Chess Lessons Exposed

Chess Lessons Exposed

IM Silman
Jul 7, 2015, 12:00 AM |
44 | Other

Many players dream of getting chess lessons, though they aren’t quite sure what it would be like. The fact is, the experience (for both the student and teacher) depends on several factors:

Question: Does the student want to learn or does he just want to be entertained? Does he just want to show off his games?

Answer: Teachers get a bit of all three. I refuse students who don’t have improvement goals.

Question: Is the student aware of his weaknesses?

Answer: You might be surprised at how many chess hopefuls think they know what’s wrong with their game, but are completely off the mark. One student, rated around 2050, told me he didn’t want to discuss the minor pieces (something I’m known to talk about at great length) since he was very strong in that area. I had to laugh since, in the games he showed me, he badly misplayed his minor pieces over and over again. Our acquaintance ended after one lesson.

When I give a lesson, I want the student to tell me what he feels are his strengths and weaknesses. But after that, he needs to be open to reality so we can mend the things that need mending, and improve the things that he’s fairly good at.

Question: Can the student follow the teacher’s recommendations?

Answer: If he refuses to listen to me, he’s wasting my time and his. No more lessons after that! It’s important to understand that if a student tries and fails, I’m perfectly happy. Trying and failing and trying again is the key to success. But if he proudly holds on to his flaws as if they were gold, he’s going to be tossed. 

Question: Is the student a young child?

Answer: Certain teachers specialize in the training of young children. I’m not good at it. You need to find the right teacher for each type of student. One size does not fit all!

Question: Are pushy parents involved?

Answer: There is nothing worse than the dreaded “baseball parent.” I’ve run into some real maniacs that crush their children and ultimately make them hate chess. However, I’ve also met very supportive, down-to-earth parents. No lessons for children with insane, pushy parents! 

Question: Is there chemistry between the teacher and student?

Answer: This is EXTREMELY important! You can have a great teacher, but find you and the sensei just don’t communicate very well. If that’s the case, the student should end the association and look for another teacher. There’s no fault for either side, but a bad match is a bad match and both parties need to move on.

This new series is about chess lessons and how the teacher tries to push key points home. The teacher has to be honest or he will be doing a disservice to the student. If you are looking for a chess teacher, don’t grab anyone that comes along! Take your time, take a lesson or two from various teachers so you can get a feel for their different teaching styles, and you’ll eventually find just the right teacher for you.

I should add that I no longer take students. I have a few that are friends, so I teach them. But it’s very rare for me to accept a new student. Fortunately, you can find tons of experienced teachers here on and other sites.

I'll be using one game [BB (1543) vs. R. Ray (1410), National Open 2015] that has several important moments. I’ll let you give your views on those positions first. My comments will appear later in the answer section.

Test 1

White has several reasonable moves to choose from. The aggressive 15.Qh6, the defensive 15.a3, the solid 15.f3, and even the cavalier 15.Nd5. Let’s focus on 15.f3 and 15.Qh6. Write down your thoughts about what each side possesses, and based on that information, pick one of the two moves (15.Qh6 and 15.f3) that best addresses White’s needs.

Test 2

Test 3

Answer to Test 1

Breaking Down the Position 

Black’s Point of View:

  • Black’s king is in the center, but his king will also be exposed on either wing (in this kind of structure, a typical way Black takes care of his king problem is ...0-0 followed by ...Kh8 and ...Rg8).
  • Black has two bishops vs. two knights. This should serve Black well in an endgame, and if the dark-squared bishop manages to find an active diagonal in the middlegame, White’s position can easily fall apart.
  • Black will play for a typical queenside attack by bringing the h-rook to c8 and pushing his a- and b-pawns.

White’s Point of View:

  • White needs to create some heat against Black’s king.
  • White needs to create a hole or at least find a square for a knight. Instead of thinking, “My god, he has two bishops!” you should say, “I’ll show him that my knights are better than his bishops!”
  • A common plan against this kind of center is f2-f4-f5 followed by bringing a knight to f4, which puts a ton of pressure against e6. If Black pushes the e6-pawn to e5 then a White knight will gain access to hole on d5.
  • The Nd5 sacrifice is a thematic idea here, but we are only exploring f3 and Qh6. However, Nd5 and Nf5 sacrifices might well rear their terrifying heads in the future.
  • If Black castles kingside, White can go all-in with Qh6 followed by Re1-e3-h3. If reinforcements are still needed, Nc3-e2-f4-h5 can be considered.

In the game, White played: 

In his notes, BB said that 15.Qh6 “wasn’t much,” but why is that? By playing 15.Qh6 White’s queen takes advantage of Black’s weakened pawn structure, stops Black from castling kingside, and threatens to win a pawn by Qg7.

The difference between 15.f3 and 15.Qh6 is clear: One move (15.f3) doesn’t make use of Black’s weaknesses, while the other (15.Qh6) leaps on those weaknesses right away. 

Answer to Test 2

In the game, Black played 19...axb3, which isn’t particularly good. Instead, 19...0-0 followed by ...Rfc8 would lead to a serious Black advantage.

Though 19...axb3 also gives Black an edge, it tells me that Black has trouble with pawn tension. In fact, this is a very common illness among amateurs. For some reason, they freak out when two pawns are facing off in a capturing stance. However, if you think about it logically it’s obvious that White has no intention of ever playing the ugly bxa4. So Black can leave the sword of Damocles hovering over White’s head and only capture at an ideal moment. Leaving the pawn on a4 also gives Black extra options that he won’t have after 19...axb3. For example, after 19...0-0 and 20...Rfc8 the move ...a4-a3 might carry some punch in certain situations.

To put it simply: If you’re the only one that can pull the pawn-tension-trigger, why waste that bullet if there’s no immediate reason to do so?

Answer to Test 3

We'll finish with a good old tactical puzzle!

MAKE SURE YOU LOOK AT THE NOTES, which will offer quite a surprise, and will also explain why this example is so instructive.

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