09 Sep

The Special K Challenge

When I was but a lad back in the early 1970s, “Special K” was mass marketed as the healthy breakfast cereal of choice from Kellogg’s. We were all told to take "The Special K Challenge" for a better, more livelier lifestyle. It certainly didn’t do anything to help boost my chess rating — but now, after a controversial move last year from world governing body Fide, there’s another Special K that can indeed help boost the chess rating of young players!!


Fide decreed young (Under-18) players with a sub-2300 ratings would get a “boost”. Ratings are calculated by a mathematical formula. The difference between actual score and expected score is multiplied by a constant factor, “K” to add or subtract rating.

For this specific age group and rating cohort, K was increased to 40, from an earlier 30. K is 10 for all ratings above 2400. So a big hike is possible and subsequent corrections are less large. For example, a young player with Elo 2290 may score 5 points above expectancy and gain 200 Elo to go to 2490. If he/she subsequently scores 5 points below expectancy, only 50 Elo is lost.

One notable beneficiary has been the clearly talented 13-year-old John Michael Burke from New Jersey, now in the limelight as a rising star in the American game, whose Fide rating is a staggering 2601 and he's sensationally "jumped" to No.13 in the world rankings of top juniors . This makes him the youngest player ever to reach that number, younger than Magnus Carlsen, younger than Wei Yi, younger than everyone - and he’s still untitled!

Just four-six months ago Burke was "only" 2258, so part of this is due to a generous k-factor. Even so, the rise has been so rapid that many are asking how he did it. Age has a lot to do with such rating hikes, and we all remember that in the period of the same few months, a teenage Bobby Fischer, when asked to explain his sudden emergence from nowhere to the world stage, simply shrugged his young shoulders and said: “I just got good.”

Another special factor could well be John M. Burke’s choice in chess coach. After meeting former U.S. Champion Grandmaster Joel Benjamin at the U.S. World Youth Championships in 2012, he’s been under his wing ever since. That, more than anything else, can explain such rapid rises; and one that demonstrates just how to dismantle so easily a tough Indian Grandmaster back in early July at the World Open in Arlington, Virginia.

John M. Burke - GM Arun Prasad S.
43rd World Open, (9)
Sicilian Najdorf, English Attack
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Nc3 a6 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nxd4 Nf6 6.Be3 This is a line against the Najdorf that was popularised in the 1970s by American GM Robert Byrne, but now known as the English Attack with it being honed and developed into a potent force to tame the Najdorf by top English players Nigel Short and Michael Adams. 6...e5 7.Nb3 Be6 8.f3 h5 9.Qd2 Nbd7 10.Nd5 Bxd5 11.exd5 g6 12.Be2 Qc7 13.Na5 A nice move that not only allows the bolstering of d5 with c4, but also a rapid queenside pawn advance to gain space. 13...Bg7 14.0-0 0-0 15.c4 Rfe8 16.b4 e4 17.f4 b6 18.Nc6 a5 19.a3 Ng4 20.Bd4 e3 21.Qc3 Bxd4 22.Nxd4 Ndf6 23.h3 Nf2 The knight does look threatening on f2 - but, in reality, it has nothing to bite on and eventually White plays around the knight and simply picks off the pawn on e3. 24.Nc6 Nh7 25.Rae1 axb4 26.axb4 Ra2 27.Bf3 When e3 falls, so will the knight on f2. For one so young, Burke shows great maturity here in not being panicked at all by the GM's interloping knight on f2, and goes about systematically exchanging off pieces to his advantage. 27...Qd7 28.Ra1 Rxa1 29.Rxa1 Nxh3+ 30.gxh3 Qxh3 31.Ne7+! (See Diagram) It's the Black king rather than the White king that is the more exposed! 31...Kf8 If 31...Rxe7 32.Ra8+ Nf8 33.Rxf8! Kxf8 34.Qh8 mate! 32.Nxg6+ fxg6 33.Qh8+ Ke7 34.Ra7+ Kd8 35.Ra8+ Kc7 36.Qxh7+ 1-0

0 Comments September 9, 2015

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