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Coach Of The Month: Isaac Snow

Coach Of The Month: Isaac Snow

Mick
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Isaac Snow is a USCF Candidate Master on his way to an NM title, a three-time Alabama High School Chess Champion, and a three-time participant in the Denker National Tournament of High School State Champions. He's also a prolific chess blogger and managed to snag one of the coolest usernames on Chess.com. 

As well as advancing his own playing career, Isaac offers online coaching to students aiming to take their chess skills to the next level. Find out more about this talented young chess coach below!

Readers seeking private instruction can contact Isaac via his Chess.com profile and can find other skilled coaches at Chess.com/coaches.


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

My cousins introduced me to chess when I was eight. They taught me how to move the pieces... and then proceeded to beat me rather easily. Some short time later, I joined a chess club, learned the four-move checkmate, and never had trouble beating my cousins again!

What is your first vivid memory of chess?

I remember winning the first chess club tournament I ever played in by simply playing the four-move checkmate against everyone, as White and Black. In each round, I moved my king pawn up two squares, brought my queen and bishop out, totally disregarded what my opponent was doing, and then boom, checkmate. Just like that. It was legendary. I thought I was so good, too, winning all my games in 4 moves. I got a coach after that... and quickly discovered I wasn't good at all—nor was my opening! 

Isaac Snow at the 2023 Charlotte Open chess tournament.
Isaac at the 2023 Charlotte Open.

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

My first actual coach was (1800 USCF) Caesar Lawrence, who coached me until I was near 1300 USCF. He helped me pick out my first openings—the Fried Liver Attack, and the French Defense, both of which I still play today. He always told me to play until checkmate because you never know if your opponent will mess up. Doing so has allowed me to pull off some truly ridiculous swindles, even against high-rated players. Because of him, I play with great passion and spirit in many of my games, often fighting until the end. 

My second and current actual coach is IM David Ross, who I've worked with since I was 1300 USCF. He has helped me improve my game all around. Specifically, he has helped me solidify my opening repertoire with openings that better suit my style of play. He has also ensured that I am always working on my tactical vision. Thirty minutes of tactics per day, at least! He has told me many times: "Look for checks and captures, captures and checks." That always goes through my mind when I'm playing an over-the-board game. I'm always looking for checks and captures, or anything that could give me a tactical edge in the position. 

Which game do you consider your "Magnus Opus"?

I would say my "Magnus Opus" is from 2019 in Alabama's State Championship, where I played five consecutive masters and scored 3/5 against them—as a 1967-rated player. My round-two win against NM Bill Melvin, an eight-time Alabama Chess Champion, is the game that got that going for me and showed me I was truly worthy of competing with masters. It gave me some much-needed confidence.

How would you describe your approach to chess coaching?

The first time I meet with a new student, I have a nice little chat with them about chess. I want to know their goals, their ambitions, and how much effort they're willing to put into chess. I wanna know why they play chess, how long they've played chess, and just their story overall. After chatting for a bit, I'll play a couple of training games with my students and get to know their playing styles. 

After the first meeting, I'll look through their game history and see what else I can find. This helps me determine what my student needs to work on, what my student is good and bad at, and what the plan should be moving forward. Generally, I do a lot of game/position analysis in the lessons—we can learn from my mistakes, your mistakes, and anyone's mistakes!

Isaac Snow at the Scholastic State Chess Championship.
Isaac playing in round three of the 2022 Scholastic State Chess Championship.

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

My responsibility as a coach is to do everything that I possibly can to assist and advise my students on their journey of chess improvement. It's my responsibility to steer and guide them toward improvement by assessing their play, figuring out what they need to work on, and giving them a proper training plan. I also consider it a responsibility to keep it fun. If chess stops being fun, then what's the point? While I want my students to improve, I think it is just as important that they enjoy the journey, enjoy the game, and have fun with it. 

The responsibility of my students is to put in the effort required to improve. As someone who used to not put in any effort to improve as a student, surely frustrating my coach in the process, I'll say this: a coach can only do so much to help you improve. If you want to truly improve, you've got to put in the work. You've got to pay attention in class, you've got to complete any homework assigned to you by your coach, and you've got to practice. Listen to your coach and follow the plan laid out for you.

Isaac Snow at the State Scholastic Championship.
Isaac at the Scholastic State Championship.

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

Respect your opponent. No matter what their rating is, no matter what your past results against an opponent are, and no matter how poorly an opponent has previously played, you should always respect your opponent and remember they are capable of beating you. One mistake is all it takes to lose the game, and underestimating an opponent doesn't help. 

What is your favorite teaching game that our readers might not have seen before?

So I generally use my own games as teaching games, since I can completely understand what is going on and what the players were thinking, which helps. I also don't tell students that I am the one who played the game—I reveal that only after we are done analyzing, and the reactions are priceless!

I like to share games that were back-and-forth battles with inaccuracies by both sides, each side having their chances, ultimately ending with one side swindling the game with sudden tactical or positional ideas. It drives home the point that chess players, no matter how good they are at the game, are still human and make silly mistakes. Just because you make a mistake and find yourself in an unpleasant position doesn't mean you can't keep fighting and doing your best to come back and steal the win. Never give up! 

The following game is my favorite teaching game. Both sides had chances, both sides played inaccurately at times, and there were plenty of tactical and positional ideas to analyze and learn from.

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

Here's one that I use pretty often. This is a positional puzzle. Looking at it right now, the position seems rather unpleasant for both sides. So I show this to my students, and my challenge to them is to find a way to make the position look more appealing for White. Figure out the issue, fix it, and improve White's position. This shows me how my students go about identifying problems in their position and how to solve them.

The solution is c4, with the idea of playing Bb2 after. Suddenly, your pawn structure looks a bit better, your dark-squared bishop is hanging out on a nice, long diagonal, and your knight is potentially going to f4 soon. Beyond that, you've got ideas of playing Qc2 and Be4, and suddenly it looks like all of White's pieces are pretty happy. That definitely wasn't the case at the beginning.

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

I prefer to teach online. It's much more convenient, I can be far more flexible with my schedule, and there are far more resources that can be used online. It's a lot easier to connect with people online than it is in person, too. You can connect with anyone on the internet.

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

I mean, can I just say a Chess.com account is the most valuable training tool that the internet provides? Having a Chess.com account gives you access to so many resources that can help you train. If I had to be more specific, I'd probably say Chess.com's analysis board is the most valuable training tool out there.


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Previous Coaches of the Month:

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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