From Teenage Chess Students to Exemplary Adults

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When I lived in Austin, Texas, from 1992 to 1996, I taught group chess classes and private chess lessons. Two of my private students were Heather Flewelling and John Hendrick. Heather became an astrophysicist and John became a chess teacher.

On March 26, 1995, John Hendrick and Heather Flewelling were paired in the last round of the Texas Junior Championship. Their game was a draw. During my next private lesson with Heather, we annotated the game. She sent her notes to the Austin Chess News, which published the game on April 28, 1995.

In October of 2014, Heather was featured in Chess Life magazine. I was honored that she mentioned me as a role model in that article. Heather is the architect and builder of the world’s largest astronomy database. She enjoys ham radio; her callsign is AH7RF. Heather is engaged to Sidik Isani, a software engineer at Canada France Hawaii Telescope. My cousin, Alex Rudolph (Director of Cal-Bridge), Heather, and Sidik attended the American Astronomical Society meeting in 2017 in Grapevine, Texas, where I took this photo of them.

Alex Rudolph, Heather Flewelling, Sidik Isani

In 1995, John escaped analyzing the Hendrick-Flewelling game for me. However, I found a crafty way to ask John for that game analysis! When John and I chatted recently over Facebook, I asked him to analyze a mystery chess game as if both players were his chess students. He completed a thorough analysis. I also have inserted Heather’s annotations, taken from the Austin Chess News.

After John analyzed on June 2, 2020, he told me that the mystery game reminded him of a draw he had with Heather years ago. Notice that both John and Heather fianchettoed their bishops. I love fianchettoing, and may have passed on my passion for putting bishops on long diagonals to my students.

[pgn]
[Event “Texas Junior Championship”]
[Site “?”]
[Date “1995.03.26”]
[Round “?”]
[White “Hendrick, John”]
[Black “Flewelling, Heather”]
[Result “1/2-1/2”]
[ECO “A30”]
[WhiteElo “1665”]
[BlackElo “1605”]
[Annotator “John Hendrick”]
[PlyCount “61”]

1. c4 c5 {This is the Symmetrical English. There are actually many interesting plans and variations that are not drawish at all in this opening, despite its symmetrical nature.}

2. Nf3 Nf6 3. g3 g6 4. b3 b6 {Both players play the double fianchetto. You see this a lot in the Réti opening, where White plays 1. Nf3 and then 2.c4.}

5. Bb2 Bb7 6. Bxf6 {This initiates a possible series of exchanges. We will see four pieces come off the board in just two moves.}

Bxf3

({If} 6… exf6 {then White will retain the better pawn structure.} 7. Bg2 f5

{[%cal Rf8g7,Rg7a1] However, Black should have enough play on the long a1-h8 diagonal to keep the game in the balance.}

8. Nc3 Bg7 9. Rc1 O-O 10. O-O d6

{[#][%csl Rf5,Rf7][%cal Ge2e3,Gd2d4] White can prepare pawn to d4 with pawn to e3 next and establish control over the center with a slightly better pawn structure – Black’s doubled f-pawns might be a problem down the road.})

{Heather wrote, “After this exchange, Chad Bruns started grinning. Perhaps he was laughing at our symmetrical game or perhaps he was just happy to have won the tournament.”}

7. Bxh8 Bxh1 8. Be5

(8. f3 {was interesting, and funnily enough, Black can try the exact same idea of trapping White’s bishop!} f6)

8… Be4 {It seems to make more sense for both players to retreat their respective bishops back to b2 and b7. This is because pawn to d3 for White and pawn to d6 for Black are tempo-gaining moves that grab some space and allow the knights to move to d2 or d7.}

9. d3 Bb7 {Heather wrote, “I noticed John put an exclamation point for this move, since it broke the symmetry. But not for long!”}

10. Qd2

(10. Bb2 {I would still even waste a tempo with this move to keep my options open for the White queen and knight.})

10… d6 11. Bb2 Qd7 12. Nc3 Nc6 {It seems like both players wish to castle queenside, but Black had a better option.}

