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In Defense of Chess Instruction

  • NM danheisman
  • | Nov 29, 2012
  • | 11319 views
  • | 46 comments

[Scene: Courtroom hearing on Chess Coaching. Dan on witness stand, a few hundred inquisitive spectators watching the proceedings...]

BardYou are aware of the accusation that chess coaches can't really help people play chess better - that they are all stealing money?

Dan: Yes.

BardI take it that you, as a full-time chess coach, disagree?

Dan: Yes.

BardEven though the great Botvinnik himself is famously quoted as saying "Chess cannot be taught. Chess can only be learned."

Dan: Yes, and I should note that Botvinnik was supposedly teaching a chess class when he said that!...

[Audience chucklesWink]

Dan (continuing): ...Botvinnik meant that chess, like other complex mental activities such as reading, requires the brain to become familiar with both patterns and ideas, and that can only be done by repetitious exposure, as those learning how to read must do. I discuss this in the first chapter of my Everyone's Second Chess Book, "Learning, Chunking, and Chess Mistakes." Yet there are many respectable reading teachers.

BardAnd even Bobby Fischer said that he did it all by himself.

Dan: Yes, and every day after school young Bobby would go over to my coach's coach John Collins' house, and analyze with players like Collins and his disciples Bill Lombardy, the Byrne brothers, etc (my college coach was Donald Byrne). Later, it's true he did not have a Soviet crew helping prepare for strong events or analyzing his adjourned games, but that doesn't mean his development happened entirely while locked in a closet. Young Bobby was a frequent player at the Manhattan Chess Club and a participant in a multitude of long time control tournaments up and down the East Coast. Almost all good players either had strong chess coaches for a while or were able to "hang out" in strong chess clubs and analyze with strong players for a couple of years. One IM called this "immersing yourself in the chess culture", a prerequisite for internationally titled play. When young Fabiano Caruana was still living in NY, I asked his father Lou what Fabiano did to improve. His answer was that Fabiano took three lessons a week from different chess coaches and played in an average of three rated chess tournaments a week! No wonder Fabiano, now representing Italy, is up to #5 in the worldSmile.

BardEveryone seems to learn from chess books, but only a few players have coaches.

Dan: Yes, getting information by book or computer or video is an important part of the learning process (see The Theory of Chess Improvement at http://www.chesscafe.com/text/heisman54.pdf ). And it should go without saying that any strong player got there mostly by his own work and not by the instructor ((See The Seven Percent Solution at http://www.chesscafe.com/text/heisman130.pdf); the instructor is more of a very helpful guide: to get the proper feedback you need a human to help. I never saw a book look at someone's game and say "Yes, you read me, but you made all your moves in 17 seconds or less despite having 60 minutes on your clock, so you hardly tried to use what you read. Slow down and we'll learn to analyze better!"

[Another murmur of approval from audience]

BardYou mention computers. The best are rated about 3200; they can find a player's missed tactics better than any human instructor.

Dan: Yes, absolutely. I use them after each one of my games for that purpose. But finding missing tactics is only a very small part of what an instructor does and, even there, an instructor can show you both when and how to look for tactics using cues like the Seeds of Tactical Destruction (http://www.chesscafe.com/text/heisman05.pdf and http://www.chesscafe.com/text/heisman24.pdf), much less all the other chess skills that need to be developed.

BardSo you are claiming everyone needs an instructor to improve?

Dan: [stands in protest] No! That's patently absurd. [Calms down and sits down] Many players, especially in the early learning stages, can improve greatly just by playing many games, doing the standard "improvement" reading about basic tactics and strategy, and reading instructional game books like Chernev's Logical Chess Move by Move and McDonald's Chess: the art of logical thinking. They can augment the tactics with modern tools like Chess.com's Tactics Trainer or Chess Mentor. But eventually most hit a "wall" which they may or may not be able to get past by themselves, assuming they have the awareness and inclination.

Bard: So one can become a good player without ever hiring an instructor?

