Lyudmila Belavenets. "Problems of Children's Chess" (2012)
© Moscow Chess Federation

Lyudmila Belavenets. "Problems of Children's Chess" (2012)

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Lyudmila Belavenets is the daughter of master Sergei Belavenets, who perished in the World War II. She's 79 years old and still active as a children's coach for the Moscow Chess Federation.

This interview was taken in 2012, for the book Chess Family: Belavenets.

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In our times, chess have become much younger, and the role of parents in bringing up the young players has skyrocketed. As a pedagogue, I'm often having to answer the questions of my pupils and their parents. These questions are endless, they're concerned with very diverse topics. Of course, the parents are mostly interested in what they should do to help their child and not to hinder their chess development. All children are different - in age, in temperament, in talent, they're all unique, so, of course, their problems are unique too. But, on the other hand, many situations and life circumstances of those children are similar, and so I'm getting a lot of similar questions that I have to answer over and over again.

In earlier times, I didn't know the parents of my pupils all that much. The kids mostly came to the Young Pioneers' Stadium, where I worked, by themselves, and I would meet the parents only at the train station, where they came to send their children to a tournament in another city or meet them after the tournament. Sometimes, a mom would come to the Young Pioneers' Stadium and complain, "My son's grades are awful, he's only interested in your chess!"; this was the most common reason to come in person. For instance, Andrei Schekachev's mom came to me with that question. Later, Andrei would become a grandmaster, although it was hard to predict at the time. He was very interested in chess, but not very disciplined. Perhaps this quality didn't allow him to achieve much success.

So, the first question. It gets asked literally for decades, over and over again, along the lines of "My son has neglected school, what do I do? I'm trying to forbid him to play chess, but he doesn't even listen!"

First of all, you have to understand the individual child's make-up: what are their interests and character traits, are they easily influenced by others. It's also important to understand the extent of possible coach/parent cooperation, for your advice to be at least heard and thought about, not rejected immediately: "Good for you to say! You think only about chess, and they can expel my child from school tomorrow!"

I usually offer the parents to find some kind of compromise. Barring the child from chess lessons completely is a very harsh measure, and it's quite possible that it wouldn't lead to anything good. Imagine, I say to parents, that your son stops playing, and he immediately starts doing math homework, writes a great essay and helping you with chores! If that is the case, of course, it's better to stop the chess lessons. But do you believe that everything will happen exactly like that? And if you don't believe, if such fantasies only bring a rueful smile on your face, perhaps it's better to have him playing chess rather than having him with some dubious company on the street? I sincerely think that chess is not a bad hobby. And if you use chess as a "carrot", you may try to convince the child to study better, if their school marks do indeed suffer. For instance, you can limit their chess lessons until they improve in school, miss a tournament, even if it looks very important now.

By the way, such a pause can even be beneficial for chess growth. As an example, I'll cite the memoir of Mikhail Moiseevich Botvinnik; in the period he talks about, he was only 13 years old.

Of course, I was waiting eagerly for the inter-city tournament. "No," my father said, "you've got a difficult school year ahead of you, and there'll be a lot of tournaments in your life." I'm thankful to my father for that advice, since in the early years, when your nervous system isn't too strong yet, you have to avoid excessive hardships. A few young players follow such an advice.

The main virtue of any teacher, pedagogue, coach and parent is patience. This is the main thing. So, any kind of frustration and negative reaction to what happens with the child is unacceptable. The parents and the coach have to remain patient and calm, not resorting to any harsh remarks, not taking any rash actions. I always advise the parents to deal with any bad situation slowly and easily.

Another frequent question is what can chess give to a child.

This was answered to death and looks very banal to some, but each new parents want to hear this. More than 200 years ago, the great philosopher and politician Benjamin Franklin wrote in his work, On the Morals of Chess,

The game of Chess is not merely an idle amusement. Several very valuable qualities of the mind, useful in the course of human life, are to be acquired or strengthened by it, so as to become habits, ready on all occasions.

And, you know, Franklin wasn't a stupid man - the Americans even have his portrait on a 100-dollar bill!

Chess, of course, helps to develop memory, patience, logical thinking and many other beneficial qualities. The skills of book and computer research. The child learns how to quickly find some necessary information and sift through it, casting aside everything that's not really needed. Even adults often look helpless in such situations, just shrugging, "What's that? Where can we learn that?" Chess make you more self-sufficient.

