Thursday, February 13, 2014

Central High student makes Montana chess history

Central High School student Baylie Redman plays chess with Dr. Debora Wines on Friday. Last summer, Redman became the first female from Montana to play in an internationally rated chess tournament.

by Mike Ferguson, courtesy of the Billings Gazette, originally published November 25, 2013.

Baylie Redman has been playing chess for only a year, but what a year it’s been. Over the summer, Redman, 16, a junior at Billings Central Catholic High School, became the first female Montanan to play in an internationally rated chess tournament, the Susan Polgar National Invitational for Girls in St. Louis.

That tournament invites a girl from each state to compete, plus players from South America as well. Redman managed just one victory in six matches, but as one of her chess teachers, Dr. Charlie Wittnam, pointed out, she was up “against the very best in the country. They play serious chess with a capital ‘S.’”

Because she made history as Montana’s first female representative at the invitational tournament, Redman received special recognition during an awards ceremony at the end of the six-day tournament.

Redman credits her rapid development with “having enough room to grow” and with putting in practice time and studying strategy videos posted on YouTube.

Seated on a stool in the biology lab of the school’s chess team adviser, Dr. Debora Wines, Redman said last week that the cerebral game born in India about 15 centuries ago has taught her focus, patience and thinking ahead — “qualities that people need to do well in life.”

She said playing chess has also helped her better cope with her attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

“Chess helps keep it under control,” she said. “Those good qualities chess teaches — most of them are difficult for kids with ADHD.”

Since she took up the game, she’s also noticed a benefit probably of interest to her parents, Darryl and Melanie Redman, as well as the family’s automobile insurance provider — her driving has improved.

“My brain now processes things faster, so it’s easier to notice things as I drive,” she said. “I can also concentrate in class better. My thoughts tend to be scattered, but since I started chess, it is better.”

Wines, who like Wittnam has played chess most of her life, said Redman is the kind of player “who’s just good naturally. That doesn’t mean you don’t have to work at it — it just means your work pays off.”

The two played a friendly match in the biology lab after school one day last week, with the teacher schooling the pupil — although technically the match ended in a draw, since Wines set a short time limit on the contest.

Wittnam, an internist at the Billings Clinic and the vice president of the Montana Chess Association, with a focus on Eastern Montana, said Redman has natural drive and “a good eye for tactical positions,” but “she is still a beginner and she still has a lot of technical flaws to correct.”

She’s benefited, he said, from the best coaching that Billings can provide, which includes Mo Bain, one of the top players in the state and the reigning state chess co-champion. With the game’s emphasis on logical thinking, Wittnam said keeping up with his game has benefitted his medical practice. He’s a proponent of a European-style chess program, where elementary-aged students are introduced to the game.

Chess is a game with nearly infinite permutations, he said: in a typical 35-move match, the combination of possible legal moves exceeds the number of atoms in the observable universe, Wittnam said — estimated to be 1 followed by 81 zeroes.

Redman’s potential could be fairly limitless as well.

“If you’re not careful, she will hand you your head very quickly,” Wittnam said of Redman’s aggressive style of play. “It’s rare to find a young woman who plays that way. I think she will get better. She has the possibility of being a strong player.”

For her part, Redman hopes to play one day at the collegiate level, perhaps at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, where she knows a faculty member.

She said she prays before each competitive match — but not necessarily for victory. “I pray for clarity of mind and clarity of heart,” she said. “I ask God if it is his will for a win. And if it’s not, that’s a lesson I can learn.”

Follow-up information: In a recent exchange of e-mails, Spanish journalist Leontxo Garcia shared the following insights on chess and ADHD.

Dr. Hilario Blasco is a young prominent Spanish psychiatrist who is applying chess as a therapy to some of his ADHD patients for years already with a clear success. Besides on that, he made a serious study, fully supported and certified by the Puerta de Hierro hospital (Madrid) with a group of young ADHD people. His conclusions are very impressive: in light and moderate cases, chess can replace drugs; in more serious cases, chess can substantially reduce the dose. By the way, that [corresponds] very well with what several ADHD parents told me in different countries (of course, they do not know each other): "The only way for my son (or daughter) to [stay] concentrated for one hour or more is when he (or she) is playing chess".