Dan: Yes, but much of the answer depends on your definition of "good". I am sure a few of the 2,000 or so GMs never hired an instructor but, as I noted earlier, they probably had someone who performed a similar "feedback" role (see The Improvement Feedback Loop at http://www.chesscafe.com/text/heisman98.pdf ). It is also important to note that many casual players don't want to work really hard to become very strong players; they are happy learning here and there and just have fun playing the game and there's nothing wrong with that. If you are having fun and don't want to improve then hiring an instructor is likely a waste.

Bard: Given enough time, couldn't the players have done everything themselves that an instructor could provide? For example, they know when they are playing too fast or too slow and can work on that if they wish.

Dan: No, in almost all cases I don't believe so. Having worked with about 1,000 private students, it's pretty easy to see that many get into bad habits that they often don't recognize, or don't know how to get out of those habits. When I wrote my first article on "Hope Chess" almost 15 years ago (http://www.chesscafe.com/text/real.pdf ), I got several emails from players around the world, all to the effect "Aha! I have read many chess books but I never read one that explained to me why I was such a poor player. Why didn't someone else write that before?" I, like those players, had started out with the false, but easily gotten, premise, that I would wait until my opponent moved and try to figure out how to meet his threats (see Beginner Misconceptions at http://www.chesscafe.com/text/heisman77.pdf ). But luckily I, unlike many, was eventually able to realize that many threats cannot be met, so playing very slowly to anticipate those threats on every move is a necessary prerequisite, although certainly not sufficient, to become a good player (See The Three Times for Checks, Captures, and Threats at http://www.chesscafe.com/text/heisman125.pdf).

Bard: Aha! Well, if you did it, then everyone else can, too!

[Audience murmurs in approval]

Dan: Possibly, but in my experience some players are too busy reading opening books, playing fast in slow games, playing exclusively fast games, and/or doing other things to realize that their thought process is the root of many of their problems. Thought process and the under-appreciated time management are close cousins. Those are two areas where a chess coach can be very helpful.

Bard: So you think you can help everyone become much stronger?

Dan: No, there are a number of reasons I can't help everyone. Sometimes it is because of chemistry (you have to "click" with your students); other times once they realize they have to do most of the work they look for other miracle cures, others don't realize the immense work involved and don't want to play slow and seriously enough, and several other reasons I might not be able to help. In some cases, another instructor may be better suited helping that student achieve his/her goals (see Finding a Good Instructor at http://www.chesscafe.com/text/heisman21.pdf). Nevertheless, I have many students who will tell you I "clicked" with them and did help them become much stronger. Howard Stern is a good example; he went from near beginner with an online rating of about 900 up to a max of 1800 in four-and-a-half years. And there are many others who claim via email or post that I never gave them a lesson but my writings were instrumental in some of the great improvement strides they made (thanks for letting me know!). Recent World Youth U14 Co-Champion Cameron Wheeler apparently falls into that category (he won Silver medal on tiebreak - congratulations!).

Bard: Interesting. Many chess coaches spend a lot of time teaching openings and endgames. So isn't that the areas where they are most earning their fee?

Dan: Yes, in those cases likely so. But I agree with GM Rowson in Chess for Zebras when he writes that he eventually figured out that giving adult intermediate players more chess knowledge does not necessarily make them better players. I had also come to that conclusion long before reading Rowson's book.

Bard: So openings and endgame knowledge is not helpful?

