Thursday, May 9, 2019

Video Interview with Australian Chess Champion GM Max Illingworth + Notes

Interview with GM Max Illingworth

GM Max Illingworth is the 2019 Australian Chess Champion (as well as the champ in 2014). We discuss a few areas including his own chess development, his coaching philosophy, as well as training tips.

Below the video, I summarize some major points in bulletpoints.

Chess Development

  • Supportive parents were essential in Max's development.
  • He built a good foundation using GM Yasser Seirawan's Play Winning Chess book series (which I have recommended as well).
  • Coaches have played a key role in helping Max avoid misconceptions and lead him on the right path with his chess knowledge and training.

Overcoming Plateaus and Adversity

  • He hit a plateau as he had other competing priorities when he went to high school, and he learned to overcome his adversity partly through maturing with age as well as realizing that adversity is a part of growth.
  • Part of him breaking through the 1800 level he attributes to studying Andy Soltis' How to Choose a Chess Move.
  • "Sometimes you have to get a little bit worse before you improve." Part of improvement is grinding through adversity.
  • His coaches helped him overcome the chess obstacles, but were not as experienced in coaching the psychological side of chess and performance (which has inspired Max to study these areas in his own coaching career).

Chess Coaching

  • Max is currently focusing his time on his coaching and helping people.
  • Learning the "skill" of silence and really listening to his students is one of Max's secrets to his coaching success.
  • Coaching is an individualized process for Max. He tries to look at each student's individual needs and provide them with the solution - which may include resource recommendations, thinking techniques, or other training material.
  • Lessons over the internet has many advantages including being able to transmit material (e.g. pgn files, etc.) easily.
  • Max seems to be very specific in his recommendations to his students that comes from working very hard to understand their needs. No cookie cutter solutions!
  • Understanding his students' thought process and helping them to avoid mistakes in their thinking is one of his goals in coaching. He has been inspired in this by GM Jacob Aagaard.
  • One of the most common oversights is not seeing alternatives on move 2 - move 1 for many amateurs!
  • He is currently incorporating concepts from self-improvement and sports psychology - this is what sparked our first conversation with each other.

Chess Training 

  • Self-awareness is key to much chess improvement.
  • Max recommends solving problems by theme and then repeating them. (This is very similar to "The Woodpecker Method" that I've discussed before).
  • Books are more about giving knowledge as opposed to giving skills. As players, we need to learn how to apply the knowledge.
  • We also discuss the importance of having the "right" books to study and train, as the wrong books may teach the wrong lessons for a particular student. 
  • Blitz chess can be helpful...just don't overdo it! In particular, it gives you a lot of experience in your opening repertoire as well as endgames.
  • Training with a physical chess board is not necessary, and Max stresses that neglecting the efficiency and interactivity of using phone apps and computer software for training can be a mistake as well.
  • Getting feedback and trying to learn something from every game is a great way to improve.
  • Chess engine analysis can be helpful, but it is important to be actively engaged and asking questions when using it if you want it to help you improve.

Keep an Eye Out

Max has a few interesting projects coming up and I'll be sure to update you and perhaps have Max for another interview of update in the future!

Contacting Max

If you'd like to contact Max: