In this Player Profile we get to know an exciting "under-the-radar" - player from London a little better. He is a polite and knowledgable man, and last year he was on a team of chess players who won a tv-quiz show in England. CM James Coleman is a full-time chess coach and among the most frequent players in the live area. He´d like chess to have a higher profile in general, and be seen as cooler and less nerdy .
Name: James Coleman
Date of birth: 23/12/76
Fide rating: 2126, highest 2225
How are you?
I’m fine thanks. I hope I still am when I’ve answered all the questions
What, if push comes to shove, is your all-time favorite movie?
Goldfinger. I’ve seen all the James Bond movies countless times. My favourite non-Bond movie would be Trading Places with Eddie Murphy. I like a good comedy.
What kind of food and drink do you prefer?
English food, probably fish and chips. (note to Americans: chips = French Fries) My wife is Korean so I eat some of that food too, and I like a nice Indian Curry from time to time. Although when I played in the Commonwealth Championship in India in 2004, we had curry for every single meal of the day, every day. That was just a bit too much!
What is your favorite book?
Dopefiend by Donald Goines. Definitely not for the faint hearted! I actually don’t read many books nowadays I’m ashamed to say, but I enjoy reading newspapers daily to stay on top of important events.
What music are you currently grooving to?
Justin Bieber, baby!! NO – that’s just a joke! My music taste is stuck in the 1980’s. If I had to name a particular band it would be Queen (nice chess theme there!), but I usually just listen to some internet radio music sites with 80’s tunes from around the world.
What is your best chess memory?
There are so many glorious memories! Unfortunately on all the occasions, I subsequently woke up
What chess player have you ever wanted to be and why?
Capablanca. Great endgame technique and popular with the ladies. What more could anyone want?
Capablanca may be his favorite, but here´s James Coleman with the one and only Gary Kasparov. Far left IM Malcolm Pein, Matt Read (James´ best man at his wedding), Kasparov and Coleman.
Are you self taught in chess or did you get lessons from a master?
Totally self-taught, when I was growing up we could barely afford the necessities let alone chess lessons. Although when I was 11 I joined my local chess club which met one night a week. I was the youngest player there by about twenty years! I was fortunate that there were a couple of friendly players, of a reasonable standard of maybe 1800-1900 ish that gave me a lot of good pointers for nothing.
Was religion a part of growing up?
Not really. I’m not really religious, but I do try and be a good person (most of the time!) and treat others as I’d like to be treated.
If you were to live 100 years in the future, what do you think the game of chess would look like? What do you think is the chess of the future?
Well I think my rating will have gone down some more - other than that 100 years is so far away there’s really no telling what will happen. I think the game will more or less exist in the form we know it, I don’t think it will be replaced by some variant like Fischerandom. With everything getting analysed to death, maybe it will become a purely amateur game, but who knows…
What do you think is the primary ingredients in a chessplayer?
It’s hard to narrow it down to one single thing, but the most important thing is to be good tactically. You could know everything there is to know about chess but that won’t do you much good if you drop pieces to simple oversights. Studying tactics helps of course, but this only teaches you to find good moves yourself, it doesn't really train you to avoid making bad ones. That's why it's important to gain real experience over the board.
Do you have an idea of some kind of “ideal chess style”?
Well from a purely chess point of view Magnus Carlsen has a great style right now. He’s not too dependent on theory, and yet is able to eke out wins from the smallest advantages. I wouldn’t go as far as saying it’s ideal as he does occasionally suffer uncharacteristic losses but he is only human. If you want ideal, switch on your computer program!
How old were you when you began to play chess?
I was about 8 although I didn’t play in any tournaments for a couple of years. Chess was far less accessible in the mid 80’s.
What do you do nowadays to get better at chess? How do you train?
I’m a full-time chess coach, and so currently I’m not doing anything to try and improve my own game. I’m actually more concerned with not getting any worse
I do spend quite a lot of time looking through top players games, and following the latest tournaments, but I do that purely for enjoyment rather than self-improvement, though obviously one picks up ideas here and there. Probably shortly before I play a tournament I’ll look at my openings and specifically check some of the latest games in those lines.
I have seen many of your games in the live area and I think you are a terrific player, why are you "just" a CM yet?
Well that still required reaching a 2200 FIDE rating so I would hope that I've not been a total failure :) But to make the jump from 2200 to 2300 (FM) is actually quite tough, it's not like going from say 1500-1600 which probably only requires some fairly basic adjustments. Ultimately everyone finds their natural level, I'm not going to make excuses. But if you want to hear some excuses here goes :) lack of time, not playing otb enough, too often a lack of motivation, lack of willpower to stop playing too many bullet games...I guess we will see what the future holds!
Ok, good luck! Can you tell me a chess secret?
Everyone should play 1.e4 when learning the game and stick with 1.e4 e5 as Black for quite a while. Get a good foundation in the classical positions first, and then when you do switch openings you’ll play them so much better. And especially avoid “system” openings as White like the Colle, the Torre and the worst of all, the Stonewall. They’ll hold you back the most when learning as you won’t experience the range of positions that you need.
Do you have a family?
I have been married for 13 and a half years. I have a son of 13. You can do the math there He plays a bit of chess at school, he’s actually a respectable standard of about 1600 but he’s not really interested in it, which is absolutely fine by me.
Is the Internet a big part of your life?
Huge. It’s a great way of staying in contact with friends via email, messenger, social networks and so on. When I’m not at home I have my smartphone. I’d really be lost without the internet.
Could you provide us with some cool links?