(12… Bg7 {and White still can’t develop the f1-bishop.})

13. Bg2 Bg7 14. Nd5 {This move makes sense. White is trying to control the a1-h8 diagonal.}

Bxb2 15. Qxb2 {[#][%cal Gb2h8] We have an actual checkmate threat on the board! Black must prevent Qh8#.}

{Heather wrote, “Threatening Qh8 mate. I didn’t want to castle because of 16. Qg7 threatening the f- and h-pawns”}

f6

(15… O-O-O 16. Qg7 {looks like it wins a pawn for White at first glance.} Nd4 17. Kf1 {[%cal Yf1g2,Gd4c2,Gc2e1,Gc2a1]} Qe6 {[%cal Ye6e2]} 18. e3 Nf5 19. Qc3 {It can get really crazy if White is too greedy. This line is full of tactics.}

(19. Qxh7 {is too greedy:} Bxd5 20. Bxd5 Qf6 {[%cal Gf6a1]} 21. Re1 e6 22. Bg2 Rh8 {a typical queen trap after White’s queen grabs a “poisoned” pawn.}))

16. Qd2 {[#][%cal Gd2h6,Gh6h7] aiming for the weaknesses on Black’s kingside.} O-O-O 17. Qh6 Rh8 18. Bh3 {This pin looks like game over, but Black defends well and White’s bishop actually is misplaced on h3.}

(18. Kf1 {This keeps White’s king safe and the g2-bishop still has a nice diagonal.})

18… f5 {Now White’s h3-bishop looks a little misplaced since there are no more threats.}

19. Qg7 Qe8 {good defense!} 20. Nf4

(20. Qb2 {White can to pull the queen back and castle queenside and perhaps Bg2 eventually. The queen is better off defending against Black’s knight invasions than getting stuck over on the kingside where Black is well defended.})

20… Nd4 {[#][%cal Gd4c2,Gc2a1,Gc2e1] Black is threatening Nc2+ with a knight fork among other things.}

21. Kd2 {The king doesn’t feel safe out in the open like this to me with the queens and knights still on the board.}

(21. Kf1 Rf8 22. Qh6

(22. Qxh7 $6 Rh8 23. Qg7 (23. Qxg6 $4 Qxg6 24. Nxg6 Rxh3 $19) 23… e5 24. Bg2 {[%cal Rg7b7]} Bxg2+ 25. Nxg2 Rxh2 26. Kg1 Qh8 {After the queen trade Black will be much better due to the active rook and knight – look at White’s counterparts.})

22… e5 23. Nd5 {I like Black here due to king safety and more active pieces. White’s h3-bishop is just biting on granite now, but White can still play on.})

21… Qf8 {This lets White off the hook. See above variations.} {Heather gave 21…Qf8! and wrote, “Trading off White’s better-placed queen.”} 22. Qxf8+ Rxf8 23. Bg2 {Heather wrote, “White is probably trying to get his bishop back into the game.”} Bxg2 24. Nxg2

{[#]The position looks roughly equal now. Black was better most of the game.} e5 {unecessarily weakens the d5 square for White’s knight.}

(24… Kd7 {Usually it is best to move the king to the center in the endgame!})

25. f4

(25. Ne3 f4 26. Nd5 {looks great, but then Black’s rook comes in with a strong second-rank attack.} fxg3 27. fxg3 Rf2 {[%cal Gf2e2,Gf2h2]})

25… Ne6 26. Rf1 Kd7 {Heather wrote, “A conservative move that doesn’t change the pawn structure.”}

27. fxe5 dxe5 28. e4 {weakens d4, but White was running out of options.}

(28. Ne3 $5 f4 29. Nd5 (29. gxf4 exf4 30. Nd5 {also seems okay for White.})

29… fxg3 30. Rxf8 {would allow the beautiful … g2 and queen promotion is unstoppable.} g2 $1 $19 {[%cal Rf8f1,Gg2f1]}

