Tag Archives: Aron Nimzowitsch

Chess Teacher vs. Chess Coach

Teaching Comes First

Teaching imparts knowledge and skills to the student that they are lacking.

Coaching helps the student use his/her knowledge and skills more effectively.

Over many years working with students in New York City, I primarily referred to myself as a chess teacher.

I have always believed that knowledge is power in chess … and most of my students needed to increase their knowledge in order to improve their results. It wasn’t only a matter of doing things better.

Knowledge must be shared in a way that is both memorable and useful. Don’t assume your student knows more than they actually do!

 

You Must Be a Teacher

classroom teacher

A good teacher must be well-prepared and engage their students.

Nowadays most players, no matter their age, don’t read chess books. They especially don’t study middlegame and endgame textbooks like I and generations of players before me did. The names Euwe, Fine, Nimzowitsch, Pachman, Romanovsky, Shereshevsky, etc. mean little, if anything, to them.

Solving tactics (recommended) and trying to learn openings through YouTube (not recommended) has somehow become a substitute for taking out a board and pieces, or at least using ChessBase.

Of the thousands of students I taught over the years, only a handful were interested in reading books, watching DVDs, or using ChessBase. If they won’t do this, we have to fill in the gaps during classes or lessons. Otherwise, the student will have gaps in their chess understanding everywhere.

This is where chess teachers earn their money! I have never *expected* my students to do intensive work between lessons unless they expressed an interest in reaching a certain rating level or aimed to win a particular tournament.

If you want your students to improve, quickly … find their weaknesses and eliminate them through thoughtful lesson planning. This is where being well-versed in classic games really comes in handy. I can turn any student weakness into a strength in 3-8 lessons.

 

A Shortcut to Coaching Success

World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik believed the surest path towards improvement is in learning from your own games and opening analyses. I can’t disagree with him.

I offered the next best thing: to analyze my students’ games for them (with extensive text comments — not computer analysis!) and send them PDFs of my work for them to study between lessons … at no extra cost.

Few of my NYC students ever took me up on this … but the ones who did so consistently saw massive improvement, and fast. This was the biggest secret to my coaching success! Well, that and diligent lesson preparation in general.

It took me hours to analyze and comment on my students’ games … but I didn’t mind. I was immersed in chess and derived great satisfaction from their quick progress.

 

Conclusion

If most players are spending the lion’s share of their time on tactics, how do you separate yourself? Sure, you can do the same things your peers do, a little better … but ultimately, you need to create a competitive advantage — to borrow a term from economics.

Coaching, at least good coaching, will help you become more efficient and beat yourself less often. Not having critical knowledge will leave you trying to reinvent the wheel every game … that’s where good teaching comes to the rescue.

Chess Strategy Lessons

Strategy and Tactics: Yin and Yang?

Chess strategy and tactics are intertwined … but ask yourself this: which side of the equation receives most of the focus in lessons and classes?

Definitely tactics. And for a lot of coaches, it’s not even close. However …

What does it take for a student to gain proficiency in tactics? I only know one method: solving thousands of puzzles, and getting regular practice applying tactical ideas in games.

This experience cannot be gained solely through lessons. I assign tactics puzzles for homework (usually Chess School 1a) and rarely work on them during a private lesson. The exception is calculation practice, but that is different from developing tactical sight.

It’s perfectly fine to spend 10-15 minutes on tactics by checking tactics homework, and maybe doing a few warm-up puzzles — but that’s as far as it should go.

Puzzle solving alone is a terrible use of time for a 1-2 hour once-per-week lesson.

I also think it’s lazy! Beware, parents.

 

The Real Purpose of Chess Lessons

Chess strategy lessons

Chess lessons should mostly focus on strategy.

You can go to Amazon, buy a chess tactics book, and work independently. Diligent study will bring results, no question about it, and you won’t need a coach for improvement in this area.

But what if you want to improve your understanding of chess strategy?

If you go to Amazon and purchase a strategy book — even an excellent one authored by Euwe, Nimzowitsch, Dvoretsky or Marin, for example — there is a lot that you won’t “get” right away. Or at all.

Chess lessons or classes can really shorten the learning curve. That is what a teacher is paid for!

