Monday, July 11, 2011


"Yeah, Chemistry" said the great Marlon Brando in his movie Guys and Dolls. No, we're not talking about the science here, but the affinity that needs to exist between student and teacher. Chemistry defines the main ingredient that generates trust between 2 persons especially at the point of the first meeting, when no prior information is obtain by either parties to size up the other.

What makes a great student sometimes is not just the greatness , enthusiasm nor ingenuity of the teacher to inspire or expound. Often, it is the student's innate trust of the information that the teacher provides and the belief that this knowledge can and will certainly work for him/her. Hence, it is the onus for the teacher (who is generally the more experienced when it comes to sizing up) to first ascertain if there is indeed chemistry between student and teacher before deciding on continuing future lessons.

Generally there are tell-tale signs whether the chemistry exists. It comes in the degree of diligence that the student exhibits in his play in applying the knowledge that was taught, plus the many questions he/she would ask to know more of the subject. Another sign? Homework that's done and handed on time. Homework be it in the form of solving puzzles, or playing a minimal number of games online. When these are diligently followed, there should rightly be an improvement of the level of play and that generates into more wins, which should fuel the interest further. Correct? 

Now look at the other side of the coin.

Student is not happy with the teacher's recommendations but cannot find a good enough reason to refute the directions of the teacher. Hence he/she may put up with the lesson but mentally decides to go his/her own way in the search for chess truth. I have had one experience some years back, where my student H decided that he would want to learn about the Najdorf Poison Pawn and use it in his games. Of course, in this part of the world, there would be few takers willing to engage Black in the theory of this variation. Hence my view is that time would be better spent in studying other more regularly played variations. To begin with, I had warned him of taking up the Sicilian in the first place knowing the huge amounts of study required, but at the back of my mind I knew he could do it so I let the issue go. However, he was adamant about his view and decided to venture of it secretly. The riff between us had started and gradually we drifted further and finally parted ways. On record, he is no longer playing chess today competitively.

Most of my students who had truly listened to my advice and followed it conscientiously (without question) had made huge strides in their play. I am of course heartened, but then it made me think hard on how I can overcome the Chemistry factor - or can it be overcome in the first place when it does not exist? How can I make the student see the point of it if he doesn't? Generally, the results would speak for themselves but often this is not the best way to convince a student with his/her mind set on his/her own views. If we do plod on, over time, the performance of the student in tournaments would show and this is often what I use to verify the riff. Then perhaps it would be pertinent to re-examine if there needs to be a change in the teacher-student relationship.


  1. Chess opening is like a food. Everybody got their own taste and preference. They (chess student) will naturally 'eat' their favourite food even though it is not healthy and not recommended by nutritionist (chess teacher). Nutritionist ofcourse know better about foods (vitamin, energy, fat, side effect, calory etc)due to his knowledge, experience etc.

    Over time, nutritionist recommendation is the one proven to be the best remedy for his 'patient'.

  2. Ilham also here. Remember me? Brian. I think we played before once at DATCC 2010. I was in Storm Warriors. The game that we drew.

    For me, not just emphasize on the opening, but the many variations arise from it and to be able to understand the theories behind. Sometimes, it takes to learn during tournament play. Solving puzzles are important too. My chemistry towards chess would be the satisfaction to beat the higher rated player. To learn, we need to play more against all types of different players. Happy learning...