Dan: No, I did not say that; that's not remotely true. Everyone needs some opening and endgame knowledge. It's not that Black and White. GM Soltis puts it well with regards to endgames when he writes in Studying Chess Made Simple that for players under 2000 general endgame knowledge is far more helpful than specific endgame knowledge. This perfectly is in synch with my theory is that the stronger the player, the more he needs to learn specific information and the weaker the player, the more he needs to learn general information. For example a beginner needs to be taught that the main goal of the opening is to quickly, efficiently, effectively, and safely activate all the pieces. Getting control of the center and castling the king into safety are also important strategic goals. And the most helpful principle is "Move every piece once before you move any piece twice, unless there is a tactic." But strong players wishing to improve need to learn more specific sequences and what happens when the opponent plays incorrectly. So if you are 2300 and playing the Gruenfeld and want to do it better so you can become 2500, it makes a lot of sense to hire a grandmaster who specializes in the Gruenfeld to teach you. But it makes no sense for a 1300 who wants to become 1500 to hire that same GM to teach him those same Gruenfeld lines (not that the GM couldn't help the 1300 immensely with his openings and other matters, especially safety). Similarly, in the endgame an inexperienced player first of all needs to learn how to analyze slowly and carefully, be able to mate with a Q&K vs. K and R&K vs. K, etc. Leave the Lucena positions to those rated 1800 or above; even if they occasionally occur in your game it won't make a big difference in your playing strength if you throw away a half point; that will be minor compared to the many points you will throw away if you don't learn to play each endgame slowly and carefully.

Bard: So if an instructor can only help the 1300 so much via general and specific knowledge on openings and endgames, where's the beef?

Dan: Again, don't get me wrong. Openings and endgames are very important, but the detailed knowledge of many specific positions should not be the focus of inexperienced players looking to dramatically improve. Instead Analysis and Evaluation are the key skills they should look to improve (see http://www.chesscafe.com/text/heisman12.pdf). The reason why there are so many 10 and 11 year old 1900 players who can beat 40-year-old 1600 players who have read 100+ chess books and know openings and endgames so much better is that chess is not just a game of knowledge. If that were true, than whoever read the most chess books and understood them would be the top players in the World. But chess is a game of knowledge AND skill. Since analysis is the single most important skill determining your chess strength, 11 year olds who analyze well will consistenly beat 1600 adults who can't do it quite as well. The youngsters easily overcome the knowledge gap not because it is useless, but because it isn't the primary factor in playing strength. The second most important skill, evaluation, is the ability to determine "Which side is better, how much better, and why" given a specific position.

Bard: So you claim an instructor can help a player analyze and evaluate better?

Dan: Absolutely. Although it all begins with two factors: a student's willingness to play consistently slowly and look for better moves in long time control games (that's what analysis requires) and a strong fundamental grounding in basic tactics, since safety (finding tactics your opponent allows you and, more importantly, restricting the tactics you allow your opponent) is the most important component of analysis.

Bard: And how does an instructor best do that?

Dan: Ah, ... well maybe I should sign you up for a lesson...Smile

Comments


  • 19 months ago

    iPlayooChess

    Great article. 

    If i might throw in my two cents, it seems to me poor chess sets in in the very beginning as bad mental habits develop. The very first thing they teach us is how pieces move with paying no attention about the fact that there is an opponent across the board. This forms an autistic behavior so to speak. As in poker, or any other competitive activity (war, business, sports) you should focus on the other player(s). Every expert does it, in fact, a major diffeence between chess Masters and he rest of us is that the Masters focus intently on the other player, while we focus on ourselves.

    The main aim od strategy is to REDUCE the opponent's possibilities to fight. For that we must foresee and forstall any threats to avoid, neutralize or negate them. On the other hand, we need to learn to spot weaknesses the other side is inflicting upon themselves so as to identify targets to attack. 

    So how can we do all this if we are not alert and observant to what the other party is doing?

    To become a better competitor, you should pay full attention to the other player. You must shift your focus to the important information you are NOW MISSING. 

    Chess is war and it is fought between two antagonists. It's all about it. You really need to understand your opponent, get into his head and estimate what his moves really mean and what their true intentions may be (this is very important, it should be learned as the very first thing in chess, or any other conflict, it should the core of the mental process we need to install in our brains for success).

    Only after UNMASKING your opponent you can select the best strategy possible for that particular situation on the battleboard and look for tactical means that will support it. When you reach that level of skill, you'll be a complete player.

    You are not the more imoprtant party in this war. To survive and thrive, LOOK, DON'T THINK!

