Archive for the ‘In the News’ Category

Jen on ChessFest and Queens vs. Rooks

By Jennifer Shahade
May 16, 2008

I went to Arizona last weekend for ChessFest 2008, an event put on by the non-profit I co-founded, 9queens.   ChessFest went down at the Hotel Congress, also a famous nightclub. On the night of the chess fest, Hotel Congress was hosting the indie rock band, Someone Still Loves You, Boris Yeltsin, which made me laugh, although I am definitely not an advocate for the self-piteous ad campaign, “Someone Still Loves You, Chess.” In fact, in Tucson, it seemed an opposite slogan was in the air, “Everyone Loves Chess.”

Finding a balance between fun and competition is a major challenge for chess celebrations, because too much of either will bore half the crowd. 9queens co-founder and native Tucsonian Jean Hoffman , who organized the event, found a great mix.  She arranged a serious blitz tournament run by the smiling and super-competent TD and FM Robby Adamson. There were also spectator friendly events, such as a two-board blindfold simul by Leo Martinez and the day’s highlight, the coolest human chess game I’ve ever played in. The costumes, donated by a local toy store, Mrs. Tiggy Winkles, were more conceptual than literal: tutus for the queens, Rodees for the Knights, Groucho-Marx glasses for the pawns.


Jennifer Shahade with the two human chess queens. Photo Demion Clinco


Wide view of the human chess game.


Leo Martinez gives a blindfold simul with National High School Championship team Catalina Foothills students watching. Photo John Wright.

One of the prizes for winning the blitz tournament was playing against me in the human chess game, so I battled 14-year-old ChessFest champ Kevin Zhang (2076). Both of us stood on large orange ladders, exposed to the blazing sun, ten feet above our pawns and knights. This exhibition was fun, but also really difficult. I didn’t want to lose, but it was chaotic and I got a terrible position out of the opening:

I forgot that in this line, I should play e5, either on move nine or ten. As it turned out, I salvaged my position anyway because Kevin played too impatiently. Check out my ridiculously long-winded knight maneouver: Ng8-f6-d7-b6-a8-c7-e6. I really shouldn’t have played that in front of kids, as one coach joked: “Now all my students are going to be playing Na8!”

In the final position, instead of taking a draw by perpetual check, I should have captured on a2 and  shoved the h-pawn. I took a draw for three reasons:
1.    I didn’t realize how easy it was to win;I thought it would take a while.
2.    The kids were about to get REALLY bored. This is the problem with most human chess games; they get really boring for the pieces and spectators. Because Jean and I knew this, we set a time control of 8 minutes+10 second delay. Despite the quick time limit, the younger amongst the pieces were already antsy.
3.    I had less time than Kevin, about two and change  to his three and change.


USCF Expert and ChessFest Blitz Champ Kevin Zhang

So Chessfest wrapped the day up with a draw, a closing ceremony and co-founders with sunburns in desperate need of Aloe Vera.

The Tuscon community was very supportive of ChessFest. Mayor Bob Walkup spoke at the opening ceremony and council woman Karin Uhlich even played in the event. Tuscon’s chess elite also came: The new 2008 U.S. Chess League team, the Arizona Scorpions were represented by the aforementioned Leo and Robby as well as Ken Larsen. Blindfold legend and psychology professor Eliot Hearst attended.  Two-time National High School Championship Team Catalina Foothills High volunteered, teaching novice kids the pawn game and basic tactics. A crew from chesspark /wu-chess flew in from as far as Florida, and we had some amazing Mexican food.  Can you believe I traveled the world but never had mole before?


 Robby Adamson and Ken Larsen, both signed up to play on the newly inducted U.S. Chess League Team, the Arizona Scorpions.


The mayor of Tucson, Bob Walkup gives a hint to council-woman Karin Uhlich.


9Queens co-founders Jean Hoffman and Jennifer Shahade



Any takers for a cactus chess game?

One Queen vs. Two Rooks

I was preparing a lesson for a 9Queens Academy when watching Daniel Yeager’s clutch win against Michael Thaler in the National High School Championship:

This victory earned Yeager a perfect 7-0 and clear first.

Coincidentally, when I was watching this game, I was preparing a lesson on the relative strength of two rooks vs. a queen. I used chessbase to search for games with the imbalance, and was surprised that the overwhelming majority of the games I found favored the queen over the two rooks. It’s not because the queen is stronger… it’s that creating a queen/two rook imbalance usually features open positions, which obviously favor the queen. The above game is a perfect example. Once the queen vs. two-rook trade went down, White’s position was already totally disheveled.

The most impressive two rooks vs. queen game I found was a brilliant and subtle victory by Anand. I was looking for something a bit more direct for teaching purposes, but I was still thrilled to find this game. Is it famous? If not, it should be.

As the Nationals season closes, CLO is gearing up for the summer open season, not to mention the ongoing U.S. Championship. But we’re quite through with the Elementary Nationals yet- Look out for games and photos from Elizabeth Vicary’s students from I.S. 318, who won the K-6 Championship section. CLO will also publish an interview between Dynako and Josh Waitzkin, who was in Pittsburgh promoting his new foundation and his book, The Art of Learning.