A young man, working on some project in the university, again asked me that question - what does playing chess help to develop. I answered: a whole range of qualities very necessary to a person who's going to do mental work, or any other work really. For instance, choosing a plan and then implement it. Even the littlest chess players create plans, if primitive: "I'll move my Rook here, attack this pawn and capture it!" They already understand the trajectories of pieces. And this will help them plan, say, their movements on the street: you have to reach the crossroads, look both sides, check whether the traffic light is green, and only then cross the road.

All those moments are very closely connected to life, and during the chess lessons, the kids subconsciously develop their mindfulness and caution. When a small child moves their Rook, they look around, checking whether it would be attacked. In the same way, they would wait for the green light to avoid being hit by a car. There are many such moment in chess, and this all likely accumulates. Let me quote the great Mikhail Botvinnik again.

Chess is a typical brute-force task, similar to those people have to solve in their everyday life (crossing the street, working in courts of law, orchestrating the melodies, managing companies, etc.) The fact that chess was invented by humans, while other unclear situations can arise independently of human will, is not relevant for the choice of solution... So, it would be wrong to think that chess have no bearing on objective reality; they are a reflection of human thinking.

Is it true that chess as a sport is a big stress, and it's better to limit the child's participation in tournaments to a minimum?

Well, chess is a cruel game: there are wins, but there are also losses. Some kids run out of the tournament halls and get hugs and kisses from their relatives, everyone congratulates them, and others swallow their tears or barely hold them. This is unavoidable. But we shouldn't exaggerate and say that chess is constant stress. I think that parents who wait outside the hall as their kids play suffer from much more stress: in their dreams, they see their kids as champions - of Moscow, of Russia, of whatever...

I was frequently confronted with the situation where the parents posed a rigid either/or question. For instance, the child only has 3rd category [Elo around 1400-1600], but everything is decided for them: either they achieve the second category at today's tournament, or quit chess altogether. Why do we need such extremes? The disappointments we face at the chess board are also necessary. Life, as we know, can't consist only of gifts, you face small or big setbacks daily. In our time, all people should be ready for stress. For instance, you have to pass an exam or give a job interview knowing that only one of seven or ten candidates would be chosen. You have to understand that this time might be not the time when you get where you want. You have to overcome this setback, regroup and do everything to achieve your goal next time.

Yes, chess teach you that you can't always be a winner. You didn't win the contest, the girl you liked chose another boy - it's another normal situation, and you should endure it with dignity. I think that chess is a good vaccine against stress. Other sports can be seen as that as well, but in chess, you don't get hit in the head, like in the ring, and you can't say that the referees were biased, like in figure skating. You should never scold your child if they lose, you should explain patiently: yes, you lost today, but there's no tragedy in that, the more important thing is to understand why this happened. Perhaps you worked too little on your preparation, or you lacked concentration at the board, or whatever. Or maybe luck was on your opponent's side today, and tomorrow, it'll turn to you and smile, and you'll forget everything about this loss! By the way, with kids, this happens most often: unlike some adults, a normal child doesn't dwell on losses too much.

Yet another frequently-asked question: how old should the children be to start playing chess? Aren't we too late?

It's now fashionable to start learning chess as soon as the child is out of their diapers. I can totally see that in the near future, people would bring their toddlers in prams for the lessons, or perhaps pregnant women would come and ask, isn't it time? Which opening should the mom study to make it easier for the child?

We had our first under-8 Russian championship in 2001, Sanan Syugirov won. I remember the little Sanan, the tiny Alina Kashlinskaya well. In my article for the 64 magazine, I wrote back then, "Small kids gathered in Kostroma: the oldest one is eight years old, and the smallest one isn't even five. If this goes on, soon we'll get champions in diapers at the boards."

I thought that it wasn't necessary to call a tournament for such small kids a "Russian championship". To successfully perform in a tournament with such a big status, the children would have to study chess a lot, which would lead to a sedentary lifestyle. The small children want to run around the hall, and we stop them and tell them, "You can't do that!" And then the parents scold them too: instead of running around, the boy should've sat down and patiently converting his advantage, and he just went and blundered a Rook. Basically, we're trying to break the children's normal nature - the desire to move, their liveliness and impulsiveness - and turn them into little old people. Thankfully, we're failing to do that, because this struggle is totally futile, we're losing it, and I personally am trying not to interfere.

