Should Chess Students be Spanked?

Should Chess Students be Spanked?

IM Silman
Sep 13, 2010, 12:00 AM |
48 | Other

BCG1 asked:

As one of our foremost pedagogues I am asking for your advice on students who insist on repeating mistakes over and over and over again. I have pleaded, cajoled and finally, in desperation, resorted to corporal punishment, with some spanking and electro shock, but nothing seems to stop them from their self-destructive behavior!

Dear BCG1:

I’ve run into this problem and it’s pretty much impossible to help those that leap onto that repetitive treadmill to hell. However, though you usually can’t fix the learning quotient of people that repeat the same mistakes over a thousand times, you can make the game more enjoyable for them by making lessons tremendous fun, and by instilling certain chess insights that will make looking at master games a rush. A thought: did you ever consider that some players LIKE getting ripped limb from limb on the chessboard, and so they purposely play the same errors since such mistakes promise the sweet bliss that comes with over-the-board evisceration? These people are known as chessboard masochists, and they are far more common than you might suppose.

Of course, you DO owe it to your students (who actually want to win) to do everything in your power to break through that learning-wall. Though I tend to avoid teaching children, I remember one California chess camp (for kids 4 to 12) where everyone just hung all their pieces in the first few moves. Since every other area of chess is useless if the student hangs his/her Queen on move 4, I worked hard at trying to make them more aware of not losing their stuff. I even created a little tournament where only 10 moves would be played by both sides. The goal: to not hang anything.

Of the 15 or so games that were played, every game featured massive losses of material! Here’s one example that still haunts me to this day: 1.d4 e5 (Hanging a pawn on move 1.) 2.Bg5 (Why take a free pawn when you can hang a Bishop instead?) 2…h6 (I clutched my chest in despair. Was I having a heart attack?) 3.Bxd8. Good grief!!! I’m not joking; this really happened.

Apparently my insistence that the kids not give things away annoyed them. An 8-year-old (clearly a future leader of men) finally had enough. He calmly walked up to me and, with all his might, kicked me in a place that I would prefer to never be kicked again. Though I was only face down on the floor writhing in pain for 5 minutes or so (The kids were laughing hysterically … nice to know I was able to entertain them.), it hit me that I was the one to learn a lesson: never teach little children again.

Since I’m clearly not qualified to help you out with teaching techniques for kids 12 and under, I’ll see what I can offer for older students:

Teens: They tend to learn quickly, so if they are failing to live up to their personal potential it means:

1) They just don’t like chess (which is why, whenever I get a teenage student, I ask if they want lessons or if their parents are making them take lessons. If it’s the latter, the lesson is over and I won’t teach them again).

2) They like chess, but you need to somehow get them to concentrate – many teens are more interested in thinking about girls/boys, which means that listening to an old man rave about the wonders of the isolated d-pawn isn’t going to make much headway. Here are two methods that can vastly improve teenage concentration:

2.a) At the end of every lesson, if they can demonstrate that they have retained what you tried to teach them, you hand them a crisp new $100.00 bill. I’ve found this works wonders, but it does tend to eat into your teaching profits.

2.b) Offer a bribe. I had one 15-year old female student who was close to master strength. She had the talent, and that master rating (her personal goal) was there, waiting for her to grab it. The problem was that she didn’t want to work, and was too lazy to do the things I wanted her to do. In an effort to spur her into action, I offered to buy her an iPod (which I knew she desperately wanted) if she got the master title. Sadly, even my bribe failed to kick-start her work ethic, and (though I really liked her and thought she had a brilliant mind) I was forced to fire her as a student (I’m the only chess teacher I’ve ever heard of that fires his students).

Adults: If someone is having trouble retaining lessons, just accept it and do your best to improve them a tiny bit at a time. It might be a slow and painful process, but if the student is having fun then all is well. I should add that the teacher also has to ponder whether or not he’s the right teacher for that particular student – at times one person’s message doesn’t compute with a student, while a different message manages to take the student to another level.