Well my favourite sites change from time to time but I have always been interested in pranks, practical jokes, and things like that. Recently I have been reading 419eater - a guy who "scambaits"; he takes all the scam emails that he gets, the ones promising fake lottery wins or whatever, pretends to be the sucker that they're looking for, then wastes their time in amusingly inventive fashion. Another site I really like, but which isn't updated too often is dontevenreply - a sophisticated troll who delights in responding to genuine adverts and driving people completely insane with his antics. Finally if I'm in the mood for something a little more visual, I may watch a few of the hilarious short videos on justforlaughs. No wonder I don't get much time to study chess!
What was your childhood like?
It was just OK. My parents divorced when I was in my early teens. It was very amicable so it could have been a lot worse but obviously still not ideal. Chess was the only easily accessible form of escapism during this time.
What is your favorite chess game?
I’m going to humbly assume you don’t mean one of my own masterpieces It’s a tough choice to pick one. I dislike famous games such as Kasparov’s celebrated win against Topalov, because I don’t understand it, much less hope to be able replicate it. I really enjoyed Fischer’s 6thgame in his 1972 match against Spassky, the famous Queen’s Gambit win. I almost feel I could have played all his moves myself (which I couldn’t of course). Therein lies its attraction.
What is chess to you – a game of combat or of art?
Combat. Given the choice between a horrendous blunder-filled game which I won, and a beautifully conducted game which I lost, I’ll take the win every time. If my opponent is so traumatised by it that he plays badly the next time we meet, so much the better
How much time do you devote to chess?
Not as much as I’d like to for reasons already explained, but I hope to change that in the future.
What is your inner being?
Calmness, but anyone who’s been the parent of a teenager will know that’s not always practical...
What is the one thing you’d most like to change about the chess world?
I’d like chess to have a higher profile in general, and be seen as cooler and less nerdy. That way we will keep more young players interested in the game.
Do you think one is born a chess player or can a great player be made by hard practice?
I think more or less anyone could get to a reasonable standard, say, who knows, maybe 2000 level for example, which I would class as a very decent but not great player - just by taking up the game early and being motivated to work at it. I’m not saying that you can’t get to that level by starting later, I plucked that number somewhat from thin air….but if by a “great player” you mean strong GM, that’s probably not going to happen unless you take up the game very young, have a natural aptitude, study a great deal and have the support and opportunity to play a lot and develop your potential. Most GM’s nowadays are already GM or almost GM strength by their late teens or early twenties.
How do you deal with the mental stress and nervous strain of playing chess?
Embrace it as it’s part of the game. Nobody likes losing but it IS going to happen. Remember your opponents experience the same emotions.
Who is your inspiration?
My Dad. Such a good person in every way. Alas nowadays, I don’t get to see him nearly as often as I would like.
What is your greatest fear?
Running out of red wine. And death. In no particular order.
If you could give a beginner in chess only one piece of advice, what would it be?
Play as much as you possibly can, and try to understand why you lost. Then play some more.
KNOWLEDGABLE. James Colman (in pink shirt) and a team of other chessplayers after winning the TV quiz show"Eggheads" in 2011.
Do you prefer blitz, otb tournaments or correspondence style chess?
OTB tournaments. Blitz is fun too but hard to take seriously. I have absolutely zero interest in correspondence chess, I can’t stand the idea. Though if other people enjoy it and want to play it, fine. I wouldn’t want to see it abolished.
Who is your most difficult opponent?
On here the best player I’ve played is Dretch (Conrad Holt). Super strong although I’ve only had one session with him. Janosik (Falco Bindrich) is pretty amazing too. Of the people I’ve played much more regularly, ACEChess (Danny Rensch) gmjoey1 (Rogelio Antonio) and Eilyisum (Evan Ju) are all really tough.
Is there any chess book that has had a deep and lasting influence on you?
Not really. A few that I’ve found useful in one way or another have been : Pawn Power in Chess by Hans Kmoch, My System by Nimzowitsch, and Zurich International Chess Tournament 1953 supposedly by Bronstein. I’ve probably only read about 6 chess books cover to cover though I’ve partly read quite a few others.
If you could choose to live one day of any time in the history of mankind, which time would that be and why?
That question is too profound for my limited mind. Whatever day I did pick, I certainly wouldn’t spend it doing chess
Do you have any favorite hobbies?
Nothing super exciting. Travelling, watching movies, nights out with friends, sleeping…
Are you a superstitious person?
Not really. Chessplayers are always rational, right?
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in chess?
To accept there’ll always be people better than me, and worse than me, so not to worry too much.
What does your future hold as a chess player?
Right now I don’t know. My coaching commitments, not to mention my age, only allow for fairly modest aims. I’d like to regain my best rating of some years ago (2225) and maybe surpass that, other than that, who knows. However I will still, when time and finances permit, continue to play in tournaments abroad, as it’s a great way to combine my love of travelling, and seeing new places, as well as reconnecting with old friends from abroad and making new ones.
How would you describe yourself to an alien from another planet?
I’d tell him to read this interview and get back to me if more information is needed
In an earlier interview GM Alejandro Ramirez said that “Blitz is the only marketable form of chess”. Do you think the future belongs to rapid chess and blitz?
Yes, to a large extent, although to my mind how to actually market the game still remains the big question. So whilst I agree, I don’t think speeding it up will on its own, make the game interesting to people who don’t currently play it. After all, I wouldn’t watch let’s say…ballet dancing or curling (often referred to incidentally as “chess on ice”) just because they were condensed into shorter versions of themselves.
Do you have any thoughts on how Chess.com can get even better?
Perhaps a few new strong players playing in live chess, also I would love an option to be able to auto-block all challenges for turn-based chess. Grrrr! Though whether they’d make the site better I guess is arguable, they’re just things I would like!
Ps: If anybody wonders, the woman in Colemans´ profile picture on the top of the interview is
his wife Jo.