Searching for a Chess Coach – International Master Alex Wohl

Recently I had the pleasure of attending the Australian Junior Chess Championship. I did some coaching, helped in the canteen (long story) and watched my students collect national titles in several age groups.

There were over 300 participants from all over the country, many with their parents and coaches.

I fielded many questions by parents on coaching and was amazed by the lack of knowledge by many. I am more humble now after venturing into a world where I lacked any knowledge.

To explain I must digress.

My Beautiful Boat.

For a while now I have been watching YouTube videos about sailing. I envisaged sailing around the islands, exploring the open ocean and eventually maybe even sailing to South America.

My head was full of sunshine as I saw this steel hull blue water yacht for a mere 10k. I calculated that if I simply live aboard, as many of my YouTube heroes do, my rent savings would pay for the boat in 6 months.

What could go wrong?  

What’s a “survey”? Well, its one of the things you need to get your boat insured. You have to insure your boat to enter a Marina so its not really optional.

What’s a bilge pump? It pumps water out of your boat.

Skin fittings? Antifoul?

Anyway, to cut a long, sad story short, a few months later the boat has nearly doubled in price and is still taking water. The parts are arriving tomorrow morning and right now it is raining buckets. So yes, now I know what it is like to be completely ignorant in a foreign world.

So I am writing this as a brief guide to those who wish to bravely stumble into the chess world with the view of finding a chess coach for their very intelligent, gifted and beautiful child.

Chess Ratings and Titles.

Everybody has heard of the term Grandmaster (GM) but there are many other titles in chess, like International Master (IM), FIDE Master (FM) and Candidate Master (CM).

All these titles also exist with a W in front of them, indicating it is a Women’s title.

Titles don’t give a completely accurate indication of playing strength though. Many IM’s are higher rated than some GM’s.

Chess ratings are a more accurate guide to a players chess ability. An International chess rating is called a “FIDE” rating, FIDE being the International Chess Federation, like FIFA for soccer.

The website is www.fide.com  All you need to do is click on the “ratings” tab. There you will find a search bar. Enter a name and you will find a players rating, title and a whole host of statistics. Type my name in (Wohl) if you want to test it.

FIDE also has a trainer accreditation system, which you can verify the same way. FIDE Trainers need to show considerable chess knowledge and pass a rigorous exam to obtain the title. FIDE Senior Trainers need to have a history of producing champions.

Even weekend tournaments are rated here, in Queensland Australia, a backwater of chess. Many 10 year olds and younger have FIDE ratings.

To get on the first rung, with a rating of 1000 points, you merely have to play 9 games against rated players and make a few points, depending  on the ratings of the opposition.

The world champion, Magnus Carlsen, has a rating of 2862. Everyone else is somewhere on the scale.

An average club player may have a rating of 1500, a Candidate Master, maybe around 2000, an International Master is usually between 2300 and 2500 and most rated above 2500 are Grandmasters.

Beware of coaches without a FIDE rating. Almost everybody who plays in tournaments has one.

Now that you have some idea of the basic criteria (survey) to look for in a chess coach lets look at how to start searching.

Your Local Chess Community.

The best place to learn to play is in School. Grandpa is ok, but often does not know all the rules. I learned in school and found chess books in the library. One of my school friends played in tournaments and introduced me to a chess club.

Chess players who attend their local clubs are usually happy to share their knowledge. This is a good introduction to competitive play as most clubs run regular friendly tournaments.

If your child continues to show interest in chess you could check if there is a Chess Academy in your area.

Check to see if the teacher has any chess pedigree (FIDE).  Marketing can be very deceptive in all areas in the 21st century. A bad coach can not only cost you money but can instil bad thinking habits in their students that are hard to reverse.

In my opinion, group lessons are more fun and more effective than one on one coaching. By the time your child can benefit from individual training, like when they qualify for an international representative event, you should be familiar enough with the chess world to make an informed choice.

Online Resources.

I and all players of my generation were raised on books but now the Internet is a treasure trove of chess information. Everyone can Google so I will mention just a few of my favourites. I have chosen my favourite free ones so as not to endorse a commercial site.

www.lichess.org has puzzles to solve and endless opportunities to play games at all time controls.

YouTube has many videos. My students really like “Mato Jelic”. “Jessica Fisher” produces great historical videos.

“Follow Chess” is a great free app for Android where you can watch live games from all over the world.

For the serious student who wants to analyse their own games and  research openings I recommend SCID (Shane’s Chess Information Database). It’s the one I use because if it crashes, as my commercial databases have done in the past, you can just uninstall and reinstall anywhere you have an internet connection.

It reads all PGN Files (portable game notation) and you can download thousands of the best games played around the world from “TWIC” (www.theweekinchess.com) for free.

Final Thoughts

Chess has been recognised as a useful educational tool and around the world more and more schools have it as part of their curriculum. In some countries, like Armenia, it is compulsory. In England the chess in schools program is flourishing.

It helps children organise their thinking, handle stress, concentrate for long periods of time, accept winning and losing, and make friends.

Often the worst behaved children take to chess the best and find a home where they feel appreciated. This has a positive influence on their behaviour.

Remember though, Chess is a game, the best way to learn is to play and have fun.

And my final piece of chess advice: Don’t buy a boat!

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