US women meet professor Kasparov

6/5/2004 – A lesson in slam-dunking from Jordan wouldn't help you. But how about chess lessons from Garry Kasparov? That's what the US women's Olympiad training squad got last weekend. It was fascinating, but we were too busy taking pictures to learn anything. See why.

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Preparing a surprise for Calvia

The strongest female chessplayers in the United States assembled at a midtown hotel in New York City last weekend for a very special training session. For three days they received all-day classes from the world's top-ranked player, Garry Kasparov. This is the US women's training squad and at least three of its five members will be on the four-player women's Olympiad team this fall in Calvia, Spain.

Only four of the ladies were present. Rusa Goletiani had taken some time after the women's world championship in Kalmykia to visit her family in Georgia. Irina Krush and Jennifer Shahade, both New Yorkers, had made it back from Kalmykia just in time. Consider it the silver lining of being knocked out in the first rounds. Susan Polgar lives in Queens, New York and Anna Zatonskih came in from her home in Ohio.


"What would you play here for White?" Garry Kasparov, Irina Krush, Jennifer Shahade,
writer Paul Hoffman, Anna Zatonskih, Susan Polgar, trainer Michael Khodarkovsky.

The training squad was organized a little over a year ago by Susan Polgar and her associate Paul Truong. Sponsorship comes principally from the non-profit Kasparov Chess Foundation, the US Chess Federation, and has received assistance from IBM and ChessBase, among others. One of Kasparov's old trainers, IM Michael Khodarkovsky, is the head of the KCF and is in charge of the training program. This is the second set of sessions the team has had with Kasparov.

Much of the training material Kasparov brought in was based on the huge amount of analysis he has been doing for the upcoming third volume of his "My Great Predecessors" book series. It includes a very large section on Bobby Fischer and on the third and final day of the training many of the positions were from Fischer games. Here are a few of the games Kasparov looked at. No analysis but we point out a few of the key alternatives he mentioned.


Kudos if you recognize Keres-Fischer, Bled Candidates, 1959. Was there a draw?

There were as many computers in the room as humans. IBM has sponsored the team by giving each of the ladies a snazzy Thinkpad laptop. No bonus points for guessing that all of them were running ChessBase. We were only slightly surprised to notice that there wasn't even a real chessboard in the room, other than the display board Kasparov is using above. It reminds us of what Kasparov said last year on the eve of his match against X3D Fritz. He joked that in the future wooden boards and sets might be museum pieces and his son might point at them in wonder and say "You played on those?!"


One eye on Garry, one on ChessBase.

Kasparov says the team is ready to cause a real surprise in the Olympiad this year. Former women's world champion GM Susan Polgar, despite not playing serious chess for many years, is in good form and will likely be the highest rated player in Calvia. Anna Zatonskih, a recent arrival from Ukraine, received much praise from Kasparov and Khodarkovsky and has been showing good progress. Krush has been busy with classes at NYU, but will focus more on chess during the summer.

The Olympiad team's fourth board has yet to be decided. The USCF has hastily arranged a women's national championship event that will start on June 17, although there is another championship scheduled for November 24. (This was done either to give 2003 US women's champion Anna Hahn a chance to be on the team or to get her off the team because her rating was too low, depending on which potential lawsuit you prefer. This sad situation was the legacy of the old USCF, which is now undergoing serious reform.) The winner will be board four of the team, so it is possible that training squad members Shahade and Goletiani won't make the trip to Spain. Certainly one of them won't.

Regardless of who takes the fourth spot, the US women's team will be a formidable competitor for the Chinese, Georgian, and Russian teams that have dominated for so long. (At least since the Hungarian all-Polgar team disbanded!) Krush and Zatonskih are in the mid-2400s and if Polgar does as well as the trainers predict she could be playing at a 2600 level. The other top teams can field a balanced group of 2400-2500s, so a strong showing on board one by Polgar is likely to be crucial. No doubt her many fans and club members (not to mention her sisters Judit and Sofia) will be happy to see her back in action.


Jennifer Shahade, Anna Zatonskih, Susan Polgar


Pondering the latest in opening theory. That's FM Paul Truong in the back.

Kasparov isn't much of a stern taskmaster as a teacher, at least not on the final day with this experienced class. Still, several of the women confessed that they were quite nervous, especially during their first sessions with Kasparov. They hesitated to give their opinions when asked, not wanting to be the first to receive a surprised glare or, worse, a contemptuous "why?".

Krush, the youngest at 20, seemed to be the boldest of the bunch when it came to making suggestions and asking questions. A few times we had to bite our tongue when we were sure we knew a right answer, but this wasn't the chess journalist training squad, alas. Still, we recognized Fischer-Spassky game 13 right off and no one else seemed to recognize the horrible opening play by Spassky against the Alekhine.

(This went a long way to reinforce our opinion that reviewers who criticized Kasparov's "Predecessors" books for including games that are "too well known" don't understand the market at all. If a room full of top players don't recognize such games, amateurs certainly won't. As Jen Shahade put it, "most Masters don't know three Alekhine games.")


Computer + brain power. Kasparov plus two laptops running ChessBase! Serious stuff!


"Now it's too late!" How could Taimanov have lost that one to Fischer?


At the after-session dinner and farewell party. Greek food and good company.

 


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