    Momir

    http://iPlayooChess.com/ Blog on modern chess instruction

  • 20 months ago

    Shivsky

    Wanted to share a bit more, if I'm permitted:

    As a former NM Dan Heisman student, I can state that my ratings plateau (visible to all on chess.com and ICC) is attributed to personal reasons +  my own limitations which I come clean with.

    It's not reflective of the coach who helped get me (a 26-year old adult back then) up from 1300 USCF to 1600 USCF in a span of 2.5+ or so years,  back when I did nothing but think of chess every spare minute of my day. I loved the game and had time to invest, but was just not getting better on my own.

    I grew about a  100 points more on the USCF even after my lessons with Dan stopped ... and then I stopped investing as much in chess for reasons that are "me" related.  

    I'm sure every one of those references in Dan's ICC notes has a reason. Some can be as whiny/lazy (yet true) as mine ... and some ought to be more legitimate :)

    This is why I think the one of the core arguments  against this article are so flawed.   

    We're talking about a chess coach, not a life coach or a mob enforcer who will visit your home and break your furniture (or face)  if you don't hit your rating goals this month.

    There's no Ivan Drago-ish training montage  in the world that can magically make me stronger, let alone multiple GM coaches working with me 24 x 7.  

    I am that veritable horse that refuses to drink more water at this moment in his life!

    When I feel content + happy enough having all the fun I ever need with chess right now, expecting my rating to keep climbing or to regularly scalp a higher-rated player is just a pipe dream.

    You need to "want it" more to warrant putting in the work.  A coach cannot possibly offer any guarantees beyond showing you the way clearly and nudging you along.

    I believe Dan's gift is making you love chess even more than you thought you did and his lessons specialize in getting into your stubborn little head to show you what you need to change (your chess behaviors) to make you stronger, or rather, make you "less weak".  

    Doing the work is really up to you.  I believe a coach can really only show you how to be maximally efficient at it. 

  • 20 months ago

    NM danheisman

    Thanks for all your support. Apparently one of the Admins of Chess.com deleted the comments of Mrsinfinity. I had the option to block him, but I did not, although when he started dragging others into his criticism it seemed more and more my responsibility to protect them. Since he was "only" making professional attacks and not personal ones (though I could take it that way), I was trying to give him the benefit of the doubt. That was difficult because he was ignoring any facts I would post, such as the origin of my ICC references or the time period when I taught them (see Zyme's post below, as an example). When he first started posting about my ICC references, I checked my list and it was so old that one of the players on there (katikus [Joe Casey]; I dedicated my book The World's Most Instructive Game Book to Joe) was deceased. So I removed katikus from my reference list and a couple of others that were no longer on ICC. I believe no player on the list had taken a lesson within the past 2 years and only one in the past 3 years (though I did not do a double-check on that).

    I have no statistics on exactly how many rating points each person gains from my first lesson til their last: for one thing, many start unrated and others just start taking lessons less frequently, so the "end" date is difficult to determine. At one point I estimated that my first 700 or so students gained about 100,000 points either OTB or, if they only played online, on their online server. And yes, that includes some players who only took a lesson or two and their rating dropped and even fewer who took several lessons and their rating dropped (that does happen). If you read my previous posts' link for "The Curious Case of MrBoeJangles" then you know that also occasionally some of my adult students' ratings jumps dramatically (1400 to 2000 is a LOT more difficult than the more common ~900 to ~1500, which happens much more frequently). However, most of the big 1000+ point type student rating jumps, as any instructor will tell you, is when you start with a promising youngster who still has a very low rating and he gets really serious and progresses to a very strong teen. In that case gains of over 1000 points are possible. Dan Benjamin went from 1700 at age 12 to 2300 at age 13 (I was one of his coaches during that year but it was Dan doing the work). Matt Traldi, who was the US co-Cadet (U16) champion, in one year jumped from in the 1200's to over 2000! That's not so easy for adults who, among other things, have a job and family obligations and not the time to make the instructor look as good. As I wrote in The Seven Percent Solution, any instructor is going to be only partly responsible for providing "pattern" knowledge to the student, but can be a major force in directing that student as to what best to learn, how to learn it, where and when to play, etc.

