Posts Tagged ‘chess interview’

Chess Chat: Q&A with Devanshi Rathi, UC Berkeley Student and Nonprofit Founder

April 16, 2019

Devanshi Rathi is a current undergraduate student at the University of California, Berkeley. She is a passionate chess player and enjoys playing and watching different sports. Her mission in life is to create a positive difference in the world around her. She is trying to do that through her foundation, the Devanshi Rathi Foundation, a registered non-profit company. In her free time, she likes to write about sports and loves to take interviews of different players because it leaves her inspired.

How old were you when you first learned how to play chess? Who taught you?

I was eight years old (in 2008) when I first learnt how to play chess. I learnt from my school coach and via self-practice in the beginning.

How has chess effected your decision making process off the board?

Chess has definitely helped my decision making process off the board. I try to strategize and plan my ‘moves’ well in advance before actually ‘playing’ them. Obviously, I don’t always go according to my original plan, but that happens most of the times in chess as well.

How did your earlier career choices lead you to where you are now?

I am not sure about this. I tried to turn into a professional chess player, or at least was working towards it for about a year and a half, but I had other interests and passions in life that always made me distracted. To become a professional, one needs sole focus on the game, and I just couldn’t do that. Moreover, my multiple interests led me to pursue a major in college that is independently designed, and I’m currently working on how I can get an effective research proposal in order to declare the same.

How would you define your chess style?

I think it would be aggressive and attacking. I don’t like to defend that much, maybe I’m not that good at it!

Does your chess style transfer over into your business decisions as well?

Yes, but I feel that I tend to be more combinatory in my business decisions. Too much aggression in the business field can cost one a lot.

What has been your worst chess mistake which has given you the biggest lesson?

My worst chess mistake would be to not participate in a number of tournaments in my earlier years. I practiced myself instead of playing in different events. It has made me realise that one must make the most of one’s current time and not think too much in advance. It is the same in chess- one shouldn’t go so deep in their calculations that we lose sight of the current position.

Do you think chess has helped you to become more resilient in life?

Yes, of course! Participating in competitions definitely helps one to get more resilient and that reciprocates into one’s personal life as well, according to my experience.

What do you hope to achieve professionally during the next couple of years?

I am currently exploring my options. I’m taking a diverse set of classes for my interdisciplinary major and can only see what happens as it happens. Not planning too much at the moment. This could be a contradiction to what I said earlier about me planning well in advance. However, this is a situation where I feel that the more ‘time’ you take, the better move you would ‘play’.

What is the biggest challenge to achieving that goal?

As I don’t know the goal yet, the biggest challenge would be to find my path.

How would you relate these goals and challenges to the chessboard?

In chess, one needs to find the real path to victory and that can take the whole game. Similarly, I’m taking my time to decide.

Could you please leave us with a favorite piece of chess wisdom to conclude this interview?

Chess is an ocean where an ant can swim and an elephant can drown.

Thanks a lot for giving me this opportunity to do this interview!

To find out more about the Devanshi Rathi Foundation and Project Checkmate, please visit: https://projectcheckmate.weebly.com/

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Chess Chat: Q&A with Aamir Ali Azhar, Data Engineer

April 7, 2019

Recently I had an opportunity to catch up with my friend and former student, Aamir Azhar. I first met an elementary school aged Aamir at my Saturday chess class in Milpitas during the Summer of 2003. Since then I have had the pleasure of watching Aamir mature into a strong chess player and an impressive young man. A recent Duke graduate, Aamir is now a data engineer at Capital One. As you will see from our conversation below, Aamir sports a wisdom beyond his years and will no doubt have many more successes in the near future.

How old were you when you first learned how to play chess? Who taught you?

I was 6 when I learned to play chess (which is considered late in the competitive scholastic chess world). My cousin taught me one evening during a family dinner party. I picked up the rules fairly quickly and started playing more. In addition, my dad used to play quite a bit of chess in his teens, so we started playing together too (after his 20 year hiatus).

How has chess effected your decision making process off the board?