 

Example of a Chess Strategy Lesson

I recently taught an online class and showed the following position, which comes from the famous game Capablanca vs. Tartakower from the celebrated New York 1924 tournament, before White’s 23rd move:

I asked the students (roughly 800 to 1400 in strength) to give me ideas for the first player, and got what I expected: suggestions to attack or win tactically. Chiefly 23.d5 to open the center “for an attack,” and 23.c5, trying to skewer the Black queen and rook with a further 24.Bb5.

First, the d4-d5 advance will only lead to mass exchanges and the Black knight will be able to use the newly opened c5-square (probably with the maneuver …Na5-b3-c5).

Second, c4-c5 does not set up a skewer, as after 24.Bb5 Black can reply with 24…c6.

They were surprised to learn the World Champion played 23.h4!

The idea is to follow up with 24.h5, giving Black a very difficult choice: either allow 25.hxg6 which creates a permanent weakness on g6, or even worse to play 24…gxh5 when after 25.Rh1! White wins back the h5-pawn, is closer to getting a passed pawn on the kingside, and maybe wins the h7-pawn as well:

I could see the mental light bulbs going on through their Zoom cameras! Tactics and attacking play are not always the right tools for the job.

How well would most books explain these ideas, while anticipating your questions and being able to demonstrate exactly the variations you need to see in order to understand the position?

This is what lesson or class time is really for.

Chess Tactics: Von Scheve — Teichmann, 1907

Richard Teichmann. Photo: Deutscher Schachbund.

Richard Teichmann lost sight in his right eye in the 1890s. Photo: Deutscher Schachbund.

Richard Teichmann (1868-1925) was one of the best players of the early 20th century.

The German master was nicknamed “Richard V,” as that was often his tournament placing.

Karlsbad 1911 proved to be a different story: he rose to the occasion and achieved the greatest result of his chess career.

Teichmann won the 26-player round-robin by a full point over a string of current and future top players — Akiba Rubinstein, Carl Schlechter, Frank Marshall, Aron Nimzowitsch, Savielly Tartakower, Alexander Alekhine, and Rudolf Spielmann among them.

 

 

Here is a brevity against Theodor von Scheve, played at the Berlin Jubilee Tournament of 1907.

Black to play. How did Teichmann conclude the game in short order?

12…?

Don’t abandon your castled king

Fred Reinfeld: Great Chess Authors, Part 5

Not everyone will agree with this selection, but generations of American chess players grew up on the works of my next great chess author. I have read several of his books myself and always enjoyed them.

Fred Reinfeld (1910-1964)

Fred Reinfeld

Fred Reinfeld. Photo: World Chess Hall of Fame

Fred Reinfeld was born in 1910. The lifelong New Yorker was one of the USA’s best in the 1930s, playing in two U.S. Championships.

Retiring from active play in 1942, he never competed internationally. As a result, FIDE did not award him the International Master title when it was created in 1950. He likely had the requisite chess strength for this rank by today’s standards.

Reinfeld had the two ingredients every great chess author needs: playing strength, and an ability to reach improving players. His clever anecdotes and memorable rules are forever part of America’s chess heritage.

 

More Than 100 Books

Reinfeld was a prolific author, and I can’t name all of his works. Still, some of his titles stand out:

1001 Winning Chess Sacrifices and Combinations (1955)

1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate (1955)

These are still among the best puzzle books available. They’re cheap, filled with good material, and you can stuff them in your pocket and work through them on-the-go.

There are typos and the diagrams are not the most pleasing (at least in the old editions, new “21st century” editions of these books have been published in the last several years). But in a time before chess tactics software, web-based tactics training, and an overload of chess study material, I have no doubt these books helped create an untold number of master-level players.

I’m a big believer in Chess School 1a and Chess School 1b for players up to about 1600. At the same time, I would not second-guess anyone who put their trust in the Reinfeld duo.

The Complete Chess Course (1959)

The first Reinfeld book I read; and I still feel nostalgia when I see it in Barnes & Noble. Yes, it’s written in Descriptive Notation, as all of his books originally were.

This book, in eight parts, won’t do any harm, something I can’t say for every highly-acclaimed chess book. I borrowed the 700-page tome from the library circa 1995 and somehow finished it. I don’t remember much because my eyes began to glaze over at some point. There are many books I would recommend ahead of The Complete Chess Course, but I guess it was an amazing resource for its time.

