My Answer To Vojin

In his column last Friday Vojin said he wasn’t sure why people teach chess, and I’m sure this thought is shared by many people. I can give my take on it which admittedly is going to be a somewhat personal answer. But elements of this will be true for other chess teachers too.

First of all we should probably be clear that teaching individuals on a one to one basis is very different to teaching groups, and especially groups of school children. There’s also a big difference between teaching adult learners who see chess as a means of personal development and young players with ‘ambitions’. These days I myself only work with individuals and those who are interested in the personal development aspect. As people study chess they grow within the game, and for them finding a good teacher can help avoid many of the time wasting pitfalls that studying on one’s own can lead to.

From a brain development point of view studies have shown that there are benefits for both development in children and staving off Alzheimer’s in older people. Besides these there are character benefits that can be derived from immersion in chess, especially when you go to deeper levels.

On a level that will be clear even to non players it’s clear that there’s a lot of mental discipline involved which can then be carried over to other fields. There’s also an underlying principle of justice in chess in that the player who plays better on the day is likely to be successful. Chess also clearly demonstrates the relationship between learning and success.

On a deeper level, which requires many years of appropriate study and practice to appreciate, there are valuable concepts of cooperation between the pieces and carefully growing the potential in your forces. These are absent from other popular games and pastimes, especially those superficial shoot ‘em up games played on computer consoles. I might add at this point that many chess teachers may derive great satisfaction from getting kids to play some chess rather than violent computer games.

There are aspects of chess study which do not particularly promote personal growth, for example learning a lot of variations in the hope of catching an opponent out with them. But developing core strategic and tactical skills in chess can, I believe, be of profound benefit. Actually I’m so convinced that after teaching other people I’ll then spend quality time with my son teaching him chess. And I even have to pay for the privilege by offering him treat incentives to do the necessary work!

This has worked out very well for us as my son loves to go to his tournaments with me and his confidence, concentration levels and academic performance have all shown a marked improvement. Of course I don’t know for sure that it’s the chess and may not be completely objective in assessing its benefits.

As far as financial questions are concerned they are fairly simple, at least if you are a private chess teacher who is paid directly by students. If people feel you are providing good value then they continue lessons, if not they will stop. So this type of chess teaching is essentially market driven and those who are good at it will do better than those who are not.

The situation is more complicated for teachers who are paid by some large organization such as a school, a chess federation or the state. They are not directly answerable to their students who are also not paying for the lessons, so the teacher will get paid as long as the organization has money and is not particularly unhappy. I’m sure that in this case there are poor teachers who teach chess for longer than they should as well as some very good ones who are never fully appreciated. But this is true of everybody who works within large organizations, and the larger the organization the less their excellence (or otherwise) will matter.

There are some particular areas of confusion, for example in situations in which large numbers of kids are taught via particular establishments and then, by the law of averages, some of them turn out to be good. This can can create a false impression of excellence, whether or not they are being properly taught, and this impression can then lead to parental confusion and ever larger numbers. It’s very difficult for parents to properly assess the quality of teaching unless they are quite expert themselves, but reading Richard James’s articles will help their understanding.

Apart from the satisfaction gained from introducing and nurturing chess art can bring I’m sure that many teachers are also attracted by the lifestyle. Some chess teachers probably love working with kids and helping young minds, others work from home for just a few hours per day which must surely be the envy of full time commuters. There’s no boss or office politics to worry about (unless of course you work for a chess federation) and working with students who aspire to self improvement and/or mastery in a field can be very uplifting.

Of course chess teachers, like people in most professions, don’t get rich, but that’s clearly not their motivation. Someone with the mental discipline developed via chess can go for playing poker if their primary goal is to make money. And many chess players have followed exactly this path.

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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 works as a chess teacher, his students including his 11 year old son Sam.