Chess has taught me how to become a meticulous critical thinker, always looking into the future and observing how things unfold several steps ahead. It’s a gift and a curse.

How did your earlier career choices lead you to where you are now?

I took an interest in computer science fairly early in my childhood because both my parents were computer science majors. I pursued it further career-wise, though I was always interested in the arts and humanities since I was a kid. I’ve been writing since I was young, and I continue to write on the side during my engineering day job, hoping to turn it into something bigger down the line.

The Azhar family.

How would you define your chess style?

When I was a kid, playing competitively, I was the overly analytical type. I would examine every possible viable move several moves in advance and spend lots of time trying to find the ideal move. I relied on my intuition heavily to tell me if a move looked good or probable, but I would also deeply analyze and quadruple check the move to make sure it was the best one.

I’m still largely like that, though I’ve grown less patient over time. Now I only double or triple check, and I tend to take a leap of faith with my intuition more frequently when moving.

Does your chess style transfer over into your business decisions as well?

I would say so. Again, I think through each decision several steps into the future, though at the end of the day my intuition makes the final decision.

What has been your worst chess mistake which has given you the biggest lesson?

I think my worst mistake happened when I was competing for the 3rd grade California chess championship. I had an upset against someone 300 rating points above me which led me to the championship match, where I faced the only other person with a perfect score in the last round. During that game, I was winning, and had a clear path to victory, but crippled by a combination of greed and fear, I offered a draw. That draw led me to tie for 1st place in the championship. We played a tiebreaker game and he got to take home the 1st place trophy.

I had a similar experience in 6th grade when I was competing for the California grades 4-6 championship. I was the only one with a perfect score, and going into the last round, I was facing someone with half a point less than me. I played the whole game looking for a draw (as a draw would give me first place). However, this led to me playing too passively that game — My opponent didn’t accept my constant draw requests, played for the win, and I and lost the championship in an upset.

The lesson here is fairly obvious. Play the game, and play to win. All the glitz and glamour are nothing but distractions.

What has been your worst career mistake that has given you the biggest lesson?

I’m still fairly young, so I can’t say I have many horrible career mistakes. However, I do remember after my SWE internship at Google, I was so sure I was to return to Google that I didn’t look into other internship opportunities. I wanted something different, but was too lazy to interview for other companies, so I listed 3-4 teams at Google I wanted to get on for the next summer. I got positive internship feedback, but unfortunately, none of those teams reached out to me.

Since I didn’t want to do the same SWE work I did the last summer at Google, I had to find an internship last minute. I was both picky and didn’t plan correctly. Luckily, I found a good internship, but it taught me a valuable lesson to not get cocky or entitled, and to always plan for different possibilities.

Do you think chess has helped you to become more resilient in life?

Yes, definitely. Being in that competitive of an environment that early on in my life taught me a lot of lessons, and made me into a tougher, more determined person overall. Though it did come with its fair share of insecurities and stress.

What do you hope to achieve professionally during the next couple of years?

I generally am looking for an impactful, interesting way to apply my CS background to answer big questions about society. I hope to further explore tech and data, learn as much as I can, and build up a writing career on the side as well. My dream is to either become a writer or an engineer-journalist (like a writer/reporter who uses in-depth data analytics for their stories). If none of that works, I’ll go back to grad school in the social sciences (like economics). I’m sure I can utilize my CS/data background there as well.

Amir with his father Salman Azhar.

What is the biggest challenge to achieving that goal?

The biggest challenge is really just figuring out where to start, and how to make a plan moving forward. My interests are still a bit abstract, and the path I’m looking to go down isn’t particularly clear or easy. It’s also a matter of meeting the right people and finding the right opportunities.

How would you relate these goals and challenges to the chessboard?

It’s more often that chess teaches me lessons about life, but occasionally life teaches me about chess. For example, right now, I’m giving myself some time and space to explore my interests and experiment with my career. That kind of mentality applies to chess too. Let yourself experiment, let yourself have fun. Don’t rush in trying to figure out all the big questions. My chess style nowadays reflects that. I play a lot more loosely, and I’m more willing to take risks. Not everything has to have a 20-step plan behind it.

