Online Learning

Learning online, be it earning a college degree or learning how to fix a leaky pipe in your bathroom, has become a mainstay in our lives. Prior to the introduction of the internet, those who wished to improve their personal knowledge base were forced to seek education via a traditional system, such as books or schools. Now, from the comfort of our homes, we can learn how to do anything easily because online learning works around our schedule. In the case of chess, you once had to acquire chess books to improve your game, many of which had text and diagrams that required a PhD in code breaking and linguistics to understand. Now, you can simply go to Youtube and get visual instruction that takes the mystery out of learning. However, the negative side to online learning via sites like Youtube is that anyone can fancy themselves a chess teacher. This means, you’re apt to get some very bad advice regarding chess improvement if you’re not careful.

When learning the game of chess and using the internet to do so, you need to weed out bad teaching from good teaching. In other words, you need to find qualified instructors! What qualifies a person as a great chess instructor? You might think that a great chess instructor has to be a highly rated, well known player. However, this isn’t always the case. There are plenty of brilliant chess players who are terrible teachers and plenty of great teachers who are mediocre chess players. Then there’s the dreadful though looming over online learners; anyone can call themselves an expert in a specific field and, because of the anonymity factor (you don’t really know who you’re dealing with online). How do we determine who really is good at helping beginning chess players improve?

We’ll start by looking at Youtube. If you enter “chess instruction” into the site’s search bar, you’ll be given roughly 68,100 results. These results will not give you a series of video titles such “How Beginners Can Improve at Chess.” You’re more likely to see titles such as “The Sicilian Defense” or “Intermediate School Chess Lessons The Three Golden Rules.” I entered the above search and these are two video lessons that came up. First of all, The Sicilian Defense is an extremely complicated opening for black, one that beginners shouldn’t be learning immediately. Yet a beginner might not know this and decide to watch the video only to feel as if chess is game far above their intellectual pay grade after viewing it. The second video, which I watched, was something I might teach to my intermediate students but not to beginners. This problem of ending up with videos that won’t help you can be avoided by narrowing down the search (I’m doing this as I write).

Try typing in “Chess Lessons for Beginners.” The results are now narrowed down to roughly 39,100 results, but “The Sicilian Defense” is now found as the first offered video. Are you starting to see that there’s a problem here? Further down the Youtube list is a series of videos entitled “ Lessons 1-10 Chess for Beginners. I started to click the link to the videos but suddenly noticed one of the videos titled “Blindfold Chess for Beginners.” Blindfold Chess requires a great deal of skill, since you’re playing chess without a physical board and pieces using your mind only, and beginners simply are not at this skill level. Next?

Then I saw Grandmaster Varuzhan Akobian’s video, “Beginner’s Openings and Tactics.” Upon clicking the video link, I pleasantly found that the video is part of a series produced by the St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center’s “Sunday Kids’ Class”. That’s right, a kids’ chess class. If you’re an adult thinking “I don’t need a video geared towards kids, you’re absolutely wrong. The most effective chess teaching I’ve done with adults uses chess lessons designed for kids. Why does this work (I really do know what I’m doing when it comes to this topic)? Because the lessons simplify complex ideas and concepts by using very easy to understand (so easy a child could fathom it) examples. Trust me, when learning the finer points of chess, you want things simplified.

As it turns out, The St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center has an excellent if not brilliant series of video chess lessons for children that I have all my adult students watch. If you want to improve, this is the way to go. Of course, there are plenty of other choices regarding videos to be found under this Youtube search but, as they say in Latin, caveat emptor, which roughly translates to “let the buyer beware!” I’ll spare you the horrors of watching an instructional video only to ponder whether or not the video poster/host is out of their mind or just doesn’t know how to play chess. As a coach and instructor, I can tell the difference between a good instructional video and a poor one very quickly. If you’re new to the game, you might not be able to tell the difference and worse yet, commit the video’s ideas to memory and find yourself losing games and having people around you wondering if you’ve lost your mind.

Watching videos geared towards children is a safe bet for the most part. However, remember, that anyone can claim to be a chess teaching guru. Therefore, try researching the presenter’s name before investing time in watching the video. Of course, it takes time to do the research but you’ll be better off in the end! If you want to save yourself grief, watch the plethora of beginner’s videos offered by The St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center. They use top notch players who are great at teaching children. If you want to venture into the unknown realm of Youtube, stick with names known for great teaching such as Andrew Martin and any of the ChessBase DVD authors. In fact, you can often find samples of their teaching on Youtube.

The point here is to shop carefully for online instruction. Here’s a link to one of the many Saint Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center’s Youtube channels. I think you’ll enjoy the great lessons from Grandmaster Yasser Seirawan. Again, they’re lessons geared towards children but you’ll get a lot of them as a beginner. You could spend a few years just going through the club’s amazing collection of videos.

There’s no game to enjoy until next week because I’d like you to watch the videos instead. I challenge any novice players reading this to watch each of the beginner’s videos over the next few months and let me know how they helped you. I have! You’ll improve your playing immensely and the only cost to you is a little time. Now that’s a bargain! See you next week!

Hugh patterson

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About Hugh Patterson

Prior to teaching chess, Hugh Patterson was a professional guitarist for nearly three decades, playing in a number of well known San Francisco bands including KGB, The Offs, No Alternative, The Swinging Possums and The Watchmen. After recording a number of albums and CDs he retired from music to teach chess. He currently teaches ten chess classes a week through Academic Chess. He also created and runs a chess program for at-risk teenagers incarcerated in juvenile correctional facilities. In addition to writing a weekly column for The Chess Improver, Hugh also writes a weekly blog for the United States Chess League team, The Seattle Sluggers. He teaches chess privately as well, giving instruction to many well known musicians who are only now discovering the joys of chess. Hugh is an Correspondence Chess player with the ICCF (International Correspondence Chess Federation). He studied chemistry in college but has worked in fields ranging from Investment Banking and commodities trading to Plastics design and fabrication. However, Hugh prefers chess to all else (except Mrs. Patterson and his beloved dog and cat).