    I gave a seminar at the Main Line Chess Club last night. Tongue in cheek, I started the seminar by saying something like "Warning: according to a detractor at Chess.com, anything you learn in the seminar tonight is not going to help you become a better chess player, nor has anything I have taught in any of my previous seminars!Wink

    Thanks again for your support. Those who detract for fun (or venom or ...?) will just come back again, but that, strangely, does the service of bringing true supporters out of the woodwork for all to see. So in the end, putting me "on trial" may have an unintended (at least from the detractor's point of view) positive side. As one member wrote, if you don't think lessons from me (or anyone) is not worth it, by all means don't take them Smile.

  • 20 months ago

    Zyme

    During the period that I was a student of Dan Heisman, my USCF rating increased from an average of 1200 to an average of 1500 with a peak of 1528.  I even won my first over the board chess tournament. I attribute much of my improvements to the training received by Dan Heisman.

    It turns out that I enrolled in a post graduate program and did not play chess for three years.  I have recently returned to ICC chess and now play more for the enjoyment of the game with much less frequently that I did while Dan was coaching me.  My current ICC rating reflects the time off and new attitude towards chess.

    Although I am no longer a serious chess competitor, overall, I am very satisfied with Dan’s coaching. In addition to my rating improvement during his coaching period, I have greater enjoyment for the game. 

    Zyme on ICC

  • 20 months ago

    longday576

    Coach or no coach chess is fun.

  • 20 months ago

    NM BMcC333

    What evidence do you have that any of these people have taken lessons over the time period mentioned? The ICC has been around more than 17 years. If people's ratings go down after stopping lessons, doesn't that show the lessons helped them overachieve?

    You claimed I am not good enough to teach anyone, yet define making IMs as a quality of a good teacher. I have had an IM student who was one win with black from his GM title. He is also one of the very few champion of all state champions. Another FM is over 2490 and collecting IM norms currently. He was also a Denker champion. It does not get much more talented than the champion of all high school champions. I started with him as a 1300. You mentioned increasing student's ratings as a measure of a good coach.

    Your attack on Dan does not appear to be based on facts and your attack on me contradicts your own definition of a good chess teacher.

    You claim the chess.com ratings are skewed but offer no survey or proof except a few people with fide titles and low ratings (but still 100s of points higher than yours). My Denker champion student has one of the absolute highest ratings on chess.com, many times in the top 5, and is higher here than his USCF. You have done nother to prove that you are not the 1789 your rating here suggests except falsely claim I don't know the chess.com rating system. I also have other students whose chess.com ratings are about the same as their USCF. http://www.chess.com/livechess/players?type=Blitz  The median of chess.com's blitz rating is 1150, 150 points higher than the USCF's 1000. Unless you are on a 30 game bad luck streak, the only logical conclusion is that your USCF rating is lower than 1789 not higher. How are those for some real facts??

    You exagerrated the rating of the computer in Dan's lesson and the amount of difference in ICC and USCF ratings. If you type help survey on the icc, you can see the difference is 115 points with a median of 100 not the 200 you falsely claim. 

    If you are going to criticize someone in a manner which can hurt their professional reputation, you should really stick to the truth. There is a legal term for lying to hurt someone's reputation. i am sure most people here would like to think these are innocent mistakes. What evidence can you give for these blunders?

    What excuse could you have to twist the truth? There is no other way but help survey to get the difference in USCF and ICC ratings, so I see no way for this to be accidental.

    If you are going to demand people prove their claims, why can't you follow your own rules? You have given no evidence at all that you are qualified to judge chess masters or teachers, only the claim you are 2150 USCF.

    Once again your "facts" are not facts, so why should anyone pay any attention to your amateur opinions?

  • 20 months ago

    UnionStationFan

    Mrsinfinity, you have your knickers in a severe twist. You sound like Dan Heisman came over to your house and killed 3 kittens with his bare hands. Why such hostility?

