GM Joel on Online Lessons Print E-mail
By GM Joel Benjamin   
April 28, 2008
GM Joel:

My son is an 8-year-old scholastic player who has been playing  competitively for about six months, reaching a peak rating of 627.  He is enthusiastic for the game, and we often do checkmate puzzles and go through the Chessmaster 10 lessons as well as playing and

"talking through games" a lot.  He has reached a plateau, not only in his rating, but also in his ability to win tournament games, and I'm starting to feel like I've taken him as far as I can, not being a very strong player myself.  We don't live in a chess hotbed full of titled players; but I see that thanks to the Internet, we can now take lessons online from a wide variety of titled players as well as coaches of past champions.  My question to you then is two-fold:

1) When is an appropriate time in a player's development to seek lessons from a GM or a GM's coach?  In other words, are there prerequisites a player should meet before approaching a really high-level teacher?

2) In your opinion, is online (one-on-one) chess instruction developed to the point where it is worth pursuing, or would we be better off with a local, face-to-face teacher of lesser credentials?

Thank you!

Lance Lindley

I would be cautious about analyzing your son’s situation too deeply at his age and level of experience.  I’m not sure a player can really hit a plateau after just six months of playing chess.  But I believe that teaching your own child becomes awkward after a point anyway.

Your question about Internet versus face-to-face lessons is especially meaningful in today’s chess environment.  The Internet Chess Club (Editor's Note: The Internet Chess Club's sister service, World Chess Live (WCL) has recently partnered with the USCF, and now offers free six-month memberships to USCF members.)  has excellent tools for chessboard communication and Skype eliminates the expense of long-distance calls.  An abundance of teaching talent can be found on the ICC, reducing the disadvantages of living outside the chess hotbeds.  I can recommend lessons over the Internet for teens and adults.

But I think it’s the wrong move for your son.  An eight-year-old needs most of all to establish a good rapport with an instructor.  It is difficult to get to know someone without seeing them face-to-face.  Your son may be reluctant to express himself to a stranger on the phone.  Furthermore, you may end up with a high-rated teacher that isn’t a good match for your son.  And coaches rely on visual information to determine if a child is alert or responding well to criticism.

A web-cam can mitigate some of these problems, but the bottom line is your son is not strong enough to require grandmaster coaching.  Some GMs will only take on advanced students, others will take on all-comers—it never hurts to ask.  If you had a local grandmaster, he might be a good choice for your son, but it’s not really a problem.  Not all grandmasters are effective at working with young and inexperienced players anyway (though many of them are).  A much lower-rated player can easily do the job if he has good communication skills (especially with children) and is well organized.  I’m sure there are teachers in your area who would work well with your son.  I would try one of them.  A 2000+ teacher could be good through another 1000 points of rating gain (though it is not an exact science).  Internet lessons might become more appropriate for your son in three or four years.