Ten ways to get free chess lessons from Masters

FM CharlyAZ

(The first time I published this article, some people -some chess coaches- didn't like the original title, which it was a joke. Because my main interest is to write about Chess and not creating controversy, this is the straightforward content from the original)


The purpose of this article is to suggest options for those who either (a) cannot afford a chess coach or (b) have a limited budget and want to use it to the best possible effect.

The article is divided into two sections:

A (1-7) How to get free, semi-free or inexpensive chess lessons from Masters,
B (8-10) An alternative: Study Groups, and a bonus tip (11)

A- How to get free, semi-free or inexpensive chess lessons from Masters.

You have to keep in mind that these tips are based on the belief (more than a belief, a fact) that the analysis, especially analysis of the your own games, is the way to improving as chess player.

1- Play above your rating in tournaments.


(For example, if your rating is 1400, instead of playing the 1400-1600 group, play the 1600-1800).

Here in America and, I imagine, in many other countries, there is the option of playing one group above your rating, if you pay an extra fee. The reason that many chess players don’t do this is because they aspire to win prize money. Clearly such money is more easily won against lesser players but, as with all things in life, the opportunity for monetary self-enrichment comes at a price: the loss of an opportunity to improve both your game and rating. Strong opposition is the best way to advance in chess, as in any activity. In the immortal words of Nietzsche, “What does not kill me makes me stronger”. I believe this applies doubly in chess, even if you are checkmated in every game.

“But it’s not free, I had to pay an entry fee”, I hear you say. You are only half right … were you not going to play the tournament anyway? More of how to get that free lesson in section 2

2- Keep your cool at the end of the game..

Lasker and Nimzowith

Imagine that you have just lost a game against a master, or other stronger player. The defeat bothered you so much (perhaps you felt you were better at one point) that you lost your mind, threw the pieces on the floor and perhaps channelled your inner Nimzowitsch with a cry of, “why must I lose to this idiot!!” (This actually happened in a game Nimzowich against Sämisch). What are the consequences of such an outburst? Apart from making a public spectacle of yourself (and a new enemy), you have just passed up the chance for a free lesson with a stronger player.  

My advice is: be cool and gracious in defeat or victory. Analyse the game with your opponent, regardless of the result but follow some basic rules while doing so:

A-Try to annotate some variations on the spot but avoid annoying the other player with frequent interruptions. Try to record as much as you can but don’t stop the other player’s thought flow just so that you can write down every last detail.

B-Mark critical moments on your scoresheet. Analyse them more deeply later, if you can’t do so on the spot.

C-Ask his or her opinion of the best and worst moves and plans of yours in the game.

D-If you didn't understand the game, be honest and ask him/her why you lost.

E-Don’t be afraid to appear ignorant. Over time you will improve and people will joke about the time you used to ask newbie questions!

3- Don't miss masters tournaments in your city, even if you can't play in them.

If there is a tournament in your city but you can’t participate, you still can learn something. Watch the more interesting games but, if you want to maximise your visit:

Try to analyse the games with a mini board and/or write down the moves to analyse later. Many games will be confusing but you should try and find the best moves for each side.

4- Observe first hand analysis by the masters

Sometimes masters analyse their games in front of the audience (or the organisers and arbiters allow the public to go to the analysis room, or as some say, behind the curtain). If they are still in the tournament room, never address anyone. There are games being played: just watch, don’t speak

A further tip in the same vein: arbiters are your friends and, if not, be their friends. They control access to the analysis room.

5- Approach even more to the masters (and think before you speak)

If you are allowed into the analysis room, think before you ask a question:

Sometimes Masters tend not to suffer fools gladly (especially if they’ve just lost a game) and some can be jerks towards lower-rated players. If a seemingly obvious move (such as capturing a piece or pawn) was not played, it was most likely not because a master failed to notice it! More likely it was because of tactics or positional considerations that you don’t immediately see.

“Why didn’t you take the pawn, it’s hanging”, is not likely to endear you to a master. “Who is better at this point”, “whose minor piece is better here”, “why trade the bishop for the knight in an open position like this”, and other such positional questions are more likely to earn you a thoughtful reply. A touch of humility also often inspires masters to spend the time to educate you.

6- Pay for the Alekhine's breakfast.

