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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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Winning Strategy You Should Always Follow

You have realized so far how important it is to keep your eyes open at all times in order to be able to see through the enemy’s strategy.

That’s true across the board, in warfare, sports, business. It’s like your intelligence gathering about the other army. No military General will build a battle plan without considering the enemy’s strategy first. He should interfere with it and possibly reevaluate and draw up his own plan accordingly. Only then he may head off to fight the opposing forces.

Best chess strategy is to fight theirs

Watch out for all their tricks: you better see it early than late

The bulk of your power lies in the ability to harass and exploit flaws in the other team’s strategy, or lack of it, and pounce on the mistakes.

Again, the key is that your plan implementation should always, always be combined with opposition to your opponent. That should be your craft as a Warrior.

At another, higher level of strategic thinking, you have to be preventing your competitor from disrupting your winning strategy. Prevention of prevention!

How to implement the best strategy

The game Stahlberg – Filip (Stockholm 1952) was examined last time to show the workings of the strategy #1 principle. Black didn’t pay due attention to the opponent’s plan, failing to take timely measures against it. That ultimately led to his defeat.

Just like last time, we are going to follow the commentary by Isaak Lipnitsky from his legendary Questions of modern chess theory book (Kiev, 1956). The two great champions, Bobby Fischer and Mikhail Botvinnik have used phrases like “Lipnitsky recommends,” or “in Lipnitsky’s opinion” in their writings. Fischer mentioned Lipnitsky in his My 60 Memorable games. He made such an impression on the young Bobby who even went to the lengths of learning Russian.

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Bb4 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Bg5 h6 7.Bh4 c5 8.Rc1 c4 9.Nd2 Be6 10.e3 O-O 11.Be2 Nc6 12.O-O

Stahlberg-Filip, Helsinki 1952 (after 12.O-O)

Here Black went on with his plan and played 12…a6? ignoring White’s intentions and the menacing avalanche of the white pawns on the K-side got moving. It followed (see previous post): 13.f4! Ne7 14.g4 Nh7 15.f5 Bc8 16.e4 Ng5 17.Bxg5 hxg5 18.e5 b5 19.Nf3 Nc6 20.Qd2 f6 21.exf6 gxf6 22.h4 gxh4 23.Kg2 Qd6 24.Nxh4 Ra7 25.Ng6 Rff7 26.Rh1 Rh7 27.Bf3 Rxh1 28.Rxh1 Rh7 29.Bxd5+ Kg7 30.Rxh7+ Kxh7 31.Qe3 1-0 This would not have happened to Black if he had seen the White’s plan with f2-f4 before it was too late.

Instead he should have thought about

12….Be7! 13.f4 Nd7! 14.Bxe7 (if the bishop retreats, Black plays 14…f5!)

14…Nxe7!, when the black knights are deployed very flexibly.

Stahlberg - Filip, Helsinki 1952 (Analysis)

If now 15.g4, then 15…f5! 16.g5 hxg5 17.fxg5 Ng6 with an excellent game for Black, who may later use the h-file for attacking purposes and is also threatening to break with f5-f4 in the right circumstances.

What does your success in chess depend on?

Lipnitsky again: “All depends on your ability to unravel your opponent’s plan in good time, to figure out how dangerous it is and to take the right decision accordingly. If his plan is being carried out more slowly than yours, or if for various reasons is unrealistic, then the best thing is to press straight ahead with your own plan and execute it energetically, which will make your opponent at some point to abandon his plan in order to oppose yours.”

“On the other hand, if the opponent’s plan is dangerous, you should take account of this and (re)formulate your own play accordingly. Both sides are simultaneously trying to anticipate each other’s plans and actively oppose their implementation.”

Main chess strategy always opposes that of your opponent

You don't want to take chances: kill their intentions of coming after you in good time

In the game of chess, or any other competitive arena, you should always, always try to take the wind out of the sails of competitor’s attacking ideas.

Draw the teeth from all their aggressive attempts! Nip their attacking efforts in the bud!

Djokovic or Nadal? Whose Strategy Will Work Better in Australia Open Finals?

Sports and strategy

Only a foolish king would have headed for a war with no strategy. Without strategy, success can’t be controlled. It is left to chance and simply can’t happen between opponents of equal strength. It is a fundamental truth that the strategy must be correct for you to succeed in any competitive activity like war, sport or business.

Yet, strategy that is easily used in the warfare context, is just as easily misunderstood, and sometimes, ignored, not even considered in the sports environment.

Here’s what the tennis legend Boris Becker says about the importance of strategy in tennis. [1]

Becker: Key to tennis success is chess

He argues that playing chess is the key to unlocking a mental edge on the court.

Becker revealed his love for chess and ritual of playing the game before going on court to ensure that he was mentally prepared for battle against rivals such as John McEnroe.

Strategy has upper hand over tactics

Boris Becker and Magnus Carlsen

“One thing that not many people know about me is my love for chess. I took it up as a teenager, and it always helped my tennis as a mental stimulation.”

“Like in tennis, strategy is very important in chess. It’s a one-on-one situation, and it is very important to always remain one step ahead of the opponent.

“I used to prepare for my tennis matches by playing chess, and it would get my mind stimulated and focused before going on court. It was essentially a mental warm-up.”

He added: “Mental energy is hugely important for success in tennis, and chess is the perfect way to tune the mind in to the stresses and strains of the game.

“Of the current players, Roger Federer would be the best. He thinks in the right way, always trying to stay one step ahead of his opponent and always concentrating on strategy and tactics.”

Becker is adamant that chess should be used by the current top players to gain a competitive and mental edge over their opponents.

“Many of the older players such as Ivan Lendl used to play chess, but I’m not sure if many of the modern-day players play the game,” he said.

Strategic thinking in sports

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal: The Art of Trade

“Rafael Nadal would also be good at chess because he is a strategic thinker and remains very focused on court, but Federer would be the best.

“Federer still has the hunger, desire, fitness and ability to win Grand Slams, and I can see him becoming the world’s best once more in 2012.

“Chess involves the same mental approach as tennis, and many players could improve their performance if they employed such methods to focus on the game before they go on court,” he added.

Becker believes 2011 will go down as one of the greatest ever years in men’s tennis, and puts the dramatic rise to prominence of Novak Djokovic down to his mental strength.

“Novak Djokovic, something must have exploded in his mind because he has suddenly become a much more focused, mentally strong player,” he said.

“His performance has dramatically improved over the last 12 months, and I think much of his development has been mental.

“Essentially, Djokovic is thinking much better in crucial moments of matches, and that is the key to his success.”

He added: “Andy Murray has the quality and the talent, and he must find now find this same ingredient.

“Without doubt, 2011 has been one of the best ever seasons in the history of men’s tennis and next season can be even better.”

1. Eurosport-Yahoo! Dec 6, 2011

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