Hypermodern Chess: As Developed in the Games of Its Greatest Exponent, Aron Nimzovich (1958)

Great Brilliancy Prize Games of the Chess Masters (1961)

Great Short Games of the Chess Masters (1961)

All of these game collections contain dozens of instructive games, each preceded by a catchy headline and introduction setting a frame for the battle. The Nimzowitsch book places more emphasis on the man’s theories as they come about in his games.

Reinfeld doesn’t go crazy with the analysis, and does a good job of choosing instructive lines to illustrate the play without getting bogged down in endless variations. Take out a chess set on a nice afternoon and play through a selection of these games!

Others

Reinfeld wrote many other books, some co-authored. One of the most enjoyable chess books I have ever read is Chess Traps, Pitfalls, and Swindles (1954) by Reinfeld and I.A. Horowitz. I still remember some of the stories I read in that one almost 25 years later, and the book helped me look for unlikely resources in bad situations — something that happens to me a lot…

He also wrote books on checkers, coin collecting, literature, and other things.

Which Reinfeld books are your favorites?

Final Thoughts

I’m not sure if Fred Reinfeld’s books will endure in the 21st century the way those of Euwe and Nimzowitsch surely will, but I hope they do! His books are instructive and engaging, and I heartily recommend you give them a try.

Aron Nimzowitsch: Great Chess Authors, Part 4

I continue my survey of chess authors by examining perhaps the most influential of them all.

Aron Nimzowitsch (1886-1935)

Aron Nimzowitsch. Photo: World Chess Hall of Fame

Aron Nimzowitsch. Photo: World Chess Hall of Fame

Half a century before Mikhail Tal and Edmar Mednis, Aron Nimzowitsch was born in Riga (now the capital of Latvia).

He gradually improved his level, competing in lower divisions of Coburg 1904, Barmen 1905, and Ostend 1907 — the latter event a 30-player round-robin lasting six weeks!

Nimzowitsch hit the big time in Karlsbad 1907, tying for fourth place behind Akiba Rubinstein. He continued to prove he was a top player and received an invite to St. Petersburg 1914, but did not reach the finals (won by World Champion Emanuel Lasker).

Nimzowitsch fled Latvia during the Russian Revolution in 1917, eventually settling in Denmark. In the 1920s he won several elite events, reaching his peak by winning Karlsbad 1929.

One of the five-best players in the world in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Nimzowitsch could not secure financial backing for a World Championship Match. It was instead Efim Bogoljubov who got two chances at the throne in 1929 and 1934 against Alexander Alekhine, before Max Euwe finally wrested away the title in 1935 — the same year Nimzowitsch breathed his last.

Leader of the Hypermoderns

The hack-and-slash Romantic Era (think Adolf Anderssen and Paul Morphy) was emblematic of 19th century chess. The reaction was the positional logic of the Classical Era led by Wilhelm Steinitz, Lasker, and Siegbert Tarrasch beginning in the last quarter of the 1800s.

By the 1920s, it was time for another sea-change. Nimzowitsch, Richard Réti (1889-1929), and Gyula Breyer (1893-1921) led the Hypermodern Era of the 1920s and 30s. Influence the center from afar with pieces, using plenty of fianchettos! Entirely new opening branches were explored, including Alekhine’s Defense (1.e4 Nf6), Nimzo-Indian Defense (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4), and Grünfeld Defense (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5).

It’s notable that the top players of the era including Alekhine, Rubinstein, and Jose Capablanca embraced Hypermodern concepts and incorporated them into their own play.

Literary Legacy of Aron Nimzowitsch

Nimzowitsch may be the only top player more remembered in chess history for his books than his games! I wonder how he would feel about that?

Before moving to NImzowitsch’s most famous works, I’ll mention Как Я Стал Гросмейстером (How I Became a Grandmaster) which contains some of his early games and suggestions for improvement, but has not been translated into English (as far as I know). I’m very interested in reading this book one day, though my Russian is poor.

Ok, here we go:

The Blockade (1925)

This small (<50 pages) exploration of Nimzowitsch’s ideas on blockade is a great introduction to his theories and also contains some of his early articles. He is over-the-top as usual and, never one to shy away from a pissing contest, leaves ample room to attack Tarrasch and others.

My System (1925)

The most influential chess book of the 20th century, and there isn’t a close second.

