This is part 2 of my interview with famous Coach, Grandmaster Ramesh RB.
If you haven’t read part1 yet, then make sure to check that one out first!
Also, go check out Ramesh’s Online Chess Training service, PROChessTraining. I’ve myself trained in the Elite Group. What you get for the little price you pay is truly astonishing!
Last, but not least, you can get Ramesh’s new book (out in May 2022) “Improve your Chess Calculation“.
“In Training, I Never Show Things”
Just before being interrupted by a Thunderstorm in India which cut the internet connection off, Ramesh talked about how proper training should be done.
That is where we pick up again:
Glad you’re back online. Just before the power cut, I asked you how you show a Beginner a mating pattern, for example.
And you finished by saying “In Training, I never show things”.
Can you please elaborate?
Let us say I want to teach opening principles to my students. I will tell them the things they need to do. For example:
- Develop your pieces quickly
- Castle your King into safety
- Fight for the central control
And then I also tell them the things they should NOT do:
- Bringing out the Queen too early
- Too many (Rook) pawn moves
- Pawn Hunting
Now when they have the theory, I want them to apply it immediately. I will not show a game and demonstrate what is good or bad.
Immediately, my students need to try to apply the theory in practice. When they come up with a wrong move, I will ask them: which principle are you breaking?
So they will have to find out: “Oh, I’m moving my same piece again”.
I just ask the questions. I don’t tell them “you are moving the same piece twice”. Then it is just information.
Teaching is NOT transferring information.
Most teachers get this wrong.
So from the beginning, your students have to learn actively.
Yes. Like this, it is their own personal experience. If they just hear “you didn’t develop quickly” it is just a piece of information. It doesn’t make an impression on them or change them.
Even if they come up with the right move, I ask them “which principle did you just follow?”. Again, this is different than just saying “great, you developed your pieces quickly”.
The Problem Of Many Chess Books
Is there a way of using this principle in self-study as well? For example, by reading good books?
Sadly, most books on Chess are just transferring information. They are written by (former) players, not Coaches.
To them, many things come easily. Nobody had to convince Anand to develop pieces quickly.
When people that are excelling in a field write a book, they write from their perspective: many things come very easily and are logical.
Most Authors will just write about different things you need to do. If you do these things, you will enjoy the benefits.
But it isn’t that easy. While implementing, students & readers will face many problems. Looking from above, the authors don’t see those challenges.
You can try to convince a child with a fear of dogs with loads of information and facts. But it won’t work.
Even if you tell this child that a dog doesn’t eat you, the child will still run away when seeing a dog.
The instincts of the child will kick in.
You need to ask what the fears of the child are, and then take small steps with the child.
This hand-holding process is what teaching is all about.
Yet, sadly many books are just written in an information transferring style.
Difference Between Coach & Active Players That Give Lessons
I like to say that the more talented a player is, the worse Coach he will be.
This seems to fit with what you say, as many things come (too) logically for a talented player. It is harder to go down to the level of the student.
Also, for them, it is not a priority. For Kasparov, helping an 1800 rated player understand the importance of developing pieces is not challenging nor interesting.
If he is paid money to teach opening principles, he will just show some of his games and tell at the end “it is easy, you understood, right?”.
For a Coach it is different. Making my student good at what he wants to learn is my priority.
Not just sharing what I know.
This is also mainly differentiating good Coaches from players that earn money by teaching or writing books (read more about that distinction in this in-depth article I wrote).
Absolutely. This reminds me of a recent training session my student Pragg (GM Praggnanandhaa) had with a very strong player.
This very strong player had a hard time understanding the struggle other people are going through. For him, everything was logical.
Pragg asked how he can identify a critical moment that has arisen in a game. The answer of the player simply was: “every move is critical”.
He couldn’t relate to the problem of spotting critical moments.
Probably, it just comes very naturally to him. But for Pragg, this wasn’t an answer that helped him in any way.
The practical problem is: we have limited time and we need to understand when to invest more time in a move. By just answering “every move is critical” this player didn’t help solve this problem at all.
You can’t simply spend 15 Minutes on every move as “every move is critical”.
I also heard some 2700+ GMs explaining opening theory or difficult moves by saying “this is just logical”. Maybe for them. But that doesn’t help me at all fix my problem.
We All Know What To Do, But Most Of Us Still Don’t Do It
Let’s get back to calculation to illustrate that point even better.
Everyone knows they should make a list of candidate moves when calculating. But 9/10 students will not do it.
So just telling them: “make a list of candidate moves” won’t help at all.
As a Coach, I need to go deeper.
What could be different reasons that prevent those students from doing a list (of candidate moves)?
- The student is not ambitious enough
- Not convinced by the importance of doing a list (results were reasonably good without doing it!)
- Getting into time trouble already without a list. Doing more things will lead to even worse time trouble
For example for number 3, I need to convince them that making a list will make them calculate FASTER, not slower.
Making a list will lead to fewer oversights, a more structured calculation & better confidence.
This all speeds up the calculation process.
So in order to help, I need to understand WHY this specific student is not making the list & then help them solve that problem.
Most students won’t tell you the reason, you need to dig deeper as a Coach and find it out.
