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Friday, March 31, 2017

Capablanca vs. Tartakower, New York 1924

Dear readers,

I apologize as I don't have an article ready for you today. I have a big chess tournament coming up this weekend - the Marchand Open and I didn't prepare an article beforehand. 

I will return to my weekly schedule next week, and until then, please enjoy this video I created this week.

Friday, March 24, 2017

How to Prepare for a Big Chess Tournament

"The good fighters of old put themselves beyond the possibility of defeat, and then waited for an opportunity of defeating the enemy." ~Sun Tzu
Your humble author (left) in a tournament game.
Photographer: M. McDuffie
We play chess fairly often. There are online games and correspondence games. Over-the-board, we have various tournaments, leagues, and casual play. Every once in a while, though, we have a BIG tournament.  This could be a scholastic championship, your club championship, or a large prize tournament. It's something with a little more significance than your other chess play.

In this article, we will discuss some practical and effective ways to prepare for these tournaments. These methods are useful for chess play in general, but are especially useful when preparing for a tournament that is very important to you.

Sleep


I've written several times about the importance of sleep and chess improvement. Although sleep is important all the time, in multiple-round tournaments over several days it is vital. With long time controls and two or three rounds in a single day, you can be in a single match for four or five hours and be playing chess for up to ten hours! 

Read Better Sleep for Better Chess for more details, but here are some of the benefits of proper sleep.
  • Increased cognitive functioning.
  • Increased vigilance - e.g. you won't miss as much.
  • Increased attention.
Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep at night and youngsters may need more. This could be the most important preparation for your tournament (assuming you maintain your other chess training).

Tactics Training


I also recommend increased tactical training. International Master Nazi Paikidze noted that she often solved 50-100 tactical problems in preparing for her victorious run at the 2016 U.S. Women's Championship. You don't need to solve as many as Ms. Paikidze, but the idea is to sharpen your tactical sword

I recommend a mix of tactics training, including your traditional tactical problems that you see on Chess Tempo or Chessity, as well checkmate problems and endgame studies to help develop your calculation and visualization skills.

If you already study a lot of tactics, you may not have to increase your volume. For example, if you are doing tactics for an hour a day or more, it may be best to just maintain that and work on some of the other training activities I will mention.

Exercise


Exercise is good for your body and your mind.
Long tournaments are not just a test of your chess skill, but also a test of your stamina and endurance. Physical activity is important to maintaining your mental effort during the long matches and days. Most of the world champions (particularly the more recent ones) often had very rigorous physical training. Bobby Fischer used to swim many laps underwater to increase his body's ability to utilize oxygen efficiently.

Although any physical activity is better than none, I recommend you emphasize two specific areas in your exercise. 

First, cardiovascular endurance is very important for oxygen utilization by the brain (and body). Basically, any activity that gets your huffing and puffing and sweating will be effective. It could be traditional cardiovascular exercise like running and swimming or training methods such as kettlebells or Crossfit that include a strength component to training the heart and lungs. One Filipino martial arts expert used to run a lot but then he realized he got the same benefits and had more from playing basketball with his boys!

Second, strengthening the core muscles around the lower back and abdominals is important. The reason is that we will be sitting at the board for a long time, and our ability to maintain our posture and be comfortable will keep us from getting distracted. Exercises that strengthen your core include squats, crunches, and planks.

If you are not familiar with exercise, please start slow and with short sessions. Having a physical injury is not helpful for chess, so work within your experience and skill level. 

Also remember that exercise won't make you a grandmaster (at least not overnight), but it will help your energy levels during the fourth and fifth hours of a tournament match.

Your Openings


Reviewing your openings is an essential aspect for tournament preparation. This can be overdone, so I'll just give you a few guidelines.
  • Review lines within your opening repertoire. There are several good tools for assisting in this, including Chessable and Chess Position Trainer. You can read my review of Chessable.
  • As most of my readers are amateurs, I recommend focusing on one response to each of the major openings. For example, you do not need to learn both the French and the Sicilian against 1.e4. Pick one and focus on it and then do this for every major junction in your opening repertoire.
  • Once you are within a month or two of the tournament, I do not recommend learning a totally new system to play in the tournament. Your experience within the systems of your repertoire are as important as the specific lines you play. So play what you know!
  • My only exception to the previous point is if you have a glaring hole in your repertoire. For example, if you don't have a system you are confident in against either 1.e4 or 1.d4, then I would suggest picking one and then studying it, because most likely you will face it in one of your matches.
Being confident with your opening repertoire will help you greatly in the tournament. Tournament time is not time to experiment with new openings. 