Nimzowitsch begins with what he calls The Elements. My System is considered a middlegame textbook, but in addition to strategic ideas like open files, passed pawns, and pawn chains, he includes tactical ideas like pins and discovered checks!

I’ll note that his remarks on endgame technique are very helpful as well, especially on “welding” your forces together and “general advance!” Keeping this in mind has helped me overcome my opposition more easily when I have a clear endgame edge.

The second part of the book is all about positional play, and here Nimzowitsch delves into the concepts that define him including prophylaxis, overprotection, and the isolani.

It’s time for me to pick up My System again! After I cure my laziness, of course…

Chess Praxis (1929)

NImzowitsch annotates over 100 of his own games. This was the first work I read by the great author, when I was rated roughly 1000. My advice…don’t read Nimzowitsch until you are at least 1600, and maybe higher! Start with Blockade because it is short and easy to get your teeth into, then My System. If you want even more, there is Chess Praxis as well. And finally…

Carlsbad International Chess Tournament 1929 (1930)

This tournament book is disappointing! Nimzowitsch doesn’t cover all (or most) of the games, and the annotations are sparse. It seems the entire exercise was an effort to make a few bucks while attempting to secure a title match with Alekhine. Buy it if you love collecting chess books or are a Nimzowitsch diehard, but don’t expect great instructional value here.

Final Thoughts

Aron Nimzowitsch died in Copenhagen in 1935 at 48 years old.

His contributions to middlegame theory are second to none. Nimzowitsch also had a profound influence on openings, especially the Nimzo-Indian and Queen’s Indian Defenses, but also the French, Sicilian, and others.

This man left his fingerprints all over the chess world, and his influence is felt to this day.

What do you think of Nimzowitsch? Is he regarded appropriately, underrated or overrated?

French Defense, Part 3: Exchange Variation

In this final part, we move on to the French Defense Exchange Variation.

We wrap up our coverage of the French Defense with the Advance Variation

A view of the Musée d’Orsay across the Seine in Paris. Photo: Andre Harding

We looked at structures with an early e4-e5 by white in parts 2a2b, and 2c. In those cases, white’s central pawn chain restricts black’s light-squared bishop and prevents black’s king knight from going to f6, its best square.

With 3.exd5, white releases the pressure on the position and makes the game much simpler and almost equal. Still, both sides can play for a win! In my French days, I was never disappointed to see the Exchange Variation and scored well against it.

French Defense Exchange Variation: 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 exd5

Both sides have chances here, and there is more than one way for each side to play. Don’t let anyone tell you the Exchange is the prelude to an early draw. Not always!

White cannot fall asleep and hope for a draw

Even 90 years later, many consider this a model of how to play against the Exchange Variation.

Don’t underestimate symmetry either

Most players are taught to emulate Nimzowitsch’s play above. I preferred to model my play after Akiba Rubinstein’s in the game below:

White’s positionally-aggressive potential

Black isn’t the only one who can have fun in the Exchange Variation!

Simple, direct play can also work in the French Exchange

Richard Rapport goes straight for the throat from the beginning, and hits his target:

This concludes my overview of the French Defense! It has provided you with food for thought and the seeds of further discovery.

French Defense, Part 2c: Advance Variation

In this part, we move on to the French Defense Advance Variation.

Pyramid entrance to the Musée du Louvre in Paris. Photo: Andre Harding

Unlike in Parts 2a and 2b, White immediately plays e4-e5 before developing his knight from b1. Play is very straightforward.

Once again, black’s main source of counterplay is an attack on white’s d4-square. The second player starts with the pawn advance …c7-c5 and then involves both knights, and the queen — at least. White has to be careful to keep his center intact, but if he does there are good attacking chances to be had.

Advance Variation: 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5

Will white’s extended pawns become a strength or a weakness? Overall the chances are balanced, but of course anything can happen in an individual game.

White’s bind in the Advance proves too strong

This classic game is too striking to not show for those who haven’t seen it, even if Nimzo’s concept is not completely sound:

Black’s counterplay in the Advance is a force to be reckoned with

Ehlvest was ranked World #5 back in January 1991 but gets shredded here.

That concludes our coverage of the French Defense Advance Variation. Next time we continue with Part 3, the Exchange Variation. Stay tuned!