The challenge of teaching chess- a personal insight

The challenge of teaching chess- a personal insight

Sep 3, 2017, 3:52 PM |

Hello chess students and friends. 

I'm happy to be back after taking a time off from teaching as my main occupation. 

Once you understand what your heart desires, you can't escape it.


In my work with hundreds of students over around 11 years that I've been teaching the art of chess, I came across many students who had previous chess "education", and I write it in quotation marks because a lot of it was just pure damage to one's way of thinking about chess or problem solving in general. 


What did I encounter?


Group 1- Students that are eager to learn, having only watched some classical games of masters and got inspired. 

Group 2- Students that played chess for years as amateurs, with friends or on the streets and parks. 

No other type of chess education. 

Group 3- They read some books about chess, watched some videos on YouTube, but all that on a basis of learning the "way to win" or "Ground rules", recipes for success in chess, you get the point. I call them the "Wrongly Educated".


Other divisions are of course present, but today I just want to concentrate on the ones mentioned above. 


So first natural question- which group I prefer the most to work with, as a teacher?

A trick question. 

Of course every teacher that respects the art of teaching, especially when it combines with the art of chess, will tell you that the teaching itself is the challenge, and every group brings a different kind of challenge. 

And I feel so too. Each requires an approach, a method, a special type of support. 


I can, however, tell you which group has the best prospects for fast improvement. 

Clearly, Group 1. 

This group is like a child, still soft, inspired by the adults, and thirsty for every bit of new skill. 

To teach students that belong to this group, is like being a chess Messiah for them. I bring them the gospel. I am there when they experience their moments of doubt and pain. You are the vessel, that shows them the nature of the game.

And that is some responsibility, believe me. 


Second question- if so, what's the hardest group to teach?

To teach a "Wrongly Educated" student is like doing social work with a psychopath. The worker tries to change the way the patient perceives the world altogether; his role in the world, good and bad, interactions with people, values, you know, all that makes a psychopath a psychopath.

So its a challenge, not chess-wise, but a mental one. 

It has to be clear, that not every teacher can help students that belong to this group. You have to be a strong person, who can absorb your student and chew his soul each lesson again and again. 

Your work is to break the neurons that got tied, not by his fault, to the wrong neurons, and rewire his chess mind. 

This means you need to get dirty. Because the brain fights back when one tries to mess with it. 

Just imagine one day some professor comes to you and tells you that 90% of what you believe in and think of as an absolute truth is actually wrong and that you were misled. 



So what about group 2?

They represent the phrase "Teaching an old dog new tricks", and we all like cute creatures here right? They are experienced, but have no deep mis-conceptions. Some decisions they do over the board are based on what people normally do in certain positions, from previous games. 

So my job here is to put them on the right track, being the one that directs their vast experience using a new funnel.


I will conclude with a short demonstration. 

Let's consider the next position of the Italian opening, black to play:



What would I expect from my experience, for each group to suggest as the best move here for black?


Group 1, the free thinkers, would probably find the ..Nxe4 tactic. I can't know if the student belonging to this group would for sure choose it, but I know he will at least seriously consider it. 


Group 2, the amateur veterans, would in my opinion struggle between ..0-0 and ..d6. Maybe the few tactically bright will also include ..Nxe4. 

The reason is mostly the habit, d6 and 0-0 are so prominant in so many similar positions. And probably they played it so many times before. 


Group 3, having memorized the way to success in chess, will be inclined towards ..0-0 in my opinion at the vast majority of cases. 

This is simply because so many sources of information about chess told them to do it, just castle as quickly as you posssibly can. 


Chess is an art that lets you, the eager student, to express your soul on the board. Don't let them dictate you what ot think, do your own thinking. Don't let them tell you what to see, look carefully. Don't let them dictate you how to move, consider your options. Don't let them tell you what to choose, make a wise decision. 


The chess board is your canvas. Learn how to be a good thinker, how to solve problems using your intellect. This is how I see my work as a chess teacher, with you, my dear student.