Master Chess Camp Instructor: Grandmaster Alex Stripunsky

It’s summer. For us, that means three weeks of Master Chess Camp starting in August! I want to talk a little bit about summer camp, Master Chess style.

Last year, we had our first ever camp. We put an amazing team of instructors together, almost all of whom are returning this year. It was a huge amount of work, but also a blast. There is something special about working with highly motivated teachers at the top of their game.

We break our students into three groups, based on US Chess rating: 0–1000, 1000–1500, and 1500+. I get excited every time I think about our teachers: Each coach is an absolutely top instructor for their level.

Grandmaster Alex Stripunsky will be coaching students rated 1500+. He is universally considered one of the top coaches in the United States. Alex has worked with talented young players through the International Master level, but he also has a wealth of instructive material geared towards aspiring experts and masters. Alex is also my coach!

My chess development was mostly ‘freestyle’, without a regular coach, or systematic training, so I had lots of basic knowledge gaps, even as an adult 2150–2200 player and school teacher. A couple highlights from my first lessons with Alex:

Alex: Matan, what are you meant to do when you have two bishops?

Matan: Open the position.

Alex: No. Attack on the color of your unopposed bishop. Fight against your opponent’s remaining bishop.

I swear, I gained 50 rating points just by following this advice. Somehow I kept on giving checkmate on g2 when I had an unopposed light squared bishop!

Another Alex special: “Matan. I noticed that sometimes you do not develop your pieces.” I was so insulted! How dare he. Then he showed me some of my games, where I was moving my pieces around in pursuit of some ill-defined goal, rather than bringing them all into play. Touche. It’s funny how knowing something and applying it can be different. . .

One more: “Matan, what is the point of occupying an open file?”

I can’t remember my answer, only that it was not the correct one: “Go to the 7th rank.” Right after this lesson I played a game where I quickly developed my pieces, occupied the c-file, went to the opponent’s 2nd rank, and won with a mating attack!

It’s amazing how valuable it is to learn fundamentals properly from a professional coach.

I have passed many students on to Alex when they outgrow their first teacher, and it is always a pleasure to see them continue to progress. I am never surprised when I see his students rising quickly through the ranks, becoming transformed as players. I am very excited to give our students the opportunity to train with this world-class coach!

Tomorrow, I’ll tell you all about the amazing Elizabeth Spiegel, my first mentor as a chess teacher.