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Key Challenges of Trainers - Part 2

by Peter Long - 23/03/2024

It is quite a difficult task to find the right trainer for a chess player. More so, when there are so many lucrative options available. While some prefer to work on their own, others need a chess coach to guide and help them improve their game. FM IA FT Peter Long writes his experiences and thoughts as a trainer, what he faced and the challenges a trainer faces. How important it is to keep scoresheets, maintain database and analyze your own games. Instead of focusing on gain more knowledge, attending camps and playing tournaments incessantly, the necessity to create a structure where a player knows how to work and improve their game, fix their gaps and become a stronger player. Photo: vecteezy

How does a trainer develop a young talent?

Photo: vecteezy

In the first part of this article, I referenced the wisdom of Utut Adianto: “It is the trainer, not the academy. And “It is the player, not the trainer”, and shared what I have observed is the general entry and developmental training environment worldwide today, and touched upon the reasons how this has come about.


There is no doubt that more and more, the children getting into chess, whatever their interest or talent might be, are very much shaped by their environment.


Distractions are many, and a lot more is also demanded from them in what they do and for most parents that is academic excellence but also what extra advantages they can have.


When I recently assisted in the two camps organised by Chessbase India and Jacob Aagaard in Mumbai, I saw a huge difference in both attitude and behaviour of the participating young players and more surprisingly for me, also how their parents saw it.

Learning Attacking Chess with Grandmaster Jacob Aagaard in Mumbai | Video: ChessBase India

These were largely not the young talents I was used to seeing develop, many who are now grandmasters, and even in the Candidates!, and I could hardly distinguish the children in the camp from their counterparts in those that I meet when conducting training camps and workshops in non chess tradition countries like Malaysia and Thailand.


No question that all these were wonderful children, but in terms of helping their chess development, the challenges of trainers have certainly increased!


It is not so much having less time due to many other and/or equally pressing activities, but the reality that the most improvement comes from doing the work needed, but parents instead are seeing the solution as having more lessons, more training sessions, perhaps more playing, and even attending more camps!


There was a time when I worked with young talents who won Asian Junior, Youth, Schools and World Cadets events, but at this stage of my life I am now mainly only training a few at the 1400-2000 rating level, but I would like to believe that my observations are still valid!


Yes, it is clear that the trainer has to start working with a young talent by accepting that “It is the player, not the trainer”


Mark Dvoretsky, now sadly departed from us, and who is universally recognised as the most influential chess coach in history thanks to his huge volume of writings on training made accessible to everyone, referenced Jonathan Rowson’s statement his book Chess for Zebras as to what a trainer’s work is:

“Now I believe that the main function of chess trainers should be to guide the training of their students, rather than to teach them directly. The best thing you can do for a student is to select interesting positions for them, and analyse them carefully so you can see the kind of things the student is missing”

Too many trainers at the developmental stage teach too much. They do not actually guide their students, and their choice of material used is not only too general, but can be most politely said to be very subjective.


I believe that today it is critical that the focus of training is to teach students how to work on chess, and that is done by providing them with structure, to teach the methods, and to provide the tools needed, for them to learn how to think and to apply, and of course with the right support in place to keep them motivated and on track.


Easier said than done!


A few months ago, against my better judgement, I agreed to prepare a team of players (six boys and six girls) between 14 and 20-years-old to represent their state in the National Games to held in August this year, and I did this was only because chess was being included for the first time.


For all but one girl, their chess teachers for years did not actually teach middlegames and certainly zero endgames, and all they knew was Lichess where they did puzzles and learned their openings.


The boys had developed a certain practical strength thanks to playing tons of blitz and practicing tactics on Lichess but because there is a difference with how girls prefer to and are more comfortable to learn chess, this gaming environment was not suitable for them and so their chess training was basically just their weekly chess lessons.


So I am now left to develop a group of players of between 1200-1800 level (one boy is 2000+) to be competitive at the National Games in three months and they don’t seem to have time after school and university.


I was horrified that no one kept their scoresheets, let alone analyse their games, and none had ChessBase or understood the importance of having a Games Database to work with.

9.2 million high quality games at your fingertips - Features of Mega Database 2022 | Video: ChessBase India

My solution:


First up will be a workshop on how to use ChessBase and the free TWIC Databases to study openings and in the process learn how to play the typical positions.

All the ChessBase 17 new features explained in depth by IM Sagar Shah | Video: ChessBase India

Then to have all collect their games into their own games database to review together and when doing so, to teach them how to analyse their games from there develop their group work and individual self-study programs.

The process I have successfully developed and used

Of course, in this short period to also provide each with weekly monitoring and support online.


We cannot make major changes now, but in this way can improve their competitiveness, and longer term, hopefully there will still be playing chess in the next national games.


Now let us return to Dvoretsky who again references and agrees with Rowson:

"Aspiring players should place much more emphasis on developing their skill than increasing their knowledge. This means that chess work should be less focused on learning and more on training and 'practising whereby you force yourself to think."

For the young talent who can do this, the sky is then possibly limited only by opportunities.


But for the rest, whatever their talent, doing this will still give them many of the benefits of chess that will help them do well in life.

About the Author

One Night in Bangkok! Peter Long, FM, IA and FT, no longer Secretary of the FIDE Trainers’ Commission

Related news:
Key Challenges of Trainers - Part 1

@ 11/03/2024 by Peter Long (en)

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