Adult Improvers: Why GM Openings Might Not Suit You

A 1750-rated reader recently told me: “A small comment to my Grandmaster Coach about not fully understanding the French turned into 13 Training sessions on every detail in the French opening, 95% of which I never saw and will probably never see.”

In a World of Abundance, more is not always better. With Limited time, your Goal should be “Less but Better.”

This is a common appearance in Chess nowadays: a stronger player teaches a weaker player way too many lines about an opening.

In this article, I will explain to you why this happens, why it doesn’t make any sense for the student & how you can avoid it in the future.

Which Math Teacher Do You Choose?

Imagine you are studying for a math exam. The topic is subtraction, and your goal is to get the best possible grade in the least time. You have two choices for teachers:

  • Teacher A, a math genius and a university professor offers you a package of 5 hours. In these 5 hours, they teach you everything about subtraction you might ever need. On top of that, you learn some addition, division & multiplication.
  • Teacher B explains subtraction in a very simple way and doesn’t spend time on things that aren’t requested on the exam. He only requires 2 hours to do so.

Which Teacher do you take?

Teacher B. You get what you need in less time.

Arguably, you should pay more for Teacher B because they give you what you need in less time, even if Teacher A might be way more qualified.

Chess Courses: Short = Better?

Transferring to Chess, many choose Teacher A, pay more for it, and are surprised that they get overwhelmed.

What you need to learn for (in the example of my reader above) are games against players in the range of 1500-2000, but what you end up getting is a 50-hour opening course filled with lines that would prepare you for a GM invitational tournament.

You are wasting your time and are not getting what is needed for your current circumstances. It would be better for you to get a course that is 5-10 hours and leaves out all the stuff you will never need (or at least not in the next years). And even pay more for it because it solves your problem better and more effectively.

The same goes for private lessons. A 1750 player should learn the principles of an opening coupled with some lines (that now hopefully make sense) instead of a full-blown GM Repertoire.

So why do so many GMs give their students super-complex openings, rather than focusing on what is needed?

Because it is way easier this way.

Best For Coach Is Not Best For Student

I could give hundreds of hours of classes on Top Level opening preparation in Catalan, Nimzo, 1.c4 & 1.e4 for White & Nimzo, QGA, French, Petrov, Classical Sicilian & Sveshnikov for Black.

Additional preparation time = 0.

Classes on appropriate openings for the 1750 level? I’d have to put in some time first to understand what really gets played, then cut out lines that never happen, make the openings logical for that level, and cut out any engine-based lines that only vaguely make sense.

And that’s if the playing style of my opening really matches the one of my students. Maybe I should analyze a new opening from scratch instead.

Quite some work!

Even worse, if by some chance my student then gets surprised by someone with a GM Coach and loses the game, I might even get the blame for not explaining everything that might once in a blue moon happen.

For a GM, giving GM lines is way easier than what is appropriate for a student’s current level. And the GM can use the same analysis for unlimited students.

Plus this way the GM will give more lessons or be able to sell the longer course at a higher price.
In short, GMs make more money and have less work by giving their own professional files to students than re-making them to fit their student’s needs.

Know The Incentives

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to accuse anyone. The incentives are strong, and most Coaches & authors simply try to make a living.

It is just extremely important for you to understand that the incentives for the Coach are, at least in the short term, not doing what is best for the students.

With that knowledge, you can adjust and search for more Coaches/Courses that work like Math Teacher B: explaining to you what you need right now, not all they know.

Either via a course or in Chess Lessons.

Here is how:

  • Get courses/books that are specified at your Rating. A great example is Silman’s Complete Endgame course. The title might not suggest it, but the book is split into rating segments. It teaches you what you need to know in a certain rating range.
  • Ask potential Coaches: “What is the type of student that gets amazing results with you?”. If they say “Everyone”, they are likely decent with everyone but not really great for you. Get someone who specifies for a specific rating range. An Expert for your current needs.
  • Think in your value, not the Coach/Teacher’s hourly rate. All things being equal, someone explaining to you all you need to know in 1 hour should be 5 times more valuable to you than someone doing the same in 5 hours. Short-opening courses that are to the point & have no BS in them should be more expensive than longer ones that feature lines you will never see.
  • Value your own time. You can never get your time back. Stop thinking “More = Better,” but rather “Less but better.”

Keep improving,

This article was originally posted on my own Blog, NextLevelChess.
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