  • 20 months ago

    NM BMcC333

    MI, I am done discussing your opinions, but your "facts" also seems to be off kilter. Claiming others people's ratings are low doesnt not mean yours becomes higher. You seem to be trying to prove FIDE titles are no indicator of chess strength. No argument from me there. On the ICC there are 1500 GMs and many IMs below 2000, where my peak is 2559. I am not "only a nm". I am a senior master and a life master, all the titles this country has to offer. Being retired, I don't play much anywhere these days. Starting on chess.com is on my to do list but I don't have to play to know the difference betweem 2150 and 1800.

    Silman has nothing to do with this conversation, Personal criticisms of one master to another have much more validity than insults from some anonymous critic.

    It seems no one believes you, which is why people are demanding more proof, as in a real name to look up. The ball is in your court.

     

    CONGRATS to  Dan and his students!  

  • 20 months ago

    Shivsky

    Mrsinfinity: Your comments have escalated to insulting and not just disagreeing.

    Some of us just happen to respect  Dan Heisman, National Masters, not to mention decency and polite discourse to a greater degree than you do.

    I feel that you've done nothing constructive via these comments ... Not sure if this is your intention but it appears you've made it a very personal vendetta to go after a coach who has done a great deal for the amateur chess player via his free articles, books and coaching over many years.

    Can we be a little compassionate and respectful when we disagree with something we read?  

    It's easy to dismiss somebody as a troll seeking attention but I'd like to believe you are not that kind of person.

    If we're all misunderstanding you and you want to get your point across (repeatedly) please help us by being a little more civil (and less insulting) with your comments.

    Also, are you really Nfork on the ICC? (as per your first post). I just messaged him on the ICC and he doesn't think so.  Please clarify. If you aren't that person .. why did you bring him + his coaching history (or lack thereof) up as a fact?

  • 20 months ago

    hicetnunc

    The computer was not rated 3200. Why do you feel the need to distort the facts to get your points through ?

    Don't you think you'll have more chances convincing us by saying something like : "I don't think a coach demonstrating a game he won against a weak computer has much value because blah blah blah".

    At the moment, you just sound like a jealous and frustrated person Frown You'd better keep all this agressivity for the chessboard... (do you play gambits ?) Sealed

  • 20 months ago

    UnionStationFan

    That's quite a list, Dan!! Thanks for sharing. Who knows, maybe I'll make the list some day in the adult hall of fame - I certainly started (well) after age 21!

  • 20 months ago

    NM danheisman

    This might be a good time to quote an email I received this morning from the parent of one of my students:

    "Marcell won the 6th grade section 6.5/7 clear first (he also won the K-6 blitz on tiebreaks).

    Plus last weekend he won the Expert section in the Northwest tournament.

    His new rating is 2052. This means he has qualified for Abu Dhabi at the next World Youth Chess Thing."

    The parent is referring to this past weekend's National K-12 Championships. Congratulations to Marcell!! You can view the crosstable by going to http://uschess.org/tournaments/2012/k12/?page=RESULTS and clicking on "6th Grade Championship" at the top.

    A list of my student champions (of all ages) is at http://danheisman.home.comcast.net/~danheisman/Lessons/Student_Champions.html. As I mentioned in the article, my students get almost all the credit for such worthy accomplishments, but I think most would at least give me some credit. For example, read The Curious Case of MrBoeJangles, especially the end, at http://www.chesscafe.com/text/heisman122.pdf Smile ...I became a master without a full-time coach, but received great help from people such as Bob Schumsky, Rich Pariseau, Don Latzell, Jerry Kolker, Donald Byrne, and more, who all served as "informal coaches" and deserve much credit.

