Friday, March 30, 2012


I chanced upon a fellow blogger who remarked wryly that the chess trainers often make their students pale copies of themselves in terms of opening play and style. He has warned that one should exercise care in engaging chess trainers as they may instill fear in the students rather than help with their learning. I am not sure what sort of "fear" he has in mind, so I would not venture a guess as the writer tends to riddle his opinion every now and then.

My approach to helping any student first comes from a deep analysis of the student - not just the games, but also the manner they play. Observing them at play helps a lot in determining root causes for any weakness. Reviewing the game right after its played ensures that the root cause is brought to the student's immediate attention. It is the job of a trainer to be able to assess the strengths and weaknesses of a player promptly and to suggest ways to improve the student's performance.

I have often made recommendations in the student's repertoire when necessary to steer them into positions that their strengths will show and their weaknesses minimised. That often means researching into openings that I do not play - which helps in furthering my understanding of openings. In doing that, I am forced to examine the variations and decide if it will truly aid the student in his selection of moves. For example, you cannot recommend the Sicilian Defence to a player who loathes giving material, or is afraid to attack, has poor memory or calculates poorly even if you are an expert in that opening.

Apart from technical weakness, most bad traits when playing can be picked up when observing a player close at hand. I found that one of my students visibly relaxed his attention on the board after he was 2 pieces up. He fell into a backrank mate shortly, signed the scoresheet and thought nothing of it till I reminded him of his carelessness. He was not prepared to admit that his lapse of concentration caused him to lose the game. His mum was told that he found the competition tougher this time round! I had to politely disagree and revealed the truth behind his losses. It was then he had to face the music and made to realise his shortcomings were all his own, not his opponents'.

Being a trainer, one becomes a tailor or sculptor in moulding or designing the conditions that will peak the performance of the student. Not just by adding the 'positives' like better choice of openings, more endgame knowledge, but also in subtracting the 'negatives' such  as mental blocks in overcoming stronger opposition, fear of losing, poor concentration, hastiness in making moves without first examing the opponent's reply etc. Removing the negative traits can be a challenging task, as I find that talking down often does not work. One needs to find the right time and mood to confront the student of his shortcomings to make him/her see the light. Usually that moment of opportunity comes when a deeply felt loss has just occurred. At such moments, I often bring the student to a quiet location and asked him why did he think he had lost. They would be honest in their answers. It is then they would be most receptive to learning what they could have done to avoid the loss, as it mattered there and then.

As for the fear of playing stronger players, the best way to overcome this fear is for them to play against the stronger players till they win. When they had realised that it is indeed possible to defeat the stronger player (be it their good moves or the bad play of the opponent), that fear will disappear. I learnt that when I made my first win over a then NM (now IM) in a simul back 30 years ago and since then, there was no fear of playing anyone.

To help the student effectively in such areas (ie the psychological aspects), one often needs to behave like a mentor and friend to the student. It is only when the student entrusts you completely without question, can true learning and acceptance develop. Reputation and title counts for nothing if you are unable to bridge that connection with the student, often it can lead to resentment if the advice and instructions are forced down without reason or accpetance.


  1. Never quite got what the book is about..John Le Carre is beyond me..

  2. Haven't seen the movie yet. Basically searching for a mole in the intelligence agency.