/ Where Grandmasters Advise Young Players

Q & A: WGM Jennifer Shahade, Two-Time US Women’s Champion

Where Grandmasters Advise Young Players


Senior Digital Editor of uschess.org, a commentator for the Grand Chess Tour, author of Chess Bitch and Play Like a Girl, and the MindSports Ambassador for PokerStars.

What is the advantage of someone starting to play chess at an early age? When is it best to start?
The advantage of starting chess at an early age is that you are more likely to think of chess in visual rather than verbal terms. Adults hoping to achieve chess expert or mastery must conquer this temptation to verbalize everything. I think it is possible, assuming an adult has an open mind and enough time to devote to the game. Today is a great time to be an American chess aficianado. There are so many resources, including some amazing free ones, like the chess lectures on the Saint Louis Chess Club channel.
As for what age to start, I think four or five is a good time to introduce the pieces and see if your child is interested. It’s important not to push too hard as that can introduce a negative association with chess. I already see this in action by observing how my eight month old son reacts to the toys we give him, balls and rattles (old news)!, compared, to things that aren’t really toys, like lamps, silverware, and cell phones, where I see the makings of a quite a gameface as he bounds toward them with abandon.

If there are three main departments of the game – opening, middlegame and endgame – what portion of our time should we spend on each?
If I had to throw out some numbers, I’d say 30% opening, 40% middlegame, 30% endgame. That’s easy to remember as it’s the same as a popular diet based on macros … 30% protein, 40% carbs, 30% fat. Can’t you see how hard I’m trying not to mention Crossfit here?
Seriously, whatever motivates you to think for yourself and visualize as much as possible gets priority. Studying openings is often unfairly maligned – opening study can be a springboard for endgame structures and middlegame tactics and it can also improve your memory and discipline. When you study openings, constantly ask yourself “why” and “why not.” Think of it as the start of developing your own personal connection with the openings…create a journal explaining to yourself why you play the openings you do. It can be silly stuff – you don’t have to show it to anyone!
Openings is a special part of the game because it’s the one stage where you choose, knowing that there are so many valid options. In later stages, of course, you are trying to just find the best move, with few exceptions. This is very different than the other game I play seriously, poker, in which top players very often make what we call “exploitative” plays.
Endgame studies ignited a passion for chess in my case. Working on the endgame can be tedious in some cases, like certain rook endgames, which may start to blur together. But endgames can also remind you why you liked chess in the first place, by showcasing the power of each piece most elegantly.

Is there any specific type of opening position or endgame theme that an aspiring chess player should be sure to study?
Ruy Lopez and Zugzwang.

How can chess be of benefit in life and business?
So many things, but here are the first few that come to mind:

  • Chess shows what a pure “flow” state should look like, and you can then strive to achieve that in other areas, whether it be creating art or fully loving the people you a• re with.
  • Chess, by bringing people of different gender, age and background together, reminds us that our similarities are greater than • what divide us.
  • Because chess sets up a numerical ranking system that adherents obsessively follow, it’s a nice escape/surrogate from the adult obsession with dollars, cen• ts and Bitcoin.
  • Many women are socialized to be under–confident. Playing chess is so important for girls in building self–confidence. I had my share of self–doubt as a child, teenager, woman, but I never doubted my basic intellectual capacity, and I thank chess for that. It’s also important for girls to know they can and will thrive in male–dominated fields, as their voices and presence is even more needed in those spheres. As my friend Richard Schiffrin, a sponsor of the National Girls tournament of Champions said, “Chess is a link to STEM fields because it teaches abstract thinking, along with patience and perseverance.”

What joys youngsters may expect to experience on the thrilling chess journey?
The joy of staying in hotels with fluffy beds and swimming pools, post tourney bullet/bughouse and executing the perfect smothered checkmate.

Read More in American Chess Magazine #04


Q & A: WGM Jennifer Shahade, Two-Time US Women’s Champion
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