  • 20 months ago

    NM BMcC333

    MI,

    I will agree you are not expressing your opinion well but I would debate that I am the 2nd person to not get you. It seems everyone who has an opinion does not agree with you. One of the best teachers I know was @1800 but he could bring students to the brink of expert on a regular basis. It is easy to help someone 100s of points lower than you but most teachers have never had a student rated higher than them. For these people he is well worth the fees. His teaching and motivational skills are far greater than his chess skills. Basic economics dictates charging what people are able and willing to pay. If people are able and willing to pay 250 an hour, more power to them. I would also dispute anyone who would pay 250 an hour for chess lessons is poor.

    Finally, you claimed you are 2150 USCF but seem to be having quite a bit of difficulty with the 1700s at chess.com. Your rating here is 1805.

    Until you provide something to "restore" your credibility, I am done commenting on your "unusual" opinions about chess teachers.

  • 20 months ago

    UnionStationFan

    @Mrsinfinity, yes, signing up at a site and posting a long, caustic email is classic cyber-stalking behavior. Even now, you have several posts that generally attack Dan and only 30 games of blitz (played SINCE you first posted in this thread). You don't appear to have joined Chess.com for games.

  • 20 months ago

    raider53

    Love the way you wrote this article, Dan. Great way to put your points across so they won't soon be forgotten.

  • 20 months ago

    NM fpawn

    Let me be blunt here.  If you aren't sure that you want a chess teacher, then do not look for one.  If you haven't tried studying on your own, if you haven't played serious competitive games, if you haven't reached the point that you're stuck, then do not hire a teacher.  Once you are frustrated, yet still have a burning desire to get better, only then should you research coaches.

  • 20 months ago

    NM BMcC333

    @ MI, I would say your analogy is off and simply a bad attempt to insult someone. 1. The difference in a master and an expert is not a few years of school. It is the difference in being in the top 10% of something, a very high level of proficiency no doubt, and being in the top 1%, the best of the best. Last I checked, master is closer to 99.5% than 99. Would you take advice on being a chess master from someone who has never been one?

    2. This is America, we have our own set of titles. With the fees FIDE is charging, there are fewer chances to even play a FIDE rated event. Given their last election antics, there are even fewer reasons to be concerned with their title system. I could write much more about them but I do not want to wander too far off topic.

    It should also be mentioned that Jack Collins, the greatest chess teacher of all time, in my opinion, was about 2300 USCF as I heard. Bruce Pandolfini, the most famous chess teacher of all time, portrayed in Searching for Bobby Fischer, is also in the same rating range.

    Teaching and motivating students are not directly related to skill level. No one is stopping anyone from paying 100 dollars or more an hour for a US Champion level master but do you think they have more national champions or lifelong students of the game than Dan, fpawn or me?

    I've got another analogy, the proof is in the pudding.

  • 20 months ago

    NM BMcC333

    Thank you Martin. I agree with school 1st. I spent most of my 30s and some of my 40s in night school and getting a PhD because of my choices for chess. I would not do anything differently, but it is sure much easier and probably better financially to do the school right the 1st time.

    I always try to tell students if you can be good at chess, you can be good at school and chess. The valedictorian who won the US Amateur is one of my most proud accomplishments.

    I do try to focus on what I call board behavior and you refer to as psychology. Positive attitude matters in most things but in chess a defensive attitude is a losing attitude in swisses and scholastics where huge plus scores are needed.

    When you are making the big bucks, look one of us up. i think you already know some major areas you will benefit. Until then, try to find some pros whose style you like and study every game you have time for.

  • 20 months ago

    Martin0

    Very instructive BMcC333. I'm part of those that sais tactics and playing a lot should be priority to beginners while they also need to know opening principles, mate with 2 rooks, mate with queen and mate with rook. Further improvement is continue with tactics, playing and analysing games with higher rated players and learn some pawn endings. Not much more specific what they should do and that is the way I learned to become better.

    But now I have been kind of stuck for more than a year and not much more is happening then that I'm told I should study theory and I keep telling myself I should stop blundering every third game or so, so I study tactics and blundercheck my moves when it it feels necessary in my games. Also I'm trying to find a system that suits me. I believe a chess coach would help me a lot, so I should probably try it when I have time, but I probably should focus on my studies in school for the moment.

