Benni VS. Goliath

It was the first of many Simultaneous Chess Exhibitions to be held this New Year at the Albany Academies Chess Club. Dean Howard, a local expert, honorary AA Chess Club member and long time Chess player did the honors.

Twelve of 24 Chess Club students banded together in the AA Buttery to show their quality against Mr. Dean Howard. Lining up as they did along the polished great oak tables, the uniformed students faced their nemesis with armies and armies of white pieces. Like a young tribe on the hunt and out for blood, they surrounded their quarry. Always six young warriors to the front and six at his back. Always. “Surely, one of us shall fell this man.” Or so they thought.

Dean, the top board Geezer, the great chess beast, the gargantuan elder, came at them one, by one, by one with the black pieces. The Chess Clubbers had already danced their little war dance, dressed for battle, and sang their song of defiance and victory. The time for resolve was at hand. And so they launched their spears, pebbles, rocks and arrows. The cavalry rode forth, the infantry marched, the lancers and pike advanced. But the man in the center of the assault was not fazed. He seemed to be enjoying it…

Like a rampaging elephant squashing mosquitoes into goo, the surrounded man stood victorious in the end. And from that ash heap of fallen kings he declared certain games worthy of study. Below is one of those games.

"Wearing the Black"
“Wearing the Black”

Not only Dean Howard commented this game as worthy of review, but the blunder checker software agrees that it merits review and or publication.

Dean HowardBenni Matsuo at Albany Academies Buttery

January 26th 2016 the Albany Academies Chess Club is proud to have Peter Henner do the honors of a Simultaneous Chess Exhibition.

Here is a free beginner chess book written by Lauren Goodkind of the Bay Area. It is a touching work and quick read. Her personal story and teaching method are worthy.

A good video by Dereque Kelly on the KIA. 


Thomas E. Clark is the Chess Tutor in Albany NY at The Albany Academies. He is the chess instructor in Schenectady NY at the Brown Private school. Tom is the chess teacher in Latham NY at the Albany Chinese School. He also tutors chess in albany NY at the summer LEAP program for kids.

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Instead of Driving to Niskayuna for the Albany Vs. Schenectady Chess match, I wanted to post a game. With some luck and effort, exciting results and commentary will be had as a result of the team match…

What we have below is just a curiosity for you to enjoy….


Thomas E. Clark is the Chess Tutor in Albany NY at The Albany Academies. He is the chess instructor in Schenectady NY at the Brown Private school. Tom is the chess teacher in Latham NY at the Albany Chinese School. He also tutors chess in albany NY at the summer LEAP program for kids.

Chess_Tutor_Albany_NY_Thomas_E_ClarkKraai v Shankland

PSY 101 for Chess

To Begin – The attempt to better understand Chess, the human mind, and the world at large is attained incrementally by the evolution of various theories. Trying on and testing out a given perspective in chess or psychology can be enlightening. By conducting our own experiments, we can see for ourselves if the understanding of our own mind or the great game of chess is enhanced by a particular vantage point. Fortunately, for us humans, it is our personal experience that will tell us if a theory of mind or approach to understanding chess is rewarding. When we find a perspective that seems to agree with our idiosyncratic selves and proves of value in our laboratory testing at clubs, skittles and tournaments, it should be further explored, developed and perhaps evolved.

By example, in chess, a hypermodern approach opines that you need not occupy the center as paramount to winning the game. Instead, as Nimzowitsch maintained, indirect influence of the center can be more potent than occupation. With that perspective in mind, chess players can try on hypermodern approaches to chess with openings like the King’s Indian Defense, King’s Indian Attack, Alekhine, PIRC or Catalan. By doing so, we find out for ourselves if the theory resonates as true, fun, insightful, useful or even winning. Your own experience will be the judge, jury and executioner as to how well suited you are for a hypermodern approach.

In psychology, we learn that one approach to understanding the human condition posits that if we can manage to correct our erroneous thinking, we can feel better. Perhaps too simply put, to change how you feel, just change how you think.

To try on this “hypermodern” approach of the mind, start by simply paying attention to your own thoughts. In doing so, you can then “catch” yourself (or others who express themselves) in the making of mental distortions. Like going over a recorded game, find your errors, and adjust your moves or thoughts accordingly.