Thursday, February 6, 2014

University of Haifa launches chess research project

By Sarah Carnvek
courtesy of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs

The University of Haifa, in collaboration with world-ranked Israeli chess champion Boris Gelfand, has announced a new research initiative that will study how playing chess can contribute to social and scientific development.

“This initiative is introducing chess and the disciplines involved in the game’s development into the academic world as never before,” says Vice President and Dean of Research Prof. Michal Yerushalmy.

“Through advanced studies in the University’s Department of Computer Sciences and other innovative facilities, and with the ongoing guidance of Grandmaster Boris Gelfand, the program will provide an opportunity to achieve breakthrough research and social outreach in a field that has not yet been fully explored.”

Chess Grandmaster and former World Championship contender Boris Gelfand

The initiative will examine the impact of chess on students’ math skills, language acquisition and other skills.
The program will include research on the connection between chess and cognitive enhancement; develop the first Hebrew-language educational software program for teaching chess in schools and kindergartens; and establish an international program for training chess instructors and coaches.

“I am sure this will make our society better -- I know leading intellectual professionals who succeeded thanks to their playing chess in school and continued playing alongside their professional development,” said Gelfand.

At the 2012 World Chess Championship in Russia, Gelfand [narrowly lost] to Viswanathan Anand of India. "Thanks to Gelfand's achievements, interest in chess in Israel grew dramatically," says Shay Bushinsky, who developed the software program to be used in the project.

Bushinsky was given the task of building a blueprint for teaching chess in the classroom. "It's the first time an Israeli academic institution is taking upon itself a scientific research project focused on chess," says Bushinsky, a University of Haifa researcher and chess software developer who is best known for co-authoring the award-winning computer chess programs Junior and Deep Junior.

“I am honored that the University of Haifa has decided to develop studies connected to chess and I do believe that through these studies we can help children and people of all ages develop their interest and play chess," said Gelfand.

Bushinsky notes that it is widely believed that chess helps everyone – young and old – with cognitive skills.
"For the young, we believe chess is an excellent vehicle for promoting many skills, namely linguistic and mathematical ones. With older [people], it's known to be a preserver of cognitive skills. This is empirical knowledge that we're trying to prove scientifically," says Bushinsky, who, together with University of Haifa Vice President for External Relations Amos Gaver, came up with the idea for the new project.

While there have been many international research projects on the benefits of chess, Bushinsky says the Haifa study stands out mainly because its testing ground is rich in high-quality chess players. He points to the wave of immigration from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s as the reason Israel's chess scene today includes many strong chess players and coaches.

"We are fortunate to have a significant proportion of the population that knows and plays chess. We have a broad sample that will help us ascertain aspects of this study," he explains. "We also have very good research tools as far as computer science is concerned, trainers and people who are actively involved in chess professionally."
Bushinsky says the study can also help groom a new generation of Israeli players.

"Israel is blessed with many elite chess players and there's a fear that these skills are going to vanish. We want to help facilitate and preserve these skills in the realm of academia and build a framework for professional chess training," he says.

Prior to Gelfand, Israeli chess players have won many international contests but, because there has been little investment in this field, "all these achievements are endangered," says Bushinsky. "There's not a next generation that you could foresee repeating those achievements."

The educational software program for chess instruction was written in Hebrew. But Bushinsky says it's clear that it will eventually be translated into all languages. "Around the world, there's a growing interest in chess as a vehicle for improving studies and disciplines of research in many fields. It's only natural that this will draw interest outside of Israel," he says.

Moreover, the University of Haifa’s Grandmaster Chess Research Program will initiate and take part in multiplatform collaborations with international experts and grandmasters to explore the multidisciplinary aspects of chess – including the scientific, cognitive, political, cultural and historical.