The powerful e5 Pawn break against the Benoni: using it as White, neutralizing it as Black

I’ve been very busy coaching chess and therefore haven’t published any chess writing lately, but I was inspired by a discussion about a chess position with Isaac, the creator of Chess Summit, to write a guest blog post there. If you love chess and want to follow the journeys of chess players who are working hard to improve their game and share their stories along the way, check out the Chess Summit site!

On finally achieving the US National Master chess title at age 45: part 1

National Master certificate

On December 18, 2015, I finally achieved the United States National Master chess title, at the relatively late age of 45 (I don’t have statistics, but I suspect the vast majority of chess players who reach National Master do so in their teens and twenties). I plan to eventually write about how I significantly improved my chess when I returned after a twenty-year break to start playing again ten years ago at age 35, and how I now teach and coach chess based on my experience in self-improvement. I will also write more about how I continue to work on self-improvement outside of chess.

For now, below is an interview that was published in the June 2016 issue of the Pittsburgh Chess Club publication, “En Passant”:


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How the X-Files reminded me of the meaning of Martin Luther King Jr.

Today was my second official celebration (with a day off from work as a holiday) of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. (I wrote last year on my first official celebration.)

For today, I not only reread MLK’s 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham jail” as I do annually, but also rewatched my single favorite X-Files episode, “Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man” from 1997.

Quite unexpectedly, this hilariously entertaining yet dark and sad episode of the TV series made a deep impression on my mind when I saw it almost twenty years ago.

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If you were this old man playing chess against a young boy, what would you have done?

I’m going to tell you a true story about an old man and a young boy (age under 10) who played a game of chess in a competitive tournament where prize money was at stake. I’d like you to think about the odd situation that occurred, while looking at it, with empathy, from different points of view:

  • the old man
  • the young boy
  • the boy’s parent
  • the tournament director, whose job is to enforce the official US Chess Federation rules of tournament chess
  • the bigger picture of the chess community
  • the biggest picture of life lessons

Given the whole story, do you think that what happened was right? Is there something you would have done differently if you had been one of the actors in the story? In particular, what would you have done as the old man?

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Accidentally discovering and performing some music by Brazilian composer Ernesto Nazareth: Coração que Sente

In November, I fell in love with some music I accidentally discovered.

What happened was that I was looking for some music for flute and guitar to play, with me on flute and one of my friends on guitar, and I did a simple search in the local library online catalog, and at the top sorted by date was “Brazilian folk tunes for flute and guitar”, which came with a CD of sample performance tracks, so I picked it up.

What followed was a series of explorations that resulted in unexpected changes in my life.

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Clever chess tactics that were not what they seemed

In round 3 of the current 6-round Pittsburgh Chess Club Tuesday night tournament, I played a very tense game that led to an unusual position with beautiful tactical possibilities. My opponent, Melih, is a strong player who is a winner of the 2015 Pittsburgh Chess Club Championship earlier this year, and had won the last two tournament games we have played, so I came into this game anxious and also thirsty for revenge.

The game proved to be very challenging for both of us. I achieved a better position out of the opening as Black but was too cautious to press more aggressively. After more than 3 hours (!) of play, we ended up in a simplified late middlegame in which I had only a small but clear advantage. We were both clearly physically and mentally exhausted, and starting to run out of time (these tournament games have a time control of 2 hours per person with a 5-second delay per move). It was up to me to try to find a way to win by inducing errors in his play.

Get ready to be quizzed!

What ended up happening was in retrospect both remarkable and comic. To maximize your entertainment as well as challenge your tactical skills, I recommend pausing at each diagrammed position below in order to ask yourself what move you would play, and why, before gradually uncovering the whole story.

Note: an interactive chess board with all variations is provided at the end of this article.

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Thoughts on learning that I have eaten English muffins wrong all my life

Today, I found out I had been eating English muffins wrong my whole life.

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The importance of stalemate in chess: how chess is completely different from life

I just saw a cute end to a top-level chess game that ended in a forced draw because the would-be losing side managed a swindle by giving away all his pieces by force in order to create a stalemate. If you don’t play chess, a stalemate is what happens when it’s your turn to move and you have no legal moves. You can claim a draw when you are totally trapped in this way. So one way of saving an otherwise losing game, when you are outnumbered and about to be checkmated (losing when your King comes under attack and it’s your move and you cannot stop the check), is to find a brilliant way to be unable to move.

Black forced a draw through being stalemated!

Is this a totally bizarre concept or what? Why was this rule of chess invented anyway? Wouldn’t it make more sense if being trapped meant losing, like it does in real life conflicts?

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How learning about the Magna Carta in high school changed my life

I couldn’t help noticing the headlines in the news lately about the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, that historical document from 1215 in England. As I write, apparently there is a celebration being held on the River Thames, even. And I just found a Web site devoted entirely to this 800th anniversary.

The Magna Carta has not been on my mind for over thirty years since I first learned about it in a social studies class in the ninth grade high school in the early 1980s. But when I think about it, the surprising truth is that learning about the Magna Carta was a turning point in my life as a new teenager (age twelve or thirteen), and the lessons I learned have informed me throughout my life.

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How Ornette Coleman changed my life

The legendary jazz musician Ornette Coleman recently died at age 85. He had not been on my radar for a long time. In fact, I never actually listened to much of his music at all.

Yet, my immediate first thought on hearing this news was, Ornette Coleman permanently changed the course of my life. How can this be?

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