Your Editor caught-up (at last!) with Sabrina Chevannes
Q : When did you first learn to play chess? At school? At the Checkmate Chess Club?
I was never lucky enough to have chess in my schools. I suppose this is one of the reasons I push to have chess in schools at the moment, as I know how valuable it is and how lucky the children are who that receive chess coaching at school. I first learnt when I was about 8 years old and I saw my brother playing with my dad. I have two older brothers so I used to copy everything they did – they were my role models. I got very competitive and wanted to start being at least as good as my brother, which is why I took up the game. I started Checkmate Chess Club at the age of 9, when the late Mike Fox arranged a match for the Birmingham team to face his club. I was so impressed with how his club was run that I really wanted to be a part of it, so I joined shortly after the match.
Q : I once saw a poster of you in fight-mode with boxing gloves on. (It was for Mike Basman’s Chess Challenge). Are you a tough fighter, then?
Of course! Who likes losing? I will fight to the death. Sometimes I feel that I have forgotten how to play chess these days as I have spent the last few years coaching rather than playing, so do feel demoralised during games, but I never give up. I never even offer draws, just so I can learn from my position. I would rather lose but die fighting than take a quick draw and wimp out. I would LOVE to do chessboxing, but as most people have seen me on crutches for most of the last year, they know that I am not fit enough to do that right now. I have had so many knee problems, so once those get fixed and I get training again, I hope to be in that ring!!
Q : I will not spare your blushes: I gather you are still only twenty-five. You do seem to have crammed a lot into your life. Let’s see: medical school, musical abilities, teaching to A Level standard … yet chess now takes centre stage for you?
Yes, I have always seemed to be the kind of person that likes to get involved with everything. Ever since a young age, I was in every single sports team, as well as being the lead roles in school plays and orchestras etc. However, it’s a case of Jack of all trades, master of none, I am afraid. It took me three years of medical school to realise it wasn’t for me and I actually started up the Chevannes Chess Academy whilst I was still at medical school, so it has been a passion of mine for a while. Despite achieving grade 8 in both my piano and violin, I am still nowhere near as good as I wish I could be. I really do admire those who can just play anything on their instrument anytime they want but I have not played for so long, I would really be awful to listen to right now! So despite me achieving all these things, it does not mean I am brilliant at them all! Teaching is definitely what I am best at. I have been teaching in some form or other for 15 years now! I really do enjoy my job, which not many people can say! It is hard work, but hard work is what is needed to produce results. My academy is expanding and I am running out of minutes in the day to take on new clients. Even though, yes, chess takes centre stage with the coaching, I do enjoy teaching the academic subjects and helping my students fulfil their goals in life.
Q : Sabrina, I read in CHESS that you believe that improvement in our game to be largely down to the availability of chess resources, quality computers and the excellence of (our) coaching. Can you tell our readers a little more along these lines?
Well there is just so much out there these days! Chessbase has produced so much material to help us become better chess players – Fritz 13, with the new Let’s Check, Fritz Media DVDs, let alone Chessbase itself. Anything we want help with, there is some form of software to help us. With engines that have ratings over 3000, we always have a ridiculously strong ‘player’ helping us find ideas in any position. You would think that with all of this, then I would be out of a job as a chess coach! However, despite all this, the best way to get any form of information across is to be taught (by a human). There are so many coaches out there these days that people don’t know where to look! We have some fantastic coaches out there who really do care about their students and work really hard to help them produce results. However, it is becoming a bit of a meat market out there due to the current financial climate, with people who don’t know what they are doing becoming “chess coaches”, just in it for the money and people becoming very territorial over their patch, so that it is becoming quite a hostile field to work in. The actual teaching is one of the most rewarding things that you can do, but it is all the other politics and baggage that comes with it that ruins it.
Q : And as if that wasn’t enough, you play a good game. You drew with Coleman, Hagesaether, IM Jim Sherwin and beat Collas (2331), Oliva Valero (2227) … and yet you prefer to teach rather than simply play?
I definitely prefer teaching! I just don’t have the confidence to play anymore. I stopped playing regularly when I was a teenager and now I only really play the 4NCL and the occasional London League game. I just don’t feel good enough to be playing properly anymore. I took myself out of selection for the England Ladies’ Team due to this and don’t feel that I will be coming back as a regular player very soon. If I had time to actually do work on my own game, I may change my mind, but right now, all my time goes into my students.
Q : When playing other women, are you playing your best game? (we spotted you beat Jana Bellin and Anya Corke, for example)
I don’t actually notice a difference when playing women. I suppose I have had decent results against most women as there aren’t many that I have a negative score against. However, I don’t think it has anything to do with gender – I just play the board, not the person. I think this is one of the reasons I try to work at promoting women’s chess in this country – there is always quite a lot of talk about whether women are just worse than men, or just easier to play against. I do think that women can be good at chess, but at the moment, the chess scene is just not a nice environment for females to be in and so it can deter the females from the game. I am working on it though!
Q : I hear the pupils of the Sabrina Chevannes Academy end up teaching their parents to play. Does this build support for your activities (we imagine so) .. ?
