking about built up? It is done by constructing a strong point in the center. For White it is either e4 or d4. Black may oppose it by a similar strong post at d5, which should be well protected, say, with this set-up: pawns at e6 and c6, Nf6 and Qd8, as in Queen’s gambit, so it can’t be easily destroyed. And all this should be part of the strategy implemented.

(By the way, have you noticed that strength, structure, construct, strong, destroy, and strategy all derive from the same Indo-european root? — Latin structura, past participle of the verb struere, meaning pile up, heap up, build! — it’s all about building up strength!)

And this strength in the center is not about locality only. All forces, from the opening till deep in the middle game, are directed toward the center where a great deal of power is concentrated. Additionally, forces should achieve effective coordination (think d5, c6, e6, Nf6, Qd8 set up) during the battle for the center. So CoG is about locality, and concentration of power, and coordination of troops!

All this is in sync with Nimtzovich’s overprotection concept where we should systematically overprotect our own strategically important strong points from which our entire position receives energy and vitality.

* * *

To recap, CoG, or Center of Gravity, is a chess source of strength, power and resistance. It creates a critical capability (superiority, usually in the middle board, in terms of space,  maneuverability, power, and piece harmony) that allows the player to act effectively and accomplish the aim.

* * *

Next time more about the center from the perspective of strategy and its main principles and how attack and defense fit in.

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I give a 30-minute free consultation on how to get started in chess most effectively to get your game on the fast track. Forget about a boring and confusing 30-page introduction with all those rules on how pieces move, en-passant, 50-move draw, threefold repetition rule etc., most chess books start with.

Let’s go right away to the heart and core of the whole chess thing…

You may contact me at iPlayooChess(at)gmail(dot)com

What is “Chess Pendulum”?

The main principle of strategy has been known (at least in written records) since VI century BC: Forestall the enemy’s plans, fight their own strategy, Sun Tzu, our venerable consultant on matters of strategy.

Then in the year 1645, a Japanese samurai warrior, Miyamoto Musashi, expressed the very same idea this way:

Whatever the enemy tries to bring about in the fight, you will see in advance and suppress it. When the opponent attempts to execute his (sword) move, frustrate it from the onset, make whatever the opponent is trying to accomplish of no use, and achieve the freedom with which to lead the opponent about.

He might have played Shogi, but all the chess strategists should now stand up and bow down to this man:

Miyamoto Musashi, The Master

Hey, those guys did know a thing or two about strategy, huh?

This principle has never ever failed in any conflict: war, business, sports, chess, you name it.

Any expectation, any intention by the opponent, any sign of activity that may develop into something harmful is to be disrupted at the root by all available tactical means (tactics are just building blocks of strategy).

Quite naturally, we should just follow this golden rule in chess, the game of strategy, right?

Yes, but not many of the rest of us do.

Why is it? Why we don’t start teaching this simple cardinal principle from the onset, so it becomes part of our chess instinct? The concept has already been known to the powerful subconscious brain (they also call it “primitive”, o sancta simplicitas! it’s much, much smarter than you ever thought it could be). Buried deeply inside your subconsciousness, acquired through past experiences from sports, war movies we watched without a blink – at least boys – it’s been just waiting there for you to activate it. For you to become a winner.

(I’m afraid, I must keep repeating this over and over again as this is the single most important thing that you will ever need in chess, business, or sports, and, for that matter, any other competition for a life time!!)

***

Okay, we know what’s the main principle. But what’s the “chess pendulum” anyway?

Actually, it’s one of many “small” strategies. We need to learn them too. FM Anatoly Terekhin has collected more than 120 (in Strategic Methods in Chess, Samara, 2005, ISBN 5-9900489-1-2, he presented nine of them).

In my latest post on grand scheme of hierarchy in chess few major strategies were mentioned in the strategic level (E).

One of them was weakening of the enemy position (E6). It’s a potent weapon with different flavors and today we’re going to demonstrate a method called “chess pendulum”. Chess what?

I’ve asked IM Ashot Nadanian, the second of the #3 in the world, GM Levon Aronian, to best translate Russian “маяатник” in this context for us. In my mother tongue (Serbo-Croatian, an old relative of Russian) there’s a similar verb with a meaning “to annoy someone”. But pendulum fits in perfectly.

At the same time we’ll take a quick look at another strategy: trading your “bad” pieces for the enemy “good” ones (E4). Also very, very important, another biggie (there’s hardly ever an equal trade in chess. One side or another almost always gains some advantage. If only we could learn how and when to do it, we all would be much better players. So train your subconscious brain engine to watch closely whenever an exchange happens in a GM game you may go over. Try to figure out why they went for it and what kind of advantage they may have gained. That way you will learn a lot).

* * *

Back to the pendulum. It’s a close relative of the “vanishing move” strategy, with the same goal – to weaken the opponent’s position. In a different form though:

The piece returns to the original square, giving over the right of move to the other side, but the position has changed favorably (in contrast with the vanishing move, all pieces may do the pendulum, not just Bishop).

To demonstrate, here’s a position two chess legends played almost hundred years ago (just en-passant, study primitive classics!):

Capablanca - Alekhin, St Petersburg 1913, after 11...Nb6

12. Ng5!

“Forcing the Black to play g7-g6, which will weaken his K-side and make holes for the White’s dark-squared Bishop”, Capablanca, My Chess Career.

12. …g6 13. Ngf3

Capablanca - Alekhin, after 13.Ngf3

The pendulum operation carried out. Weaknesses inflicted. At the same time “this move is making room for the Queen’s Bishop. White could have also played 13.Qe2 and if  13…Qxd4 14.Ngf3 followed by Bh6  and Ng5 with a violent attack”, Capablanca.

13. …Kg7 14. Bg5 Nbd5 15. Rac1 Bd7 16. Qd2 Ng8 17. Bxe7 Qxe7

Capablanca - Alekhin, after 17...Qxe7

18. Be4!

“This move I considered a very long time. It looks very simple and inoffensive, yet it is the foundation of the whole attack against Black’s position. The fact is that the Bishop is doing very little, while the black Nd5 is the key to Black’s defense, hence the necessity of exchanging the almost useless Bishop for a most valuable Knight”, Capablanca.

18. …Bb5 19. Rfe1 Qd6 20. Bxd5 exd5 21. Qa5 a6 22. Qc7 Qxc7 23. Rxc7 h6 24. Rxb7 Rac8 25. b3 Rc2 26. a4 Be2 27. Nh4 h5 28. Nhxg6 Re8 29. Rxf7+ Kh6 30. f4 a5 31. Nh4 Rxe5 32. fxe5 Kg5 33. g3 Kg4 34. Rg7+ Kh3 35. Ng2 1-0

***

Let me be perfectly clear. There are two things that should become your first instinct in chess, an indispensable part of everybody’s subconscious, strong chess vision engine, so you never ever again even have a slightest thought about it:

1. Strategy #1

2. Basic chess contacts

Period.

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Comments and suggestions welcome.

I give a 30-minute free consultation on how to get started in chess most effectively to get your game on the fast track. Forget about a boring and confusing 30-page introduction with all those rules on how pieces move, en-passant, 50-move draw, threefold repetition etc. every chess book starts with.

Let’s go right away to the heart and core of the whole chess thing…

You may contact me at iPlayooChess(at)gmail(dot)com

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