Ten things that make for a good chess coach

When it comes to improving your chess, there is often debate as to whether or not to hire a coach. If you've opted for lessons, how do you make sure you're getting the best value for your money?

Here are 10 things that a good chess coach should be doing.



1. Not spending the entire lesson playing blitz
You won't benefit much if all you're doing in your lesson-time is playing blitz. What you really want is to play longer games with post-game analysis to make sure you're leveraging your time and your money.

2. Analysing games
Analysis of games is a powerful way for a coach to get into your head and understand your strengths and weaknesses. If your coach is not analysing your games, something is wrong with his approach.

3. Helping you understand your mistakes
If your coach is analysing your games but merely pointing out mistakes without explanation, this isn't a good deal either. Pointing out errors with "that's a bad move" and then showering you with a dizzying number of variants isn't going to get you far. You need to understand why a move is bad to avoid similar mistakes in the future.

4. Bridging the gaps in your knowledge
If your coach is analysing your game and you've understood what your mistakes were, that's a good first step. But you also need to address the flaws in your thought process and the gaps in your chess knowledge. Analysis and a plan to bridge the gaps in your knowledge go hand-in-hand. You can't have one without the other.

5. Building your repertoire
You need a repertoire of openings and defences that match your playing style. Is your coach simply teaching you his own? You don't have to settle for it. Instead, look for someone who's willing to help you build a repertoire unique to you, your skills and playing style.

6. A multi-disciplinary approach
Though it would be ideal to work with an interdisciplinary team on each aspect of the game, the average player doesn't possess the financial resources to hire a team of coaches to better his game. That's why you need a coach who has a multi-disciplinary approach. If your coach is a scholar in one aspect to the exclusion of other critical aspects, your game will suffer as a result.

7. Tactics should be handed out with a plan
Is your coach reaching for the first book and handing out diagrams, irrespective of the puzzles' rating levels? Yes? Then maybe it's time you consider another coach. Bombarding a student with chess exercises without a strategic plan isn't smart. If you're spending time completing puzzles, make sure it all fits in the bigger picture.

8. Extra-curricular study
The keyword here is "extra". Chess is a vast subject, so if your coach hasn't recommended any books to study beyond your lessons, then ask. Remember, your coach is human, and he might just be focused on a particular issue other than trying to increase your overall chess knowledge.

9. Solve psychological chess problems
Some issues may not arise in normal chess chat, but sweeping them under the rug isn't doing you any favours. Your coach should know you intimately and help you overcome your psychological chess problems. These may include anything from suffering from severe time trouble to always losing to the same weaker opponent.

10. Push you to the limits
Some coaches yield to the demands of their students and only train them on what and how they want. Preferably, your coach should focus on what's beneficial to your game. Even if that means pushing you out of your comfort zone.

Chess coaching can be hugely beneficial if your coach genuinely wants to help your game. A good coach will tell you how to maximise your tournament experience, help you create a repertoire that suits your tastes, style and skills and he’ll work on tactics and positional chess to make sure you’re as well rounded as possible.

Roline Pretorius

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