Chess Lessons, Part 1: Should I Hire a Teacher?

Chess lessons. I offer them, as do many others.

So let’s discuss some issues, shall we? Starting with: should you hire a teacher in the first place?

The comments below apply to anyone, but I’m focusing on scholastic players because they most commonly take chess lessons.

Expectations for chess lessons

Why are you thinking of hiring a coach in the first place?

“I want my child to improve in chess” is an obvious but incomplete answer. Identify what you really want; it will influence who you hire and the work ahead.

If your child wants to aim for a National Championship, let potential coaches know this. You can then have an honest conversation about what is required of coach and student. Conservative estimate: 3-4 hours of chess study every day, three tournaments a month, and at least 2 hours of private lessons per week. To even have a chance.

Staircase of chess improvement
What do you REALLY want out of chess lessons?

Some coaches might be reluctant to take on such an ambitious student, because it would be very time- and energy-consuming. You want to know this before hiring them!

On the other end of the spectrum, your child might simply enjoy chess and not even want to play tournaments regularly, or at all. Again, let the coach know this; some don’t like working with students they don’t consider “serious.” Miscommunication can lead to a miserable experience for everyone.

Personally, I enjoy working with “less serious” students — we can bond over chess without obsessing over tournament results or ratings. They improve while enjoying a well-rounded life! And, chess lessons are more interesting and fun when we don’t need to “optimize” for results.

Chess lessons outside the box

There’s no rule that says lessons are “one hour a week, every week.” Coaching doesn’t even have to be a long-term arrangement.

I’ve worked with students who brought me in to spar with them for a few weeks before big tournaments, playing blitz and/or longer games. We can also agree on the openings we’ll play so that the student can sharpen their repertoire. I loved it!

Short “modules” are a good option, too. If a student is struggling in endgames, for example, I can turn this common weakness into a big strength over the course of a few months. This approach is also great when changing openings.

Of course, individual lessons can also be dedicated to special topics — just ask!

The right FIT is the most important factor in chess coaching

Ask for what you need. It’s your child, and your money.

A coach has the right to decline a particular student or the conditions you want, for whatever reasons. If this happens, don’t be upset; it wouldn’t have worked out anyway. Hire someone else. Some parents are determined to hire or keep a particular coach, and it ends up being a train wreck.

I know examples where the student doesn’t really like their coach, or the coach doesn’t like the student, or the coach and the parents can’t get along! I mean…what’s the point?

When I start with a new student, I have a conversation with the parent(s) and the child, to make sure we’re on the same page. A coaching arrangement could be a bad fit even if neither coach nor family have done anything “wrong.” Mismatched expectations are the usual cuprit.

To be continued…

Author: Andre Harding

Since 2003 I've taught chess to thousands of students in public, private, and charter schools in the New York City area, and have given countless private lessons. I also direct USCF- and FIDE-rated chess tournaments.

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