All twelve classes of this year's MCC Chess School were focused
on the endgame. The original philosophy
behind the choice of this subject was that endgame knowledge is a learnable
skill, and it can be built from the ground up, irrespective of a player's
rating. Monthly sessions (or classes)
of the Chess School were held with this basic premise in mind.
Observations over the course of the program
Attendance ranged from four students (second to last class)
and six students (Easter week and the last week of August), to about twenty
students on nights when Lou Mercuri was lecturing. Lou Mercuri's lectures consistently attracted the largest attendance.
Each class generally consisted of three parts: group learning,
Lou Mercuri lecture (five out of twelve classes) or student mini-lectures led
by students, and group games.
When there were small groups (3-4 people) for group learning,
dynamic discussion occurred. Larger
groups (5-6 people) did not work as well.
The quality of this discussion also depended on how well each
member of the group prepared. In
general, the students who prepared for each class had a better time and got the
most out of the course. Not everyone
prepared for each class. This brought
down the learning potential for those who did prepare.
In general, Lou's lectures were always filled with useful
information, and he consistently lectured about topics I asked him to. He sometimes stayed longer than his allotted
Lou's lectures had a negative side. I tend to feel that these lectures were an isolated event
attended by way more people than who attended a non-lecture class, and thus his
lectures did not take on a look and feel of a substantive part of a bigger
Group games were extremely fun (perhaps the most enjoyable
part of the course for most), but they did not consistently prove to be an
effective learning tool. It might be
worthwhile to brainstorm how to incorporate group games into the general MCC
schedule outside of the Chess School.
Many lower rated players (<1200) fit right in and
understood the fundamental material as well as the higher rated players. However, not all lower rated players could
do this. Often, many of the group
discussions would turn into a lecture by the person who prepared most or by the
highest rated player, lecturing to the people who did not prepare. The people who did not prepare just sat there
expecting to be spoon fed the material.
This is consistent with Lou attracting higher attendance.
Financial cost to the MCC: $250 (five Lou Mercuri lectures at
The lesson that I'm taking away from this year's class is that
over the long term (one year) the average Chess School student did not have the
inclination to devote the time necessary for serious preparation (including
myself some months). If the MCC Chess
School is to continue next season, my recommendation (initially proposed to me
by Harvey Reed) is to keep the same lecture/discussion format but make the
number of classes less (i.e., three classes per topic instead of twelve). This short-term nature of the course will
make it easier for students to prepare or to get excited. As noted above, the students who prepared
got the most out of the course and seemed to have the best time. All in all, the class was a success. Students enjoyed learning some useful
endgame technique, the facilitators learned what worked and didn't work, and
the class set the foundation for similar programs in the future.