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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Advice from GM Alex Yermolinsky

     Regarding lessons from coaches, GM Alex Yermolinsky had this to say about his coaching experience:  Most of my students would relatively quickly move up the ladder, say from 1600 to 1800, and then get stuck there, simply because they have not improved in chess from my lessons…most of our lessons would consist of going over the students’ games, pointing out obvious mistakes that would usually begin piling up right from the first moves. Like many amateur chess teachers before and after me I was tempted to cut down that number by offering ‘simpler’ opening systems…it is easy to convince your students in pretty much anything, when your grandmaster credentials speak for you.
     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.
     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 l 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 ‘originality’, and ‘making your opponent think on his own as early as possible’ regardless of the true chess 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 have ever seen. He would open with 1 e4 with one idea in mind: to sac this pawn as soon as possible…he couldn’t even think of anything else. Since he would also complement his opening strategy with similar ideas as Black…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 positions 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.
     Wide masses of rank-and-file chessplayers are being told that there are certain ‘secret’ openings that would allow them to handle the resulting positions with ease, operating with ‘ideas’ and ‘schemes’ instead of memorizing variations and calculating tactics. That would usually mean avoiding main lines as White, striving instead for playable positions known from the theory of color-reversed openings.
     Concerning chess books, Yermolinsky stated:  I am far from telling you to recycle your favorite chess books, written by Tarrasch, Capablanca or Nimzowitsch. These guys were giants of the game…The thing is, their books can be misleading. And there are some good reasons…Capa and N imzo were excellent chess ‘orators’, and the world of chessplayers starving for knowledge expected them to speak the words of wisdom. The first chess teachers had no choice but to apply a scientific’ approach of breaking it down to elements of position. The theory was born. For years it had provided great help for many people…One can probably go from ground zero to a respectable (rating) by working exclusively on the subjects given in those excellent books. The problem starts later when a good club player wants to move up and improve in chess.
     The classical positional theory becomes a burden, because its postulates alone don’t help you to solve problems on a new level, and sometimes can even be confusing. What I hear from my students all the time is this: I did everything right, didn’t I, so how come I lost?
     Take Yermo’s word for it, set these books aside and start working on your own.  Our great heroes might have had some other agenda than bringing the light of knowledge to the masses…I think Alekhine wrote his book My Best Games of Chess 1908-1923 in (or around) 1924, when he was desperately searching for a sponsor to organize his match with Capablanca. Alekhine had to write a book that would tell the world he was a genius, and the last thing he wanted to do was to cast a shadow of doubt on his exclusive position in the chess world. The games were selected and annotated in the most presentable way to reach the ‘strategic goal’ of winning universal recognition as a great player. For the same reason he gave all these crazy blindfold simuls and played idiotic consultation games… How would he look if he shared his real thoughts, his doubts and mistakes, with the rest of the world?  Especially if compared with his rival, who hardly ever admitted making a slightest inaccuracy in his games?
     A few years later Nimzowitsch found himself in a similar situation when he was writing My System - all efforts to the ultimate goal of getting to play for a World Championship.



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