Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Raising a chess champ

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Behind every world champion there is often a parent who encourages, pushes or cajoles the child to strive for greater success.

Horror stories abound about over-aggressive parents who can inflict psychological stress on their children through unconventional tactics. In the world of chess, it's always interesting to learn about the role of parents, especially in cases when the player exhibited incredible strength from a very early age.

The most recent issue of New in Chess magazine sheds some light on the upbringing of world champion Magnus Carlsen. Editor Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam interviews his father Henrik, and paints a portrait of a laissez-faire attitude that seems to have suited the junior Carlsen very well.

In many ways it's the usual story of a chess-playing father who exposes his children to the game at a young age in hopes of spotting early brilliance. When Magnus was five and his sister was six, they began playing, but their father says they found the game hard and it was difficult for them to make progress beyond a certain point.

Instead of pushing things, Henrik let it develop naturally, playing chess occasionally with the kids on rainy days. Then, just before he turned eight, Magnus started closely watching his father's games with his sister.

"Then he very quickly started to sit on his own with his chess set. And he very quickly started eating at a separate table from us, three metres away, so that he could be with his chess pieces," the magazine quotes Henrik saying.

Children in Norway "normally do what they want," Henrik said, and this appeared to be the winning formula. Magnus proceeded to make a spectacular rise to the top.

Will the same formula work for every child? There's no evidence to support that thesis. In the late 1970s and early 1980s. Laszlo Polgar of Budapest set out to prove that he could turn his three young daughters into chess geniuses. He home-schooled them and immersed them in the principles and practice of the game. The result? Three very strong players, including one of the world's top players.

Although the path to chess success varies, one element always remains the same. There has to be some early exposure to the game. Many top chess players have famously said that they are very average at most other pursuits, but they happen to possess a phenomenal ability on the 64-square board.

The only way to unlock that potential is to expose them to the game and provide an atmosphere where play can happen. Note to parents: your Lego-playing kid could be the next world chess champion. But first you have to teach them the game.

-- -- --

Sam Lipnowski won the January TNT tournament, ahead of Leor Wasserman and Alex Platt who shared second. Gustav Baron took first in the Kent Oliver Memorial Tournament, half a point ahead of Sam Lipnowski, Chandra Iyer and Carl Pottinger.

-- -- --

This week's problem: Mate in 2 (Neuhaus). Solution to last problem: White mates with 1.Ka2.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 8, 2014 D18

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