My First Pupils
(Photo by Alex Holyoake on Unsplash)

My First Pupils


My first experiences as a chess coach, trainer and assistant were in the mid to late 1990s.

In 1995 I had a training session in the Luhansk Oblast with the talented Cherednichenko sisters, and a little bit later I was a coach at a training session in Alushta with a small group of the most talented Ukrainian boys. These included the future FIDE world champion Ruslan Ponomariov and future grandmasters Sergey Fedorchuk and Alexander Kovchan. At the same time, the PCA world championship match between Garry Kasparov and Vishy Anand was being played in New York. In Alushta we were following these games - but at that time we could get the moves only from the newspaper, two days after each game was played!

Afterwards, my co-operation with Ponomariov turned out to be long and productive. In 1996, being the current Ukrainian champion, I played a closed long-control match against the 12 year old Ruslan in Kramatorsk and narrowly won that match. We kept in contact and often worked together after that.

Photo: GM Vladimir Baklan, I, Ruslan Ponomariov on the training session in Alushta. Summer-1999

In Becici (Montenegro) 1996 and in Moscow 1997 I participated in long training sessions with the then FIDE world champion Anatoly Karpov and his main coach IM Mikhail Podgaets. It was another remarkable experience for me. Never had I worked that hard on chess. Not all the opening tasks were solved as we wanted and anticipated, but in the end there were some clear analytical successes.

My first experience of teaching beginners was in the late 1990s when, for quite a long time, I worked with the schoolboy Viktor Baranskyi (now, a businessman and an opposition politician in Ukraine). His parents saw chess not as a probable career for their son, but rather as a part of an all round education. I not only taught Viktor (who eventually reached first category, which is a good amateur level) but sometimes played against him.

The huge difference in our chess strength suggested giving odds, but I really disliked the idea of giving piece odds. So instead I invented the idea (well, almost surely thought of by some other trainers before!) of instead giving the student extra tempis in the initial position. For example, he would get 8, so he could make any 8 moves on his side of the board, and then I would make my first move. And if he won the game, then he would go into the next game with one extra tempi less, and vice versa. So, around a certain level of odds, like 6 extra tempis, there was a real fight with an unpredictable outcome: if I managed to survive the opening without fatal losses, then I would normally win. On some days, I also played against Viktor blindfolded.

Still, I have to admit that working with beginners has never been my specialty. Teaching people the first steps and laws of chess is not something I have normally done; it's rather a separate, and important, profession.

One memorable event for me was a seminar for chess amateurs in Stuttgart, 1998. There I gave lectures on various topics. I was already at that time actively using the Internet and it was nice to see Alexei Shirov's now famous ...Bh3!! sacrifice in the Linares endgame against Veselin Topalov, and to show it to people during my lecture on the next day.

An announcement in German chess magazine