As thinking and feeling creatures, we can experiment with this approach to see if it has value to us personally. If it enhances your life in some small way, or allows you to feel slightly better at times, then great. If not, there are many more theories to put into play later. Like E4, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a place to start at any rate, but you don’t have to stay there.

Below are a number of cognitive distortions to “catch” yourself making. Yes, its like dropping a pawn or a bishop. If you catch your self with an idea that needs some improvement first, you don’t have to make the bad move and feel so bad for having lost a piece. The real test though is not over the board but in your daily living. Your job is to discover for yourself the relative utility of this one, narrow, but potentially helpful perspective from psychology.

Catastrophizing – This is when we think about the worst possible outcome and behave accordingly, as if the worst possible outcome were the inevitable outcome. Ie. “I won’t play at the tournament because I’ll just lose.” or, “I won’t play him in Blitz, he wins every time.” Stay tuned for this type of thinking when you notice it in others, not just yourself, and certainly not just with chess.

Splitting – This typically can be “caught” when we verbally or mentally use words like “always”, “never”, or “every”. Splitting is what we do with the vibrant world around us when we turn it into a black and white dichotomy. Ie. “He never arrives to his match on time.” or “I always have the black pieces when it matters most.” and even “Everyone on the Parsippany Russian team is a cheat.”

To think and speak more accurately is the goal. Notice if you think that someone who might often arrive late is occasionally on time or even early. Perhaps notice if really only 1 out of 4 members on the Parsippany Russian  team cheated, but you are ready to condemn everyone, including the arbiters and USCF. Emotional arguments and prejudice often lead to this type of cognitive distortion. Ie. “You always move your bishops out before the knights.”, “Every time I see you castle queen-side.”, “You never under-promote your pawn when you play me!” 🙂 etc. Unfortunately, even if you are 99% accurate with such statements, you aren’t technically correct or quite speaking the truth, and you know it. Although, if you are simply catching other people with this type of minutia, I’ll have to write a chess article on the willful harm of being pedantic and the toll it takes on the human condition.

Overgeneralization – Like it sounds, this is when we take a very small, singular data point and embed it with a grand conclusion. Ie. “I tried the Scandinavian defense and got butchered. It’s junk.” Or, “He seems like a nice enough person, but didn’t shake my hand before the game started. I must be the only player he doesn’t like, much less respect.” Try to notice this type of thought while driving, and you conclude something about another driver from just one moment of their poor road performance.

Fortune-Telling – This is when we “know” what will happen, before it even happens. Ie. “I’ll never be able to beat my next opponent, s/he is an IM.” or, “I saw their rating, the game hasn’t started but I might as well resign.” The thing to think is that you actually don’t know something until it happens, however likely. Some people experience the rain, while others just fear getting wet. The fortune telling can happen with a mental bias in favor yourself as well as against.Ie. “I’m a 1900 player, she is just a lowly … and will get squashed like a bug.” Not to steal anyone’s thunder, but adjusted thinking around hubris might serve to even out the contrast between highs and lows in your life.

Filtering – This occurs when we focus on the negative aspects or elements of a situation or person to the exclusion of the positive. Ie. Your opponent is a pawn up. They have a strong pawn center. They have the bishop pair and a good eventual outpost for the knight. Therefore, you feel that they are winning and the game is lost. Filtering would be, because of your focus on the opponent’s advantages, you neglected to notice you are up a tempo, or have better king safety or difficult to see double attack. The mind tends to buy into previously held beliefs even when there may be evidence to the contrary right before your eyes. In daily life, we may well focus on the negative aspects of another human being, despite some plus marks we neglect to recognize. Practice catching this kind of thinking while ruminating on a neighbor, family member, politician etc. It won’t change them, but it may adjust your ruminations about them to some small degree.

Personalization – This is a case of taking the credit or blame for something you don’t control. Easily noticed in sport fans where a victory or loss is internalized into a sense of self greatness or sense of dismal self defeat. Your own team’s victory or loss in the Team Chess Championships is only somewhat in your ability to influence, so don’t overly despair a team loss or over aggrandize a team win. Warning, this could take some fun out of things. As a practice, you can watch for this type of cognitive distortion when you take in mainstream news and feel responsible for some horrible event conducted by your co-humans. Continue to work your empathy, take some action if you can, but don’t over personalize your responsibility with a sick feeling when it was something you have little to no control over. Drink coffee to change the things you can, and wine to accept the things you cannot.

