Chess coaching during the COVID-19 pandemic

by Alexey Root
3/24/2020 – IM Dagne Ciuksyte has represented Lithuania and England in Chess Olympiads. Her peak FIDE rating was 2450. Now she coaches chess, in the shadow of COVID-19. Inspired by a ChessBase article, she is adding “chess writing” to her career. WIM ALEXEY ROOT interviews Dagne Ciuksyte.

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Coping in crisis

IM (and WGM) Dagne Ciuksyte emailed me after ChessBase published "So you want to be a (chess) writer?" a couple of weeks ago. Since COVID-19 (aka “the Coronavirus disease”) has curtailed her in-person chess coaching, Dagne wants to add chess writing to her chess-playing and chess-coaching careers. I interviewed her via email to learn more.

AR: How are you as a coach adjusting to COVID-19?

DagneDC: It is hard to believe how quickly everything we are used to has ended! One after another, my chess workshops, events, and private lessons have stopped. At the time of this writing, the schools in the UK are still open, so I have my lunchtime and after-school chess clubs running. Not to despair, I’ve moved my chess coaching services to online chess websites; the websites are ready and have everything in place. I use my prepared material in ChessBase files with my students.

Are any of your family members chess players and, if so, in what ways do they participate in your chess business?

Unavoidably, my three children are chess players and have a few deep insights into chess up their sleeves. It’s all down to their mum always willing to share something new about chess.

From time to time, I run junior chess coaching events. At those events, my 12, 10, and even 7-year old children teach others, including some 6-year-olds. I call it the 'Kids to Kids' project.

My children are familiar with my teaching style. We look for a twist in explaining the basics of chess. For example, we started using sparkly 'jewels' as roadblocks as in Jaan Ehlvest’s brilliant book Chess Gymnasium.

rook drawingIt’s so wonderful to run my chess business with my children! Usually, my chess events' leaflets have drawings by my children and their cousins. Or my business’s Facebook page may have a post by my 10-year-old. It is our family’s day out to run a fun and social chess event locally with my children playing in the tournament and selling the light refreshments in between the games!

How has being a woman helped or hindered you in your chess-playing and chess-coaching careers?

Being a female chess player is nice in some ways. Win a female prize or a game against a grandmaster, and your performance is already a success. However, as a female player, you may not be taken seriously. I have had a few grins and puffs from grandmasters in the past when trying to convert the material into a win. Regarding my chess-coaching career, over the last few years, I’ve been leading the advanced group of girls for a registered UK charity ‘Cambridge Girls’ Chess Initiative’ (CGCI). We aim to promote chess among the girls, providing them with a welcoming, pressure-free space. It is a joy to be a role model for the girls!

What will be your next career moves?

Listening to Natasha Regan’s and Matthew Sadler’s insights on AlphaZero play (as in the YouTube video “Exactly How to Attack” DeepMind's AlphaZero vs. Stockfish), I started wondering what if we are delaying our students’ progress in chess by teaching our infamous point system for the chess pieces?! Only after rigorous training of valuing material by that point system, a chess coach usually switches to teaching the relative values of the pieces. But perhaps that later switch is too late. Maybe, instead of teaching the point values, we should concentrate on analysing various positions with regard to the pieces’ activity and mobility in the battle. Those twists and turns of chess will be discussed if I create chess videos.

In the immediate future, I look forward to a few days with my children setting up our 600 chess pieces into different scenarios for a photo shoot session. I'll need these photos for my standard chess and for my variants of chess events, once we are allowed out again!

Two highlights from Dagne Ciuksyte's chess career

Strike first with the Scandinavian

The Scandinavian is a rarely employed opening on the hightest level und guides your opponent on much less familiar terrain than for example the Sicilian, French or any 1.e4 e5 system. After 1.e4 d5 Black fights for the initiative from move one.

Alexey was the 1989 U.S. Women's Chess Champion and is a Woman International Master. She earned her bachelor’s degree in History at the University of Puget Sound and her doctoral degree in Education at The University of California, Los Angeles. She has been a Lecturer in Interdisciplinary Studies at UT Dallas since 1999 and is a prolific author.


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