My friend Pyre is a Top 16 Starcraft 2 Grandmaster and arguably one of the strongest Terrans on the North American ladder.
Recently he asked me whether I would help him become a better chess player, and naturally I accepted the challenge. The avid reader of this blog will recall that I never was a great Starcraft 2 player. I retired at the top of my diamond division. However, I used to be a 2200 ELO chess player, and though I’m not quite that good anymore, I’m still a pretty strong player.
Pyre’s current online rating is around 1050. His goal is to reach 1500. I know that this seems a daunting task to many beginners, but I’ve played a great deal of chess over the years and in my opinion the difference between 1000 and 1500 isn’t all that great. Going from 1000 to 1500 is certainly easier than going from 1500 to 2000, or, as I myself had to learn the hard way many years ago, going from 2000 to 2500.
In my opinion, the only real difference between a 1000 player and a 1500 player is that the 1500 player has a better understanding of basic chess strategy and tactics. However, the upside is that basic chess strategy and tactics are fairly easy to learn, and in my experience the real litmus test of a chess player is not whether he or she reaches 1500, but whether they continue to develop from there because once you have mastered the fundamental concepts of chess, it gets a little harder to improve further.
I also should mention that I firmly believe that anybody who is serious about becoming a better chess player MUST also play the game offline over-the-board. Online games and chess lessons are a lot of fun and certainly help, but the best way to get better at chess is to play and analyze games at your local chess club.
So now the question is how do we actually get Pyre’s skills from 1000 to 1500? My coaching style combines elements of Gandalf, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Gunnery Sergeant Hartmann.
Currently we’re still getting started and regularly play longer games so that I can get a better understanding of what Pyre already knows and where his weaknesses are. For the same purpose I have also flipped through some of the games he’s played against people at his level. At the same time, our games provide a good opportunity to discuss some of the tactical and strategic themes that arise. For example, the following game provided an opportunity to discuss the so-called “smothered mate”, arguably one of the most dramatic maneuvers in chess.
These games are also important because I need to know whether Pyre is a more tactical/aggressive player, or prefers more strategic/positional games. Based on his macro-heavy/no-nonsense approach to Starcraft 2, I kind of expected him to be more on the strategic/positional side, but in chess he appears to prefer more aggressive, all-out attack on the king kind of games. I found that pretty interesting.
Once I've concluded my assessment of his style, we'll start working on more technical aspects of the game, such as the fundamentals of
a) Strategy: e.g. developing minor and major pieces, pawn structures, typical plans, activity and initiative etc.
b) Tactics: e.g. how to calculate variations efficiently, how to choose among several moves, and of course typical beginner level tactics such as various check mates, forks, pins and skewer, zugzwang, double attacks etc.
c) Opening Theory: I firmly believe that beginners and players below maybe 1600-1700 really do not need to know all that much about the different chess openings. At that level a player is much better off dedicating his or her time to the fundamentals of strategy or tactics. However, Pyre and I will spend some time on some of the basic chess openings to make sure he plays those openings that result in the kind of positions he's comfortable with and enjoys playing. To reiterate: It is NOT necessary for him to memorize all the different lines of the French defense, for example, but he does need to form an opinion on whether the kind of position that typically comes out of a French opening is something he wants to go for.
Over the coming weeks and months I will chronicle our progress here including lessons learned, successes, failures, and interesting observations. In the meantime I encourage everybody to check out Pyre's stream (link above).
And no, I am not getting paid for these lessons, my awesomeness comes free of charge :-)