To Conclude: Be on the lookout for cognitive distortions visiting thoughts near you. If you don’t actually have many of these, congratulations. If you catch other people making these types of inaccuracies, you can be of assistance. If you prefer to dominate the board with a solidly occupied center, followed by expansion and a break through – then great. The theories are just there to help us get to the next level of understanding.

Thomas E. Clark

Thomas E. Clark moc.y1516325314pareh1516325314t-yna1516325314bla@s1516325314amoht1516325314 Licensed Psychotherapist in NY and CA is the Chess Tutor in Albany NY at The Albany Academies. He is the chess instructor in Schenectady NY at the Brown Private school. Tom is the chess teacher in Latham NY at the Albany Chinese School. He also tutors chess in albany NY at the summer LEAP program for kids.

Chess: the inter-cultural and cross-generational connector of Albany.

On a global level, Chess is the closest thing we humans have to a universal language. Visit any country on the planet and Chess is one of the few things that is already, mutually understood. The rules and how the pieces move are the same no matter the local language, dialect, belief system or economy. So, any two chess players from across the globe can sit quietly together and play a game, or ten. This possibility exists independent of heritage, religion, age/generation, social status or the like. The youth of the world can play chess with their elders. This particular sport of the mind does not degrade so quickly with age as do the sports of the body. Thus, chess affords humanity the inter-generational as well as inter-cultural transmission of knowledge.

Naturally, we see this remarkable, international phenomenon play itself out in world chess championships. The previous world chess champion was from India, and the new, young, current world champion, Magnus Carlsen hails from Norway. Russia and now China are producing phenomenal talent as you read this. It is the United States that has somewhat neglected chess of late.

Historically though, the United States gave birth to the first, un-official world champion, Paul Morphy in the 1800’s. Additionally, another phenomenal American player rose to prominence during the hotly contested Cold War Era. During this time of nuclear fueled tension, the late, great, Bobby Fischer single handedly defeated the very well funded, trained and supported Soviet team members. At his prime, Bobby, a New Yorker, convincingly bested most every challenger with his own drive and singular personal devotion to the game. A national hero for the age, he brought chess back into the spotlight of main stream events. Like landing on the moon for the U.S., Bobby came in first.

After Bobby, and a lull, there came another re-focusing on chess in the U.S. The point of the exercise was to see who was better, man or machine. The American Corporation IBM managed to defeat the world champion Garry Kasparov with its Deep Blue computer. Both International Business Machine and Garry had great resources and financial backing at their disposal. Hence, the best chess playing man and the most costly and best chess playing machine had at it. Regrettably, IBM’s Deep Blue was put into cold storage after its final, mechanical victory. For the human spirit though, Garry stayed at the top of his game well into his 40’s and kept playing. He benefitted from the most elite tutors since youth, the best accommodations, Grand Master coaches, dietitians, a chef, and most importantly a very loving and involved mother. This investment in human potential allowed him to retain the world champion title for almost 20 years. Deep Blue only won the one tournament.

For our part here in Albany, NY, we reside in the seat of government for the State of New York. Albany is essentially then, the capital of what is sometimes known as the Capital of the World (NYC). It is within this capital of capitals that great chess can be championed and elevated to its pen name, The Royal Game.

To support chess, Albany Academy has provided a very successful start to Friday’s After School Chess Club with some 30 children and a handful of parents attending. Shortly after that auspicious beginning, the Middle School Chess Club was created for yet another day of after school chess and three paid chess coaches. Then, a select group of interested AA student players experienced chess at a very high level. Each child played against Martha Samadashvili, the local, North American Youth Champion. She is a girl of nearly 10 years of age, but a local champion to be sure. It is this same girl who defeated China’s number one of the same category in the World Youth Championship this year. And so, youth, and chess are growing in Albany.

That said, it would be great to continue driving the slight trend of placing Albany, and in this case, Albany Academy as place to go for those who believe chess has value. Toward that end, a particular FIDE Master, first ever PA female state chess champion, 2014 Penn State Graduate, NYC Lawyer and multi-lingual will speak at Albany Academy as the first presenter in a continuing Chess lecture series. It is her success as a female in the typically male dominated arenas of Chess and Law that make her appealing. She can deliver presentations at a high level about defeating Grand Masters in chess and enlighten those who attend. Her name is Alisa Melekhina and she will visit Albany Academy for a public presentation, January 24th of 2015. With a success of this fist visiting chess lecturer, there will be more, and more to follow.