Playing with a Purpose


Before the big event, you will probably have several opportunities to play either over-the-board or online. Use this time to work on specific parts of your game that may need some practice.

It is important to review your recent games. I've written several articles about this include the following:
You should start to notice a few habits that you might want to improve in future games. I recommend picking one or two of these aspects and make them practice objectives for your non-tournament games.

Here is the process I use:

  • Identify the objectives to focus on. I write these down on an index card, and usually have no more than one or two.
  • Play the game, being mindful of these objectives during my play.
  • After the game, review my progress and success in accomplishing the objectives.


For example, I recently had noticed that I was playing passively in the endgame, particularly with my rook. In the last several games, one of my objectives was to have "Active pieces in the endgame." The following game is a demonstration of that habit I have been developing (from a recent tournament).




Mental and Emotional Training


The final area that you might want to include in your tournament preparation is some type of mental and emotional training. This involves learning to control your emotions as well as learning to be present in your games. Here are a few of the chess benefits of training your mind and emotions:
  • Focus and attention during deep calculation
  • Resilience when under pressure
  • Bouncing back from setbacks
How does one train one's mind and emotions? There are many methods and I am not an expert, but here are a few methods I have used to improve myself in this area.
  • Meditation: It doesn't have to be complicated. I use Headspace as well as general breath awareness meditation.
  • Deep breathing: This is related but also separate from meditation. Learning to breath well can help you keep calm and provide your body and mind with oxygen. This is especially helpful during tense chess positions!
  • Visualization: I visualize myself playing confidently and calmly. I play some classical music in the background and imagine myself at the board playing against a tough opponent. There is a lot of information out there on visualization but again, you don't have to make it complicated. See yourself and the qualities you want to have when you are playing. A few minutes a day can do a lot!
  • Journaling: I have journaled for years, and I find it very helpful in terms of getting thoughts out of my head and onto paper (or more recently, onto the computer). If you try this, I would recommend writing down your goals and ambitions surrounding the big event, and also your fears and worries about it. When you see it written in front of you, you can start to think rationally about it and see that a lot of your fears and worries are either without warrant, or something you can overcome with preparation.
If you are more interested in mental training and sports psychology, I would recommend checking out the books of Bob Rotella and anything by psychologist Michael Gervais.

Preparing for Success


Hopefully, your chess training has been consistent and steady for a long time before your big events. A solid foundation of chess knowledge and practice is essential for success. These tips are not meant to replace the hours spent studying and practicing and can't make up for neglecting that training.

However, tournament chess is different than playing online or casual games with your friends. The amount of focus and effort your opponent will be exerting will be much higher and you need to be ready to meet the challenge. Similarly, the pressure you put on yourself will be greater. More intense preparation is often helpful to bridge the gap from your everyday chess play and the rigors of tournament play.

Follow these tips and you'll find yourself in the best place mentally, physically, and emotionally to tackle the challenges of your next big tournament!

Good luck!

Your Turn


How do you prepare for tournaments?

Do you have a big tournament coming up?

Share in the comments!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Three Levels of Chess Training Strategy

"Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war and then seek to win."
-Sun Tzu
What are your goals in chess?

Do you have a plan for your chess improvement?

Do your chess training activities align with your goals?

It's okay if you don't have answers for these questions. In this article, we're going to discuss planning your training strategy on three different levels:

  • Vision
  • Strategy
  • Tactics
Here on Better Chess Training, I try to address all three levels. Let's discuss each one in more detail and what you can do to apply these concepts to improve your chess.

Vision


The most important level is your vision. What are your aspirations for chess as a player? Do you want to mainly enjoy the game with your family and friends? Do you want to play in tournaments and progress up the ratings ladder? Do you want to be a national champion?

Your answer and perhaps more importantly your belief in this vision is the foundation for the strategy and tactics that you employ.

