The Fast Track To Chess Mastery
Overview of Coach Carl's teaching philosophy and study curriculum.
My belief is that with dedication and hard work anyone can reach the master rank (2200 USCF) in chess. A critical component however in this endeavor is utilizing the proper materials and getting the most out of the games that you play. It also does not hurt to have a knowledgeable coach in your corner; someone to help guide you through the jungle of chess information and give insight into your competitive practice.
So where to begin ?
With young student's who are just learning the moves I take my time when showing them how to play. When I was a boy of four years old my father taught me how to play chess—not an easy task! The Boor School makes good use of “mini” games such as the “Pawn Game”, “Bishop &Knight” game, “Pawns vs. Queen”, The eight queen puzzle, Knights tour and other learning games that break chess down into more manageable parts. Of course it is critical to cover all the basic rules of the game, such as stalemate and enpassant as well. You would be amazed how many students of so called, “Chess Teaching Companies” and “Super Trainers” do not even know the rules of chess. Buyer beware!
With mastery of how to play comes the building blocks of how to win. The art of winning a won game in chess is called technique. To have good technique means that you can win in the most minimal and basic positions, namely the Queen and King vs. King as well as the King and Rook vs. King. Boor Sr. grilled me on these two basic scenarios until I could do them blindfolded !
Once a student fully understands the rules of chess as well as grasps the elementary checkmate techniques he or she is ready to learn the basics of tactics and strategy. But truthfully they already have!
In the process of teaching the student all the “mini games” I secretly am also teaching them everything they conceptually need to know about chess tactics and strategy, now it is just a matter of translating the specifics to the general as well as giving everything its proper name.
The chess game is divided into three parts or phases; opening, middle game and endgame. Each of these parts of chess has specific principals and techniques that govern the strategy and tactics of play. With a personal lesson I like to divide the lesson into three parts and always touch on each of the phases of the chess game.
There is very specific algorithms to playing the opening well. You must understand what middle game you are building up to as well as the common tactical tricks and themes that permeate a specific variation. To illustrate this transition to the middle game as well as the tactics I like to look at the blueprints of the great masters from the past and present with a student. The chess game is in a constant state of evolution and flux, just as our own understanding of it also is growing and changing. By analyzing our own games in the context of the historical progression of chess ideas we can refine our opening play to a very high level!
The middlegame is land of creative attacking ploys, boa constrictor like squeezes and tenacious defense. This is the part of chess that breaks away from previous patterns and becomes something new and unique in almost every game. It is also the area of chess that is the most difficult to master. Analysis, calculation and creativity are at a premium. My more advanced students are assigned key games to analyze and commit to memory. If you want to be able to attack like a master then you are going to have to put in some work learning how exactly the great ones did it! In addition to studying key games we must put a priority on analyzing our own games—and not with the computer engine on and our brain turned off! A good coach will be able to look at a game with you and pose questions, be surprised by the answers you find and help you deepen your feel for initiative and positional nuances.
Studying chess tactics is another requirement of my students. Chess tactical puzzles are the only way that really works to get better at seeing combinations and tactics. Just like solving multiplication problems was the answer to really learning your times tables, easy to learn but hard to teach.
In many ways I feel that the endgame is the most beautiful part of chess. I make it a point to install a strong foundation in endgame knowledge and technique with my students. We progress from the elementary pawnless wins to king and pawn endgames. King and Pawn endings are an excellent training ground for improving your technique as well as positional feel and calculation ability. Rook and pawn endings are the most common and difficult endgames—and the fast track from intermediate to mastery.
It is no accident that all of the world chess champions were very strong in the endgame, Capablanca, Fischer, Karpov, and Kramnik for example. By studying the classic games, foundational techniques and solving endgame studies we can begin to emulate the style of these great endgame maestros and feel the joy of grinding our opponents down!
Last of all we have the important domain of sport psychology. Chess players if they are to be healthy people must balance "Will to Win" with being a well rounded human being. We all know to well the stories of chess players who have gone off the deep end from being out of balance in their passion for chess. A good coach knows when to tell a student to take a break from over study and also how to not beat yourself up after a tough loss. We love chess and we all want to be the best we can be at it, but it is critical to remain objective that chess is not life and is indeed a game!! With all that said, a good coach can also get a student pumped up, hypnotised even, that he is going to do just fine in this game or tournament. I recall the first time I defeated a chess master...I was in a losing position but I exuded such confidence and will to win that my experienced opponent began to blunder (or this is at least how I remember it :)
Please feel free to share my advice and program with your friends and students. It is the culmination of over thirty years of chess study from the father and son Boor school, a school that is still growing, learning and producing champions.