There are, of course, kids that are totally different to the others. For instance, Grisha Oparin could sit for an hour or two without uttering a single word or moving anywhere. Of course, this assiduity helped him to get far ahead of his peers. Now, at 14 years old, he's already an international master with a grandmaster norm, one of the best at his age. But for the most part, children aren't like that. And I thought that for small kids, it was too difficult. They had to conform to all the rules, like adults, even though it's hard to even explain these rules to the kids in the first place, they can't understand many of them.

At the under-8 tournaments, there are many funny cases. I described some of them in the aforementioned article.

A resentful face, hand raised to summon the arbiter. The complaint: "I can't play like that, he's always making two moves in a row". The game sheet is impossible to decipher.

...The Black player is trying to take the opponent's a2 pawn "en passant" with his a3 pawn. The opponent grabs the pawn with all his strength, protecting his assets and not letting the injustice occur. The conflict is resolved by the arbiter.

...There's a King and Rook versus King and Rook endgame. Both players are playing for a win, and the arbiter doesn't intervene, because anyone can lose a Rook or get checkmated at any moment. Both Rooks are finally exchanged, and the players grudgingly agree to a draw.

Of course, the coaches explained the rules to their pupils, but it's unclear whether the little kids understood them well. Here's another example.

...Tears on the eyes, the clock hand is moving. What's the matter? "I made a move and even recorded it, but forgot to press the clock!" I calm down the poor boy and press the clock. The other boy objects vehemently, "No, no! If he forgot, it's his problem! My coach told me so!"

One of the players pushed the a1 Rook off the board with his elbow, searched under the table for a long time, then found it and placed it back. The other player demanded that he moves the Rook: "You touched it when you put it back!" Only the arbiter's interference made the little rules lawyer calm down: the ill-fated Rook couldn't even move - both the a2 pawn and b1 Knight were still in place.

You can remember a lot of such episodes. For instance, an impatient kid makes two moves in a row and complains, "Why is he thinking for so long? Why should I wait?" Another boy was playing with clock for the first time in his life and asked the coach how many moves he should make so that he doesn't lose on time. The coach answered, "As many as you can." And so, his opponent played e2-e4, and our hero quickly playes e5, d6, develops all pieces, castles long and moves the King to b8. The arbiter, flabbergasted, stopped him, and the boy explained, "My coach told me that I should make as many moves as I can!"

I remember working as an arbiter at a kids' tournament. Some boy raised his hand. I walked up to him through the narrow aisle and asked, "What happened?" "I was told at the opening ceremony that as soon as I raise my hand, an arbiter will come to me." He checked that, and I did come!

Another episode. The boy raised his hand and told the arbiter, "Give me Capablanca!" Um, what? Apparently, the boy confused the dry, official word blanc [Russian for "game sheet"] with the world champion's name. The 64 article about this tournament was called "Everything's written down on the Capablancas".

And don't even get me started about what happens in the actual games. For instance, there's a position - Rook and pawn versus Rook. The boy with the extra pawn offers draw, his opponent refuses: "No, I'll defeat you!" Yes, he lacks a pawn, but he still has his Rook! I came to his table a bit later and saw that he indeed gave a checkmate with his Rook.

In the first under-8 championships, the level really was like that. Now, when chess lessons start very early, there are more or less serious chess at the first 10-20, or even 30 boards. Though even the leaders sometimes make very childish mistakes.

Is all that necessary? I can't say. In my practice, there were many cases when kids who came to study later very quickly learn the things that you have to explain ten times over to the smaller children, trying to enliven the material, making it more funny. I first came to a chess section at an ancient age by modern standards - I was 12, almost 13. My chess knowledge was limited to some street games, and our "street rules" didn't completely correspond with the classical canons. And so what? I understood the concept of opposition, for instance, after the first lesson, the coach didn't have to explain it to me again. I've also studied chess by the books, which I obviously read myself. Of course, there were no computers back then, but also there were no endless puzzle collections that we force upon the kids now, telling them to solve mates in 1 and 2. I had a Levenfish learning book, and I have quickly solved simple puzzles on several pages. A couple of years later, I was playing on a good level.

