Q&A with Coach Heisman Apr 26, 2013

| 4 | Other

Thanks to the Hatboro-Horsham High School Hall of Fame luncheon, I performed this show in suit and tie Smile.

There was a question or two about my involvement with the Kasparov-Deep Blue matches. Although I worked at both matches, I was only involved with the matches, and had nothing to do with the Deep Blue team or their preparation for the matches:

In the first match here in Philadelphia in 1996 I was the official scorekeeper for the International Computer Chess Association (ICCA; now the International Computer Game Association), which was putting on the match for the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM). My role initially was as official scorekeeper but eventually morphed into a key media liaison as I was physically situated with the media, and was well versed in both the computer and the chess sides.

The second match took place in New York City in 1997 and was completely organized by IBM. I volunteered for IBM, mostly in their VIP room where assorted GMs and I followed the match on closed circuit while sharing their hors d'oeuvres and explaining to the VIPs what was happening. In the final round I got to go up to the press box, where I hung out with GM Patrick Wolff and others, and got to see the dramatic (Kasparov basically re-iterating that he thought Deep Blue must have cheated while the Deep Blue engineering team gritted their teeth) post-match press conference and awards. For more on this match, I recommend Dr. Hsu's book Inside Deep Blue.

Someone asked me what was the main things I did to improve when I first started playing serious chess (at age 16). My answer was:

  • Realize that there are threats in chess which, if allowed, cannot be met. Therefore, in most positions, one just can't make a move and then wait to see what the opponent does, and then try to meet it. If you do and they make an unmeetable threat, the game is over. So you have to consistently take your time and make sure that if your opponent has a forcing move (Check, capture, or threat) in reply to your candidate move that you have a safe answer - or else you probably need to discard that candidate. This takes time. Finding and preventing tactics before they occur is the single most important use of your tactical ability. I wrote about this in The Secrets to Real Chess and The Most Common and Important Use of Tactics. All my beginner misconceptions were addressed in this linked column.
  • I joined one of the best chess clubs in Philadelphia, drove there each Friday evening, spent 5-8 hours there playing slow games and analyzing afterwards, getting a chance to analyze with some of the best players in Philadelphia. If they made a suggestion I was pretty sure to follow it or else they would not keep giving me that great free advice Smile.
    I made one of my periodic pitches for our Dan Heisman Learning Center here at, where we feature slow chess (e.g. 45 45 swisses) and much more (see our Forums); we are approaching 1900 members so it's a great place to find a slow game. One of our features is our DHLC Store, based thru Cafe Press. You can buy all kinds of chess t-shirts, sweatshirts, caps, mugs, buttons, etc. The net proceeds from our store go to one of my two charities at The Philadelphia Foundation, the Chess Support Fund. So if you are thinking of buying some chess clothes to wear to your club or local events, please stop by and purchase it here. Even better, if you wish to make a tax-deductible contribution directly (online or mail)to either that fund or our Holly Heisman Memorial Fund to support women in need, take this link. Last year this fund made a grant to the University of Pennsylvania's Evelyn Jacobs Ortner Center on Family Violence. If you make a donation, much appreciated!

     I often get the questions "What's a good opening...?" or "Is the X a good opening...?" These questions are difficult to answer out of context, which I think I explain fairly well in my Blog What's a Good Opening?

     I also get questions like "Should I avoid playing into my weaknesses when I do X?" Questions of this sort very much depend on what your chess goals are, both in general, and at that moment. The three main goals could be:
  •      * Playing for fun
  •      * Playing to learn and improve, and/or
  •      * Playing to win money, prizes, or titles
     Obviously your goal at one time can be one or more of the above but, in any particular circumstance, the answer to questions about what you should do likely depends on that circumstance. For example, you might purposely play into your weaknesses to improve your game (go into tactical situatons to improve your tactics); however, if you are playing the final game of the World Open and winning means $10,000, that is not the time to address improvement. I address this issue in Improving vs Maximizing Performance.

     Someone asked what percentage of your chess time should be spent on various activities such as playing, studying, etc. When he visited Philadelphia a few years ago, GM Maurice Ashley said that if you are going to become a titled player, you are going to have to play in many weekend tournaments so you will end up playing more than you study. This I agree; locking yourself in the closet is not the way to go. I give my rough breakdown of percentages of chess time in this link. In general you need to follow The Improvement Feedback Loop in many subjects, not just chess, to get continual and really big improvement.

     At the end of the show someone proposed a helpmate in two to solve, but their FEN notation apparently lacked the final characters. So instead I showed one that I had composed (in helpmates Black moves first and helps White to mate in the prescribed number of moves):

     The answer is on the next line so stop reading here if you want to work on the problem.

     Answer: 1...h1B 2.g8B Bb7 3.Be6#

     Someone asked about the following opening sequence (click on the moves in the diagram below to get my updated, computer-backed commentary):

Links to references used during the show include:

Thanks again to all mods for helping control the chat channel. The next show on Friday May 10 (as always at 5-6:30 PM ET) will be open to all. Hope to see you then!

More from CM danheisman
Passive vs Basic Hope Chess

Passive vs Basic Hope Chess

The Fun Of Pros And Cons (Again)

The Fun Of Pros And Cons (Again)