Could you please leave us with a favorite piece of chess wisdom to conclude this interview?

My favorite quote, which rings true to me (and is apparent in my previous answers), is by Capablanca.

“You may learn much more from a game you lose than from a game you win. You will have to lose hundreds of games before becoming a good player.” – José Raúl Capablanca

The vast majority of my memories and lessons in playing competitive chess are heartbreaking losses. Very few are wins. I’ll say, and this applies to chess as well as life, embrace the losses. Play your best, try hard, plan appropriately, but accept that at the end of the day, we don’t know what will happen.

Don’t try to plan every single thing out and then get disappointed when they don’t unwind the way you want them to. Embrace the unknown, and when we experience loss, embrace it, learn from it, and even be grateful for it. At the end of the day, experiences will teach us more than thinking and planning ever will. So experience!

Chess Chat: Q&A with Shelby Lohrman, Chess Entrepreneur

March 25, 2019

Shelby Lohrman was born into a chess family on August 6th, 1972. His Father initially wanted to name him Tigrin, after Petrosian. However, Shelby’s mother didn’t care for the name Tigrin and instead suggested an alternative chess name. At the time, The Fischer – Spassky match game 4 was wrapping up and Shelby Lyman was doing the commentating. Shelby stuck!

If you’ve attend large chess events regularly you’ve probably met Shelby. Mr Lohrman has been travelling the country selling chess equipment to the masses for over 20+ years! He states that it’s his passion for providing great customer service to fellow chess enthusiasts that is the driving force behind his success.

How old were you when you first learned how to play chess? Who taught you?

I learned young…You have t remember that my dad was a US Amateur Champ in the 60’s. But with him being a type A German engineer (and being my dad), made learning from him stressful. It eventually got to the point where I quit and focused on Ice hockey. I picked it back up later on in life. To this day I think about what my life and rating would have been like studying with a mind such as his.

How has chess effected your decision making process off the board?

Chess affects my life decisions on an every day basis. Since I have delved back into chess, I think of things on a more strategic basis. With the advent of Amazon and Ebay, selling chess equipment has become a totally different ballgame. It’s like being at a chessboard. It is not just your plan, you have to accommodate for what your opponent is thinking too. This is why at American Chess Equipment we focus on bringing new products to market. I always have something new in the hopper. Why play an opening everyone else knows? I would much rather have them scramble and chase me.

What do you hope to achieve professionally during the next couple of years?

What do I hope to achieve professionally over the next couple of years? That is a great question. We have been growing American Chess Equipment organically over the last 25+ years. Looking at my industry, I have noticed a top down philosophy with the other vendors. I think that’s wrong. There is no innovation.

That’s why I love being with Wood Expressions! They are my parent company. They allow me the freedom to develop what I need and the tools to do so.

What are some of the products you are most proud of?

Just in the past couple of years I have helped to develop the VTEK300 chess clock, the wood grain mousepad chess boards, and tons of other chess products. The funny thing is the bigger companies out there are now copying me.

What are you working on developing now?

That’s a secret! All I can tell you is we have a couple of ideas formulating that will really rock the chess world. We need to bring chess to the masses.

What is the biggest challenge to achieving that goal?

What’s my biggest barrier to achieving this goal? That’s easy. The mindset of the people in our industry. Chess is a cutthroat business. Talk to any coach out there. They are worried about keeping their students and their schools. We all need to work together building the pie, making each persons share bigger, rather than bickering with ourselves. I have been working with the groups that are out there in the trenches, building their programs, working night and day to bring chess to the masses. I even have one customer that is now doing Skype classes with a group in Alaska.

How would you relate these goals and challenges to the chessboard?

As to relating my goals and challenges to the chess board…to me it is like sitting across from a higher rated player. When you first sit down everyone thinks you are going to lose. With the right preparation, anyone can get beat. Get an advantage and be able to hold it, they might even offer you a draw. To me, that’s fuel for the fire. It makes me work harder for the win.