Why am I telling you all that? Not too long ago, a 14 years-old boy came to the Petrosian Club and said he wanted to learn chess. We told him that he would have to study with the small children, but he was unfazed. Around the age of 16, he already had first category and Candidate Master's norms.

Alesha Vyzmanavin came to the Young Pioneers' Stadium very late. I was going through my archive recently, and found an old table: at the age of 14, Alesha played in a third-category tournament. But Vyzmanavin was a true chess fanatic, and earned a Candidate Master title at 17, and later, he would become a very strong grandmaster and won the chess Olympiad with the Russian national team. Sadly, Aleksei has died very young...

I'm convinced that it's not necessary to take up chess since age 4 or 6. When a teenager comes to a chess school, this usually means they chose that themselves. They weren't brought by their mom, or by the dad who once played chess but couldn't become a grandmaster due to some objective reasons, and now he's sure that his son would achieve his dream. The parents are ready to do anything for the kids: find a good coach, go to the tournaments... We'll return to that topic later.

So, a 14 years-old comes to the chess club and says they want to learn chess. Of course, they'll never become a champion in the U8, U10, U12 and even U14 category. But it's not a bad thing: not so long ago, such tournaments didn't even exist, but chess still attracted a lot of interest. The trouble is of an another sort: in the high school, there's a lot of, you know, school. The amount of homework an average school kid has to do severely limits the time they can spend on chess.

What to do if the progress has slowed?

Currently, the chess sections have to make do with what they get. A lot of kids enroll to chess schools every year. Of course, it's much more fun working with them: children can progress from zero to 3rd or 4th category very quickly. In the beginning, any person goes through a period of rapid progress, no matter what they're studying. If a child has at least minimal talent, some interest and encouragement, they'll soon learn something. They'll defeat their grandfather who would always outplay them before, or tell their grandmother how can they get a Knight from a1 to h8 without opening their eyes. Such things usually impress the family members. They become convinced that their 6 years-old who already knows chess notation and can "move" pieces without an actual board is a genius.

By the way, chess notation is an important topic too. This is a coordinate system that's already in the kid's head. It'd prove useful later in life. If a child expresses interest in chess, they should be encouraged. But I think you don't have to get him into a chess school by force. Yes, if they begin earlier, they'd be playing better at 6 years of age than some kid that came just two days ago. But it's not guaranteed that the skills of those two wouldn't even out at 7 years. And when they become 12, they'd be possibly sick of it all. They would lose a lot of games, get scolded for that, go through that path of glory and disappointments. And the parents would start worrying...

Almost everyone who brings their kids to chess school says, "We need chess only for general development." Perhaps in the beginning, they really do think that. But then the kids start learning, the parents start talking to each other, asking who has what rating, how well everyone performs in tournaments. And they might think, "My boy was once beating that other boy easily, and now, he lost to him. So, he started playing worse?" All these endless talks, of course, demoralize the young players themselves...

In the pedagogical college, we were always told that any child's successes shouldn't be compared with someone else's, only with their own. And that's right. You couldn't do something, and now you can do that - it's great! You learned to solve the mate-in-three puzzles - great, you're moving forward! And so on. Because nothing is more demoralizing than the phrases such as "You still have fourth category, and Petya already has third, despite having started later! And his mom said he'd be playing for the second-category norm tournament!" A small child immediately feels second-rate, as though they can't do anything right... After that, it would be much harder to make them more self-assured, to convince them that they can do it too; I'm pretty sure that anyone can have some limited success in chess.

I often hear parents saying, "my kid studies and studies, but there are no successes!" Actually, you first have to determine whether they are really studying, rather than just turning up to the lessons without paying much interest. If they aren't interested, you don't need to force them. Chess is a thing that should be fun, otherwise it becomes a terrible chore for the children. If something is fun to you, if you're interested, time flows very quickly. The player gets a lot of positive emotions and doesn't get tired much. But if a disciplined kid goes to the lessons only to please their dad or not to upset their mom, they'd better abandon that entirely. Chess isn't a mandatory activity.

Do we need a universal chess education? Is it necessary to make everyone learn chess?

