Chess Lessons, Part 2: What to Look for in a Chess Teacher

After considering the issues raised in Part 1, you’ve decided to take chess lessons. In Chess Lessons, Part 2 let’s discuss what to look for in a chess teacher.

Classroom ready for a chess lesson.
Classroom ready for a chess lesson.

Finding the right chess teacher is more art than science

There are no magic credentials to look for in the selection process.

A coach’s rating, title, experience, fees … even successes with other students … don’t guarantee a perfect fit for your situation.

Where do I start?

First, get a feel for who the chess teacher is as a person. Do you like this person? Do you think your child would like this person? Would you feel comfortable having them over for dinner? If the answer to any of these questions is no, look elsewhere!

Also: do you think the coach would enjoy working with your family? Not just the student, the family. Be honest! Sure, some coaches will take your money anyway, but do you want to hire someone who doesn’t really want to be there? They won’t give 100% and will rush out the door when the hour is up.

I love visiting my students and their families. I’m interested in their lives outside of the game, which makes me a better teacher. There’s more to life than just chess.

If you’re not sure what to make of a coaching candidate, try a lesson or two and see how it goes. Let the coach and your child know that it’s just a trial. If the coach is too insecure to agree to a trial without you committing long-term, cross them off your list.

Ratings and Titles

Coaches shouldn’t lie about their rating or titles. Not only is it unethical, it’s easy to look them up online. You can search US Chess Federation players here, and FIDE (International Chess Federation) players here.

I would advise against making a spreadsheet of coaches’ ratings and titles, and simply choosing the highest one. Most children can’t tell the difference between a club player and a master, nor do they care. Find a coach who has a good relationship with your child and is steadily helping them to improve.

If you want to hire a master or even a grandmaster, go for it. No matter who you choose, make sure you’re happy with the coaching you’re getting, and don’t be afraid to make a change if you’re not satisfied. It’s your child, and your money.

How important is a chess teacher’s track record?

In my opinion, not very. Why? Because every situation is different.

If you’re thinking of hiring a coach whose students made amazing rating gains or won important tournaments, be careful. Is your child and your family willing to make the same efforts as these “success stories?”

What if this coach requires students to do two hours of chess work every day? Play in a tournament every weekend? Have 2-3 hours of chess lessons per week? To make chess a focal point in your family’s life? Are you willing to do that?

Talk to the coach about their results with families who gave a similar commitment to chess as you plan to give. Otherwise, it’s an apples to oranges comparison. Even better, talk to other families directly if you can.

Pricing of chess lessons

What you pay for lessons has no bearing on their quality. “You get what you pay for” doesn’t necessarily apply; there are too many variables as discussed above and in Part 1.

If money is no object, hire who you and your child like best. Stick with them as long as you’re happy with the results.

If money is an object, eliminate coaches out of your price range and then, as above, hire who you and your child like best. And if you really like a coach out of your price range, meet less often rather than settling for another coach you’re not in love with.

Conclusion

Take your time finding a good teacher. Listen to input from others, but don’t let them make a decision for you. Hire the teacher you’re most comfortable with … you can always make a coaching change in the future. Don’t forget: it’s your child, and your money.

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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