By Xiao Cheng
“What should I look for in a chess coach?” This is one of the most popular questions from chess parents. The short version? A coach should provide the following:
- Knowledge Transfer (KT) – Showing a new player from basic tactics (fork, pins, etc.) to advanced strategies (prophylactics, piece activity, etc.).
- Habit Transfer (HT) – Ask students what s/he does to study and improve in chess, then make further suggestions.
- Psychological Preparation – Help students to acquaint themselves with the ups and downs of winning and losing.
Now the longer version.
1) Knowledge Transfer (KT)
In the old days, this was a chess coach’s main job. But that has changed in our information-based world today. What Bobby Fischer had to search for in Soviet-language chess books can be found online in a couple of mouse clicks today.
If you wanted to learn Knight-and-Bishop checkmate 20 years ago, your coach would have needed to setup a specialized training session. Then you and other students would practice for half a day until it was mastered.
In today’s world, a five-year-old can open Google Chrome and type in Knight-and-Bishop Mate and watch the video. Then launch Stockfish, play against the the engine for a few games, and practice until s/he becomes very confident.
Chess coaches can still help for KT, as there are hundreds of chess concepts. The coach’s role for KT is to point out a specific focus based on each student’s need, so students are not drowned in the sea of information.
Pure Knowledge Transfer is being commoditized. Technology, such as AI, may one day organize all the themes in chess. Hence, coaches need to provide value in two other aspects.
2) Habit Transfer (HT)
In most of our workplaces or schools, we have heard of KT. Rarely, however, do we hear about HT. I believe that needs to be changed. Google can provide 80%+ of KT today, but it is not ready (or at least not as competent) in telling you what you should work on yet.
HT is a quest for a student to become a life-long learner, and a coach is the ‘tour guide’ to provide encouragement, focus, and support to help the student build and maintain the desire to learn more in chess.
3) Psychology Preparation
This area deals with the experience and feelings of playing chess. A coach has stories based on his/her experiences from playing chess. Psychology preparation is the furthest from being automated by a machine.
A coach will LISTEN to a student describe his/her feelings and thoughts about a game or a tournament. The coach will then tell his own stories from previous experiences or encounters to help the student build psychological muscles for chess.