Pictures from the recent South African Junior Closed Chess Championships (SAJCCC 2015)

NC Chess / NK Skaak

Congratulations to all NC participants of the  SAJCCC 2015!

Participants was: Kristen Ahjum, Lize van der Walt, Mickayla Ferris, Stephan Wolfaard, Lourens Sheffer, Kiara Leitte, Savannah Ahjum, Anell Maasdorp, Jordan Ahjum, Mininke Smith, Donrique Joseph, Monique Grove, Marelize van der Walt, Bernize van der Walt, Nicole Moller and Jason Springbok.

Everyone did their best and made us proud. Full results is available on

Well done to everyone!!

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Chess and Maths – Right at the beginning

chess and maths

This is the starting position in the game of chess.

Now let me see where some very basic Mathematics can come in.  Let’s play around with some numbers in chess.  Lets start with MULTIPLICATION The board has 64 squares, each side with 8 squares. 8 multiplied by 8 = 64.

ADDITION – Each side has 16 pieces made up as follows: 8 pawns, 2 rooks, 2 Knights, 2 bishops, 1 Queen and 1 King.  16 = 8 + 2 + 2 + 2 +1 + 1.   From the time the game starts each player will keep track of the material he wins. It will add up.

DIVISION – In total there are 64 pieces, made up of 2 sets of 32. 64 divided by 2 gives us 32.

SUBTRACTION – From the 64 pieces we have if we take away 32 pieces for white, we are left with 32 pieces for black. 64 pieces – 32 white pieces = 32 32 black pieces

The Knight, which is the second piece from the right (or left) and looks like a horse, moves in an L shape. The L shape is always made up of 5 squares, which includes the starting square and landing square. The possible moves that white can make are shown below.

Can you guess how many possible first moves white can make at the beginning of the game? Let’s count. The pawns have 16 possible moves (they can each move one or two squares). Each of the knights has 2 possible moves it can make. So in total there are (16 + 2+2) 20 moves. The knight is the only piece that can jump over other pieces as shown above.

This and that on chess

Does chess really improve grades in Maths? Some studies would seem to suggest so. If that is the case, how come we do not have more kids playing chess in African schools. A number of countries have integrated chess into their curriculum. A few examples are Venezuela, Iceland, Russia, Canada and parts of USA. How come we do not have the same thing in Africa?

FOR GEEKS AND NERDS?? – One of the big challenges with chess is the way it is portrayed in popular culture. Chess is seen as a past time for nerds and geeks.  Thanks to this portrayal,  very few people want to be seen or associated with chess. Sadly we are losing out on this dynamic game of tactics and strategy. I think chess is a game that can be enjoyed by the masses but before that can happen, we must make the game accessible to everyone.

NOT SO HARD – I have been amazed by the number of people who say chess is difficult.  After a few lessons we both realise that chess is not that difficult. Most there is a another reason why someone thinks chess is so hard. It could be the way the person was introduced to the game,  lack of practice and the person who is teaching the game. This is not a hard game to learn but there are a few rules and basics to remember, as is the case with most things in life.

THE IDEA –  In Africa grades in Maths and Sciences could do with some improvement. We could introduce chess in schools as early as possible following models that have been used successfully in other countries. If the model does not work for us, we could modify it or abandon completely.  I have seen many kids playing chess and can honestly say there is a lot of potential.

EAST EUROPE TREND – A number of Eastern European countries which had a very strong chess culture have had several prominent scientists over the centuries. Is this a mere coincidence?  Several mathematicians have been fairly decent chess players.  Without any specifics my argument is not strong at all. However, I do think there is a great deal in common between chess and maths. In future articles I will give specific examples.

CHEAP – Compared to most sports and activities, chess is quite cheap.  A chess set can be a basic vinyl set of pieces and a roll up artificial leather board.  Clocks are quite expensive but beginners can do without one. Once you have invested in chess pieces, you are not likely to need one for many years. Chess could be rolled out to schools in rural and urban schools.

Chess Book for Teachers

Clyde Wolpe, a chess and backgammon coach based in South Africa, has just published a chess guide for Teachers. The book is entitled “The Perfect Chess Teacher’s Companion”.

Clyde is the 1985 South African Closed Chess Champion, and also the 2009 South African Open (WBA) Backgammon Champion. He is a regular chouette player and backgammon coach, offering one-on-one coaching over Skype (clydewolpe)

Teach them young

Teach them young

Doing endgame studies with Sean

Last week Lenny  told me about his son who was very enthusiastic about  the game of chess. The big problem was that Lenny did not have anyone to play with at school and in his neighbourhood. Lenny, who sometimes played with his son could not cope with his son’s appetite and interest for chess.

I was very keen to establish Lenny’s level in playing chess so I suggested  a game of blitz chess with Sean. Within a few minutes I had some insight into Sean’s style and level of chess.

LOVE and ENTHUSIASM – Sean is only 10 but his enthusiasm for the game is incredible. During the game Sean’s brothers were trying to disturb him but he was so focussed. This kid loves the game.

IMPATIENCE – Sean is so keen to play his moves that even before I have played my moves, he is almost touching his own pieces, too anxious and patient to play. This is something we will need to work on.

