An IB classroom was turned into a learning space for a different sort of knowledge than you usually find: how to play chess. Artem Samsonkin, an international master and first-place winner of the 2007 closed Canadian championship, among other more minor titles, visited the campus.
The visit was on an invitation from a friend of his, UTM Chess Club marketing director and fifth-year biology and psychology double major and statistics minor, Liza Noitsyn, to give a lesson.
Samsonkin, who came to live in Canada from Belarus in 2007, is currently ranked ninth in Canada by the Chess Federation and holds a CFC rating of 2562. Samsonkin most recently played in the 2014 Toronto Labour Day Open on September 1.
I attended Samsonkin’s two-hour lesson that evening, and when I entered the room, where green-and-white-checkered chessboards sat on all the desks begging to be played on, I forgot I was there to write a story. I fervently wrote down notes on the lesson itself.
Samsonkin moved pieces on his own demonstration board hanging at the front of the room, as he first taught us how to “never run out of ideas”—because you can always study the opponent and react.
Samsonkin illustrated how to prepare and support an attack, an important element of his reputedly aggressive playstyle. First he asked us to think of five possible moves to attack the centre of the board, and promptly but politely shot down many of our ideas. Each time, he emphasized that an “attack always builds around your strength”, and continued to tease potential moves out of the group.
In the second part of his lesson, Samsonkin invited everyone in the room to play against him in simultaneous games.
Seiji Nakagawa, a second-year history student, was the only one to win his game against Samsonkin. “I was very nervous. I was like, ‘Oh my God, my turn is coming again.’ He was playing really fast.”
At the end of the lesson, I got a chance to interview Samsonkin. When I asked him how he got into chess in the first place, he simply replied, “I learned when I was nine years old, and my grandparents taught me.”
We discussed how chess, like riding a bike, is often passed down by parents and grandparents. But unlike many of us students, who may not get the chance to ride our bikes these days, Samsonkin never stopped playing chess.
“Chess has been a big part of my life. Even now, I train a lot of kids and I give lectures for different chess clubs. I just really enjoy it because I can share the skills I learned,” says Samsonkin.
When I asked to learn more about how chess changed Samsonkin’s life, he added, “I’ve travelled half the world because every year I used to go to the world championship in my age group. I have friends from all over the world, which is very valuable. And I see how chess has developed in other countries.
“In Russia there is more of a professional attitude. I found kids here are less ambitious,” said Samsonkin. “But different types of events are popularizing chess and they are encouraging competitiveness.”
Ivan Manasuev, second-year commerce and finance specialist and the club’s president, says they plan to hold more lessons along these lines with different masters.
“Look for capture, check, and threat,” Sanaya Dubash, a first-year philosophy student, recalled after the event. “Even I’ve managed to remember it.”
“The main idea of his lesson was centralization of pieces and keeping pieces flexible,” concluded Nakagawa, who played on a four-man team in a tournament among three Canadian universities with the club last year. The team beat both Ryerson and Brock to win the tournament.