Nearly everything we do becomes a habit with time. I’m sitting how I sit because I always sit that way. Either consciously or unconsciously it has become a habit.
So in chess training, I need to understand what habits a student has, how they can break them, and implement new, better, ones.
Learn How To Train, Then Put In The Work
Aha, understanding each individual’s need is key to helping them improve. Not just giving them general information. You brought up Calculation again. How do you train your students in calculation?
Over the years I have gathered a lot of material on calculation. First I started with IMs and helped them get to GM Level. Then I have constantly lowered the level of students I can start working with.
Now, I have 5 Levels to bring someone from roughly 1400 (FIDE) to a GM Level in Calculation in 2-3 years.
The main thing is that I try to understand the difficulties students face when going through that whole process.
Once I understand the process, I can help them effectively.
I let each student solve positions in front of me. Like this, I can understand what is going wrong in their thought process.
Again, I always ask them what they think they did right or wrong. I help them identify their own mistakes. Like this, it is them explaining their personal experience.
Once I’m convinced the student understood the process, it is just a matter of doing the work. By solving enough positions in Level 1, they will go to Level 2. And so on.
It is like you started a motorbike and now you should just accelerate, the speed will automatically improve.
But to start the bike and learn how to ride the bike is the key.
Learning how to ride the bike is where most people fail.
Yes. And the book is not going to tell you “you aren’t making a candidate list”. That is what you need a (good) Coach for.
When interacting with many other “Coaches”, I have the feeling that most of them are still looking at things from a player’s perspective. I’m just seeing players turned, I don’t want to use the term Coach, seconds, let’s say.
They feel like: “if you don’t understand what I’m saying, you don’t deserve me, you are the problem”.
That is a big problem in Chess. If you want to be a good Coach, you should really want to help your students.
Superfluous Suggestions As A Solution
I have a great example of how a Grandmaster was misguided by such a “Coach”.
This Grandmaster was very good at positional Chess and endgames from a young age. So he would change pieces, go to the endgame and try to outplay their opponent.
At some point, he got stuck at around 2450 rating. He didn’t become a GM for quite some time. So he tried to find help to improve.
This “Coach” said:
“Take these 100 games of Tal and analyze them in-depth. In 3 months we will compare our notes.”
Just after these 3 months, I saw this Grandmaster at a tournament (one of the last tournaments I played myself in 2008).
I walked past his board and saw he had an overwhelming attacking position. I thought that in a few moves this guy will win.
After the game, I was in the analyzing hall and saw that player. I asked him how the game ended and he told me he only drew. “You were crushing and had many wins, what happened? Did you blunder?” I told him.
Then he said something very surprising:
“No, I just did not find a win. Even in our analysis I failed to find a way”.
Obviously, he still had the same problem. It is not that he was stupid and can not learn. He was taught the wrong way.
Deep inside, he had a fear of sacrificing pieces and then ending up material down and losing. Just by analyzing these Tal games, his fear was not resolved.
You need to look deeper to find the solution.
Fear Of Making Mistakes/Losing
I actually had exactly that same fear for a long time as well. Fearing that after a sacrifice I won’t get the material back and simply lose the game.
In my case, this came from a deep fear of losing or making mistakes.
This is very common nowadays. But it wasn’t when I still was young. I told myself: if I lose today, I’ll win tomorrow, no problem.
I never felt bad or guilty about losing games. These are all recent phenomena. Society, the parents, and the Coaches all expect the kids to win!
As a child, you might get this feeling that if you lose you have done something wrong and you should be ashamed.
Once the child gets that information, the problems start.
They will start playing passively, lose confidence and maybe even offer a draw in a winning position against stronger opponents.
They will get rewarded for this draw offer: they win rating points & their Coaches/Parents are happy with a draw against a stronger opponent.
Apart from the rating that is growing, the fear also grows. What the child learns from that game is:
“I’m not capable of beating a higher-rated player from a winning position”.
Focus On Your Effort
I teach my students to focus on two things:
- Put good effort
- Learning needs to be the priority
Whenever a student of mine plays chess, I want them to only focus on these 2 things.
They should not focus on results & ratings, but just focus on the position and the next move.
I always had such a hard time doing this. Rationally I understood that it is the right thing to do. But I would still let results get to me.
For example, at a World Rapid & Blitz, I played horribly and was in a pretty bad mood after the closing ceremony.
I saw other (Indian) players that had a horrible even just smile and say “that was such a great learning experience for me”.
I definitely envied them, as I somehow knew that it was right, but getting to that point was still very hard for me.
I think a big key is to be able to discuss these things with someone that can relate to it. Usually, we just keep these things for ourselves and we can’t grow.
Also, starting early with the right mindset is key. We need to teach our children to not focus on results, but the effort they put into something.
Now, I need to go give a lesson for PRO Chess Training. They are waiting for me! 😊
Thank you so much for your time, Ramesh! It was a great pleasure learning from you.
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Obviously, I hope you enjoyed reading this interview as much as I enjoyed recording and transcribing it.
Keep in mind to first learn how to ride a bike before you try to accelerate!
Great interview. Many learning points.
Excellent interview with GM Ramesh RB, I learned a lot from the coaching point of view.