Chess question from a celebrity fitness trainer

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How do you not get better at chess, asked celebrity trainer Vinnie Tortorich. His podcast guest, US Chess Senior Director of Strategic Communication Dan Lucas, had said that he had reached his rating ceiling. Tortorich refused to believe that Lucas was not improving at chess, since Lucas’ job immerses him in the game. Also in this article are two positions from a Mechanics’ Institute Twitch broadcast.

Twenty-five minutes into his podcast interview with US Chess Senior Director of Strategic Communication Dan Lucas, celebrity fitness trainer Vinnie Tortorich asked, “How do you not get better” at chess? Lucas said he was an “average tournament player,” rated around 1560 in the US Chess rating system for decades. Lucas admitted his online rating at blitz has crept up but insisted that he has reached his ceiling in standard, over-the-board tournament play.

Therefore, Lucas said, he turned his attention to weight loss, where his numbers are getting better. Lucas, who is 6’2”, weighed 232 pounds around Christmas of 2020, but is at 200 pounds in mid-May of 2021. Listening to Lucas made me wonder if I, too, watch the scale because its movement down is more satisfying than monitoring my chess rating. With weight loss, it’s easy to see results. Every day you eat, so can strategize which foods will help you achieve your weight loss goals. You can even throw yourself curveballs, like free doughnuts, and then get back on track.

In contrast to eating, chess is optional. I can understand how Lucas’ rating and my rating have not changed. Writing about chess, as both he and I do, is not the same as studying chess or playing chess. Writing may not help our chess ratings. If we want our over-the-board ratings to rise, we probably both need to study more and play more.

Texas children are playing chess. On April 3, Texas Chess Association ran its 2021 Texas State Scholastic Chess Championships online. Top finishers from April 3 played round robins on May 15 to determine Texas’s representatives for the Denker, Barber, Rockefeller, and Haring tournaments.

On Saturday, May 15th, the Mechanics’ Institute Twitch broadcast the four round robins, which had six players each. As tallied by Chess.com, the players’ accuracy scores often topped 90%, in the round robin to represent Texas in the John D. Rockefeller III National Tournament of Elementary School State Champions. And the Rockefeller’s upper grade limit is fifth grade, so these are excellent pre-teen chess players!

The commentary team of Abel Talamantez and Grandmasters Nick de Firmian and Julio Sadorra broadcast four of the five rounds. National Master Ryo Chen escaped a loss in round 2. Chen is losing, until his opponent Arush Sunil played 61…Kb5 instead of 61…Kb6, which would have kept tabs on White’s passed c-pawn. Can you find Chen’s reply? White to play.

Click to reveal the solution

62. Rxf5+

After Chen’s 62. Rxf5 62… Kb6 63.Rf6 a5 64.Rxg6 a4 65.Rg8 Rxc7 66.Rb8+ Rb7 67.Rxb7 Kxb7 and this is how to save the draw for Black rather than recapturing the rook.

62…gxf5

But it is natural to recapture the rook on f5, which led to Black’s loss. It is hard to see the drawing line with the fast time control, game in 25 minutes with a 5-second increment.

In the fifth and final round, Chen got lucky again. Chen had drawn National Master Andy Woodward in round 3. If Woodward defeated Joshua Meng in the last round, then Chen and Woodward would be tied for the honor of representing Texas at the Rockefeller. That would mean a tiebreaker would have to be played. But Meng defeated Woodward, ensuring that Chen will be the Texas representative to the John D. Rockefeller III National Tournament of Elementary School State Champions.

In the following position, White (Joshua Meng) is already winning, and Chess.com prefers another move. But I like the flashy pin-and-skewer idea that Meng played in the game.  White to move; see if you also spot Meng’s idea.

Click to reveal the solution

74. Rh8 Qxh8 74. Qa8+ Kd7 75. Qxh8 Rf2 76. Qd4+ Ke6 77. Qxf2 f5 78. gxf6 Kf7 79. c4 g5 80. c5 g4 81. c6 g3 82. Qxg3 Ke6 83. c7 Kd5 84. c8=Q Ke4 85. Qe6+ Kd4 86. Qge3#

Abel Talamantez and Julio Sadorra
Abel Talamantez and Julio Sadorra

At 6 hours and 47 minutes into the May 15, 2021 Twitch broadcast, Talamantez mentioned hot chocolate, doughnuts, and pizza, which prompted me to ask if he was hungry. He replied that he wasn’t, until he listed those foods out loud. Likewise, telling yourself “I am going to blunder” might lead you to make a mistake. Better to tell yourself, “I am hungry for vegetables and I am going to play the best chess moves!”

WIM Alexey Root, PhD

Alexey Root is a Woman International Master and the 1989 U.S. Women's chess champion. Her peak US Chess rating was 2260. She has a PhD in education from UCLA. You can find her books on chess on Amazon.com.

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