Oh yes, it is fantastic! The best success is when the parents can help at home too, but not all children are lucky enough to have this. I encourage the children to go home and teach their parents what they know as it reinforces what they already know, lets the parents have the same knowledge as the children so that they can help with their progress along the way and also shows the parents that I am actually teaching them something. The more supportive the parents are, the more likely they are to help the children. Tournament practice is necessary for a child’s chess development and attendance to these tournaments is impossible without tournament support, so parents really are the key to success.
Q : Tell us about ‘Chess for Schools’ please. Some readers will appreciate a bit of background here. Where should teachers, parents and pupils look for your activities in the future ..?
First of all, I would like to correct you on the name Chess For Schools was the project that the ECF launched and promised 250,000 free chess sets to be given out. This project failed miserably and a very small fraction of this number of sets was actually delivered. What I think you mean is the charity Chess in Schools and Communities. This is a charity ran by Malcolm Pein which aims to help children in state primary schools all over England and Wales. I have been working for CSC for over 18 months now and they have nearly reached their first target of supporting 100 schools in England and Wales. CSC have provided free equipment, coaching and materials to these schools as well as running regional and national competitions for them. We hope to expand all over the country but, due to lack of funding, we have to hold back on this for now. You can see more about CSC’s activities at www.chessinschools.co.uk.
Q : Correct me if I’m wrong, but something on the ECF Forum caught my eye. It was a post by you mentioning the ‘Dutch Step Method’. What on earth is that?
The Dutch Step Method is a series of teaching manuals that was developed by Cor Van Wijgerden. It has proved to be a very successful teaching method (just look at how strong they are over there)! I often use it as a teaching tool. There are 6 main steps, although they have developed extra stages now, but they progress from beginner right up to master. Each step has a teaching manual and a workbook, ideal for setting students homework. It really is fantastic. I usually write my own materials and have developed my own Chevannes Chess Course, which can be found on my website, but the Step Method is an internationally renowned method and my students seem to enjoy doing the workbooks. I am working with a Dutch trainer at the moment to hopefully develop this teaching method more in the UK as I think it can be beneficial to our juniors, so keep a close eye at my website (www.chevanneschessacademy.com) for updates about that.
Q : You have been in the news standing for election to the ECF but didn’t get in. What were you going to do if elected and have you plans to stand again?
Well, I think the state of junior chess in this country at the moment is not good. No-one seems to want to do anything. I have had a role in the ECF for a year now as the Manager of Women’s Chess along with Jovanka Houska. However, it has been extremely hard to get anything done as there is always someone in the ECF who is holding you back. I just like to get on and do things. If I had been elected as the Junior Director of Chess and Education, then I would have already sent our top juniors to some international events, such as the European Rapid & Blitz Championships in Poland that are happening at the moment. I think that more team trips are very important as they encourage team bonding and gets the juniors playing. International chess is another world and the more exposure to this, the better. There is constant talk about how disappointing our junior results are when they go to the European and World Youth Championships, but what do you expect from them if that is the only international event they play each year and they are sent with coaches they have never met before and who don’t know anything about their games? This sort of thing needs to be changed. This is why I proposed that there should be an official junior squad set up, with an official pool of coaches and have regular training weekends throughout the year. This way, juniors and coaches get to know each other and already be prepared before going on these trips. I have proposed this to members of the ECF board already and stated that I would even be happy to run this programme, but still, nothing seems to be done and I guess it will always stay that way, and England will continue to underachieve. I don’t have any plans to stand again as I have really tried to put a lot of effort in with the ECF but it seems this has been wasted and nothing is likely to be changed. I would always be looking to improve, until I have achieved the best. However, I will continue to run my own events and help as many juniors as I can in my own way as then I can go ahead and just do things and actually get them done! I have already run two international junior matches: England vs Norway and England vs India, which were really successful and very well received. Reports and games for those will be online very shortly. I ran these to give some of those juniors who haven’t had a chance to represent their country yet, for whatever reason, but are clearly strong enough to, the chance to show people what they’re made of. I am very proud of the teams that played in these events.
Also, I am currently doing a Sponsored Chess Read! Since I have never read a chess book in my life (yes, I know, it’s awful), I have agreed to do so, should people sponsor me to raise money for junior chess. The first book on the list is Chess for Tigers by Simon Webb. I am about half way through it. Once that is done, then I am to read Dynamic Chess Strategy by Suba. You can read more information about how to vote for what book I should read or how to donate the money to junior chess on my blog at www.chevanneschessacademy.blogspot.com
Q : And finally Sabrina: openings. You are a 1.d4 person who also plays 1.e4 occasionally. As Black you like Slavs and Caro-Kanns. Why these choices? Quieter beginnings but building towards positional fights?
Argh an actual question about my chess – I have been dreading this. Ok, well, the truth is, I don’t know any theory. I just make it up. You can probably see this from my games. Therefore, I guess it doesn’t really matter what I play. I usually do start with d4, yes, but I am known to randomly play e4 when I am feeling a bit more adventurous. I think I picked the Caro-Kann because it was the easiest to play and if I pushed my pawn just one square further, I would be forced to learn lots of theory or I would get crushed. Slavs, well, I don’t think you can even call what I play a Slav or Semi-Slav – it is just nonsense. Again, the choice comes from laziness. I WILL one day learn some theory, and one day play some real openings, but as I said before, it won’t be anytime soon.
Thank you very much for your time, Young Lady!