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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

GM Yermolinsky Sez…

In reviewing The Road to Chess Improvement by Alex Yermolinsky, John Watson had this to say:
“Yermolinsky, a U.S. Champion and 2600+ grandmaster, has not only opened his chess notebooks to one and all, but has given us fresh and insightful ideas about nearly every aspect of practical play. He is refreshingly frank, and doesn't shy away from presenting his own failings and frustrations. In my years of reviewing, I have never been tempted to make a dramatic 'book of the year' pronouncement, but I can't imagine anyone else topping this effort in the near future.”

Watson also commented, “I have roughly every third page of this book earmarked to denote interesting comments and original ideas; they just permeate this book!”

I’m quoting an excerpt from this book at length. Read Yermo’s comments carefully! There is a lot to be gleaned from what he says about modern day chess teachers, authors, openings and how they relate to players below the master level who are trying to improve. Great stuff!!

"Nearly all grandmasters in the United States are involved in the teaching business, at least to some extent. While some…have found this line of work enjoyable and financially rewarding, most of us simply do it out of necessity…When you view teaching as something you can always do…it creates a certain attitude that carries on..and contributes to the overall poor quality of common chess instruction. Many think they can teach anybody below their level simply due to the sheer difference in chess strength…

…you're doing well when you keep your students, or that something must be changed when your students begin to disappear. As a result, what a teacher does is to follow his students, not the other way around like it's supposed to be. You had better do what your student wants you to do, or he will find someone else…
Most people…are looking for a 'quick fix', some practical advice, something that will produce results in the near future. And, as a rule, sooner or later they come out disappointed. The question is, why?
From my experience I have learned that the initial gain in results, produced by the boost of confidence given by the very fact that one is taking lessons from a grandmaster, soon wears off…

Like many amateur chess teachers before and after me I was tempted to cut down that number by offering 'simpler' opening systems. But soon I realized that…with no additional work to put in is not reliable. In fact, it's no more than an illusion and practicing it borders on plain old cheating. Yes, it is easy to convince your students in pretty much anything, when your grandmaster credentials speak for you.

The teacher can adjust the chess truth a little - with the good intention of making things easier to understand - by omitting critical variations from his opening reviews. This patronizing attitude - 'I know what's good for you, and what is the stuff you'd better to be blissfully unaware of' - creates an illusory world of 'simple chess' that keeps its doors open for anybody with a few hundred dollars to spare for lessons. Open your checkbook and you'll be welcome to join.

There are plenty of examples of bad teaching. A disproportionately large number of class players (i.e. below 2000 USCF) in the United States think they have what you call 'an attacking style'. Usually, it's expressed by pitching a pawn early in off-beat openings such as 1 d4 d5 2 e4? The books written on that subject are very enthusiastic; they keep popping up every year even if the practical material of such study remains thin and mostly refers to obscure games. Such conditioning goes a long way towards creating an illusion of 'original’ and 'making your opponent think on his own as early as possible' regardless of the true value of what you do on the chessboard.

A friend of mine, who had been brainwashed by these methods of 'teaching' for years, ended up with the weirdest opening repertoire I’ve ever seen. He would open with 1 e4 with the idea in mind: to sac this pawn as soon as possible…He couldn't even think of anything else. As a result, nearly every game of his saw the same scenario: he would drop a pawn in the opening, then invest more material into 'sustaining' his non-existent initiative, get a couple of fireworks out of it and soon resign.

It was painful to watch him struggle with variations even I would find difficult to play. Instead of putting the pressure on his opponent- like the books he bought and studied promised – he was dealing with enormous pressure himself, the pressure of having to find the only moves and ideas that would justify, at least to some extent his sacrificial strategy. It's amazing how the gambit style of play gets widely advertised in books targeted for class players. Nobody thinks that Shirov's style is easy to master… but for some reason, imitating it is considered advisable able to weaker players.

Another hot selling item is an approach familiar to us…Wide masses of rank-and-file players are being told that there are certain ‘secret’ openings that would allow them to handle the resulting positions with ease, with 'ideas' and 'schemes' instead of memorizing variations and calculating tactics. That would usually mean avoiding main lines…

Some chess teachers have a low opinion of their audience; they fear their students will not understand sophisticated positional and tactical concepts. Here, at the Yermo Chess Academy, we do not practice a 'quick fix approach' that is popularized by many teaching GMs. There is no 'chess made easy' advice that would immediately improve your chess. Widely disseminated promises to introduce 'new methods', to reveal 'secrets of the Soviet School of Chess', etc. are no more than smart advertising moves ... "

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