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Tips for beginners by Jaan Ehlvest

1.     Tip number one.

Today everybody uses computer to study chess. Quickly browsing through databases to look a certain game and with help of a computer programs to evaluate the best move.  It is well known fact in psychology that to improve memorize certain subject it is best if you write it down by hand. This is why I always ask my students to use in online lessons the real chess board instead of GUI. Nobody can become an auto mechanic only looking the computer screen, they need to touch the real parts, clean them and feel them. Same in chess, kinetic memory works through your fingers.

2.     Tip number two.

We may look at chess as something which exists without our existence and is kind of lifeless form of nature. It however obeys all laws of nature. It becomes alive when we are concerned. People make chess alive. Computers do not.  Today we see a lot of promising youngsters who try to memorize the chess game.  It is impossible; there are too many different positions to remember for a human.  The main difference between mathematics and chess is actually the fact that in mathematics theoretically you may remember all the courses, but not in chess. To understand chess you need to have a human coach.  The trick is that the best team available is a human GM and a computer. This team can easily overpower the computer without human assistance.   Despite the fact that computer alone is stronger than human, human can still add some value to the game. In recent news it may look like that this is not a true statement, because both Nakamura and Naroditsky lost their matches. For me actually it shows that they are both playing like computers themselves and could not add human factor to their games. And their computer help was handicapped to compare the opponent.

3.     Tip number three.

What we mean when talking about chess understanding? Can we categorize it? I would recommend the following.  In finance there is a three level of understanding of underlying security or a stock. First level is when you know only the definition of the instrument.  Like for a bond for example. Second level is when you know how correctly to price it. Third level is when you know how to trade it. In chess similar categorization is possible. In some position you know when its winning and when its loosing. Second level is when you can show how to win this position and use it in practice. Third level is you can explain it to others. This is very important because in chess we do not demand that a coach must have higher rating than his student, but he must have the ability to explain certain positions to his students. It is not easy, once when I explained to group of young students how to win these endgame positions (rook and a pawn against a bishop)and after few days I asked them to show me how it works they could not do it. This the third level is difficult one for younger players, but is a must for the coaches. It is difficult for the student evaluate his coach. But it makes all the difference the good and the bad coach in chess. My advice is to try yourself to reach always the third level as well. You can lecture yourself if there is no friend available. This gives you good practice and may be you are not the next World Champion, but instead you may become a good coach. Do you know what is the difference of these positions.  In the position number one the pawn is on a2. In the position number two the pawn is on a4 and finally in the position number three the pawn is on a5.

First level, you have an idea which position is winning and which is not. Two first positions are winning for White, but the third one is a draw. Second level, you know why the third position is a draw and you know how the winning plan works in these positions. Third level, you can win the winning position and explain it to others. My categorization is just example how it might work.  Again the coach needs to know when and how to teach the levels. It does not make a sense to teach a toddler the grammar or to a chess novice how to get advantage in Petroff defense for example. He just needs to know the first level of opening principles.

4.     Tip number four.

To become good in chess you still need to study some opening lines, not only the lines you like, but some side lines which may look boring. How to enhance you memory and make the study more fun. Try to listen certain music during the studies. Different music in different openings keeps you focused. Using some memory technic is allowed while studying chess. In no circumstances listen the music during the game. Tip number four. Try to keep certain routine during the game and even during the competition. Do not use bad habits, some bad habits which are used during the game are difficult to quit.  Figure out what kind of drinks are good for you, your parents definitely know already if some ingredients are not good for you.  Some players drink coffee or energy drinks during the game, but this might not to be good for you.  Former World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik demanded his opponents to smoke during their training games, so during his match against Mikhail Tal who was heavy smoker he is ready for it. Today players are not allowed to smoke in playing hall. In case you start smoking yourself during the competitions then very soon you can not play chess without help of a cigarette.  Using any kind of listening device for music during the game is also out. You can use music  to enhance  your training process, but it is not good during the actual chess game. If you are looking for fun go somewhere else.

5.     Tip number five.

I mentioned already several times the importance of a good coach. Nowadays GM’s charge a lot for one hour lesson. Many talented students can not afford these rates. Instead they rely on heavy computer based training. Which can first bring good results as any time consuming training can do. However when the player is reaching higher rating category more understanding of the game is needed. The coach can not give you assistance every minute of the training, but what good coach can do, he can guide you in the right direction. You also need to go over you games with somebody who is stronger than you.  My advice or tip for training is to find  a coach who can lead you let say twice a month.  He goes over your games and then he gives you hourly training plan for the next 10 to 20 hours. After that or after your next tournament he goes again over your games and gives again a new training plan for the  next 10 to 20 hours. In this case the student can reduce the cost significantly. has a lot of videos about nearly any subject. To pick up the right one is not simple for the student.  Coach however can recommend which video is suitable and he also can figure out which video is good and which one is useless. Other way to reduce the cost is to team up with other students like you and hire online group lesson.

Bonus tip

To master chess you need long hours to study. Paradox however is that if you study is too easy, like you are looking tens of games on your computer screen in short period of time, you do not gain much. You are forgetting these games very soon. Psychologist are pointing out that more difficult the task is and  harder you have to work to get the right answer, the more the answer is sealed in memory. Precisely those things that seem to signal we’re learning well — easy performance on drills, fluency during a lesson, even the subjective feeling that we know something — are misleading when it comes to predicting whether we will remember it in the future. There is some important and not so important things to remember in chess. Some of them are very important like simple mating patterns which are retrieved from your memory automatically in the right moment.  Most of the material should be stored in our chess memory not automatically but with the meaning.  Question why? must be asked more frequently.  You need to be an explorer into chess world not memorization machine.