For example, I have a vision of becoming a USCF rated master (and perhaps a little better) - somewhere around USCF 2300. Although I feel this is quite challenging, I think over time it is definitely possible with a lot of the right work and perseverance. However, I make no delusions of ever becoming a grandmaster. 

This is quite different than the vision of a friend of mine. He enjoys keeping up with the current world class chess tournaments on the internet and playing chess with his grandchildren. His vision is to be able to be a good sparring partner for his grandson and be able to understand at least a little of what is happening between the world's elite players.

We both would like to improve our current level of chess knowledge and skill, but our differing visions may set us on slightly different paths in terms of the strategy and tactics.

So what are your goals in chess? What is your vision? Feel free to share in the comments because I'd love to read them (and by knowing them I might be able to write more helpful articles).

Once you have a clear vision for your chess, you can look at strategies to achieve your vision.

Strategy


Of course, we know what strategy is in relation to our chess games. It involves looking at the pros and cons of our position with the ultimate vision of checkmating our opponent. Your strategy in training is similar.

Strategy is your plan on how you will get better at chess (or achieve your vision). A good strategy (or strategies) takes into account your current strengths and weaknesses as well as your life's circumstances. 

Let's use myself and my friend as examples.

My strategy for improvement takes into account a few things:
  • Understanding what it takes to become a USCF master
  • Assessing my current level of understanding and skill in various areas of chess
  • Accounting for my responsibilities in my life that take time and energy - e.g. work, family, and home
  • Taking into account the financial resources I can allocate towards chess
In order to assist me in developing my training strategy, I am now working with a coach - GM Nigel Davies. I wrote about the role a coach can play in Should You Hire a Chess Coach? Besides teaching chess, we also discuss our training on a strategic level based on what he is seeing in my games. Here are just a few examples of strategy based on the factors above and what he has seen in my games:
  • We have simplified my opening repertoire to take into account both my skill level and the amount of time I can spend studying openings.
  • Noting an underdevelopment in certain aspects of my positional knowledge, we focus on these specifically during lessons and fill in gaps with the Tiger Chess program.
  • Although I think daily tactical training is essential for players, we noted that this was a strength, so I spend a little less time on it in order to focus on other areas of chess study. However, I still do my tactics training daily.
Besides these training elements, I've also introduced a few other strategic elements into my personal training program:
  • I've become more consistent with meditation and practicing mindfulness. I use simple breath awareness meditation mainly using Headspace. This has helped me to manage my energy better as well as increased my focus, which is important in chess and life.
  • I try to get at least seven hours of sleep at night. I track my sleep and performance on tactics, and there is a definite correlation between the hours of sleep and my results. As I write in my article on sleep, there is much scientific evidence supporting the importance of sleep for cognitive performance.
  • I tend to do things in a disorganized fashion. In order to combat this in my life and in my chess training, I have started using organization tools more effectively, including scheduling my training in my daily calendar and using Evernote for work, home, and chess.
In the example of my friend, his strategy for improvement is a little different. He's retired, so time isn't as big of an issue. Also, he told me that he wants chess to be fun. He's spent his whole career working hard, so he doesn't want to do anything that will feel like "work." Instead of arguing with him on the definition of work and chess - I enjoy all of my chess "work" - I decided to go with him on his thoughts and helped put just a tiny bit of strategy into his chess "enjoyment."

Here are a few things that he does regularly:
  • He watches videos on Youtube including my channel and a few others. Mainly, he enjoys watching videos that have commentary on games.
  • He plays his grandson in chess regularly. He also looks at his games regularly after he plays them, doing a super quick version of my Seven Questions. I don't think he records the games, so he just goes over them for 15-20 minutes after playing them from what he can remember. 
  • He reads the chess books that his grandson reads, and tries to solve all of the chess puzzles.
His strategy for improvement is quite different then mine, but help him to achieve the vision he has for himself. He has gotten improved gradually and so has his grandson!

So when reflecting on your own strategy, make sure that your strategies for improvement align with your vision. Also, you want to make sure your strategies align with your life circumstances. If your strategy for improvement account for these factors, then you're on the right track!

These strategies are what we need to do to reach our vision. Executing them is what tactics is all about.

Tactics


Vision is what you want to accomplish. Strategy is plan to get there. Tactics is the execution of that plan.

