"Advice to parents: back off a bit"

by Davide Nastasio
7/16/2018 – The United States is experiencing a new chess renaissance. There are top tournaments every weekend, with big prizes. Chess centres are also flourishing, and more top players are moving to USA for teaching and playing opportunities. Here, DAVIDE NASTASIO reports on one great tournament already in its third edition, the Carolinas Classic, and interviews one of the organizers, FM Peter Giannatos.

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2018 Carolinas Classic

There is no doubt that a new chess boom, similar to the one created by Fischer, is happening in the USA. From June 8th to June 10th, I was in Charlotte, North Carolina, for this important tournament with more than 250 players. The tournament is already at the third edition. Thanks to electronic boards from DGT, which remain scarcely used in American tournaments, it was possible to watch the first eight players live.

The tournament was born as a collaboration between Walter High, a very esteemed chess tournament organizer in North Carolina and the South East of the United States, and the Charlotte Chess Centre, under the guidance of FM Peter Giannatos.

Tournament organizer Walter High (left) with FM Peter Giannatos | Photo: Davide Nastasio

The tournament is held in a very nice hotel, which faces a small artificial lake, and a business centre, with many different restaurants. I love it because I don't have to drive to get food between rounds. I just walk to the Pizzeria owned by an old Italian, who immigrated to the USA from Sicily. He was a soccer player, and now, he is over 80, and still in great shape, proving sports can be beneficial.

The venue | Photo: Hilton Hotels

Before showing the games and results, I thought it was important to interview FM Giannatos, who thanks to his chess vision, and dedication to chess, is creating a successful chess environment for young generations of chess players in the Charlotte area. We often are in awe of the top chess players of the world, and we don't recognize chess progress is realized thanks to people like Peter, who works tirelessly pouring all his energy and love for chess, giving something to all the community.

Charlotte chess center logo

DN: I know you are the mastermind behind the Charlotte Chess Center, could you tell to the Chessbase readers, how it all started?

PG: Thank you so much for inviting me for this interview. The Charlotte Chess Center was founded in 2014 and was a product of having organized a bit of chess throughout my late high school and college years. Back then we were just a club that met at the library once a week. Back then, locals Gary Newsom and Mike Eberhardinger were heavily involved with what was then called the Queen City Chess Association. At some point, I realized that chess would either have to be a career choice, or I would go off into banking after graduation. I decided to take my chances with chess because I believed I had created a realistic model. In addition, we had years of experience a trust built up within the community.

FM Giannatos with GM Praggnanandhaa | Photo: Peter Giannatos

DN: How many tournaments a year are held at the CCC?

PG: At this point, we hold around 55-70 rated tournaments a year. Those included weekly and weekend events.

DN: What are the activities of the Charlotte Chess Center?

PG: We consider ourselves a place for all chess players, offering options for beginners to master level players. We offer classes, camps, lectures, tournaments, and casual play options.

Elite camp group in front of the Charlotte Chess Center with GMs Aagard and Avrukh | Photo: Peter Giannatos

DN: Do you teach in schools?

PG: Yes. We teach in about 25 Charlotte area schools which amount to about 700 students in our school programs. We are hoping to hit the 1000 mark by 2020.

DN: How many instructors do you have?

PG: We have a good group of seven full-time chess instructors that help with school and academy classes. We are hopino to increase our instructor base by 2-3 over the next year. I firmly believe providing career opportunities within chess is the way to help chess become more of an accepted activity.

DN: What level of chess knowledge and skills one must have to become a chess instructor?

PG: I think that most instructors for our school programs can get by with the knowledge of a 1000 rated player. The key skills we look for there are: personality, professionalism and classroom management. For academy classes, we usually choose instructors who are rated 1800+.

FM Giannatos with IM Kassa Korley | Photo: Peter Giannatos

DN: I have the feeling a chess center can improve and raise the level of the chess players attending it. Since now you chess center is a few years old, did the quality of the players improve in NC thanks to it?

PG: Having a place where players can play and learn regularly is paramount to producing stronger players. Since the Center, students have more opportunities to play and learn and thus are reaching much higher levels. I remember in 2009 I was the highest rated K-12 player in NC with a rating of just above 2000. Now the top players are nearly 2400! A lot of great work is being done in Charlotte as well as surrounding cities. I feel that the Chess Center helps set the precedent for other clubs in the area.

GM Aagaard lecture at the Charlotte Chess Center | Photo: Peter Giannatos

DN: What advice would you give to young kids interested in chess? And to their parents?

PG: Students must have fun while playing chess. Day in and day out I see students pushed by their parents to do chess. Just like any other sport or game chess required an immense amount of play and study. Both parents and students should understand that if they wish to reach the highest levels, they must be patient. They must accept the ups and downs that come with being great at something. My biggest piece of advice to parents is: back off a bit, allow the student to have fun, allow the coach to coach. Too frequently I see parents with extremely limited knowledge of chess trying to coach kids both substantively and psychologically. Leave that to the coach, get your kid a cheese skewer and some grape juice and let us do the hard work.

DN: This tournament seems huge, 250 players, how did you manage to acquire the experience, and who had the idea to organize it?

PG: This is by far the largest Carolinas Classic to date. This tournament is the brainchild of myself and Dr. Walter High (organizer of the US Masters). One of the characteristics of our tournaments is that we generally pick quality venues and always guarantee our prize funds. We want tournament goers to feel a level of professionalism they seldom get from chess organizers. I believe our communication skills combined with honest prize funds and above average conditions allow our tournaments to exceed attendance of other similar events.

DN: In which direction do you think chess should go? More tournaments? Classes?

PG: In order for chess to be considered a serious activity, there have to be career opportunities. Career opportunities can mean scholarship awards to pursue careers or actual careers within chess. Without either of those, chess will continue to be a game that few continue to take seriously later in life.

DN: How do you think chess should grow in NC?

PG: I think organizers in the state, both local and regional, are doing a great job in NC. We have to keep the momentum going. I think NC is already one of the premier states for chess when you look at our events per capita.

DN: Any future plans?

PG: Davide, I'd rather surprise you than tell you all of my secrets :)

FM Giannatos | Photo: Peter Giannatos

I thank FM Giannatos for this lengthy interview, and of course, cherish the chance to interview him more in relation to some other important norm tournaments organized in North Carolina.

Returning to the tournament, the championship section was won by GM Sadorra, with 5 points out of 5!

Here the results for the money winner of the U2000 section:

Games from the Carolinas Classic

And finally a selection of games I lightly annotated (I take every responsibility for possible mistakes, but I'm following Botvinnik's advice to publish annotated games in order to improve as a player!):

 

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Davide is a novel chess aficionado who has made chess his spiritual tool of improvement and self-discovery. One of his favorite quotes is from the great Paul Keres: "Nobody is born a master. The way to mastery leads to the desired goal only after long years of learning, of struggle, of rejoicing, and of disappointment..."
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