My Lessons With Dan

Jun 2, 2013, 12:25 PM |

My Lessons with Dan (or, How to Improve While Having Fun!)



Why Lessons?


About 8 months ago I became serious about playing chess.  I was working problems, reading books, playing regularly.  I was learning a lot.  But then I noticed that it was questionable if I was actually improving.  I would buy another chess book and get excited, thinking that maybe this one would help solve my problems.  But I was beginning to realize that something was missing.


At this point I ran across Dan Heisman during one of his shows on “Q&A with Coach Heisman”.  I quickly looked up his website:, and what I found was a wealth of information including oodles of his “Novice Nook” articles written for As I started reading about his services, I realized that getting a good instructor was probably going to help me improve much more and much faster than trying to do it myself (see Finding a Good Instructor: where Dan explains what a chess instructor can do to help a student.


I was sold, and I figured that rather than buying  more books maybe it would be a better investment to get Dan in my corner.


Lesson #0:

I sent Dan an email with some basic background info and expressed my interest in taking lessons.  I had already read his checklist to indicate if we would have good “chemistry” to work together ( Will Click/Won’t Click Checklist:  I was already confident that we would work well together.


Dan called me back later that day and we probably talked for 30 minutes or more, just getting acquainted and setting up the first lesson.


Lesson #1:

Dan has a variety of things that he will do with his students. It isn’t some fixed curriculum; rather he tailors the sessions to meet the needs and interests of the student.  The first lesson started off by me saying that I had already read a lot of his Novice Nook columns.  He began going through the names of several of the articles. If I hadn’t read them yet, then he told me to read them as homework.


We were on ICC, so Dan could bring up an analysis board and I could share that board and see exactly what he was moving or highlighting.  Dan quickly fished out a position (I think he has an enormous library of these things!) and asked me to evaluate the position.  It was at this point that I began to question whether I really like the Socratic Method!  The wisdom of the method is to encourage (force?) the student to do the thinking and learn more than by just being presented with an answer.  I was sure that after I rendered my evaluation that Dan figured that he was dealing with one of the slowest chess players in history!  Dan, however, isn’t like that.  The goal is for me to learn.  So, Dan explained why his evaluation of the position was different than mine.


Then we went to look at a 45/45 game that I had recently played on ICC. I hadn’t been paying attention when I looked at the “seek graph” and didn’t realize that my opponent was actually a computer bot by the name of BethO.  Dan then told me the story of where that name came from (and I’m wondering how he knows all this stuff. LOL).


The most awkward part for me (awkward in the sense that I was forced to face an unpleasant reality) was when early in the game I made a blunder and dropped a pawn.  Dan’s questions at this point were designed to hone in on the underlying reason for the lapse.  He pointed out that I had spent 2-3 minutes on the move, so it wasn’t that I just made the first move that I saw.  I had to confess that for some reason, I just didn’t “see” the bishop that was attacking that square.


Dan began to explain that it is important for beginners/weak players to understand that making any effort on the “finer” aspects of positional play is wasted if the player is going to make 1 or 2 blunders in a game.  Okay, I didn’t really like the point of this line of discussion.  However, I was paying Dan to tell me the truth, which is exactly what he was doing.  Afterwards, I dedicated myself to try to figure out how to stop these mind-blowing stupid, simple blunders.  I’ve had some modest success (maybe more about that in a later post).


We continued through the game, where I managed to set up a tactic against BethO and get a winning position.  Then Dan was saying, “At this point, you should move your king over to the queen side to help stop the opponents pawns.”  Not the move I made.  “Okay, there’s some logic in that move.  Now you should be thinking about moving the King.”  Still, I hadn’t chosen to do so in the game.  We play through the rest of the game and finally, I bring the King into the action.  Dan told me that between the time I should have moved the King and actually did it, 20 moves had elapsed.  I protested: “You exaggerate!” I exclaimed.  “Okay,” was the answer, “but it was probably 16 moves”.  He rewound the game to the position where he said the best move was to start the King up, and then we counted the moves. From that point until I actually did move that King it was …. 16 moves!  He has some kind of freakish powers I tell you J