  • 20 months ago

    NM BMcC333

    I have not commented on anything Dan has said on chess.com and don't agree with some things he has said on his ICC shows but he has said many things that are of value to people trying to get better at chess here and on the ICC. However, mrsinfinity has made more than one false statement about us chess teachers that I feel needs correction.

    For the casual reader, this thread should be informative since probably the top 3 English speaking chess teachers are in this thread on chess teaching. It is hard to tell how many students Dan has taught on the ICC since he doesn't seem to use their chekel system which produces their rankings, but I can state with certainty, that while Fpawn was active, he and I were the highest ranked English speaking teachers for a long time. This was over many IMs and GMs and reflected the money spent by many different members. Many told me they just got done with an IM or GM but liked my lessons better.

    1. Yes people can get better on mostly lessons alone. I have had several students stay in the top 10 for their age group with nothing but lessons, the occasional ICC game (less than one per week) and a tournament every month or 2. Without playing their ratings would not go up. By and large these were very smart children; a class valedictorian, another in a gifted school using books 2 yrs ahead of their peers. These are exceptions but it can be done.

    2. I have told people to gauge their results by the rating increases they have and if a coach doesn't perform they deserve to be fired. I now have a job outside chess, but this was my attitude as a chess pro also. It is a pleasure to teach people who want to learn but drudgery to teach someone being forced by their parent or otherwise unmotivated.

    3. EVERY 2600 I have ever known has has a good teacher and of course Fischer did not do it by himself. Others may have more knowledge of top players but the highest rated people, who have made a living playing chess that I know were completely self taught are Jay Bonin, Emory Tate and myself. I was a master by age 21 as were many pros, but it took me 10 years to make 2400. This pace will not produce a 27-2800 player.

    4. Chess teachers do not have any secrets that can't be found elsewhere. My good friend Anatoly Lein told me the big russian secret is that there are no secrets. That said, an experienced teacher can spot weaknesses and suggest openings that will increase someone's enjoyment and spur them to study more on their own. I have taught over 2000 ICC lessons and have learned a few things along the way. Most of my students get a 200 point bump in a few months time over the course of the 1st 2 years. Some proceed to gain about 100 a year, some more, some less. Tiger Woods can't make everyone shoot par either. The student in the video lessons I sell on ebay started at about 250 ICC in 2009 and now has an ICC peak of 1519.  

    5. References are not a good way to shop for a chess teacher. In fact I have stopped giving them. If someone can't tell by my chess page, the titles of my students, the number of national champions and my ranking at the ICC, I don't think the hastily written reply of a student will turn the tables. I respect the privacy of my students more than I want new students. Maybe if I was a chess pro full time, I would think differently but I have 2 lessons on most nights and could (and have) taught every day of the week.

    There is obviously a market for chess instructors. Not every teacher/student will be a perfect fit. There are many good ones. If you think you can do better on your own, go for it. Just don't think you are an expert on chess teaching when you have not tried a good one (or 2).

    The one know it all constantly being bought up in the chess instruction channel of the ICC (43) is the guy who claims he became an expert on tactics alone and no one needs a chess teacher for that. He admits he invested a huge amount of time in his self taught program but to date has not reported that he made master. What I constantly tell students is that learning how to solve mate in 3 or 4 moves is nice, but the real skill is to get people in position to perform a mate in 3 or 4. Also quite humorous in 43 are the same 4 or 5 people who give advice to the newcomers on how to get better, yet their ratings have stayed the same for the last 10 years!

    Ok, but what about those chess books being mentioned in this thread. Won't they work? Yes they will, but in my experience almost every long term chess player I have known owns between 50 and 100 chess books, yet to one of my favorite questions, none has read more than 1 or 2 cover to cover and most will freely admit they have never read one completely. They read a chapter or 2, switch to another and forget about the books for a while. A weekly or bi-weekely lesson provides a routine that is lacking for most chess players.

    Finally, if you have the EXTRA money and the desire to get better quickly, I do not know any better method than to hire a chess coach.

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