John was a bit nervous today. For the very first time, he was going to play a game against his mentor, a long game, with clocks and all the regular stuff. Of course, it wasn’t his first competitive game : since he had decided to take advantage of his student’s years to become a fierce chess player, he had played in many OTB tournaments, not counting the hundreds of training games on the Internet. He could already boast a hefty class rating, that was steadily increasing, thanks to his daily tactical training and good focus at the board. John had even managed to draw with a couple of experts players. Last time, he could even had won, but his opponent managed to escape in a pawn down rook endgame, which he drew effortlessly despite being in time-trouble.
However, John had never played against a master level player. He wasn’t even sure what was the level of his mentor. Was he an IM ? Eben higher ? Some old chap he had met at the chess club had told him that his mentor had been a very strong competitor in the 70’s. The rumour was that he was acquainted with the secrets of the famous Russian chess school, though nobody knew what this meant exactly.
John had hired his mentor as a coach only one month ago. His friend had told him that the old mentor may not accept to take him as a student, as he was quite selective and didn’t want to lose his time with all these young “I will be GM in 5 years” fellows, who quit as soon as they were asked to annotate one of their games without Fritz’s help… During their first lesson , the mentor handed John a dozen of positions and asked him to analyze them in 45 minutes. Then he sat and waited. John started with what seemed like the easiest ones, but it turned out none of them were easy. Still he focused hard, and tried his best to crack them. After the 45 minutes, he had solved like 9 out of 12. His mentor asked him to give the variations. “Shall I put the first position on the chessboard ?” asked John. “- This won’t be necessary”. John was giving his variations and the mentor replied with some unexpected “and what if black plays 4…h6 instead of taking ?” Actually, they spend more than 1 hr going through all 12 exercises, and John felt exhausted like he had played a long game. The mentor accepted him as a student. “You try hard, that’s good”, he said.
In the next lesson, they reviewed the rook ending against the expert. His mentor pointed out a few key positions and principles and gave him many exercises. “To do against a friend, with clock at the club !”. At this occasion, John realized his clubmates didn’t know much about rook endings.
So there he was, adjusting the white pieces (he won the toss), and determined to do his best. He had had a good night sleep, and hadn’t spent too much time on chess in the morning, as he preferred to go to the swimming pool before playing.
He pushed his d pawn and pressed the clock, without shaking.
His mentor shook his hand and congratulated him with a laconic “Good game John, you fought well”.
John replied : “well, I knew about this opening, but I don’t know the details, I guess I’ll have to learn more theory here to play against someone as strong as you. After you pushed e5, it looked as if my game was in shambles ! And you kept surprising me with little unexpected moves… I just couldn’t find any way out… Where did I go wrong exactly ? I’m still not sure.”
His mentor replied : “Well John, I don’t know about the theory here, but when you build this pawn chain with e3-d4-c5, Black’s best reaction is always e5 : it frees my play and weakens your pawns. So you must find a way to prevent it. A good starting place would be to analyze the position after Bf6 and see if you could have fared better. But do it by yourself, I mean, if you plan on becoming a stronger player. We’ll review your analysis together next time. It looked like a pretty critical position, didn’t it ?”
“- Hmmm, I see. And did I make any other mistake?”
“- Well, when defending, I’m not quite sure you spent enough time at the right moments, and pushing those pawns in front of your king, I’m not sure it was the best defence : you see, they advance, they advance, but at some stage, I can hit them and your king is exposed. That’s something you may want to look at too.”
On his way back home, John started to feel better about his loss. He was very impressed by his mentor’s way of playing, but he felt like he had learnt something new, essential, about the game. His mentor’s explanations made clear sense to him, like he had already assimilated them. “Time to find how to prevent the e5 push in this variation” he thought…