Could you please leave us with a favorite piece of chess wisdom to conclude this interview?

My favorite piece of chess wisdom is you never truly lose in chess. There is always something to be learned in the game. Even if the turning point was just a blunder, you can still learn by analyzing what caused you to make that mistake.

Please take a moment to stop by these fine purveyors of chess equipment:

Chess Chat: Q&A with Ashik Uzzaman

February 26, 2019

Ashik Uzzaman was born and raised in Dhaka, capital city of Bangladesh. He finished his post-graduation in Economics from University of Dhaka while completing diploma in software engineering from NIIT. He came to USA with job as a java developer in 2005 and currently working as a Senior Software Engineer at Roku. He, along with his son Ahyan Zaman, is a regular participant in chess tournaments on the west coast.

How old were you when you first learned how to play chess? Who taught you?
– I was about 8 years old when I learned to play chess. I learned it from my cousin.
How has chess effected your decision making process off the board?
– Chess makes you efficient considering many possible outcomes in parallel. This helped me consider pros and cons of making any decision carefully. Chess also helped me learn when to take time, observe and weigh in detail before making any conclusions. So I think it helped me in my career choice, my education and my social skills. 
How did your earlier career choices lead you to where you are now?
– To accommodate my chess tournament schedules, I picked relatively easier subject (Economics) during under graduate program. But later I focused on building my career as a Computer Programmer leaving chess for a long period of time.
How would you define your chess style?
– I was initially very aggressive attacking player. But as I started reading lots of chess books, I progressed to be a strategic positional player. I like Capablanca or Karpov’s style of accumulating small positional advantages.
Does your chess style transfer over into your business decisions as well?
– Yes. I often make decisions that are good for my team in the long term instead of looking at the immediate task in hand. Also I do a lot of trade off comparisons while deciding which option to choose while solving a problem.
What has been your worst chess mistake which has given you the biggest lesson?
– My biggest mistake was not focusing on the end game which resulted in loosing lots of games despite having advantages in the middle game.
What has been your worst career mistake that has given you the biggest lesson?
– My worst career mistake was not moving into Engineering Management roles despite getting several opportunities. I have been comfortably working as a software engineer in individual contributor roles for 19 years now. I am glad to share that I have amended the mistake and joining a company next month as an Engineering Manager.
Do you think chess has helped you to become more resilient in life?
– Yes. Chess teaches us perseverance and endurance. When I am stuck with a problem, I dont give up easily. I patiently continue to retry until I succeed. This is a direct habit learned from playing long games chess with intense struggles.
What do you hope to achieve professionally during the next couple of years?
– I want to see myself making good impact in my new project and hopefully take the pre-IPO company I am joining to public.
What is the biggest challenge to achieving that goal?
– Meeting continuous aggressive deadlines of multiple software projects; hiring and retaining the best engineers of bay area.
How would you relate these goals and challenges to the chessboard?
– In chess we have to keep eyes on our own weak squares and king safety and at the same time exploit our opponents’ weaknesses all throughout the game without slipping. Just as challenging in life.
Could you please leave us with a favorite piece of chess wisdom to conclude this interview?
– “Tactics is knowing what to do when there is something to do; strategy is knowing what to do when there is nothing to do.” – Savielly Tartakower

Be sure to check out Ashik’s chess blog: https://dragonbishop.blogspot.com/

An Interview with Chess Coach Jay Stallings

October 17, 2014

Below is my interview with the incredibly popular chess coach, Jay Stallings. Coach Jay runs the California Youth Chess League which is one of the best run scholastic chess organizations on the west coast. In addition, Jay Stallings just released Coach Jay Chess Academy for the iPhone, iPad and Android Devices.

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Can you describe Coach Jay’s Chess Academy in one sentence for us?

Coach Jay’s Chess Academy teaches you through 150+ mini-lessons and 1250+ fun and increasingly challenging puzzles not basics of chess, but the five key disciplines to being a well-rounded chess player: Checkmate, Defense, Endgame, Strategy and Tactics!

You and I have both been coaching chess for a long time. How has teaching kids chess changed over the last ten years? How do you see Coach Jay Chess Academy as continuing tat change?