POST MORTEM – I won the quick game we played and managed to learn a things about Sean and make some conclusions. We did a post motem of the game. We actually replayed some of the moves from the game and I tried to establish what Sean had in mind when he played his moves.

REASONING ABILITY – I asked Sean each step of the way why he had played a particular move. While I did not agree with his moves, his reasoning made great sense. During our game, Sean playing black, was playing pawns on the flanks, a5 (on the queenside) and h5 (on the kingside).  The reason why he never played any in the centre was he did not know the idea or concept of the centre.

CHECKMATES – We did a number of positions on checkmates and Sean generally fared well in these positions except the positions featuring the Knight. The Knight is a peculiar piece. It moves in an L- shape, four squares in total and is the only piece that can jump or skip over other pieces.

POTENTIAL – I have no doubt that Sean has incredible potential. I presented him with his very own copy of the book ” How to play winning chess”  by John Saunders. I made him promise to read the book and I have no doubt that he will. I asked his dad to play chess as often as possible with him. During our future sessions, I will be able to see if there is any improvement. His dad was concerned about Sean’s grades in maths and his lack of concentration. I think that as Sean improves as a chess player he will be able to concentrate better. As for his grades in maths, I hope we can also tackle a few problems in maths and see where the problem might be.

After an hour or so of coaching Sean had become very restless. I decided that it was time to call an end to the lesson. One of the challenges of coaching kids not just chess but anything else is holding their interest.  We need to teach them young, when their brains can still absorb and learn so much. – The Chess Coach

Kasparov and Karpov. The 2 Ks again but on the same side!

Kasparov and Karpov on the same side!

I never thought I would see the day when former world chess Champions Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov are on the same side. Someone recently commented that in politics there are no permanent friends or enemies, just permanent interests. This seems to be very true and chess is no exception. In politics alliances are constantly being broken and formed. What is so big that could have united these once sworn enemies who are very much like chalk and cheese in many respects.

Karpov is bidding to become the first World Chess Champion to become Fide President since Max Euwe in 1978. Max Euwe presided over FIDE from 1970 to 1978. It was during the same period that the great Bobby Fischer won his match against Borris Spassky in 1972 and abandoned his title soon after despite Euwe’s efforts to facilitate a match with the challenger Anatoly Karpov. Karpov is seeking to unseat the incumbent president of Fide, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov who has indicated that he will contest the elections to be held at the 39th Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk in September this year.

PLAYING STYLES – For starters their playing styles, during their active days were very different. Kasparov was an attacking and aggressive chess player. His repertoire of openings was really for the attacking player, Sicilian Defence (he mainly played the Najdorf which is probably the sharpest line, possibly together with the Dragon, the King Indian Defence. Karpov on the other hand was renowned for his positional play. His choice of openings such as the Queen’s Indian, Queen’s Gambit, English Opening reflected this. He was predominantly a Queen’s Pawn opening player. Given a choice he preferred simple plans to complex ones. In this respect Karpov’s play was reminiscent of the great Capablanca who generally chose the simplest way to win. When Kasparov and Karpov played the same openings such as the Ruy Lopez their treatment of it was very different.

PERSONALITY – Nigel Short once described Karpov as cold and calculating. On the board Karpov was restrained, showing very little emotion over the board. On the other hand Kasparov had a reputation for intimidating opponents with his conduct at the board. Sometimes he would huff and puff like a dragon, indeed a restless character on the board. Their mannerisms over the board in a way seemed to mirror the nature of the game. The confrontational and direct approach from Kasparov against the patient and positional approach from Karpov. Off the board Kasparov was an outgoing character who was in the media a great deal. He played several matches against computers including Deep Thought, Deep Blue, Fritz and Deep Junior. I am not aware of any matches computer match by Karpov during his tenure as World Champion.

ORIGINS – Both are Russians but the similarities seem to end there. Karpov hails the Urals region of the former Soviet Union while Kasparov was born in in Baku, Azerbaijan , Soviet Union; now Azerbaijan, to an Armenian mother and Jewish father.Kasparov has considered himself to be also Armenian, Jewish and Azerbaijani. Both players passed through the hands of Mikhail Botvinnik at his chess school.

CLARITY and COMPLEXITY – It would appear that Karpov sought positions and play that offered the most clarity even thought it presented the least winning chances. Kasparov on other hand would readily plunge a game into complexity even though that could compromise his chances of winning.

THE FAVOURITE and HATED ONE – When Anatoly was world champion he enjoyed the support of the state, then Soviet Union. Kasparov however, was viewed with suspicion and had the odds stacked against him in his quest to become world champion. During the aborted 1984 – 85 World Championship between Karpov and Kasparov, the World Championship Match was stopped without explanation by the late Florence Campomanes. At the time Karpov was leading the match but the momentum had swung in Kasparov’s favour.

POLITICAL VIEWS – Kasparov and Karpov have had very different political views. Karpov was a staunch supporter of the ruling party, the Kremlin in his country. Kasparov, typical of the risks he took on the chess board, took on the president Vladimir Putin. He formed the United Civil Front movement, and joined as a member of The Other Russia, a coalition opposing the administration of Vladimir Putin. It remains to be seen whether the Kasparov – Karpov partnership will be a long lasting one or like most alliances in politics change as the situations and circumstances change. Will they remain on the same side? Only time will tell.