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On Chess: Charging off to China; easing into India

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 6, 2011 - To the amazement of most of my friends, I am off to Asia for the first time in my life. Although I have played chess in 10 countries over the past 25 years - it was limited to Europe and North America. I won't be playing this time around however; I will be a coach of the U.S. team in China and the U.S. Junior players in India.

The World Team Championship takes place this year in Ningbo, China, from July 15-27. The event is a 10-team, round-robin format (all play all), and the U.S. team is ranked eighth in this prestigious field. I, along with Grandmaster (GM) Var Akobian, will be a coach of the U.S. team as we hope to medal (top-three) against the world's elite. The last time this event was held was in Bursa, Turkey, in January 2010, and the U.S. team finished an amazing second place. Our top boards, GMs Hikaru Nakamura and Alex Onischuk, both scored individual gold medals on boards one and two respectively.

With powerhouse teams like Russia, Armenia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan competing, the U.S. team will be hard pressed to medal. But with a great team spirit and great coaching (fingers crossed) we hope to do just that!

Our team consists of two-time and reigning U.S. Champion Gata Kamsky as well as Alex Onischuk, Yury Shulman, Yasser Seirawan and Robert Hess. Yasser recently came out of retirement to play in the 2011 U.S. Championship in St. Louis. Apparently, he was bitten by the chess bug once again and wants to play more chess so he can get back to the form that made him one of the World's elite from 1980-2000.

After my work is done in China, it is off to Chennai, India. Chennai is the site of the 2011 World Junior Championship, featuring the top players in the world under the age of 20. I will be the coach of all the American players in Chennai, which likely will consist of two boys and one girl - there is a separate event for each gender. Thus far the best American hope is GM Ray Robson who recently beat me in a 10-game match, 6-4, last month at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis. Ray is a veteran of international events, at the ripe old age of 16.

Coaching duties will be quite different in China and India. In China, the players are all stronger than I and will need help preparing for each specific opponent (with assistance from computers and databases) whereas in India, I will be the same strength or better than my stalwarts, and some of the coaching will be encouraging the players and giving them the confidence they need, since each junior player has less experience in strong international events.

While I'm gone, GM Alejandro Ramirez will be filling in for some of my duties at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis. Ramirez is one of the strongest players in the nation, and he's still just a student at the University of Texas in Dallas. Come on down to the Club between July 17 and Aug. 16 to welcome him to our fair city and stay tune for updates while I'm abroad!

Ben Finegold is the grandmaster in residence at the St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center.

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