We're slowly going to the chess-in-school topic. A decision was already made that there would be chess in school, because it's very beneficial. But I disagree. I like chess as an elective course, but many argue, "We have to teach chess to everyone!" I think that universal chess education should be implemented in the pre-school kindergarten groups. For instance, a young, pleasant woman or man would come once a week and explain the rules of chess to the kids. I think that would be fun. First of all, there's a lot of time for that in the kindergarten. It's not necessary for the kindergarten teacher to play chess: there are more than enough pedagogy students now who can do this as an internship. Such teachers don't even have to be particularly strong players: they only need to know basic rules and set up the lessons in a playing form. There's a lot of chess books for small kids around. The children can draw pictures, compete between each other, for instance, "who can better draw a Knight, a Bishop, a Queen", etc. They can colour in the chessboard, things like that.

I can imagine how a chess lesson would look like in school: I had to deputy for teachers a couple of times. I think I got some second-graders. There was a lot of kids in the class, more than 30. Some were eager to listen: chess looked like fun. But a half of the class didn't care at all! Some girls, thank God, just hid under the table and started to quietly play with dolls without distracting anyone. Chess lessons can be beneficial, but... I love chess with all my heart, and it would disappoint me if chess turns into another boring, tedious school lessons. Do we really need to teach everyone chess by force? You can't live without being able to count or read, but you can totally live without chess. Life would probably lose some colours as a result, but, you know, there are even people who don't like music.

By the way, I know a lot of people who were taught music by force. When parents send their kids to chess schools, they always hope, "What if my son becomes the next Kasparov?" And the parents who send their kids to study music, they think, "They can easily become the new [pianist Denis] Matsuev! They'll go onstage too! They have good musical hearing, motor skills and musical memory, now the only thing I need to do is to tie them to the stool!" But I know of no cases in which such an approach led to anything good. It's claimed that Paganini was beaten by his father in the childhood, but it's hard to verify. I think it's better to give the right direction, encourage and develop that interest, that curiosity that is already present. Praise for the small successes to let that spark burn and become a big fire. You shouldn't force a child to do something they don't want to do. They're tired, but you tell them, "Didn't your coach give you homework? Why aren't you doing it?" That's why I never give my pupils homework: I'm afraid they wouldn't come to the next lesson if they don't do their homework. Or their parents would ask, "Did you do your chess homework?" I want each visit to chess club to be fun and celebratory!

I'm very glad to see kids that come to the lessons gladly and eagerly show their games. They have such a fire in their eyes!.. I recently read Dina Rubina's article about how she worked as a school teacher. She said that she'd always tried to be on time, because she came late once and collided with a throng of teenagers on the stairs, screaming, "Hurray! The actress had died!" I'm very afraid to see that in the childrens' eyes: "Whew, I'm so glad this lesson is cancelled!"

I fondly remember the times when I was a headmaster in the chess school and asked my pupils at the Young Pioneers' Stadium, "Who's ready to skip school tomorrow to take part in a TV show?" I was so glad to see a lot of hands and hear the screams, "Me! Me! Me!" I would leave the room and say to myself, "All kids are normal!"

I don't want chess to become a boring school lesson. Another problem, I think, is the lack of chess pedagogues who are able to get a whole class interested and engaged. Of course, some school teachers can learn chess and then give lessons (or, maybe, some of them already know how to play). But, as a rule, they don't like chess, it's a dead subject for them! You can teach me rules of some other game, I will learn them and will probably be able to explain them to others. But I won't be enthusiastic, and so I won't make anyone else enthusiastic too.

I think that chess should be an elective course for those schoolkids who are genuinly interested. If you want to teach everyone to play chess, it's better to do that in the kindergarten. Many chess schools are already taking 4-5 years-olds as pupils. Recently, there was even an U6 Moscow championship; it's unofficial yet, but who knows what's next?

Two years ago, at a tournament in Romania, I saw a little boy and took a liking to him immediately. He was very diligent, enthusiastic, almost living on the board. He would sit cross-legged and write down the moves. Half of them on the tablecloth, another half on a game sheet. He broke two pencils, chewed down one more, then I gave him a pen. He was moving towards a singular target: get his King to h3. And his approach was successful. I thought that with such a dedication, everyone would be talking about him in a couple of years. But this couple of years has passed, and nothing notable happened with him. It's possible that his parents saw his genuine enthusiasm and tried to force matters, giving him a bigger load than he could bear. Both the parents and the coach should watch the child's reaction closely, and as soon as they notice tiredness or boredom, they should stop the lessons. You can miss one tournament, the world doesn't end with it. Or, conversely, you can skip the lessons and only play for a while.

