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Harris L. ’22 Interviews Grandmaster Jonathan Tisdall and Talks Chess at CGPS
Harris L. ’22

Chess is hard. Chess during a pandemic is even harder.

Luckily, with the help of our amazing chess staff here at CGPS, our team has made a smooth transition to online learning. In the Grammar School, Ms. Rohde and Mr. MacArthur’s long-standing Sunrise Chess lives on. In the Middle School, virtual labs and after school enrichment programs dominate. Here in the Prep School, we continue to follow chess news from around the world and train for upcoming tournaments of our own.

Since the end of last school year, Sophia and Danny Rohde have held a weekly Zoom workshop for us to train with Yale alumnus and Grandmaster Jonathan Tisdall. Every Friday, GM Tisdall presents us with a series of challenging puzzles, each building upon a specific tactical motif or positional theme. Both as a group and individually, we work to solve these puzzles and decipher the lessons hidden behind them. By the end of the session — week after week after week — we find our pattern recognition greatly improved, and a newfound appreciation for the art of problem-solving.

A three-time Norwegian champion and Olympic team captain for Norway’s best international result, Grandmaster Tisdall has taught us — and me, in particular — a lot. In addition to meeting every week, I’ve had the opportunity to interview Mr. Tisdall, and the insights I’ve gained are worth sharing:

What is your favorite thing about teaching/coaching chess?

I had several 'handicaps' re[garding] practical play — I am not terribly competitive, and I like chess for what it is, so I can easily get distracted and analyze for hours. Neither are good habits as a player, but it makes me a natural coach/teacher/second. I genuinely get great pleasure from helping others forward, and it's much easier on my nerves than playing myself.

You've covered several major tournaments in your life as a journalist. Do you have a favorite?

Another tricky question... I think I have to look back on my [four and a half] months in Moscow covering the first Karpov-Kasparov match for Reuters as my favorite... even though it wasn't exactly fun. But it was a very unusual experience I wouldn't be without.

In 1997, you wrote "Improve Your Chess Now." What is the key message you would want readers to take away from the book? How has your professional career helped shape the advice you give?

The fundamental idea behind IYCN was really that one really has to learn how to train themselves, that is the ultimate responsibility, and the advice I gave all pointed towards that, ways to stimulate players to learn how to teach themselves, even if the message itself might not have been very directly expressed. So the book was very much a distillation of the most important things I had learned during my playing career and from thinking about teaching/training. And I believed the famous saying ([from former world champion Mikail] Botvinnik I think?) that once you become a GM you should write a book.

How did you begin playing chess? What made you want to become a GM?

I began playing chess at home, my father taught me when I was tiny, about 4 I think. But I didn't play in a tournament until I was 11. What made me want to become a GM ... I became strong enough fast enough, and I was part of a generation of talented youngsters that mostly became GMs, so it seemed natural that I should. And I'm sure I would have done it much more quickly if I had a better psychology (see Q1) and gave it more time. I never quite played full time or enough, so when I went to uni I stopped completely, and this happened a few times when other things came up. Would have made more sense to at least play a bit during these times. On the other hand, maybe in some ways it kept me playing longer...

I particularly understand Tisdall’s response to Q1. Playing chess is undoubtedly stressful, especially nowadays when it's accompanied by a Zoom window in the background. Helping others succeed is an invaluable quality, and we are lucky to have GM Tisdall here at CGPS.

In the same spirit, we are hoping to begin the eighth season of Ms. Rohde’s Magnus League later this fall. In-person or online, we look forward to reconnecting with players from other schools in the New York area and our coaches (GMs Michael Rohde and John Fedorowicz), who review our games and help us learn from our mistakes.

Danny and Sophia are also in the process of organizing both local and national events, like the annual Amateur Team East competition held in New Jersey and the yearly Grade Nationals staged in Orlando.

Finally, this newsletter would not be complete without a huge congratulations to Hans N. ’20, who clinched his third Grandmaster Norm at an exclusive invitational tournament in Charlotte, North Carolina this weekend. His first over-the-board competition in six months, Hans’s success is super inspiring. Nice job!

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