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Brilliant Queen Sacrifices & Tips On Keeping Your Chess Studies Simple

Brilliant Queen Sacrifices & Tips On Keeping Your Chess Studies Simple

Mick
| 37 | Other

With two IM norms under his belt and over a decade of chess-teaching experience, FM Michel Coto Mederos is well-versed in coaching students online and in person. Some of his young pupils have even become national champions in their age categories, following in their coach's footsteps who also earned a National Championship title in his youth.

Michel not only provides regular chess lessons but he offers specifically targeted sessions. Want a titled player to analyze your games and give you tips? Play training games against an FM where you can test out your opening prep? Want to get better at playing chess blindfolded? All of the above are potential options to explore. (We recommend starting out with regular lessons before moving on to blindfolded chess, though.)

Read on for an FM's top tips on chess improvement, his favorite games, and a tricky puzzle that will test your vision and calculation skills.


At what age were you introduced to chess, and who introduced you?

When I was seven years old, a friend from my classroom was playing and training chess at the local club, and he invited me to take lessons. I did, and since then, I couldn't stop playing! I still remember my first days at the club, my opponents when I was a kid, and my first tournaments away from my home and family. 

I still remember my first days at the club, my opponents when I was a kid, and my first tournaments away from my home and family.

— Michel Mederos

Which coaches were helpful to you in your chess career, and what was the most useful knowledge they imparted to you?

Basically, I've only had one serious and professional chess coach, Jesus Garcia (Fio). I grew up in Artemisa, Cuba, which is a town about one hour away from Havana. My coach was one of the strongest players in Artemisa.

I became very good at positional play and endgames because Fio was really passionate about these areas, and he shared his knowledge with me and gave me important strategy books.

I was also self-taught for many years; when I was 12 years old, my coach moved to Venezuela to teach chess as part of a government program. Since then, I have been heavily influenced by the content and ideas from Capablanca and the Russian School. 

FM Michel Coto Mederos and his coach, Fio.
FM Michel Coto Mederos and his coach, Fio.

What is your favorite or the best game you ever played?

I have fond memories of this game where I became the U-10 National Champion in Cuba back in 1999. It was my first national event, and in that tournament, I beat Zenia Corrales (a friend of mine for many years, now a WIM who has been a top female player in Cuba and currently plays for Mexico). She was the favorite to win the contest.

More recently, I've won some really important battles, especially to get my two IM norms, but this game when I was only nine years old is different:

How would you describe your approach to chess coaching?

I like to connect with my students and understand what they enjoy the most when they train. Also, I talk about their goals and I try to work to help them achieve these goals. In lessons, I try to focus on activities that are both entertaining and helpful for the player.

I like to connect with my students and be able to understand what they enjoy the most when they train.

— Michel Mederos

In general, I consider the analysis of master games and analysis of students' games as vital resources to improve at chess, and in general, they should be included in any training plan for improvement, in addition to specific activities based on the student's characteristics and weaknesses. 

FM Michel Coto Mederos training with the U12 national Cuban champion.
FM Michel Coto Mederos training with the U12 national Cuban champion.

What do you consider your responsibility as a coach and which responsibilities fall on your student?

A student working one hour per week is not the same as a student working six hours per week. Also, a student who wants to improve at chess and play professionally is not the same as a student who just wants to stay mentally active, enjoy the game, and take advantage of the mental benefits of chess.

A student working one hour per week is not the same as a student working six hours per week.

— Michel Mederos

But in general, I see it as my main responsibility to help the student enjoy the game and the lessons, to keep their motivation as high as possible, and to help them achieve their goals. 
A responsibility for the student might be to follow any specific instructions (homework if requested, or suggestions, for example) for their case. 

Do you prefer to teach online or offline? What do you think is different about teaching online?

Online teaching is my favorite. I have done both, and online coaching has been a game-changer. Having access to positions in less than one second and being able to analyze those positions with high-level engines is priceless.

Some years ago, we had to set up positions on the board, and if we could not understand something, we had to set up the position on a computer later to analyze it with engines. You save so much time now, and the quality of the lesson is higher in general.  

FM Michel Coto Mederos and GM Zoltan Almasi
FM Michel Coto Mederos and GM Zoltan Almasi.

What is a piece of advice that you give your students that more chess players could benefit from?

I feel like playing games and solving puzzles is still underappreciated. There is so much information out there, and there are so many tools for people wanting to improve that sometimes we forget that just keeping it simple—solving puzzles and playing chess (and enjoying the journey)—is going to help a lot for basically any level. I'm not saying it's the only thing we need to do to improve, but it's always good.

Then, there is the other thing: consistency. Of course, you won't improve after 100 puzzles and 20 games. Very often we want immediate reward, and that's not the way it works. And this is when many players get disappointed when they don't see the results.

Very often we want immediate reward, and that's not the way it works.

— Michel Mederos

It should be clear to the student that it might take months before they can translate their hard work into actual improvement, but it happens.  For some people, it happens earlier than for others, but the important thing is knowing that eventually it will.

Just one interesting idea: if a player solves 10 rated puzzles and plays two rapid games per day, they should notice some improvement in 2-3 months. 

What is your favorite teaching game that users might not have seen?

Torre vs. Adams in 1920 was an amazing game with four (!) brilliant queen sacrifices. I use it to talk about deflection and backrank weakness, but also for motivational purposes: once you see the game, you fall in love with chess.

What do you consider the most valuable training tool that the internet provides?

The ability to access full, top-level games is a very good tool. The other is very obvious, which is tactical training. You can seriously improve your game just by doing daily tactics puzzles that get progressively harder, like the tactics trainer. Don't just do Puzzle Rush though!

For stronger players, a simple copy of Chessbase and the latest release of Stockfish will take you far (after analyzing with your own brain, of course).

What is the puzzle you give students that tells you the most about how they think?

This is taken from a game by GM Yasser Seirawan in 1980. I use this position very often in one of the first sections with new intermediate to advanced-level students to see where they are.

From the analysis they do in this diagram, I can see how much they understand positional chess (open files and the seventh rank). Also, as they try to calculate around four moves deep without moving pieces, I can see their visualization and calculation skills.

Which under-appreciated chess book should every chess player read?

Invisible Chess Moves: Discover Your Blind Spots and Stop Overlooking Simple Wins is a great book by Emmanuel Neiman and Yochanan Afek. It's a collection of "invisible moves" in chess and an analysis of why they are so tough to see. The book is full of brilliant moves. 


To book a lesson with FM Michel Coto Mederos, contact him via his Chess.com profile


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Mick
Mick Murray

Mick is a writer and editor for Chess.com and ChessKid. He enjoys playing the Caro-Kann and Italian Game to varying degrees of success. Before joining Chess.com, Mick worked as a writer, editor, and content manager in Japan, New Zealand, and the Netherlands.

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