Chess Assistants

Chess Assistants

| 47 | Scholastics

By browsing’s forums, I noticed that there are numerous threads dedicated to improving in chess, certain training practices, coaching and other issues of that sort. Let’s talk a bit about who and what can assist us in becoming a better player.

First of all, it is extremely important to study chess on your own. If you avoid doing that, neither raw talent nor any top coaches will get you anywhere. However, sometimes it is essential to ask someone for assistance in order to get an insight or learn something new in a faster way. The situation can be quite different, from failing to understand what your chess weaknesses are to not being able to evaluate a certain position.

Luckily enough, a chess player is not alone, he can always find an assistant.

1)    Coaches and seconds
A coach is supposed to teach the student the intricacies of chess, guide him. Having an opportunity to study chess together with an experienced coach is a great benefit.

Working with a chess coach speeds up your progress in chess. You may learn more information if it is presented by a coach and avoid arriving at the wrong conclusions.

I am often asked what FIDE rating a chess coach should have. The trick is that a good chess coach should meet the 3 vital requirements:

a) have a high expertise in chess: at least CM strength, much better if FM,  IM or GM.  Otherwise you will feel like a student at the university who is being taught by a peer instead of a renowned professor. However, chess strength is not the only parameter. For instance, some aged masters have an excellent understanding of the game and can provide great advice, although their playing skills might have diminished.

b) be a skillful teacher – trust me, some GMs don’t know how to teach chess at all! They think that someone is supposed to pay them a lot just because they are grandmasters, and have no intention of learning how to instruct other people. Therefore, the best they can do is show their favorite games to you or offer a friendly blitz game. Very nice if done occasionally, but no substitute for real coaching.

c) have great personal qualities – make sure he/she is diligent, amicable, truly interested in your progress and generally easy to get along with. If he/she starts grumbling every time you make a mistake, skipping lessons all the time, or offering you a basic universal chess program (the one he/she gives to all his/her 20 students whose names he/she doesn’t even remember), there is a good reason to dump him/her.

As to top players, they rarely have coaches. Instead, they have seconds, i.e. the people who do the “dirty work” for them – analyze critical variations, search for novelties and new plans; and serve as sparring partners. A typical elite player and his team dedicate most of the time to studying openings.

For example, Carlsen could be called Anand’s second during the preparation for the match with Topalov (since he was more of a sparring partner). On the contrary, Kasparov is better described by the term “coach” when it comes to his work with Magnus since Garry has a lot of experience, ideas and insights to share with the world’s #1.

2) Chess friends
It is very useful to work on chess together. By cooperating you progress more quickly, become more motivated, and get a free sparring partner. It’s just like in gym, if you remember how Schwarzenegger and Colombo used to work out together.

With a friend you may study games, work on theory, find novelties and then play training games with each other. Of course, it is better to colloborate with a person of a similar strength, otherwise it will be too one-sided. Many grandmasters arrange training session where they study chess together and share ideas. This allows them to improve, save money (no need to pay any fees) and make sure no one gets access to their preparation (friends don’t share each other’s secrets).

I have heard the following scary story: two dedicated people locked themselves in an apartment and studied chess for a year. Later on both of them became very strong grandmasters.

3) Chess engines and other training software
When it comes to evaluating a position, a chess engine is indispensable. In most cases (but not all) its judgment is correct, which is a great advantage. Just imagine: a few decades ago people could rely on their own ideas and evaluations only! They could argue for years if a certain position favors White or Black. Miss obvious (for computer-assisted players) tactical shots. Have no idea of some candidate moves which now  appear on the screen in a few seconds.

There is just one problem – unlike a coach, a chess engine won’t be able to explain to you what is happening. That is, unless you are highly qualified, in many cases you won’t be able to understand what the +3.13 evaluation stands for, and why it is won for White.

As to chess training software, I won’t dwell on this subject too much today. Besides, has some great training features – Tactics Trainer, Chess Mentor, Computer Workout, etc. Let’s reserve the discussion for another day. Smile

Now, I am lucky in the sense of having a coach, seconds and great chess friends. My coach can help me in terms of psychology and general chess preparation, seconds – assist in studying openings or opponents’ games. GM-friends of mine can always aid me by playing sparring matches during which we can practice our openings (very shaky at the initial stage) without losing precious rating points in tournaments. Well, I also have a manager, but that’s a totally different story. You can learn more about some members of my chess team here. Smile

Now, let’s get back to the story about the Russian Club Cup in Dagomys (previous episode here). Before the game against IM Elena Zaiatz I didn’t have anything substantial against the Berlin Defense. Taking into account that I had White, a rating higher by about 100 points, and the terrible start of our rating-favorite team at the event, I had to press for a win. Naturally, it’s very hard to find a new plan during the tournament due to lack of time and tiredness. That’s where a coach’s/second’s assistance comes into play.

GM Vladimir Georgiev, our team’s captain, suggested an interesting idea that allowed me to deviate from the type of positions my opponent likes. Had he not helped me, I would have had to play on her ground, which is a serious disadvantage.


To be continued…

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