There are several objectives that we try to accomplish through tactics:

  • We want our training to be effective - e.g. to accomplish what we set out to do.
  • We want our training to be efficient - e.g. we want to maximize our learning or training within the time we have.
Here we can see the importance of strategy. You can have the most effective and efficient method of training your openings, but if you lose most of your games due to blunders and you don't train your tactics sufficiently, you will likely not improve very much.

I discuss this topic in more detail in a two-part series Principles of Effective Training (Part 1 and Part 2). Here I will just highlight a few points and how they relate to tactics.
  • Appropriate material is important for effective training. For example, a chess grandmaster probably doesn't need to spend much time solving mates-in-one problems. Similarly, a beginner probably doesn't need to study much opening theory.
  • Having clear objectives is critical because otherwise it is difficult to measure the effectiveness of training. 
  • Have feedback loops helps us measure whether or not we accomplished the objectives and gives us a way to adjust our tactics to make our training more effective.
  • Regular review ensures that our training and learning stays in our memories.
With regard to efficiency, these principles are also relevant. 
  • If your study or training methods are too hard, you will need to do it again when you are strong enough to understand or tackle it. If your methods are too easy, you will not improve very much or very quickly.
  • Without clear objectives, you may improve "accidentally" but the path might be windy and long as opposed to straight and direct.
  • Proper feedback loops will help you understand where you need to make adjustments in our training.
  • Regular review will keep you from forgetting and having to relearn the material, which would be inefficient.
You can learn more specific methods and tactics on Better Chess Training and in some of my other writing. Here are a few articles that talk about various training methods:

Some activities may belong to both strategy and tactics. For example, for me getting proper sleep was both a strategy to better health and thus more longevity in chess as well as a tactic, as I noticed my training was not as effective on days that I did not get much sleep. 

Don't worry too much about classifying whether an element of your training is part of your strategy or tactics. These are just labels to help you understand your thought process behind your planning, not the goal themselves.


Evolving Strategies


Planning your chess training isn't a one time deal. Over time, as you encounter different methods and different viewpoints, your vision, strategy, and tactics may shift. 

Your vision might change due to a change in circumstance. For example, the vision of my chess changed quite a bit from the ambitious 20-year-old who had plenty of time to study and train to a 40-something-year-old father and businessman who has 1-2 hours a day at most for chess.

Your strategy will change as you grow in strength in different areas of chess. This is natural and necessary. Chess is too complex of a game to use a single strategy to improve throughout your chess career. Embrace the change and have fun with it.

Finally, tactics will probably change most frequently as advances in chess software and our understanding of training grow. Similarly, your experience with specific tactics will change as you find what works for you. Although there are certain principles of learning and training that are fairly universal, the specific way you manifest those principles might be different for you than another player - even if you are of similar strengths.

My final advice is that besides your own analysis and assessment of your situation through these three levels, seeking the help or feedback from a coach or even other players is often helpful. They can objective as they are not emotionally attached to the outcome as you might be. They might be able to point things out that you may not see because of your own personal biases.

Your Turn


Have you considered these three levels of planning in your own chess improvement? 

Is there one level that perhaps you were focused on more than the others?

Is there one level that you have neglected? What can you do to change that situation?

Let me know in the comments. I'd love to have a conversation with you about it.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Submit Your Games for Game of the Month

Starting this month, I'll be taking submissions for instructive game of the month.

I'm looking for instructive games. They can be short games or long games. They can be brilliant attacks or defensive struggles. If you learned something from the game, then it was instructive.

At the end of the month, I will select the most instructive game and create a video on the Better Chess Training Youtube Channel. I might also include excerpts from other games that did not get selected.

The only requirement is that you be a subscriber to the Better Chess Training Youtube Channel and that your game be in pgn format. If I cannot read the notation with SCID, then it won't be considered.

Here is my video invitation:




Here is the link to the submission form (it is a Google form).

Good luck and I hope this can become a regular feature!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Some Endgame Training Resources

Agreeing to draws in the middlegame, equal or otherwise, deprives you of the opportunity to practice playing endgames, and the endgame is probably where you need the most practice. ~  Pal Benko
Pal Benko, Endgame Expert, in 1964.
Photo: Broers, F.N. CC-SA 3.0
Lately, I've been very interested in getting better at the endgame. This is for several reasons. First, I'm getting older and perhaps a little wiser, but it could just be that my memory is getting worse and it's easier to remember positions with less pieces on the board. Secondly, my children are starting to play and it's the easiest place to start to teach them. Finally, many of the masters whose games I admire - Capablanca, Smyslov, Rubinstein, and Karpov - were absolute masters of the endgame.

