Adventures in New York City: Part 4, Training with a World-Class Coach and Player
While in NYC, I was a bit on the run and could not work with my primary coach, GM Miroslav Miljkovic –and he was doing post-med school specialization training and finishing his FIDE coach’s training, anyways. I used this as an excuse to seek a coach while I was in NYC. My first choice was Lev Alburt, and while I had a rather crazy budget I allotted myself for 4 weeks of coaching (2 hours sessions with two or three sessions per week), Alburt wanted a rather absurd amount for quite a bit less time than I had hoped for. After all, in order to begin working with a coach who will be able to accurately assess issues in your game, it will take a little time for them to go through your games and get a feel for your style, ability, etc. That was actually the breaking point when I was conversing and trying to make arrangements with Alburt. I asked, “What can I expect in return for not much more than four total multi-hour sessions and over $1K?” He couldn’t answer, and that was pretty much it. It was sad, because I have read almost every book Alburt had written, and I was looking forward to working with him a little while. The story doesn’t have an unhappy ending, though. I probably ended up with a better choice, and my already-high expectations were surpassed. I ended up working with GM Leonid Yudasin, trainer of many GMs and two-time Candidate.
I plan to write a blog post about how to select coaches and giving general advice on the topic. However, in this post I’ll simply recount Leonid’s role in my adventure. The one thing I will say is that a good or even excellent coach had very little to do with the title that they have –in fact, you only need a super strong coach if you are, yourself, super strong. (I’ve had three really bad coaches who were GMs, and one bad coach who was an IM… more to come in a blog posted dedicated to what to look for, coming soon.) GM Yudasin turned out to be an excellent coach, and much of it has to do with his extreme self-reflective nature, extraordinary intelligence –GMs, in my experience, don’t tend to be all that intelligent–, and thoroughgoing examination of the game. From the moment I told him my objectives in working with him, he had a plan about how to achieve my goals. Most of all, I had seen my game improve vastly while training with GM Miljkovic –the one and same GM who once battled GM Anatoly Karpov match in Niš, Serbia–, but the obvious qualitative improvement had not been coupled with a quantitative improvement in my rating. I wanted to have someone with an enormous scope of experience to tell me why that be. (Actually, all of my metrics have improved, whether tactics ratings or online playing ratings, but my USCF rating in the classic control, the one that matters, hasn’t really moved up and out of the 1600’s, despite performance ratings creeping up to as much as 300 points higher than my rating).
It seemed like every other word out of Leonid’s mouth was a lesson unto itself, and so when I left my Manhattan apartment, heading on the subway toward Brooklyn, I had to have my mind completely focused on chess, my awareness heightened, and my prowess of inquiry active, so as to actively ask relevant questions to further my understanding. I would scribble notes after the lessons, so I didn’t forget anything, but I kept my attention of GM Yudasin’s every word.
The lessons were a lot of fun, and this is something that isn’t easy state for a chess coach to create, especially when the student is serious. However, GM Yudasin’s light heart, love for anecdotes, saying, and jokes really kept the time lively. There is some scientific research that suggests happy students learn better, probably because a learner in a stimulated emotional state more easily creates and consolidates memories into the long term memory, because the hippocampus is involved with storing memories and emotions. I’m sure this is one of the aspects of Yudasin that makes him such a successful coach.
All in all, it was a great experience studying with a chess player who was once very close to the peak of all chess competition. The stories about of the great players he shared extremely amusing, but I leave them to him to share with others. The wealth of experience he possesses in practical play (e.g., psychology of the game) was invaluable to me, and I see him as a role model in his kind, simple, and humble nature. He made my experience in NYC unforgettable, through annotating my games as much as his entertaining stories.