Learning from Masters


My performance on this site is inconsistent. By the way, I can see no reason to want to play on any other site. This is a wonderful chess site.

I feel I need a coach to help me on my chess journey. However, I have noticed whenever I listen to chess commentary I don't always follow what the experts are saying. I love Peter Svidler - perhaps because, as an Englishman, i also love cricket. I do find, nonetheless, that I have no real idea about what he's saying during his commentary. Sometimes, the penny drops days, weeks, months, years later and I have that 'Oh, that's what he means' moment.

I feel that a coach should not necessarily be the best player I can afford to buy, but somone maybe two or three levels above who can clearly be understood because maybe they were having similar issues taking on chess ideas fully.

Would it make sense for me to look for a coach roughly 400-600 points better than I am, rather than trying to learn from the all seeing all knowing master who may know the stuff I am trying to learn so well that they may have difficulty explaining or training me at the level I need to be taught.

Hiring a Phd in maths to teach a youngster how to count seems needlessly excessive and counter productive.

Any thoughts anyone?

An IM/GM will definately be able to teach you quite a lot, but not necessarily much more than a player rated 400 points above you. Therefore, I would suggest you to hire someone in the cheap or medium price range

An inconsistent performance may not be that meaningful as it can depend on a variety of factors that include your physical as well as psychological conditions which are extremely influential on our human minds. So don't necessarily blame a poor performance on a supposed incomplete knowledge of chess that needs to be refined by attending some special courses or stuff like that. Chess is such a mind-boggling game, it still retains unknown secrets even for masters that spent a lifetime studying and trying to widen their knowledge. There will always be room for improvement but don't feel uneasy with that, it's just part of the game's beauty. Anyway, if you think that hiring a coach could help you, do it! That can only be a benefit. As for the gap of knowledge between you and your coach, don't be afraid, a good teacher will also be wise enough as to understand what your level is and what your weaknesses are and will be able to talk to you in the clearest possible way. You won't find yourself in front of a snobbish expert who will laugh at your questions and answer in an obscure technical slang. One last thought: the metaphor you made is just inappropriate, you are not like someone with no mathematical knowledge that hires a Phd in maths to be taught how to count, you are much better than that, just have a look at your ratings, you are already a very good player! Believe in yourself and have a nice day!

I do not believe in coaches and/or in paying. A book written by a grandmaster is often much better and cheaper than a mediocre coach. I have been coaching youngsters for free that had received coaching from lesser players before and most of my job was to unlearn incorrect things they had picked up from their previous coach. It is quite normal that you cannot follow the life commentary by Peter Svidler. It takes you more time to grasp what he says in seconds. Just take the game in question and a chess board, set up the position and ask yourself if you can find why some move was played and why some moves were not played. I have had the opportunity to analyse games of mine with grandmasters and contrary to what one would think, they did not know much either: "difficult position… maybe this move... maybe that… I do not know… Probably first this move..."
If Peter Svidler gives broadcast commentary, he has taken time to look at the position before and of course he thinks much faster.

To expand what @tpr said, a good player doesn't make a good coach. Although I have a higher rating, I'm not good at explaining the concepts.

Thinking Techniques (written by Dr. Ferguson ~ 1982)
1. What new threat(s) has my opponent's last move created? How can I answer it(them)?
2. Is my King safe? Is my opponent threatening to checkmate in the next few moves? Can I checkmate my opponent?
3. What threats can I set up? How?
4. Have I seen this position or a similar one before?
5. If so: who stands better, and what is the best plan for continuing?
6. If not: what are the outstanding features and elements of this position, and what plan(s) and method(s) of achieving it are availabe?
7. What is my plan? What specific position would I like to obtain? How can I achieve my goal? How can I imporve my position?
8. Which move is best? Can I capture material without penalty? Can I employ an tactical device?
9. Is it safe to move my piece to the square I'm thinking about?
10. Did I remember to start my opponent's clock and write down my move?


Thanks to all who replied. I often find it is best to ask for as many opinions as possible before making any decisions, especially where spending money may be concerned.

@FredtheCrusher: There is no doubting the value of the master - they are the best chess exponents out there. I have received coaching/training/education in everything I have ever done. In my opinion, a good guide is essential on any journey worth taking to assist you reach your destination as quickly as possible. Chess is clearly a game of levels and I just feel that it makes no sense receiving instruction from someone whose understanding may be too sophisticated for my own level to use effectively.

@ABC90: Thank you for your kind and encouraging words. I fully concur with your observations about the nature of inconsistent performance not necessarily being found just in the technical nature of chess. For me, clarity and simplicity of explanation are the real expressions of understanding. Naturally, there must be some feeling of gain, though in many activities that gain can be intangible and therefore difficult to measure by something like rating points. The point of a good coach is to streamline the tortuous journey to competence by identifying weaknesses, strengths and opportunities. It is far more enjoyable to identify dead ends and avoid them as quickly as possible.

@tpr: It seems that you have identified my major fear. No coaching is better than poor coaching! It is definitely better to make the right coaching decision at the start and, as your unravelling of other coaches inadequate instruction shows, correction can be potentially expensive in terms of time and money. Books are great to a certain extent but tend not to notice any misunderstandings you may have made. I find the chessable site extremely useful in that endgame books become interesting processes rather than reams of static runes. The process of learning becomes more physical and alive and therefore more effective - for me anyway,

I am not criticising commentators like Peter Svidler only pointing out that levels of understanding matter and I am not sure that learning from a grandmaster is anything but frustrating for anyone whose level of ability is not yet ready for that instruction.

@jonesmh: Very helpful. Having a good thought process is very helpful for improvers like myself. Indeed, would it be possible that the role of a good coach is to ensure this disciplined approach was maintained?

@Bravo_Sierra: There is too much luck involved in poker for my tastes. We are tyrannised over by luck throughout our lives. Chess at least gives the illusion of the potential to be deliberate and conscious in our decision making and threatens to reward only merit. Unfortunately, chess like everything else, does depend to a certain extent on the luck of having a minimum of genetic ability as well as a nurturing environment for someone to reach their full potential. In this society, full access to that nurturing can cost. Lichess gives us free access to practice what we know or could know but the process of acquiring that knowledge can surely be helped by having a good guide - as with any worthwhile activity.

I am going to swear now and mention They have a university and whilst it is clear that this university may not be ideal I am wondering about the possibility of creating a rubberstamped curriculum which would take people from one level to the next. Is it possible to identify the key abilities, weaknesses and knowledge of each rating level?

If you want to improve then stay away from bullet and blitz. Play a slower time control and take time to think. Once you play better you can try and play faster, but playing blitz & bullet now brings you nowhere.

Abilities, weaknesses and knowledge vary from individual to individual and from culture to culture. Some are weak in tactics, some in strategy, some in endgame technique. Many players play too fast especially in the opening. Of course you are not criticising Peter Svidler, you are criticizing your own ability to grasp what he is saying in real time. That is why I recommend books written by grandmasters. You can take any time you need to understand what is written. You do not need to understand it in real time. A book by a strong grandmaster offers some guarantee that it contains no blatant nonsense. It also gives you an insight in the way he thinks. A mediocre coach offers neither. Even if he is an excellent teacher, he may teach you things that are plain wrong.