Olafsson, Koneru, Dvoretsky, Timman, Spassky

To Coach or Mentor

You don’t need a coach to teach you the moves.

There are many initiatives to improve the level of coaching in South Africa with the lure of coaches being awarded titles — an obsession in chess, but this will be the subject of another article.

These initiatives have done a wonderful job at increasing the chess-playing skills of the coaches, but how to apply these skills to the players you are supposed to coach, that is the question.

Take Mark Dvoretsky. At the height of his playing career he opted not to remain an active tournament player and instead followed his urge to become a chess trainer, perhaps the greatest trainer,.

The Wikipedia article on Dvoretsky states

“This was something he had tried out and enjoyed while studying at Moscow University and he quickly gained a reputation for transforming serious, hard-working 2200 (Elo) players into grandmasters. Similarly, it was said that established grandmasters could become champions under his tutelage and his student register began to read like a ‘who’s who’ of chess greats. Garry Kasparov, Viswanathan Anand, Vesalin Topalov, Evgeny Bareev, Joël Lautier and Loek Van Wely were just a few of the players who benefited from his coaching. Four of his students went on to become Junior World Champions.”

What did Dvoretsky do that was novel?

He made his charges work! To survive with himself and the partner at his Moscow Academy, Artur Yusupov, students were expected to put in an eight hour day at least, and to keep on proving that they absorbed their lessons, not just regurgitating material, but learning to analyse their own games and those of future opponents. Slack and you get your ticket home.

South African coaches were privileged to attend a course by Efstratios Grivas the celebrated Greek trainer. My friend John Jurgens came away like a prophet new inspired, and I am sure that his charges will be better players after some sessions with him.

But a coach like John needs the infrastructure of an academy with many specialists.
Take the routine of a world champion, Anatoli Karpov, in preparation for the 1975 match that did not materialise — the World championship match against Bobby Fischer.

In South Africa we are not (yet) preparing for a future world championship contender, but are able to send a player to the World Junior Championship.

Former World Champion, Anatoli Karpov had the pick of Russian grandmasters psychologists and physical trainers.

“I was getting up late, because I go to sleep late. I was getting up at half past eight or nine o’clock, then physical exercise. Then breakfast. After breakfast, we worked on chess maybe two or two and one half hours, then one hour of tennis or swimming. Then lunch, then after lunch a one-hour break, then a chess game. Then more chess for two to three hours, then another half to one hour sports, then dinner. Then (after dinner), of course not every day, we could spend time on chess preparedness.”

So come on Chess South Africa let us start with young hopefuls for the next World Junior and the one after that..


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