This concept also applies to chess books. Some people love my stuff, while others prefer a more serious, stodgy, dry approach. If a teacher or book is failing to connect with you, then look for another teacher or another book that is more suitable for who you are.

Finally, let’s address spanking and electro shock. I’ve had hard core manly-men that want a drill sergeant energy that pushes aside “Good job, but you could have done better with …” rubbish for, “What kind of pathetic move was that?” They actually insist on this kind of “let’s get it done at all costs” attitude.

Thus, a typical “you’re in the chess marines” kind of lesson might go something like this:

TEACHER: “What kind of pathetic move was that?”

STUDENT: “I, I, I …”

TEACHER: “Is Mr. Maggot going to cry? If so, I picked up some nice pink tissue just for girly-men like you!”

STUDENT: “Okay, I like that move, and I’m going to play it again, so what are you going to do about it?”

This is where a cattle prod comes in handy, one zap and it changes the grumpy/difficult student’s whole perspective on life.


TEACHER (looking down at the fallen student): “Do you still like that move?”

STUDENT: “No, no I don’t.”

TEACHER: “Ready to listen now?” 

STUDENT: “Whatever you say.”




One final technique deserves to be brought up: fining the student! A famous SF Bay Area IM used to teach specific ideas and then tell his students that, if they failed to use these ideas properly in any games they played between lessons, they would be fined (I think it was a dollar a move). I don’t know if this method was successful or not, but it’s certainly something to ponder.

To sum up, it’s clear that many factors are at work in the Teacher/Student relationship. You need to use drastically different approaches for children, teens, and adults. Finally, if you just can’t get your point across, the problem might be you! Perhaps you just suck as a teacher, or perhaps you’re just not right for that individual student. If you feel you aren’t able to communicate properly with a student, do them a favor and see if you can find another teacher that might be a better fit for that particular student. Remember: your job is to make them stronger. If that means you have to step away, do the right thing (meaning: don’t hold onto them cause you want the money) and find a teacher for them that’s a better match.


SerbianChessStar asked:

Sorry to bother you, but when will the 4th edition of HOW TO REASSESS YOUR CHESS come out? The original release date was 2007, then you promised Dec. 2009, and then March 2010. But its now September and I’m wondering what’s happening.

Dear SerbianChessStar:

The original release date was 2007? Really? Good god! And did I really “promise” to get it out by Dec. 2009? Okay, okay, I’m falling to my knees and begging forgiveness! I know this sucks for you, and it sucks for me too.

There was one well-known chess writer who told me that he wrote his best book in just 24 hours. I don’t know how he does it, but it takes me anywhere from 2 to 5 years to write a book – my fans have come to expect something special from a Silman book, and I do my very best not to let them down. But that takes time.

However, the wait is almost over! (I hope). The book is written, the initial proofing finished, and the cover is completed. The typesetting is also finally done (you have no idea what a massive job that was). We’re now doing another complete proofing, corrections will be inputed, and then it will (at last!) be sent to the printer. Shortly after that, a blue-line will be sent to me for yet another look/proofing (to make sure the printer didn’t make any mistakes), and once I send it back it will be printed and sent to the various stores and websites. Giving birth is far easier than this nightmare process!

The book is a massive 665 pages long (oversize pages), and filled to the brim with rich instruction, explanatory prose, and highly useful recommendations about chess psychology. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.

I expect the paperback to list at $29.95 (unheard of in a world where most 300 page chess books have the same price). There will also be a very limited hardcover edition (all signed), though the price is still an unknown. I am desperately hoping to get the blue-line early to mid-October, and it should be ready to purchase by early or mid November.

I’m sorry for making you (and others) wait so long, but I assure you that it will vastly surpass your expectations.


A brilliant artist created, in my view, the best chess book cover ever – the front cover also offers a secret/anomaly, and the first member  (ONLY members of qualify) who writes me ( with the correct answer to that secret/anomaly will receive a free signed copy. Solving this won’t be easy, in fact you’ll probably have to read the section on minor pieces to have any hope of doing so! The cover art will be placed on in a few weeks. At that point, please date and send all guesses to the above address.

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