In the past, I've recommended several good books to get you started on the endgame, including Jeremy Silman's Complete Endgame Course and Jesus de la Villa's 100 Endgames You Must Know. I would add to this Nigel Davies' Tiger Chess Program if you enjoy watching chess videos and a systematic study program.

In this article, I just want to highlight a couple other resources that I use in my endgame study and practice.

Nalimov Endgame Tablebases Online


Screenshot
This is actually a site for computer programming, but it has a very useful page for 6-man endgame tablebases. You can copy your FEN positions and paste them and then the site tells you whether it is a win, loss, or draw for every single possible move. 

I recommend you use this in conjunction for learning specific endgame methods, for example, specific rook and pawn endgames like the Lucena or Philidor Positions.

It is important to know the concepts and methods first before you use this tool. This is similar to using computer chess engines to analyze your chess. If you do not have a clue about the underlying ideas behind the moves, it will do more harm than good.

The way I use it is when I'm practicing endgame positions against the computer or a friend. If I get stuck on the winning method, I might first go back to the book or video where I learned it, but then I'll plug the specific position into the tablebases and see what the best moves are. 

I don't want to be redundant but I want to make one last emphasis that this is a tool to supplement actually learning how to play specific positions.

ChessVideos.TV Endgame Simulations

Screenshot
Chessvideos.tv has a simple endgame simulator that includes a few theoretical endgame positions including king and pawn, rook endgames, and famous endgames. The positions are loaded and you play against a chess engine.

The interface is very simple and there's no way to save the moves or interact with them any other way. However, I look at this site as a way you can reinforce your technique in these simple endgames. This is something I often set up in SCID to play against the chess engine. 

The nice thing about doing them on this site though is that it will automatically set up the pieces randomly (within the parameters of the specific endgame of course), so you can practice your technique efficiently. 

With SCID, I would need to set up the board myself with the pieces in different positions. With chessvideos.tv's simulator I can just click "start over" and the board is set up with the pieces in different positions then the last time.

This is a nice little tool that I use occasionally when I'm relaxing and just want to play through some rook and pawn endgame positions. Again, it's important to learn the technique from a book or video first. 


Chess.com's Endgame Drills and Fundamentals


Chess.com has a lot of great resources and is a great place to play chess. In the last year or so, they've added a lot of new learning resources including their Endgame Fundamentals and Endgame Practice drills.

These are similar to setting up positions on SCID and playing against the engine, but these positions are specifically chosen as a progression from simple to more complex. 

The nice thing that seperates this chess.com drills from "doing it yourself" is that the computer engine gives you helpful feedback on the quality of your moves (other than the numerical evaluation) as well as the ability to analyze and download the pgn notation of your drill. 

Access to the first few drills in each section is free, and access to the rest can be purchased through monthly or annual subscription. 

SCID


This isn't really an endgame resource, but instead a platform in which you can practice your endgames. Using positions I gather from the books mentioned above or from the downloadable pgn's provided through Tiger Chess, I set up the positions that are best learned through practice (such as the Philidor Position and its variations) as opposed to just memorization.

I've written about SCID before, and I use it for a lot of my chess study and game storage. I have created a special endgame database with all of my practice positions, and I'll go over them and practice against the engine. 

Practice Makes Perfect


I want to conclude the article with a pleasant endgame breakthrough I made. I recently studied king, bishop, and two pawns versus bishop (of the same color) and king in Tiger Chess. I was having the hardest time trying to figure out. 

I was making simple mistakes such as the following:

However, after using some of the tools mentioned above, I was able to figure it out. I re-watched the videos in Tiger Chess, then analyzed my attempts using the Nalimov Tablebases, and final practiced it several times with SCID. Here is the latest, with the strong chess engine Stockfish 7 as my opponent.


I hope you found some of these resources helpful for your endgame training. Like many parts of chess, continued practice will help increase your understanding. This is especially important in endgames because your knowledge and understanding of certain endgame positions will help you with move selection and evaluations in the middlegame (and even the opening). Also, during tournaments, you may be running low on time and your knowledge of a winning method may be the difference between a win and a loss.

