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Why You Shouldn't Rely On Chess Engine Analysis (And Other Tips From An International Master)

Why You Shouldn't Rely On Chess Engine Analysis (And Other Tips From An International Master)

Mick
| 14 | Other

IM Novak Cabarkapa is an international master from Serbia with two GM norms under his belt. He has trained students of all ages and skill levels, and is available for regular lessons as well as training games. In this article, he shares some of his best tips for chess improvement, the benefits and drawbacks of coaching online, and why looking at a position over the board can be more beneficial than using an engine to analyze your games.

Interested in lessons? Contact Novak on his Chess.com profile!


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

I played the game for the first time with my family when I was five years old. As the chess culture in Serbia is one of the richest in the world, my father and both of my grandfathers knew how to play, and as I was watching them play I started to like the game more and more.

The first time I went to a chess club was when I was seven. I think I played my first serious tournament in 2004, when I was eight years old. It was the U20 Championship of Vojvodina. I played the first round against one of the top seeds, a 19-year-old champion from Misicevo, Damir Sente. I fought well but had no real chance to win an upset. He often likes to remind me that he is still leading 1-0 against me!

A young Novak Cabarkapa at the chessboard.
A young Novak Cabarkapa at his local city championship.

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

I've had a couple of coaches throughout my career. The coach I worked with for the longest time and the one who left the biggest impact on my playing style is a National Master from my city, Mirko Mamuzic. He was a really resourceful player, always searching for tactics and counterplay, and nowadays I am playing chess in a similar way to how he did. The most useful thing he transferred to me is the mindset that the game is never over, and that there is always a chance to make a comeback.

The most useful thing [my coach] transferred to me is the mindset that the game is never over, and that there is always a chance to make a comeback.
— IM Novak Cabarkapa

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

This was a game from the Serbian First League held in Valjevo in 2018. My opponent was GM Milos Roganovic.

How would you describe your approach to chess coaching?

My approach to teaching chess is to get to know my students as well as possible, which then allows me to find out what it is that they truly need to work on. My main goal is long-term improvement in chess understanding.

Usually, I want my students to not play a ton of openings, but to have one in which they know what they are doing. I have played many openings throughout my career, and I have a lot of interesting ideas to choose from when it comes to various openings. After choosing the main repertoire, we would work on the common middlegames in the given openings, and after that, strategy and endgames in general.

I do also tell my students how to work on tactics, but I would say that I spend by far the least time with them on this. Usually, we work on a couple of calculation exercises where I teach them the basic principles, but not more than that. In terms of getting used to a lot of tactical patterns, I recommend that they work on that by themselves, but I do provide them with the needed material.

Novak Cabarkapa rescuing a draw against a strong player, after being three pawns down in a rook endgame!
Novak rescuing a draw against a strong player, after being three pawns down in a rook endgame!

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

I would say that my responsibility is to guide the students on the right path, and for them not to have huge holes in preparation (especially if they are serious tournament players).

When I say guide them on the right path, it's connected to every part of the game. Usually, I meet with my students once or twice per week. That alone is of course not enough for any huge improvement. If they are ambitious, they also need to work by themselves, following the plan we construct.

Usually, I meet with my students once or twice per week. That alone is of course not enough for any huge improvement. If they are ambitious, they also need to work by themselves, following the plan we construct.
— IM Novak Cabarkapa

I am always available for my students and they can message me whenever they need some help from me. The responsibilities that fall on my students are to follow through with the plan that we have constructed together.

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

The upside of online teaching is that you cover much more material, you can immediately find the needed material, and the preparation goes much quicker.

On the other hand, some students find all the available resources to be a little bit overwhelming. The engine is the most important resource, but it can also be the biggest enemy. The downside of engines is that people rely on them way too much during training, and it can impact the strength of the player when the game is actually being played. I usually advise my students not to use engines when we are working in general, although there are cases when they should also use them (game preparation for example).

People rely on [engines] way too much during training, and it can impact the strength of the player when the game is actually being played.
— IM Novak Cabarkapa

The upside of coaching in person is actually playing moves over the board, which is much more important than a lot of people think. If I had to pick the better teaching method it would be in person, but also with a laptop nearby if something is needed. However, since almost all of my students are from far away, teaching online is the only option.

IM Novak Cabarkapa playing chess over the board.
Novak deep in thought during an over-the-board battle against another FM.

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

Fight! No matter what the evaluation or the material imbalance is, or if you already made a ton of mistakes throughout the game, the most important thing is to fight.

I would say that being resourceful is the number one thing in chess. I know a ton of players that very often 'get lucky'. I would say that the term 'luck' in chess is used way too often, and the skill of finding counterplay in hard positions is really underrated.

Fight! No matter what the evaluation or the material imbalance is, or if you already made a ton of mistakes throughout the game, the most important thing is to fight.
— IM Novak Cabarkapa

I remember watching some sort of a mini-blitz tournament when GM Magnus Carlsen was playing against a lot of young players. He played like 20 games, he was lost in most of them, and he managed to win all of them by finding some of the wildest defensive resources I ever saw.

So, in my opinion, resourcefulness combined with a fighting spirit is the number one quality. My advice is to work on that. Tons of tactics, and tons of blitz/bullet. These skills are best seen in the way a person plays speed chess.

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

It might not be some wild flashy game, but one that is really slow and positional. Here we have a perfect example of how one side should play against the isolated pawn, and how one side shouldn't.

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

Puzzles on Chess.com! I wouldn't say Puzzle Rush, even though it can be really fun solving those, I'm thinking mostly about puzzles in general. It's just so easy nowadays to work on your tactical skills. You do a puzzle and the next one comes instantly, and you can choose which type you want to work on. The puzzles aren't repeated because there is a huge number of them, and they follow the level of the player that's solving them, so they will always be adjusted for the user.

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

This is a high-level calculation exercise. It lets me see how my students think in these sharp positions, and also I can touch on topics like concrete calculation, candidate moves, forcing moves, etc.

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

Now, as I'm looking through my books, a ton of older books that were heavily under-appreciated came to light in recent years. All the books I'm using for my coaching are pretty well-known, so I can just recommend the books I liked in the recent period.

I would recommend a book by GM Volokitin and IM Grabinsky called Perfect Your Chess. It's for tactical improvement and it's intended for really advanced players. As a King's Indian player, of course, I have to recommend The King's Indian Warfare by GM Ilya Smirin which is not just an opening/middlegame book but also contains a lot of stories about his chess career.

One more that I really liked is from GM Matthew Sadler called The Silicon Road To Chess Improvement where he analyses the games of Alpha Zero and comes to some interesting conclusions.


To book a lesson with IM Novak Cabarkapa, 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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