Thomas E. Clark thomas @ albany-therapy . com Licensed Psychotherapist in NY and CA is the Chess Tutor in Albany NY at The Albany Academies. He is the chess instructor in Schenectady NY at the Brown Private school. Tom is the chess teacher in Latham NY at the Albany Chinese School. He also tutors chess in albany NY at the summer LEAP program for kids and gives private lessons via his chess tutor profile on .

An Opening Repertoire for your Mid-Life Crisis

The basis for building an Opening Repertoire is brutal efficiency. The problem of what needs be done is clear. You have a limited life time at your age(any age), and a limited time in any given day to devote to chess. Chess on the other hand, is seemingly infinite and will long outlast you, and any amount of study or practice. Therefore, you need to select and economize openings for White and Black that actually limit, rather than expand the volumes of work you have before you.

By example. Lets say you love the Ruy Lopez as White and begin with E4. Guess what, before Black ever allows you an entry ticket into the Spanish opening, you have to be ready to face players who will turn you down and challenge you with the Sicilian, French, Alekhine, Caro-Kann, Petrov, Center Counter and the like. As someone who wants to enjoy move 3 or 4 of the Ruy Lopez, you have an awful lot more to study before getting to your Spanish lesson.

What to do then? E4 is the most popular first move and so there are more games to comb through in the Data Bases and that much more theory to review simply because it is the most frequent beginning to a chess game. What if you are 45 years old or 55 years old and beginning your early retirement for the purpose of studying chess? You will do better, with the limited time you have, with even
slightly less frequented openings. So, at the start of your Repertoir construction, narrow your focus to become a D4, C4, Nf3 player for White. Avoid the main stream. This will still afford you such a wealth of study, that you should never get bored or feel it is too repetitive. Even playing white as a D4 player, you have to know the Queen’s Gambit Declined, QG Accepted, Dutch, KID, Budapest, Bennoni, Benko and so much more.

Congratulations, at the start of building your Opening scheme, you split the infinite game of Chess in 1/2. You then only ever play in the infinitely large 1/2 that is simply less frequented by the rest of the chess world. This means, given your time constraints, you can get a slight edge on the opponents who are likely more knowledgeable in a different area.

Brutal efficiency isn’t esthetically pretty, it is exactly as it sounds.

While building your Opening Book for Black, and you find yourself expecting E4 so you can play E5, you still have to be ready for white to come at you with Bird, D4, English, and the lot of offbeat openings like the Polish or Orangutan. If, while playing Black, you want to enter the classic territory of a Ruy Lopez game, Black must also be ready for white to play the exchange or Delayed Ruy Lopez exchange, or even the Schliemann. Only then can Black get the thrill of using the Marshall Attack or Breyer variation against the opponent.

So, what to do as Black then? Find an answer that takes care of E4, D4, NF3, C4 and the rest. Your job is to know enough about each that you can simply and elegantly answer the largest number of possibilities with a sound, but limited, and hopefully small number of replies.

It’s like most every profession these days, simplify, find your niche and specialize in something. With Chess, it will give you more than enough to enjoy for this lifetime. And you may just win a game or two along the way.

Thomas E. Clark Licensed Psychotherapist in NY and CA.

Thomas E. Clark thomas @ albany-therapy . com Licensed Psychotherapist in NY and CA is the Chess Tutor in Albany NY at The Albany Academies. He is the chess instructor in Schenectady NY at the Brown Private school. Tom is the chess teacher in Latham NY at the Albany Chinese School. He also tutors chess in albany NY at the summer LEAP program for kids and gives private lessons via his chess tutor profile on .

World Cup News and a Local Game

Here is a recent game from the August Quad at the AACC. Due to a number of schedule conflicts this August Quad will not be finished until the second Wednesday in September. Even though this event has stretched out longer than anticipated, the Albany Club must be commended for maintaining its activity through the summer doldrums. There has been some kind of chess played there just about every Wednesday. Continue reading “World Cup News and a Local Game”