Your Turn

Are there any other endgame training resources I didn't mention that you use?

Which of the resources I mention will you try this week?

Do you like the endgame? Or is it a "necessary evil?"

Friday, March 3, 2017

Should You Hire a Chess Coach?

"The test of a good coach is that when they leave, others will carry on successfully."  
-Author Unknown
Chess coaches can be very beneficial for your chess improvement. I've worked with a few over the years and am currently working with one. In this article, I'll list a few of the benefits of coaching, We'll also discuss some ideas on how to best work with a coach. Finally, I will give a few tips on what to look for in a coach.

The Benefits of Working with a Coach

There are I believe two broad ways that a coach can help you with your chess. They can help you increase or correct your knowledge. They can also help you develop good training and thinking habits. 

One of the main reasons players seek out a coach is to help them increase their chess knowledge. This could include the following topics:
  • Rules of thumb or general principles (for all phases of the game)
  • Developing an opening repertoire or specific openings.
  • Understanding and learning endgames.
  • Strategic elements such as pawn structure, good and bad bishops, etc.
Although you can learn much of this knowledge from books, having a chess coach who could assess what knowledge is most important to you at your stage of development can accelerate your learning process. A good coach can also point out appropriate supplemental learning material such as books and videos.

The second main benefit that a coach can provide is helping you develop good training and thinking habits. Examples of this include the following:
  • Different types of thinking processes depending on the nature of the position - e.g. tactical versus positional, middlegame vs. endgame.
  • How to determine the most important aspects of specific positions.
  • Pointing out bad habits or misconceptions you may have.
  • Controlling your emotions and stress during tournament games.
I think this aspect of coaching is highly underestimated and vitally important, especially as your skill level grows. This might also include activities such as tournament preparation.

Qualities of a Good Coach

Although coaches come in many varieties of personality, approaches, and areas of expertise, I think there are a few qualities that almost every good coach should exhibit.

First, I think the coach needs to be a good communicator. This includes being able to speak the same language as the student very well, but also to be able to present concepts in a way that is appropriate for the level of the student. For example, communicating chess concepts to a 12-year-old is much different than teaching the same concept to a 40-year-old.

I think coaches should be professional. I'm not to say they shouldn't be friendly and personable - my current coach certainly is - but they need to treat the time that you pay for the lesson professionally. For example, I took piano lessons for a short time from a teacher who was friendly, but ended up spending half the lessons talking about his piano playing career - this is not professional. I want to be careful here, because I do think some banter and tangential conversations are healthy and normal in a coaching relationship, but remember that you are paying for your coach's time and expertise. 

A coach should be strong enough to teach you what you need to know at your level. I hesitate to provide minimum ratings that you should look for in a coach, because I think the communication skill and ability to relay the appropriate information is more important than absolute strength. I know some very strong players that I've taken lessons from that I would not consider great coaches - or at least not a fit for my needs. Similarly, I've analyzed and discussed chess with players around my same level that I've learned a lot from (although these were post-mortem analysis or casual conversations). These players, although not masters, were great communicators and I feel could teach beginning or weaker players very well. The general principle though is that the stronger you get, the stronger your coach should be. 

Working with a Coach

Working with a chess coach is a two-way relationship. As a student, there are a few responsibilities that you have as well as ways to maximize the benefits of working with a chess coach.

First, I think you should be clear about your goals and ambitions in chess. This will be helpful for your coach to determine what material and approach he or she can take. For example, if you are a full time professional who wants to enjoy the game more by getting a little better and being able to understand the game, your coach's approach would be a bit different than if you were an up-and-coming junior hoping to play in your country's national scholastic championship. 

Second, I encourage you to be an active participant in lessons. If you do not understand something your coach is teaching, you should ask him to further explain the concept. Similarly, if there is an aspect of your game that you think needs more attention, bring this up before your lessons, so your coach can prepare the appropriate material for you.

