Taking The Best

My post today is inspired by a quote from Steal My Art; The Life and Times of Tai Chi Master T. T. Liang:

Every teacher has something to offer. Take what is good and discard what is bad. Then you can learn something.

It’s not everyone who has such a sensible approach, many people slavishly copy to all their teachers ideas whilst never thinking about things enough to use discretion. For the teacher this may be very flattering but it is also counterproductive from a teaching perspective. Their students will not be able to find their own way but they need to do that to really develop in something. You need to test, probe and experiment to learn, developing your own ideas.

My own learning experience was guided mainly by books, with the most productive of these being those by or about great players. What were there good and bad sides? Here’s a breakdown, though this is something I didn’t consider deeply enough at the time:

Emanuel Lasker

Without a doubt Lasker was my main influence early on as I read his book, Lasker’s Manual of Chess, several times. Unfortunately I went a bit too far with my admiration for Lasker, to the extent of playing some of his opening systems. Unfortunately this was never his strength and I would have been better off looking for advice about the openings elsewhere. On the other hand I did not fully appreciate Lasker’s mastery of the endgame and rather neglected this area.

Paul Keres

After Lasker I’d have to say that Keres was my main influence. I liked his books very much and once again found myself copying some of his openings. This was certainly a better idea than trying to play like Lasker in the opening, but he was still somewhat dated in this regard. There were also other things I could have learned from Keres, not least of which was his early love of correspondence chess. Being from part of the UK in which there wasn’t that much chess, correspondence play could have helped me develop rather faster.

Mikhail Botvinnkik

Botvinnik was a distinctly positive role model, certainly with his chess. But once again I missed the point and as a teenager found myself copying some of his perceived political leanings instead! As a result I had my parents somewhat worried when I requested a subscription the the now defunct Soviet Weekly. I didn’t help that the old guy at Southport’s table tennis club was a committed communist…

These are good examples of how one can simply miss the point, and I guess I was fortunate that I was never a particular fan of Bobby Fischer! Though in my defense I have to say that I was very young at the time I idolized my ‘teachers’. And more recently I believe I’ve become a much more discerning student, though this has happened more in fields outside of chess.

Nigel Davies

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About NigelD

Nigel Davies is an International Chess Grandmaster living in Southport in the UK. The winner of 15 international tournaments he is also a former British U21 and British Open Quickplay Champion and has represented both England and Wales on several occasions. These days he teaches chess through his chess training web site, Tiger Chess, which has articles, recommendations, a monthly clinic, videos and courses. His students include his 14 year old son Sam who is making rapid progress with his game.