On the Topic of Chess Coaches: Part 3
I felt obligated to respond to this comment, especially since I’ve recently had a pretty poor experience with a very, very good chess analyst.
When people make such remarks, I really don’t know what to think, because, not only is the individual detached from reality, but they are also strangely strongly opinionated about their fabricated position. Since it is an erroneous position on a number of levels, I’ll enumerate some points to make this clear.
I’m referring to one of my very few favorite chess instructors/analysts, GM Dejan Bojkov. Part of my curiosity in hiring Dejan was that, since I number him among the best living analysts of the game, if he has any intuition and insight into a player’s playing abilities, he could make for an ideal coach. However, as I mentioned in a previous blog post, there is a chasm of difference between chess instruction/analysis and what it takes to be a good coach. I can’t emphasize enough how productive Dejan’s videos, books, and articles have been for me, and how much I’ve learned. I own virtually every piece of chess instruction and analysis Dejan has put out, including his book on tactics, which has remarkable insights in spotting motif possibilities. The problem was that he simply didn’t prove to be an effective coach.
Take this analogy: strong players have brains full of ability and knowledge, in the way that someone might have a sack full of objects. The difference between instruction or analysis versus coaching is that, in the former case, the first is about clearly conveying and decomposing the ideas for ready digestion, whereas the latter is looking at what someone else can do and intuiting or sensing what it is that this individual requires from his or her own sack. Dejan couldn’t seem to do this for me. The part of the process of getting a new coach that can be burdensome is that very beginning, because you have to spend time with the coach before they can know you and, by extension, get to know how to read you to find what you need. I tried to give Dejan all of the relevant information about where I had left off with other coaches, what I was doing, and a selection of my games; but I’m not sure he looked at the games, and he appeared to disregard remarks about my skills. Despite going through a battery of endgames with one coach and expressing that I’m generally very strong in endings, Dejan wanted me to calculate through endgames that I recalled and eventually properly calculated through. Spending hours on this was not productive, and I think this speaks to the above quotation. It absolutely is the case that coaches have to be in tune with the player, otherwise, the effects will be far from optimal, possibly without any effect, except on your spending money. If a coach can’t produce results in your rating graph, then they aren’t doing anything for the serious tournament player seeking to improve.
Along the same lines, unless you are looking for an instructor, as opposed to a coach, yet are willing to pay the typical coaching hourly, then you had better be prepared to spend $20K per year for one-on-one instruction for it to be worthwhile. Moreover, you should make sure that the topics covered are sufficiently apposite it your lot as a player, for which you will most likely need a coach, anyways; otherwise, it is better to purchase DVDs produced by that instructor/analyst, considering you’ll pay orders of magnitude less for at least an order of magnitude more hours of instruction. As my good friend Laurent so often says, I don’t know why chess players complain about the cost of DVDs or, even, books, because you are getting hours and hours of instruction from a strong player for a couple dollars/pounds/euros per hour. That’s the truth, and it also happens to be the truth that spending so much on mere one-on-one instruction is absurdity. You are better off getting a group of players together and paying the strong player to instruct on a specific topic to a group. The instructor gets more bang for his or her buck, and the students pay less for the same information and experience.
To be done with this subject, I want to point out how wrong the following comment is: 'I do not agree that a chess coach has to be in tune with what you specifically need to improve as a player, since, if you are not a Master, then it follows that every phase of your game needs improvement.’ The first thing to say is: yes, that’s actually what a coach is doing, improving you by knowing what you need and guiding you in your own studies with reading suggestions, activity suggestions, constructing a training schedule, analyzing games, and so on. I’ve defeated a NM in an ending and drew a 2130 in another in the past month, so it is clear that, whatever I need to improve upon, it probably is not the ending. Outplaying players 400 points stronger than myself in endings in which I’m worse, achieving a draw, is a hell of an indicator that my endgame play is representative of a player higher rated than 1800. My regular coach, who currently has scheduling conflicts with me (until summer), had me working on finding transitions to endings to exploit this relative strength. THAT is what a coach is supposed to point out, isolate, and remediate. That is also what one would expect would push my rating upward, turning draws into wins, or losses into draws. If a coach is not in tune with the player’s abilities, then (s)he can’t address attend those items would most pump up one’s rating. This is why I advocate going into a coach-student relationship with the mindset that this is a long-term investment, and time each week needs to be scheduled with the coach. I suggest two two-hour sessions per week for the first month, so the coach can get to know you.
With that said, though my coach-student relationship with Dejan didn’t work out, I still advocate purchasing his products. In my opinion, he’s in contention with GM Adrian Mikhalchishin and GM Mihail Marin for top living instructors and analyst of the game. I only chose this particular example, because of the extreme disparity between the discussed categories.