MacEnulty: Chess is for late bloomers too
World-renown chess coach David MacEnulty has said that adults should not be discouraged from getting into the sport as they already have the mental conditioning needed to excel. Although, he said, this was so if the right training was given in the right amount of time.
The United States Chess Federation Lifetime Achievement Award recipient is currently in the island as one of the specially invited guests for the first ever Jamaica International Chess Festival, which continues this evening at The Worthington, Spanish Court Hotel.
He has been invited to give seminars on how chess helps children emotionally and academically, how it prepares them for 21st-century job skills, and how to prepare children psychologically to play in tournaments.
Getting children to develop a love for chess has been the focus of the festival because it requires many years of training for persons to develop as masters, with many starting from early childhood. However, MacEnulty, who himself is said to have got into the game at a late age, said that adults have already been conditioned by their experience with their environment to have the attention span needed for the game.
"Children learn very slowly. Adults learn very quickly because we have so much more in our background that we can tie information to," he said. "When you're older, you have more places to put information.
"When I have an adult student, I can cover, in one lesson, what might take me four weeks with a small child. The problem that adults have is that we all have jobs. The child's job is to learn. Our job is our jobs. Fitting chess in is pretty difficult.
"A friend of mine once said, 'If you got a bunch of 10-year-olds and a bunch of 35-year-olds who didn't know how to play chess and you taught them how to play for two years and then had a match, who'd win? My feeling is the 35-year-olds would slaughter them if we put into the equation that they have equal amounts of time to learn."
MacEnulty made reference to one of his students and how quickly she began to understand the game.
"(Grandmaster) Maurice (Ashley) didn't start playing (competitively) until high school. That's pretty good. I've taught many adults. One young woman was in her mid-20s. She wanted to take chess lessons because her boyfriend was always beating her. She didn't tell her boyfriend she was getting lessons. So after about five lessons, she said, 'You know, I almost beat him last night.' After six lessons, she said, 'I won!'
"I've been showing her the scientific principles behind decision making. She's really understanding what's involved in this little microcosm of the world. After eight lessons, she said, 'You know, he really isn't very good.' And that was the last lesson we had," he said with a big laugh.
But the American said that he has been very impressed by the skills exhibited by children he has seen so far on his visit to the island.
"I saw some kids show up at a chess table, and they started to play, and I thought, 'OK, let me watch.' They played about the first 10 or so moves of the Sicilian Dragon (a tactic opening considered highly successful in chess) flawlessly. That blew me away. There are lots of tricks and traps to it, and when you face the dragon, you'd better be prepared, and if you play the dragon, you'd better be prepared. People have analysed this thing endlessly. It's not something you enter into lightly. That they did it and played flawlessly for 10 moves, I was very impressed."
MacEnulty's story of how he coached students of the Bronx Community Elementary School to win the New York City and State Chess Championships was made into a movie called Knights of the South Bronx in 2005.