Sammour-Hasbun Prevails

The U.S. Chess League Game of the Year competition prevailed with Jorge Sammour-Hasbun’s win over Kuljasevic taking the 1000$ grand prize. Boskovic-Becerra, which I ranked as first, came in second place for 500$. Greg’s strong comments about why he thinks Martinez-Zilberstein should have easily won the competition gave me pause to reconsider my own rankings. Despite my theory that judging things inherently leads to “over-thinking” (are you reading this, Ms.Bacheorlorette?), I maintain that my own rankings were perfect, or in the words of a new book title, Mistakes Were Made, but Not by Me.

The Kids who would be Kings

by  on Apr. 09, 2008

Tucsonan’s goal: Make children better thinkers through chess

Korena Garcia, a Tucson High senior, ponders the board. Garcia is an intern with 9 Queens, which uses chess to build children's cognitive skills, among other things.Korena Garcia, a Tucson High senior, ponders the board. Garcia is an intern with 9 Queens, which uses chess to build children’s cognitive skills, among other things.

Known as “the King’s Game” since 1616, chess now will be the domain of Tucson princesses, princes and paupers, too.

Free chess lessons will infuse Title 1 schools in the Tucson area with the game’s proven ability to rev up cognitive development and IQ levels along with good manners and social skills.

Just as local public education appears to be foundering, Tucson native Jean Hoffman has brought home a plan to help reverse that trend, especially in schools receiving Title 1 funds for serving many kids of low-income families.

With partner Jennifer Shahade, a grandmaster, two-time women’s American chess champion and author of “Chess Bitch,” and a grant from the local Voices for Education, Hoffman is launching the nonprofit 9 Queens.

While the king is deemed the most important piece on the chessboard, the queen is the fastest and most powerful, she says.

In a perfect game, the best player would acquire nine queens. Thus the name.

Hoffman hopes to snuff out the stereotype that chess is a rich man’s game by introducing the strategic activity to girls and boys from low-income families throughout the Tucson area.

9 Queens will pay chess teachers to provide the lessons, as Hoffman is doing already at Roskruge Bilingual School.

Chess “teaches long-term planning and realizing the consequences of your actions, and those are skills every young person can use,” says Robin Hiller, executive director of Voices for Education.

The universal game also transcends language barriers and is a staple in many Hispanic cultures, so 9 Queens is a great fit for Tucson’s multicultural metro area.

Hoffman, a graduate of St. Gregory College Preparatory School, has a bachelor’s degree from Yale University and a master’s in teacher education from Harvard. She spent three years teaching chess and directing tournaments for the Chess-in-the-Schools program based in New York City.

She came home for a visit that, luckily for us, has morphed into a permanent return.

“Tucson has a rich tradition of chess,” Hoffman says. “Unfortunately, it’s very concentrated with schools that have resources or parents with resources . . .”

Not for long. 9 Queens will be spreading chess into low-income neighborhoods, operating out of an inner-city home with rent subsidized by retired University of Arizona professor Carl Tomizuka and women’s advocate and author Sheila Tobias.

“If we can get girls to take chess seriously,” Tobias says, “it might help them take themselves seriously.”

In a 1750 essay, The Morals of Chess, Benjamin Franklin noted that the game “is not merely an idle amusement,” but rather a mirror of life, with points to gain, competitors and adversaries to contend with and “good and ill events, that are, in some degree, the effect of prudence, or the want of it.”

He credited chess with, among other things, teaching foresight, consideration of consequences, circumspection and caution.

For today’s children, who lose far too many precious hours to video games, television and other shallow entertainment, chess seems a veritable palliative.

The work of 9 Queens can offset the effects of modern ills among Tucson’s children while imbuing them with excellent behavioral and personality characteristics, as well as improved thinking and academic success.

Local schools need only open their schedules and classrooms to this enterprise; 9 Queens will do the rest.

Hoffman believes the program will find success in the Old Pueblo. “I do think this is a very good community for innovation and trying things out,” she says.

And Tucson can applaud the return of Hoffman – one of those young, talented professionals whom our city longs to attract – as a real coup.

Welcome home, Jean Hoffman, and thanks for devising a new way to provide all Tucson children with the tools they need for success in life.

Billie Stanton may be reached at and 573-4664.

Roskruge Bilingual School fourth-grader Casey McDaniel, 10, makes her move.Roskruge Bilingual School fourth-grader Casey McDaniel, 10, makes her move.

Jean Hoffman says that Tucson has a

9 Queens: Empowerment through Chess

9 Queens is dedicated to empowering individuals and communities through chess by making the game fun, exciting, and accessible.

Player Spotlight

Varga Luna

(playing for 4 years)

“I became interested in chess when I was about four. I like chess bc you get to have fun and learn some things. You get to be more patient. You get to focus and concentrate. ”