Are Chess Coaches Worth It? Here’s What You Must Know

If you want to take your chess playing to a completely different level, then you’ve probably been told to hire a chess coach. But when a coach can cost $25-$500 an hour, you probably want to make sure that you’re going to get value for your money because you can buy a lot of chess books for that kind of money, right? So, is using a chess coach value for money or not?

Are chess coaches worth it? Yes, chess coaches are worth it because they can quickly elevate your skill level. The right coach for the right student can make a huge difference to the quality of game they play.

If you are thinking of getting a coach, you do need to think about what you want from them and find one that suits you. Even Magnus Carlsen has fired a coach and his coach was the former World Champion Gary Kasparov!

Are chess coaches worth it? - ChessPulse.com
Are chess coaches worth it? – ChessPulse.com

What Are The Benefits Of Using A Chess Coach?

There are two main benefits from using a chess coach for your play:

  • They will help to broaden your overall range of knowledge on the game from openings to endgames and tactics, strategy, history, psychology, etc. too.
  • They will provide a structured framework for you to learn to become a better chess player and learn to think harder about your game as you play.

What Does A Chess Coach Do?

Chess coaches will help with a wide variety of chess related issues and they will expect you to do some work too. Depending on their analysis of your game and your own needs from a coach they can:

  • Analyze your past games. This can be a great way for a chess coach to get a better insight into your game without watching your play or playing you for long periods of time.
  • Put together a training plan. Coaching should be part of a bigger plan and your coach can help you develop that plan.
  • Develop and deliver lessons. Some coaches will do this in person, others may work online to get your game flowing. Either is fine.
  • Provide e-mail or telephone support. This doesn’t mean that you get to drive your coach crazy by constantly contacting them, but most will allow you to contact them to ask specific chess questions.
  • Review your work and provide feedback on it. This may be the most valuable skill that a coach brings to bear on your game. It helps you shape your future play.
  • Review your progress and amend their plans as necessary. You should be getting better as you work with your coach and that means there will come a time when the old plan needs changing for a new one to reflect the improvements in you as a player.
  • Help you decide on which competitions to participate in. Most people who work with a coach are looking to improve their game to play in tournaments. A coach can help you work out where you should play to benefit your ratings.
  • Provide a high-level overview of what’s happening in chess. Coaches should be up to date on all chess news, the major tournaments, any emerging trends, etc.

What Are The Qualities Of A Good Chess Coach?

Not all coaches are created equally. Magnus Carlsen fired Kasparov (and, in fact, several other grandmasters have fired the former world champion as a coach too) because he was too angry and temperamental to work with. Carlsen didn’t want to be bullied by his coach even if his coach was an exception player.

Good coaches should have the following attributes, we think:

  • A high-level of communication skills. We’ve all met great players with almost no social skills that can barely get a sentence out. Sadly, if these people turn to coaching you will never get to appreciate their brilliance because they can’t speak to you. If your coach doesn’t speak to you in a way that you find useful and clearly understand – they’re not going to be any help with your game.
  • A standard of professionalism. We expect coaches to turn up to meetings on time, to dress appropriately (they don’t need to wear a suit but we don’t expect them to turn up dressed like  a clown either), to give us their full attention when on our time, and so on. You pay a coach for their time and expertise and they should respect you for that. Watch out for the over-friendly coach where you get more chat and less help than you should.
  • A standard of chess strength. A coach needs to be a stronger player than you are. This isn’t life coaching, it’s skills coaching. Nobody with less skill than you can teach you to be a better player. In the same way you wouldn’t hire a learner drive to teach you to drive your car. If you want to learn from your peers – you can, but you don’t hire them as coaches, you get together over a coffee (or online) and chat about your successes, failures, etc. Your coach needs to be better than you.

If your coach doesn’t meet these basic standards – you should part ways with them and find a coach that you want to work with. If Carlsen could fire Kasparov, you can fire any chess coach that doesn’t deliver what you want them to.


How Do You Work With A Chess Coach?

If you want to get the most out of working with a chess coach – you also bear some responsibility for the relationship and your own success and that means you need to understand some things too.

  • You need to be clear about your goals and objectives. If you want to be a grandmaster one day, you need your coach to be aware of this and to push you hard. If, on the other hand, you just want to be able to hold your own down at the local park when you play chess on a weekend, you need to be clear about that too. Your coach should be tailoring their approach to deliver the results you want – not everyone wants to play chess at the highest global standard and that’s perfectly fine.
  • You need to actively participate in your coaching sessions. There seems to be a tendency among some students to try and treat a coach like a lecturer. The coach turns up, they start talking, the student listens and then the coach goes home. That’s not coaching. It’s lecturing. A coaching session should have you asking questions, asking to do practical work, etc. If you have concerns about the direction your overall coaching relationship is going, you should also be raising those and looking for a response.
  • You need to do the work. Yeah, it sucks, we know but your coach can’t transform you magically into a better chess player. That’s on you. You have to do the homework they set you. You have to work through problems with them. You have to study from books and online. You have to play more chess and put the learning into practice. You have to attend tournaments and play the games there. Hopefully, this is clear but the only way to improve is for you to improve through hard work.

Conclusion

Are chess coaches worth it? If you are serious about your chess game and you want to develop your skills, then a chess coach is worth it. No matter how naturally gifted you are, you will find that someone, who understands how to focus your learning and who can better assess your weaknesses than you can, will be able to make a dramatic difference to your game in a much shorter period of time than you could on your own.

However, in order to get the most from a coach, you need to think carefully about the kind of coach you want to work with and if you find that a particular coaching relationship is not helping – you should consider terminating that relationship and finding a different coach. There is nothing wrong with doing this, not every player is suited to every coach and vice-versa. The relationship between a coach and student is important.

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