Sometimes parents ask, "My child wants only to play, he refuses to take lessons. What should I do?"

Children are very different. Some value playing above everything else, and it's absolutely normal. Let them play, and then, at a key moment, stop playing and say, "Let's get back to an earlier position and continue. You had a very strong move there, see?" And they will absorb some chess knowledge without being aware of that. Other kids, on the contrary, don't want to play, but like to solve puzzles. Perhaps they're afraid of disappointment after losing a game, or maybe they just love puzzles. One of my pupils even started composing problems on his own. It's not bad at all - it's just another variant of chess.

When should you choose between chess and another career?

Before, I was mostly talking about average kids. Of course, no child is "average", every kid is unique for their parents. So, I was talking about the children who don't show any outstanding chess talent. Truly talented children are few and far between, but sometimes we do get them too. But even they at some point have to make a choice: continue playing chess or think about some other profession?

I think that today, the critical age is 14-15 years. You have to make a choice by that time. Of course, nobody is forcing the choice for teenagers, but the school load starts growing, and gifted chess players usually get good grades too, and their parents are trying to give them best education. You have to clearly understand that there is only one world champion, the pedestal is very narrow, and even the road to that pedestal is quite crowded. Does the child has enough physical strength, is their nervous system stable enough, are they ready to work on chess like fanatics? More often that not, the answer is no, so most parents want their child to get a good education. If a close friend or a family member asked me what to choose, I would recommend chess only if they can't think of anything else. If they can't live without chess and are ready to dedicate themselves to chess totally, even if they wouldn't get to the very top. Perhaps they can later become a good coach. Now, even a grandmaster title doesn't mean that much: an average grandmaster must constantly think how to earn money. This is an important question too, because life is long, and you have to be pragmatic. You'll have a family to provide for, eventually. So I think that 14-15 years is the age where you should make a decision.

There are now many age groups, so the children get numerous opportunities to become a champion of their city, Russia, Europe, even world, to stand on a pedestal. You get a visible, realistic goal. Even if a talented youngster quits chess at some point, they still get a sense of "closure" in their chess career: they were already at the top, they were the best among their peers. So it wouldn't be as disappointing for him to change life priorities and strive for new goals in another career.

I don't urge anyone to quit chess altogether; I'm sure that it should remain in your life. I only mean you need to change your priorities. You can still work on improving your game; a lot of middle-aged people play in open tournaments and have a lot of fun. I'm often meeting my former pupils of various ages in such tournaments as Moscow Open, amateur groups of Aeroflot Open, the Central Chess House's weekend tournaments, and so on.

Too many people now seem to think that they should be paid for playing chess. I think that they got that backwards. In open tournaments, amateurs pay the organizers to play chess and have fun. It's normal. But a lot of distinctly average players whose playing isn't exactly turning any heads are convinced that they should be paid. And they complain loudly when the prize fund is lowered, or they don't get any special conditions at the tournament, etc.

If we think pragmatically, it's easy to see that a young player might not have what it takes to become a supergrandmaster. But sometimes, their parents have a hard time to accept that. They think that if only they go to another coach, everything would be all right. But it's not always so. A person can only bite as much as they can chew and digest. Of course, at some stage, changing coaches can indeed be a decisive influence, it may get the player to reconsider some of their ideas, etc. But how much effort do you need to get a serious result? And there are no guarantees from failure. How many times did my most talented pupil, Aleksandr Morozevich, fail? I've heard many times that he's going to quit chess and try something else. Then he would reconsider again, and it's his right. Life of a chess professional is hard and often bitter, and unreliable at best. But children's and youth chess, which give such a lot of fun, are beneficial to everyone. I'm sure.

In our times, there's a lot of festival tournaments, in good places, for instance, somewhere at the sea. And parents gladly come there with their children, even if they don't play themselves. First of all, at the festivals, you have no trouble with organizing kids and finding entertainment for themselves. Imagine that a family went to a vacation somewhere warm. The kids often get bored to death (a grown kid doesn't want to constantly go with mom and dad), and the parents are suffering because they can't find any company for the child and spend some quality time for two. Mom and dad don't know how to entertain their kid, and everyone suffers.

