Introduction – Best Lessons of a Chess Coach
More books have been written about chess than any other board game. For aspiring chess players, it’s great to have such a selection of books to choose from. The challenge is choosing a book that suits your learning style. Every once in a while, a book gets published that fits the needs of a wide range of players. This review is about such a book.
I recently obtained a copy of the new edition of Best Lessons of a Chess Coach, written by Sunil Weeramantry and Edward Eusebi. The book was originally published in 1994 but this is an updated edition. Sunil Weeramantry is a strong FIDE master and long-time chess coach who I used to watch play at the Nassau Chess Club in Mineola, New York. In fact, there are a few games he references in which I was probably an onlooker!
I read Best Lessons of a Chess Coach from cover to cover. That included playing through the chapter problems and all the illustrative games. The authors write in a clear, expressive style that makes the reader feel like they are taking private lessons from a FIDE Master. Each lesson is packed with examples and inspiring phrases to keep the reader engaged. This is a superb book on many levels but there are a few areas it impacted me the most: general improvement, strategy and planning/execution.
The reason we purchase chess books is to improve our play. The problem is that most books are not prescriptive enough to make us stronger players. Books show selected game collections or chess problems with the expectation that the reader will understand the content and apply it in their games. Chapters are rarely structured in a way that is personally conducive to learning. The author says what is on his or her mind and it is up to the reader to absorb what is useful.
Best Lessons of a Chess Coach breaks down each chapter into reviewable lessons. Before you start reading, the authors explain the topic about to be taught. They provide numerous examples to support their case. If that sounds like a classroom experience, it should. Given Sunil’s coaching background, it is not surprising to see him use the same approach he would take with a range of chess students. He thoroughly explains key concepts to the reader making the lessons fun and inspiring. Sunil also shares several of his tournament playing experiences, too. This gives some context of the types of moves he played and why he made them.
One of my favorite lessons in Best Lessons of a Chess Coach is Chapter 2: Knight Music. The lesson begins with the author explaining the importance of knights and how they should be used to occupy outposts. Sunil provides one of his own games from 1992 and walks the reader through each move. Unlike other chess books that are riddled with deep variations, this one uses descriptive text to explain what is happening in a particular game. In many games, there is a deliberate pause after a move to explain the importance of a particular theme and why it was used.
There are many bolded sentences used throughout the book. The purpose is to convey important ideas designed to improve your chess. One of my favorites was: Do not trade active pieces for inactive pieces. A common mistake that we are all guilty of. All the lessons are filled with these reminders that keep the reader engaged throughout the chapter. More chess authors should take this approach. It would help their readers learn basic chess principles and maximize learning.
Understanding chess strategy
Studying tactics and endgames are important strategies for beginners to learn. Forks, skewers and pins are basic tactics that players need to recognize so they can use them in their games. The challenge for beginners is how to get positions that create these tactical opportunities. Best Lessons of a Chess Coach will help with this. There is a lesson entitled Weak Squares. This chapter is all about identifying and then occupying squares in the enemy camp. Occupying space is a strategic goal and as at least as important as mating the opponent’s king. Following strategic principles of square control lead to tactical opportunities.
In order to win games, players should avoid exchanging pieces too quickly. This can be a challenge for amateur players who love to capture material. They generally do this without thinking or because they can’t find anything else to play. “Simplification does not guarantee equality” say the authors — and they are right. Sometimes we just need to be patient and continue to build on our position. Bringing more of your pieces into enemy territory will allow you to execute tactical ideas that will help you to win more games.
Planning & Execution
Most people don’t like to plan. It’s a lot of work. They would rather dig into a project and find their own way rather than understand the tasks necessary to complete it. Lack of planning leads to inefficiency which leads to a loss of productivity. The same is true for chess.
Best Lessons of a Chess Coach emphasizes the coordination of pieces to achieve a unified goal. There is a section of the book called Coordination and Control. In my view it is the most instructive part of the book. The authors walk you through important concepts such as material imbalance, controlling lines of attack and the importance of pawn structures.
The illustrative games demonstrate the thought and care needed to play high quality chess. One game illustrates the importance of planning but also the need to change plans as the situation on the ground dictates. In the game Karpov-Unzicker (1975), the world champion carefully builds up his pieces to attack Black’s weaknesses on the queenside. His opponent tries to defend multiple threats until Karpov moves in for this kill. He switches his focus to the kingside and carefully places his pieces on good squares making the position cramped and unplayable for his opponent. The game is a wonderful example of the planning and execution phase in chess.
Best Lessons of a Chess Coach is a phenomenal book. I would recommend it to anyone between the playing strength of 1200-2200. Once you’ve learned how the pieces move and work your way through tactics training, it’s time to take your chess to the next level. This book will do just that.
Sunil and Edward do a great job making high-level chess accessible and understandable to the average player. I wish I had found this book years ago as it would have saved me a lot of study time!
Best Lessons of a Chess Coach is essential reading for players looking to understand the “why” and “how” of strong chess moves.