I started coaching in 1994 on a demo board that I made from sheet metal, plywood, and a green Marks-A-Lot with demo board pieces that were figurine notation blown up, cut out and laminated with magnets glued to the back! Since then, as my demo board has been replaced by a laptop projector using Fritz, my students have utilized books, software, web-based programs, and now apps to supplement my lessons.

Almost every day, I talked to parents and they often asked me what chess apps I would recommend, and I began to realize that mobile devices were in almost every kid’s home these days. They’re often seen as toys, but they can also be a teaching tool!

Over the years, I have accumulated a chess book collection that has a retail value of perhaps $20,000. I’d wager that one day, chess players will have access to far more content for maybe $50, total? Seems like a steal to me! Obviously, I still read and recommend many books, but I think books, videos and software are all tools. I’m just particularly fond of apps at the moment—they’re much easier to carry around in my pocket!
Why did you initially decide to become a chess coach?

At the end of 1993, the movie “Searching for Bobby Fischer” came out. At the time, I was selling computer printers to Latin America and enjoying coaching soccer. My wife, Michel, realized that parents were going to be looking for chess classes after seeing that movie. She was right! A small add in the local paper yielded 35 students and only the 1994 Northridge earthquake slowed us down a little.

Interestingly, one of my first student’s, Kyle Sellers, was the one who encouraged me to create Coach Jay’s Chess Academy and worked with me to make it happen. I never could have imagined in 1994 that I’d not just watch my students grow up, but build lifelong relationships with students and their parents that would last over two decades!

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What are your three biggest accomplishments in the field of youth chess?

Founding and running a non-profit organization that has taught chess to over 35,000 youths; being a member of USCF’s Scholastic Council where I can help change the attitude and policies for scholastic chess in the U.S.; and cramming two decades of coaching experience and curriculum into one $5 app and getting to hear from kids all over the world about how much they’ve enjoyed learning chess!
As a chess dad, why should I have my daughter train with your app rather than some of the others on the market?
My app was designed by a chess coach with the typical scholastic player in mind. Over the course of several years, I tried just about every app out in order to make recommendations to parents and I saw a giant hole in the marketplace. There were apps that taught you the rules and moves and then let you go and there were apps that were targeted at serious chess players, but not much in the middle.

Chess has a profoundly positive impact on kids and it’s a shame that so many never make it over the hump, so to speak, between knowing how to play and understanding how to play. It’s a subtle difference, but I’ve seen so many kids who know the rules of the board, but had absolutely no idea of what to do next! You could put five queens on the board against a lone king and the game would only end with an accidental checkmate or stalemate! I want to see more kids get over the hump, so to speak, and stick with chess. Their lives will be better for it.

Also, if you don’t mind, I’d like to share a word of warning to parents who might be looking for the right chess app. There are several good ones out there, not just mine, but keep in mind that most apps out there are designed by an app developer who wants easy money and they have created hundreds or thousands of fake email addresses so they can post false reviews. Often they are just a way to serve ads or sell micro transactions. I’d really encourage parents to take a look at the apps before they give them to their kids—I’ve seen some very kid un-friendly ads on some of these apps as well as constant hooks to try to get the users to keep putting in more money, a dollar here a dollar there…

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Coach Jay’s Chess Academy takes young players from zero chess knowledge to a tournament ready strength of around 1000. It’s not just Checkmate and Tactics puzzles, though kids do love those! Rather, it’s those two, PLUS Endgame, Strategy, and Defense. If kids want to get to the next checkmate and tactics puzzles, they’re going to have to learn something about the rest of the chess disciplines as well! It’s the only app that includes all five indispensable disciplines and I think we roll it out in a way that really helps kids “get” it!
What are some weekly training routines a parent might ask of their child in regards to Coach Jay’s Chess Academy?