And now imagine them going to a festival tournament. They may not know anyone, but everyone gets to know each other quickly, because they have a common ground. The first round is tomorrow; in the morning, the kids play, then they look through the games, share their chess thoughts, listen to their coaches if they're around. The kids love to hear someone else getting chewed out: "How can you play like that? Did you forget everything?" And that's that: the grown-ups are satisfied, the kids are happy. Why should we lose on that fun?

Thankfully, not all parents want to nurture a future world champion. Many of them are content with much more mundane achievement: "My son scored five points. He had only three points last time, and now five! He's almost reached the first category!" I'm not talking about the 16-18 years-olds: they are all more or less professional players who already made their choice. But the others are yet to choose. For instance, one of my pupils is going to a school affiliated with the Institute of Architecture, his drawings are great. The school teachers think of him as a very talented artist, but as of now, he wants to play chess more. He does have some successes, but nobody knows how great his chess talent is. Karjakin or Carlsen achieved much more at his age, though this doesn't really say much because everyone is developing differently. Maybe this young man will become a famous architect, and maybe he'd storm the chess heights. Life will decide everything!

Sadly, unlike in chess analysis, you can't take a move back in life. You make your choice, and you stick with it. It's impossible to check whether you were right, and what could have been if only you... There's no "if". Of course, everyone would like to have a machine that could evaluate the level of a purely chess talent and other qualities necessary to become a top chess player. There are people with enormous talent, but very weak nervous systems: they should not play chess professionally...

Another important question. How much and how exactly should you study, how often should you play and in what tournaments?

This, of course, depends largely on the child's age and the form of the lessons. If they like the lessons, they can study every day. Many people think that the best you can do to achieve serious progress is to hire a private coach, preferably a high-qualified one, perhaps even a grandmaster. Maybe that's true. But I know that it's more interesting for children to study in groups; they get tired less this way. Of course, the group shouldn't be huge: 8-10, at most 12 kids is enough. There's a competitive atmosphere: kids like some healthy rivalry, and the coach can come up with various situations. There's a lot of opportunities, everything depends on the coach's personality.

I think you shouldn't give too much emphasis on individual lessons when the child is still young and doesn't feel chess instinctively. At this point, it may seem boring to have individual lessons with a grown-up. On the other hand, it all depends on the personality, but such individual lessons quickly lose their novelty. I think it's best to alternate them with group training and tournaments. Another moment: why whould a grandmaster work with a pupil who's obviously not very strong? You either like the child too much, or you just punch the clock without much interest. Because most of the time, no truly engaging positions come up.

There are plenty of opportunities to get disappointed. I've heard that many times: "You know, we did everything for him! Oh God, I don't even want to say how much we paid the coach!" Don't tell that to me, I don't want to know. "And yesterday, he told me: mom, I don't want to go anymore! But he wanted it so much!.." He wanted, and now he doesn't. You should respect your child and their right to refuse studying chess. Yes, you spent a lot of money, but this is your child, and investing money in them is natural. And they don't really owe you anything. I'm getting such questions quite often. And I'm trying to answer in such a way to try to console the parents and protect the child at the same time. The child should be free of moral pressure, let alone extreme measures such as physical coercion... Sometimes people disagree: "see, N. beat some sense into his son/daughter, and they became a grandmaster!" But how do you evaluate the mental trauma such children get? Perhaps they would've led an entirely different life. I'm aghast when I see a mom hitting her little daughter. It's so outrageous that I seriously consider calling the police! The girl gets punished not for doing something reprehensible, like hitting someone, but for failing to find a good move. And now let's imagine that we get her mom to solve some puzzles, and when she fails, we hit her as hard as she hit her daughter! A child can't defend themselves from an adult.

Be glad that your son or daughter is doing something worthwhile, that they're in a good company of enthusiastic people and not spending their lives in seedy places. They'll find a lot of friends and acquaintances in the chess world! For instance, my former pupil Timur Khvalko often comes to visit me. He's almost 40 now, he reached first category in his youth. He tells me, "I don't know what I would've been doing if not for chess". He was a bit of a loafer, and had a bad company in the neighbourhood. But his studies at the Young Pioneers' Stadium stopped him from going down the slippery slope. I'm totally sure that chess saved Andrei Schekachev from some impulsive actions too; he wanted to become a grandmaster, and he achieved that.

Lastly, my biggest advice for the parents bringing their child to a chess school: think less about whether he becomes a professional chess player, and more about your little kid having fun at the lessons!