Finally, it is important to understand that the coach is a supplement to your overall training and study plan for chess improvement. Like a physical trainer, your coach can guide and teach you, but you are the one who must do the work - the push-ups and squats in terms of exercise - to improve yourself. You need to go over your games, practice your tactics, and study between lessons. This is assuming that you don't have very frequent lessons. I read of a grandmaster whose early training consisted of playing in local tournaments several times per week and then meeting with three different coaches (one for opening, middlegame, and endgame) on the other days. However, most of my readers do not have this luxury.

A Personal Coaching Experience

I wanted to share a recent insight from my own experience with my coach, GM Nigel Davies (you can read my interview with him). Our lessons mainly revolve around analyzing my recent tournament games. I am also a member to his Tiger Chess program, which gives me the foundation in chess knowledge that is reinforced and supplemented by my private lessons with him.

Here are a couple recent positions we studied from my games as well as a breakthrough insight I gained from it.

In this first game, I have a nice pawn wedge on e5. Instead of supporting this by preparing an f2-f4 pawn lever, I decide to push forward with g4, much to Nigel's dismay.


In a game played a week after the first example, I again have a wayward pawn push. I was actually quite happy to notice this as it is now something I can become aware of and work to change.


There are a few points to these examples worth noting:

  • Because of Nigel's experience, he was able to explain not only that my moves were not great, but why and how to look at the position in the future to determine the proper plan.
  • We discussed that the difference was not only between the quality of the move - e.g. good and not-so-good - but also the type of resulting position and the difference in thinking. For example, the g5 move in the Martinez game would be a candidate, but he would require much more "proof" in terms of concrete analysis in order to choose this move over the more positionally based plan to prepare f2-f4 with Nh2. 
  • We were able to connect these moves not only from these two games, but from other games and observations from previous lessons. For example, I seem to overvalue the initiative and dynamic play while undervaluing strategic elements such as pawn structure. Both are important, but Nigel noted that they need to be in the right balance.
  • These insights are building upon the material I am learning in the Tiger Chess curriculum with regard to pawn structure and pawn levers. I should note that this type of "building upon a foundation" doesn't have to necessarily come from a coach's own material. For example, several of the masters I have interviewed require their students to study specific books as a foundation for further instruction.

Finally, it is these types of insights I am hunting for. Things that I could not see on my own, and how to change my bad habits. This is perhaps one of the biggest things a coach can provide - objectivity.

As you can hopefully tell, I enjoy my coaching relationship with GM Nigel Davies. That being said, he would be the first to admit that he is not the coach for everyone. That brings me to the final area we will discuss on this topic.

Choosing a Coach

If you think a coach might be for you, here are a few suggestions on how to go about finding and choosing a coach.
  • Talk to your chess friends who have coaches and ask for a recommendation. Make sure to ask your friends about some of the aspects discussed in this article - how does your coach conduct lessons? Is he a good communicator? 
  • Check out the interviews I have conducted. Many of my interviewees, besides being masters, also provide coaching services. Although a short interview won't tell you everything, it might give you some insight into the coach's personality and a potential fit for you.
  • Consider your financial situation. Different coaches charge differently for their services. Although many provide excellent value for the price, it is important to be able to afford coaching for several sessions, as I think results will come over time after working with a coach for a while - e.g. coaches are not miracle workers.
  • If private lessons are not affordable, consider looking at subscription services that provide a curriculum for instruction. Although not personalized, they can provide you access to a teacher's instruction and insights at a more afforable rate. I like Tiger Chess of course, but I also think highly of GM Mesgen Amanov's Improve Your Chess program (and you can read my interview with GM Amanov here).
  • Remember that much of the progress you make in chess will be from your own training and study, so besides considering a coach, make sure you are doing your own work to improve.

Conclusion

I believe that a chess coach can be a great addition to your chess improvement program. I think it is important to know what you want from chess and know what to look for in a good coach. I hope this article will help in that area.

If for some reason a coach doesn't work in your current situation, remember that you can make a lot of progress through your own effort - and your own effort will be required whether or not you work with a coach. I provide a lot of ideas here on Better Chess Training to improve yourself and there are many good books that will help you on that journey as well.

Finally, I want to thank GM Nigel Davies as well as the coaches I have worked with in the past. I'm not finished with my chess improvement journey, but the journey so far has been very enjoyable in part because of the coaches that have helped me to understand this beautiful game of ours.

Your Turn

Tell me about your experiences with coaches? 

What other qualities do you look for in a chess coach?