Ludek Pachman

Ludek Pachman, the famous Czech grandmaster and chess writer, recounts in his book “Chess and Communism” how, in his first international tournament, he played with Alekhine and used to pay for the champion’s breakfast. Not that he did it on purpose;  Alekhine had the habit of not paying bills due to his “principles”. One might think that, having once been the victim of Alekhine’s “principles”, Pachman would have avoided him at mealtimes but Pachman calculated a little more deeply and concluded that the “profits” of his morning meetings with Alekhine easily outweighed the cost of breakfast (Alekhine’s bar tab might have been another story!) Imagine the wealth of knowledge he potentially gleaned from a private audience with the champion. Just think: how many of us would not be more than happy to pay not for breakfast, but dinner with Kasparov, Anand or Carlsen? It would certainly be cheaper than to pay for lessons by the hour!

OK, so this is not exactly free and is morally questionable, in that you are essentially paying for someone’s help and friendship. However, you might discover over your breakfast conversation that you’ve got things in common and it’s a relatively cheap way of getting to pick a master’s brain.

7- Hire a better player than you and get two lessons for a single fee.

Two for one: how, you ask? Simple: hire a player rated no more than 150-200 rating above you (not much more, otherwise you risk learn nothing) and challenge them to a match with a monetary wager (or just a game, depending on your budget). Usually for playing games you can pay less, and you can even try to demand that, if you win, he/she won’t get paid. This is an incentive for them, because there is no guaranteed money in their hands, and who knows … you could win.

You should insist on a time control of at least G/60 and stipulate that, in order to get paid (should you lose), your opponent must analyse the game with you with the emphasis on finding ways to improve your game. This way you get to play a stronger player and benefit from their analysis… two for one.

With the proliferation of online coaches, it is easier than ever to find stronger players. However, having beaten you, they may not feel inclined to do the post-game analysis. For this reason it may be better to find a local club player and negotiate face to face.

Again, it's not free, but it's cheaper.

B- Study Groups.

Botvinnik's method

Many things have been said about the Soviet school of chess, its methods, etc. But for many the greatest contribution to chess pedagogy was Botvinnik's method of analysis in groups, where such giants as Kasparov, Karpov, Kramnik and a lot more of renowned masters "were made"; I hope not be wrong (I could), but it is possible that all Soviet grandmasters passed through the school of Botvinnik.

In case you haven't heard of this method consisted to bring together all the best young players of the country and analyze their games with help from Botvinnik as a moderator. At the end, they reached to conclusions and tasks were assigned accordingly.

How does that apply to the subject of this article, you ask?. Well, here we go.

8-Build a study group of enthusiasts chess players

A completely free alternative to do this is with the same chess buddies in your community/club/city, without a strong player as a leader (in this case, all of you will take turns in the role). This will save money, and the funny part is that every time is someone's turn to present his/her game, everyone will try to crucify him/her.

But this is not free lessons, I don´t see any master around here, I hear someone protesting. Of course not, this comes with a sequel.

9- Hire a master or a strong player to act as moderator.

If you do so, the benefits are many:

For a fraction of the money you normally pay for a face to face lesson, you will get your game analysed and you will also learn, actively, from other´s mistakes.

And you can not deny that there is some fun in the fact to be back "in class". Many coaches and players love this version, because while students pay little, he earns more when there are many students in the group. And all pleased.

10- A study group devoted to chess lectures.

Finally, another variant of study groups. With or without a head player, you can organize themselves to lecture each other. You must agree on what subject matter, as it could be for example, some type of endings, opening lines, a positional motif (pair of bishops, for example), or tactical motif in a particular opening... (whatever! The possibilities are endless). Ah, the more specialized the better. And if they are accompanied by exercises, much better. Then the criticisms benefit everyone.


11-Perform a valuable service to the master.

I had this article written when an excelent tip came from PrawnEatsPrawn, an user of Chess.com, where I posted this theme over there. He wrote an answer to some people asking what is "semi-free" lesson:

"Semi-free might mean that no money changes hands but instead you perform a service i.e. write the master's blog or moderate his site in exchange for chess lessons"

Of course, I won't ask no one to write the blog for me ;) but you got the idea: you can perform a valuable service to the master, and in exchange you'll can get his/her insight about your game, etc. Simple and great. Thanks, Prawn.


Ad Majoren Caissa Gloriam! Smile


This article was originally published here.

Esta es una versión imperfecta en inglés de mi artículo orginal en español, el cual lo puedes encontrar aquí.

[I appreciate the help from Nick Young who partially proofread this article. Unfortunately I don't know his chess.com's handle]