Chess Teaching

I am not sure why people teach chess professionally. Maybe they have an urge to teach chess for whatever reason of their own? With some exceptions I doubt their main motivation is money although I’ve seen some whose only inspiration seemed to be “dirty lucre”. But you would think such people would find something else more profitable than chess and chess teaching. I had opportunities to do some chess teaching myself but I was always too busy with other things I had to do or wanted to do. Although I am well aware of other methods of teaching chess i.e. remotely via internet or phone etc I won’t be writing about that here.

In Canada and specifically Toronto there are quite a few chess players who actually make a living teaching chess. I do not think anything bad of people who do things for money but then money should be their main reward if not the only one. I do not propose we give them medals for their work unless of course they do something extraordinary.

I know of some average non-masters who are able to maintain a large number of chess pupils, mostly young ones, and make a good living from it. Some masters do the same, others don’t seem to be able to attract enough clientele. Some excellent players seem unable to find chess students for a variety of reasons. Artiom Samsonkin a baby-faced Toronto IM had so many students a couple of years ago he was forced to cease accepting new ones. I am not sure what he charges for a lesson but I guess it may be 50 dollars an hour.

There is another style of teaching, usually based in schools, where lessons are given to a bunch of kids. In my view this is okay but unlikely to produce really good or long lasting chess players who would keep interest for years to come.

One of  the chess teachers par excellence is Toronto FM Roman Pelts. He is and was able to attract not just kids who usually have anxious parents behind them but also adults. The latter are a mixed bag of former chess players, active chess players and total tyros. He has such great (chess) business acumen that some of his lectures, years ago, were attended by 2 or 3 hundred people ready to shell out 50 bucks for his lecture. The interesting thing was he hardly knew any English at the time.

This was before computers invaded chess in a big way. He told me once that he had a lot of business types who received regular individual instruction from him and reached a decent level of play. He urged them to join a chess club and/or enter an open tournament but they regularly refused. When asked why they said they were afraid of losing. I imagine that playing incognito on-line has solved this problem.

The other big chess teaching operation, actually the biggest and Canada-wide, is “Chess’n Math Association : Canada’s National Scholastic Chess Organization”. Among other things they organize chess teaching in schools, supply and pay their own teachers a wage, but I imagine collect a fee from the schools.

I spoke with the man in charge of the entire organization Mr. Larry Bevand of Montreal about what qualities his chess teachers are supposed to have. He said that number one was being able to keep the discipline in the class, number two to deal with kids parents successfully and only number three would be their chess knowledge and ability to transfer that to the kids. I also found out that a lot of kids would take up chess for a year or even just a six month term and then quit. When Larry enquired about that he found the parents wanted kids to experience chess and then the next school year they would move on to something else like music or what have you.

I was surprised to find some of the chess teachers knew next to nothing about chess and never played it themselves. Some did but were rather weak like 1500 rating or so but in class spoke to the beginners with great enthusiasm and as if they knew everything there is to know about chess leaving a lasting impression on those poor little devils.

Over the years I came across many interesting things about chess teaching in Canada and elsewhere. However, it is not the intention of this brief article to go into any depth on this complex matter. I will finish with a little tragi-comical event experienced by a friend of mine while he was trying to teach a large class of 12 year olds in Toronto.

A few minutes into the class the kids went wild. They stopped paying any attention to him or the lecture. They climbed on top of the benches, ran around, shouted at the top of their lungs etc. He did not know what to do. A teacher who was teaching a regular class next door came over to see what was going on. My friend was desperately hoping the man would somehow help him bring this pandemonium to an end. But the other guy just watched and listened for a while and then went back to his class. I do not know what happened after that but I suspect it may have been the end of chess class teaching for my friend.

Vojin Vujosevic.