Want to win a three-month PRO membership to Chessable or a one-year SparkChess Premium Live membership? In the comments to this article, ask International Master John Bartholomew a question. I (Alexey Root) asked John three questions. Read on to see my questions and John’s answers. However, you probably have more questions to ask John, a chess celebrity. On April 22, I will select the five best questions from the comments. Those “five best” will each win a one-year Premium Live membership to SparkChess. Then John will choose the very best question from my top five. The person who asked that “best question” will receive both a one-year Premium Live membership to SparkChess and a three-month PRO membership to Chessable. John will answer all five questions in my next article for Spark Chess. Read on to win (and to learn the Lucena position).
In my second article for SparkChess, I taught the Philidor’s position, a famous king, rook, and pawn versus king and rook position which the defending side can draw. Either right before or right after you learn the Philidor’s position, learn the Lucena position. The Lucena position is a famous king, rook, and pawn versus king and rook position, which the stronger side can win. Another topic of my first and second articles for Spark Chess was college chess. This third article for Spark Chess covers both the Lucena position and college chess.
The Lucena position features a pawn on the b-g files, about to promote but with the promotion square occupied by its own king. Here is one typical Lucena position:
The best video about how to win the Lucena position is from a former college chess player, International Master John Bartholomew. John took both of my online courses when he was a chess team member at UT Dallas. I interviewed John via email for this article.
Alexey asks: Wikipedia states that, according to John Emms, rook endings “occur in about 10 percent of all games (including ones that do not reach an endgame).” Should SparkChess readers believe that statistic?
Rook endings occur in about 10% of all games
John answers: The 10% statistic is often quoted, and it turns out to be roughly accurate. In the introduction to 100 Endgames You Must Know, author GM Jesus de la Villa presents an analysis of hundreds of thousands of games and determines that 8% of them reach a single-rook ending. Double-rook endings bump that percentage even higher.
I’ve always felt you can judge a player’s endgame skill and even overall ability by the manner in which they handle rook endings. If you’re a serious player you should definitely study these endings rigorously. One excellent introductory book to rook endings is Amateur to IM by Jonathan Hawkins. Hawkins provides a concise and engaging analysis of theoretical rook endings as well as general rook ending concepts. After that, I would move to 100 Endgames You Must Know and eventually tackle the most highly-regarded book on endgames, Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual. I also have a free, brief tutorial on R+P vs. R endings on Chessable with accompanying videos.
Alexey asks: Speaking of statistics, you have 3,773 followers on Twitch TV, 6,843 followers on Twitter, and 12,144,559 views on YouTube. What are the good parts and bad parts about having such a large social media presence?
I’m grateful for all of the doors chess has opened up in my life
John answers: Having a large social media presence and being a “chess celebrity” definitely helps me business-wise. Once my chess YouTube videos began to receive many views, I quickly received an influx of requests for private coaching and was subsequently able to raise my hourly rate. I also owe my co-founding and participation in Chessable to my YouTube presence. My co-founder, David Kramaley, reached out to me in late 2015 about launching the site after seeing many of my videos and enjoying my educational approach.
Another cool area where I’ve been able to leverage my social media presence is organizing free, well-attended chess meetups in places like Boston, London, and Oslo. The very first meetup I organized was in Harvard Square in Boston in May 2017, and with only a couple of days promotion on my YouTube channel 40-50 players showed up to play blitz and hang out! It was great fun. I’m grateful for all of the doors chess has opened up in my life, and I always aim to give back to the chess community.
There honestly aren’t many downsides, but I’d say the biggest one is that more of my competitors in over-the-board tournaments know my style and the openings I play. One of my opponents in a GM-norm tournament last summer even told me that he watched several of my videos in preparation for a specific line of the Sicilian he prepared for our encounter in the tournament (we played to a draw)! In serious play, opening preparation and the element of surprise are critical factors. I definitely give up an edge by putting myself out there constantly in my videos. I consider it an acceptable trade-off, however.
Alexey asks: How did your college experiences help you to start Chessable and to be a professional chess player and teacher?
The experiences I had on the chess team, the friendships I forged, and the education I obtained were all important factors in working up the courage to pursue chess professionally
John answers: My college experience at The University of Texas at Dallas not only shaped my career path, but it also provided me with a great deal of life experience and important connections in the chess world. Earning a degree in Business Administration has proven useful in coaching, YouTube, Twitch, Chessable and much more, although if I could do college over again I think I would have chosen a finance or accounting major 😉
My brief experience in law school was also formative. I attended the University of Denver for a semester in 2010, but I quickly decided that a legal career was not for me. Without overthinking it, I dropped out, moved to New York City, and started teaching chess full-time. It was a gamble, but chess was my passion, and I wanted to give it a go. Fortunately, things worked out really well!
I’m glad I chose a traditional higher-education path, however. My college experience was fantastic, and the experiences I had on the chess team, the friendships I forged, and the education I obtained were all important factors in working up the courage to pursue chess professionally.
Now it is your turn to ask John a question. Put your question (or questions) in the comments below. Be sure to list your “real” email address (it won’t show in the comments) so that if your question is chosen as a “best question” you can win the membership prizes. Five one-year Premium Live memberships to SparkChess and one three-month PRO membership to Chessable will be awarded to the five best questions asked.
UPDATE: The competition has ended. Here are the winners.