A Chess Adventure! My chess story (so far)
A little about me and my chess journey that hopefully will inspire you to seek your own: my dad first taught me how to play chess when I was around 5
But I didn't take up the game in earnest until high school, when my dad and my brother were playing online a lot and getting pretty good. I wanted to beat them. So I read this:
Which is actually a really, really smart book that I would recommend to anyone looking to move from a casual player to one who has a pretty good feel for what's going on.
The game really had a hold on me and I started getting a bit better, then playing in local chess clubs. Then I read this, which brought my game to a whole new level:
IM Jeremy Silman is a brilliant chess author. Silman's discussion of the imbalances of chess is easy to understand and gave me far deeper insight into the mysteries of the greatest game in the world. I use all of his concepts, subconsciously or not, in my play today. After reading his book I began taking lessons with expert Chris Lee, who helped my rating shoot up and I soon became an A-rated player, ranking me in the top 100 in the US under 18.
While moving up sections in chess tournaments I was moving up weight classes as a high school wrestler, which helped me to cultivate a life-long passion for fitness, mental toughness, and good sportsmanship -- trust me, once you've done a "pin club" you can handle a lot!
Here's me playing the flexible and aggressive Botvinnik System at a tournament during high school:
One of the fun things about playing tournament chess is that you may have the opportunity to travel around the country...
...As well as around the world
Playing against some skilled Russians was incredibly difficult, but a fantastic experience in developing me as a chess player. I took a gap year before starting college, which gave me the opportunity to devote a year to chess. I took lessons with GM Varuzhan Akobian, also a fantastic coach and deeply strategic/positional player ranked #6 in the US. Var helped me to bring all aspects of my game to the next level.
In Costa Rica, I was able to both utilize my Spanish and score the point with solid play vs. a strong Women's International Master (WIM) from Ecuador, who played the tough-to-crack Stonewall Variation of the Dutch Defense:
The First Saturday Tournaments in beautiful Budapest are a fantastic way to play against strong players and vie for the FM title or IM, GM norms.
I was getting sharper and was able to score some points against FMs and IMs there and in Serbia. I became a FIDE (World Chess Federation) Candidate Master (2200+ FIDE rating) and USCF expert by the end of the gap year, not quite breaking the US 2200 barrier yet needed to become a National Master but within striking distance.
Then came a new phase of my life, when I went to college and had the chance to have some more exciting international experiences, like working with villagers in rural India (I love India, and the Tiger from Madras has certainly served as an inspiration!)...
And with Tibetans in the refuge of Dharamsala helping to maintain a clean environment -- Free Tibet! Really, it needs to happen.
Along with college came internships, grad school, and work, where I continued my focus on fighting poverty through community organizing and working in the nonprofit sector, which was incredbly time consuming and made it difficult to pursue chess competitively. The break was very important, though, and essential to my development as a well-rounded person committed to making the world a better place with less suffering. Most recently, I have worked with military families in the poverty-stricken Missouri Ozarks and the chronically homeless diagnosed with severe mental illnesses in the U.S. capital of Washington, D.C.
In the past several months, I have renewed my commitment to chess. I was a bit sluggish when I first re-entered the tournament scene last year, and my USCF rating dropped to 2081; I was getting good positions but lacked the sharpness to consistently convert them into wins. Then I played at the historic Marshall Chess Club in New York City, where my family hails (they relocated to L.A.), in December 2014 and other small tournaments. Finally, I executed: I beat several masters and had a less embarrasing loss against super-GM Izoria than our last encounter in 2006, when his bishops infiltrated my position faster than I could say Georgia! At least it was something of a fight this time...but oh yes, I have some work to do! I most recently defeated a 2350 from a deceptively passive position with the black pieces in the solid and dynamic Scandinavian defense -- on which, unbeknownst to me, my opponent is an expert and has written a brilliant book, which I purchased after this game.
I am continuing to more seriously commit myself to the game and have gained nearly 100 USCF points this past month. Clinching the National Master title (2200, a few wins away) is next on my list, then the FM title (2300 FIDE), followed by an effort to gain IM and GM norms and ultimately to become a grandmaster.
I plan to take the skills I've learned from my reading, play, coaches, life experience, and teaching at-risk youth chess in Metro Detroit and South Los Angeles, bringing it all together to both compete and coach players of all levels and ages with a passion for chess, in either English or Spanish (I plan to post some entries in Spanish as well to reach Spanish speakers). I'm an old soul, so hopefully most lessons will take place face-to-face -- in the DC, Maryland, Virginia area -- where I believe the best learning occurs!
I take a fun, engaging, non-judgmental approach to teaching that focuses on the student's self-empowerment, self-exploration, and self-awareness, so that they know precisely where their strengths and weakness lie and how to effectively address both -- building on strengths while gaining new ones, and eliminating weaknesses. Personally, I'm particularly fond of deeply strategic, positional, methodical, constrictive, subtle, harmonious, practical, prophylacitc, flexible, deceptively "drawish" play (no thanks!) that becomes dynamic and aggressive when my opponent least expects it -- generally after adequate preparation (here's an example with probably too much commentary, but maybe it'll give you a feel). That said, I certainly don't shy away from sharp, dangerous, tactical positions (I've played the Dragon a lot, which speaks for itself!) when the chance presents itself -- and don't impose my own style on my students, developing a winning approach that is distinctly tailored to the student's preferences.
Thanks for reading. I hope that you, too, will consider pursuing your own chess adventure, or whatever it is that you are passionate about. Carpe Diem!
Coach profile: www.chess.com/coach/david-bennett