Tuesday, April 1, 2008

GM Kosteniuk Visits Miami Beach Senior

International Chess grandmaster Alexandra Kosteniuk walked into the Miami Beach high school chess class and all eyes focused on her. The former 2004 European Chess Champion is striking enough to have posed for Elle and Vogue magazines. “She looks even better in person,” whispers one student to another. The male dominated class soon learned this was not just another pretty face.

Chess is serious business for Kosteniuk who at fourteen years old became the 10th woman in history to earn the title of grandmaster. The twenty-three year old former 2005 Russian champion who lives in Key Biscayne during the winter and competes in Europe during the chess season says, “Dad taught me how to play just before I turned five years old. Chess is a part of our culture.” It is not unusual for her to play to large crowds and is a celebrity in her homeland.

The former Soviet Union dominated world championships until the late Bobby Fischer’s reign from 1972 to1975 and has continued since with Russian players like Garry Kasparov and Vladimir Kramnik. Chess is ingrained in the Russian school curriculum. It goes back a thousand years and was even played by Peter the Great.

Kosteniuk is the fifth highest rated woman in the world. She travels the globe to promote chess. Her foundation funds her visits and she has been featured in Time, Sports Illustrated, and Newsweek. Later this month she will visit Columbia University in New York City to play a simultaneous exhibition against the school’s powerful chess club and visit the famed Marshall Club where Bobby Fisher got his start.

Kosteniuk’s visit is part of the “Chess Master Tour” that brings titled players to schools offering chess as an elective. Chess titles include International Master, FIDE Master, and Grandmaster and are earned by players achieving the highest levels of success in international competitions based on ratings, strength of opponents, and length of tournaments. Local titled players participating in the “Chess Master Tour” are Grandmaster Julio Becerra, Grandmaster Renier Gonzalez, Grandmaster Gilardo Garcia, International Master Blas Lugo, International Master Alejandro Moreno, FIDE Master Marcel Martinez, and FIDE Master Charles Galofre.

The “Chess Master Tour” is organized by the M-DCPS Chess Education Program. There are twelve schools offering chess as an elective in the school system including middle and high schools. Overall there are over 240 chess programs including the Division of Advanced Academic’s AEP chess, Title I chess, elective classes, and clubs. There are an estimated 6,000 students playing chess in Miami-Dade. According to longtime scholastic chess organizer, Arden Dilley, “Chess is sleeping giant in this county”.

Kosteniuk, who recently won the women’s 20-24 age group division in the Miami Beach Ocean Drive 5K, analyzed a game she played against International Master Andreas Huss in Switzerland in 2003. All moves are algebraically notated and players evaluate different variations at different points in the game to find the best moves for both the white and black pieces. This practice allows students to recognize a move they may have missed during a game.

Studying games helps children build a structure or pattern of moves from diverse positions on the board. Students put parts together to form a whole, with emphasis on creating new attacks or defenses. The parts include the opening, middle, and end game. The idea is to find the best move to carry out a plan or refute an attack by your opponent. Students learn to notate their games and develop analytical skills through this meticulous process. M-DCPS students participate in local, state, and national tournaments.

There are 12 middle and high schools offering chess as an elective including 6 more preparing to offer the class next year. Although there is no specific statewide course code for chess, schools use critical thinking and problem solving as the formal code. The state has signaled support for a course code and leaves it up to individual school districts statewide to petition the state for approval. The Chess Education Program has drafted a proposal and will submit a formal document for administration to approve in the spring.

Funding for chess programs vary throughout the district. All elementary schools are eligible to submit a proposal to the AEP chess program. Once approved, an allocation is provided to pay a teacher and for materials. Training is then provided for teachers who have access to support throughout the year. The Title I Administration authorizes principals to use their school-wide allocation to pay teachers, transportation as well as entry fees for tournaments. Title I funds are federal monies granted to schools with a demographic facing economic challenges and base allocations on the percentage of students receiving free and reduced price lunch at individual schools. Biscayne Elementary chess coach Oscar Rodriguez states, “The costs are relatively small but the benefits are huge. Children develop many academic and social skills.”

Miami Beach senior high math teacher Ben Silva has taught the chess class the past two years states, “This is awesome. It is not everyday you have this kind of opportunity to study chess with a grandmaster. She is a phenomenal player”. Silva, who played in his first tournament at the Miami Open in September as part of a M-DCPS professional development event says, “I had students who do not take the class ask permission to attend the lecture,” as he looks across an overflowing classroom.

During the lecture, Kosteniuk asks students for input and several call out moves, “Knight c6, Rook to d7, Bishop to b7….” and Kosteniuk skillfully corroborates or refutes moves with comments like, “Good idea but….look at the pawn protecting the b7 square…,” and the lesson continues until the correct “line” or variation is played out. Kosteniuk has a natural way of affirming the students’ thought process while demonstrating her intentions and thinking throughout the game.

As the bells sounds, the class erupts into simultaneous applause and Kosteniuk’s smile lights the room. Kosteniuk’s husband Diego Garces hands out complimentary copies of her book, “How I became a Grandmaster at 14” and students line up for autographs and pictures. Junior Max Cufari, the top player in the class, asks if he can play the 3-time Olympic medal winner. She smiles and nods as he sets up a board to play.

1 comment:

cb said...

Can you uplease tell me how to contact A.Kosteniuk?
Please send to me, Craig at agreatstory@yahoo.com