(30… gxh2 $4 31. Rf1 $18)) 28… fxe4 {Heather gave 28…fxe4? and wrote “Better is to push 28…f4 and create a passed pawn.”}

29. Rxf8 Nxf8 30. dxe4 Ne6 31. Ne3 $11 {[%csl Re4,Gf3][%cal Re6g5,Gf3d2,Gf3h2,Yd2d3,Yd3e4][#] The position looks very drawish here, but it would be interesting to play on for a little while to see how White defends. Heather wrote, “Having reached symmetry once more, John offered a draw, and I accepted.”} 1/2-1/2

[/pgn]

At the end of July in 1995, I gave John (then 15 years old) a ride to the Klein Chess Camp. At a McDonald’s play area on the way from Austin to the Klein Chess Camp (near Houston), I took a photo of my two-year-old daughter Clarissa and John. To spend every afternoon with Clarissa, I taught chess in the mornings only during the camp week (July 31-August 4). John taught chess all day, his first time working as a chess teacher. Jim Liptrap hired us and was the founder and director of Klein Chess Camp. I contacted Jim for a quote for this article.

Clarissa Root (age 2) and John Hendrick (age 15) July 30, 1995
Clarissa Root (age 2) and John Hendrick (age 15) July 30, 1995

Jim Liptrap emailed, “Alexey was ‘Head Master’ at most of my Klein Chess Camps from 2001 to 2011, and was always able to bring in talented young teachers, and to mentor them to become even better teachers. Among those were Heather in 2006 and John in 2007, although John and Alexey had also taught at my first camp in 1995. All three were a pleasure to work with, and fine teachers.” Jim maintains a website, which is particularly helpful for Houston, Texas chess players.

In 2010, John married Dani, a schoolteacher. They have a daughter, Gwen, who turns 6 at the end of July. John is US Chess-rated 2176 and is 40 years old. He hopes to reach a master rating (2200 or higher) before he turns 41 in September. To improve his chances to make master, John is taking chess lessons from International Master John Bartholomew. Bartholomew emailed, “I’ve only been coaching John for a few months, but I’ve been impressed by his commitment to improving all aspects of his game, his dedication to playing longer time controls with corresponding analysis, his thoroughness in completing assigned homework, and his interest in helping his own students and viewers of his Twitch channel. This last part is actually why I believe he will make National Master: he loves the game, and sharing his passion with others drives him to further understand the game.”

John Hendrick, photo by Dr. Greg Beaulieu
John Hendrick, 2019
photo by Dr. Greg Beaulieu

John Hendrick’s company is Foundation Chess. On June 6, John was interviewed by Evan Rabin, CEO of Premier Chess, who I wrote about on SparkChess. John and Evan discussed teaching chess, particularly teaching online during the pandemic. John does not recommend the French Defense to his beginning students, because it can get very complex.

At 41 minutes into the podcast interview, John highlighted his quest for attaining a master rating. He mentioned advice from IM Bartholomew, including adopting the Slav and Caro-Kann openings and reading Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual. John is playing slow time control tournaments in the LoneWolf League on Lichess.org and then analyzing his games, first on his own and then with a computer.

To listen to the Premier Chess podcast (interview of John Hendrick), click on this link. You can also follow John Hendrick (ChessCoachJohn) on Twitch and Evan Rabin (premierchess) is on Twitch as well. To keep up with Heather, look to the sky for Comet Flewelling or follow her on Twitter.

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.

One Response

  1. J. WILLIAMS. Aka Heathers mom.
    J. WILLIAMS. Aka Heathers mom. at

    Wonderful article and both players have been very successful in their adult lives. It amazes me that you were the common element that guided them both on a path to not only become chess players but be accomplished adults. Kudos for all and thank you for sharing your chess knowledge to them and “booting” them into the world. You are the connection that made great things happen.

    I remember driving Heather to classes and visiting with your pet bunny. I can never thank you enough for believing in her and being her mentor and friend.

    Reply
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