First, if you are the parent of a young player (Under 7 or 8), I advise sitting with your child in 20-30 minute stints and going through the app. For older students who know how to read well enough, the parent can ask them to earn 400-500 stars each week. After 4 weeks, they could revise it to 300 stars since the puzzles get a little tougher. In either case (with or without a parent) the Lessons should not be ignored, especially since the student only needs about 1 minute to get through them and they give you the concept and puzzle instructions that will then save you a lot of time over the next 8-16 puzzles.

Of course, they should also be playing games. Preferably notating them and showing them to their coach. That will always be the Number 1 way to improve in chess!
So far, what has been most popular aspect of Coach Jay’s Chess Academy with children?
Even though they might not be able to articulate it, the younger students love the gradual progression – getting dozens of answers correct as they slowly but certainly work their way towards more instructive and challenging puzzles. Older students enjoy the Post Puzzle Text – funny comments by Yours Truly, plus tournament advice, protocol, sportsmanship, chess history and fun facts.

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In general, what is your advice to chess instructors on making training fun for kids?
Read a ton of chess history yourself and spend time every day (at least once a week) keeping up with what’s trending in the chess world. Kids can tell if you love your subject or not. When I find amazing games, I work to bring the excitement to my students as well. Additionally, I have introduced a ton of outside products into our programs – Think Like a King, Chess Magnet School, ChessKid.com, Solitaire Chess (app and board game), 4-Way Chess, Magi Chess, Chess Legends Playing Cards, and much, much more!

Also, the more you teach with kids, the better you become at it. It sounds simple, but entertaining and educating kids is a skill that must be developed. For the past 20 years, I’ve watched the responses to the lessons I give, listened to their comments and refined my curriculum accordingly. I still use some of my early lessons, but they probably look much different now. Also, hopefully, my jokes have gotten better!
Do you envision that Coach Jay’s Chess Academy will be updated regularly? What are some future updates you are planning?
In these first few months, our updates have been to fix bugs and modify the design of the app to make it more intuitive and user-friendly. Next year, we plan to introduce new content and also an app that utilizes the engine for practice games. Maybe one day, there will be a story mode. We created an entire script, but had to scrap it when we found out how much it would cost to develop!

I have literally thousands of lessons sitting around waiting to make their way into the app! It’s a lot of work to modify it and work it into the app, but I’m having a blast revisiting some of my, and the kid’s, favorite lessons and I’m having too much fun to stop yet!

Even before Coach Jay’s Chess Academy, I remember seeing you promoting a chess product that used Karate Belts to mark achievements in chess. When did you first start incorporating martial arts rankings in your chess training? How did you come up with the idea of awarding belts in the first place?

I had originally envisioned my checkmate packets to be Pawn, Knight, Bishop, Rook, Queen, and King, but the martial arts colors offered more levels and, at the time, we had another testing system that used those names. The Pawn Test had 10 tests to see if the players were ready for tournament play. It actually worked very well. This all happened in 1995, almost 20 years ago. The idea came to me when a student came to class bragging about earning his Yellow Belt. A chess dad who was also a martial arts dad, told me the order – White, Yellow, Purple, Orange, Green (POG), then Blue, Brown, and Black. So far, our Checkmate Belts only go up to Blue. But that’s hundreds of chess problems, and the difficulty increment is much steeper than in the app, since they have me in the room with them to help them when they get stuck!

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It’s funny, but kids love metaphors. There are no actual belts in chess and Coach Jay’s Chess Academy doesn’t award any actual degrees, but they’re both systems that make sense to kids! It’s the same reason we award stars for completing puzzles. Not because they mean anything, but kids understand, largely from Angry Birds who actually stole it generations worth of from elementary teachers, that stars are rewards for a job well done!

Who knows, maybe there will come a day when I need to actually need to start handing out physical black belts along with a Coach Jay’s Chess Academy degree suitable for framing. If it helped kids fall in love with chess and enjoy expanding their minds, it would be well worth it!

Thank you so much for taking the time to interview me. As a fellow chess coach, I know how much passion goes into what you do. It’s not an easy job, but it’s a rewarding one and I have a great deal of respect for your work!

 

For additional information on this chess app, please see My Review of Coach Jay’s Chess Academy.


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