Connecting the Dots

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  • GM Avetik Grigoryan GM Avetik Grigoryan

Connecting the Dots

Some players solve puzzles, work on tactics, learn openings, etc – but still don't improve. This article explains why that happens and what's the missing element.

Coach’s Corner | 5 min read
Connecting the Dots

How can you improve your chess?
Well, there are many different ways; from playing games, solving puzzles, working on tactics, learning openings…

Some people choose to work on one of these ways, some choose a few of them, and some do all of them!

But often, when they don’t see results, they get frustrated.
They work very hard, try different things, but their rating doesn’t grow as fast as they would like it to.

What are they missing?
There is something very very important.
They have lots of dots, but they’re not quite connected.

Today we’ll speak about how connecting these dots can dramatically get better at chess.

Director...? Me?

Back in 2015, many new chess schools were opening in Armenia and I accepted the position of director at the biggest one.

Did I know how to run a chess school? No! 🙂
Did I know anything about management and paperwork? I had no clue! 🙂

All I knew was 2 things:

  1. It wouldn’t succeed without a very strong purpose and a strong WHY.
  2. You can’t create a good chess school without good coaches.

So I invited the best coaches I knew to work with me. Then we accepted a few hundred students and said “Let’s go!”

Our salaries were very small, but we didn’t care. We were working towards one mission: To create a strong chess school, with the structure, and system in place to grow future grandmasters and chess champions.

Arabkir Chess School
Arabkir Chess School

The first few months...

At first, everything appeared to be going very well. And, after a few months, we could clearly see the constant growth in our students.

When I was walking through the classrooms I was confused. How was it that the kids could already solve difficult puzzles when they only knew how to move the pieces a few months ago?

Yet everyone was happy, the students were improving, the parents were content, the coaches were enjoying their work, until…

Our mistake

3 months after launching the school, we organized a tournament. The kids were understandably very excited. And so were we! We were looking forward to seeing the results of their progress over the past few months.

But the smiles on our faces disappeared after the first round.
The kids who were doing amazing during our lessons, and could solve every position offered by the coaches, were playing fantastically bad chess 🙂

When there were some tactics, they were okay, but other times, they were just moving their pieces around without any purpose.

At one point, one of the most talented kids did an unbelievably bad move, taking his central knight to a very bad position on the side of the board. At the end of the game, I recreated the position and asked him, why did he make that move? He looked at me with a sad face and said:
“I didn’t know what to do.”

It was our aha moment.
I realized that what we were watching were not our students’ mistakes – they were our own mistakes!

For the past few months, we’d taught them lots of different things; tactics, checkmating patterns, strategic ideas…

In other words, we gave them lots of dots.
But we never taught them how to connect them.

Connecting the dots

My father is a big chess fan, and when he was young, his older brother would gift him many books. Over time he’d amassed a huge chess library, and luckily for me, when I started to play chess, I had lots of resources to learn from.

Suddenly everything clicked. I went to my father’s place, grabbed dozens of books of classics, and took them to the chess school with me. The next day we had a meeting with the coaches, and I said I know the solution – showing them all the books that I’d brought 🙂 There were books of the best games of Capablanca, Alekhine, Botvinnik and other great minds.

GM Avetik's Chess Classic Collection
My books (in Russian)

“We’ll help them to connect the dots,” I said.
In the room, there were lots of suspicious eyes staring at me, but as there were no other plans, they agreed to try my idea.


It worked much better than we had expected. In a few months, we saw a big difference in their games, and in the next tournament, we were very proud to be their coaches.

Of course, they were far from perfect, but our students started to create plans. Good or bad plans – it didn’t matter. The important part was that they were not just aimlessly moving their pieces. They were trying to do something, like improving their position, or weakening their opponent’s.

They started to convert their advantages strategically and tactically, instead of just giving checks whenever they didn’t know what to do…

They started to connect their knowledge.
They started to connect the dots.

Connecting the dots

Evenings with my father

Only later did I recall that when I was a kid, my father would show me one classic game, and one fairytale before I would go to sleep.

It was kind of a ritual 🙂 A chess game and then a fairytale.
I was lucky to have my Dad, who was my first ever chess coach.

GM Avetik with his father
Me & my father (we took this photo today, special for this article) 

But I was also lucky that my Dad showed me lots of classic games when I was a kid. I believe that was one of the main reasons why at age 8 my rating was 2,000.

I knew how to connect the dots.
Not perfectly, and I didn’t have all the dots of course.
But after learning more dots and learning to connect them better, I eventually became a grandmaster 11 years later.

My advice

It’s good to learn different things and accumulate lots of dots. But you have to learn how to connect them. And during my 10 years of experience as a chess coach, I haven’t found a better way than by watching commented games.

I highly recommend starting with some classics, but even if you watch commented modern games, it’s still good. Just do it without using chess engines.

Watching commented games will help you not just to connect the existing dots, but to acquire new dots in the database of your mind.

Out of all our courses, our 100 Classical Commented Games Course is our students’ favorite. And unsurprisingly, near every student who has raised their rating by a few hundred points in a few months has watched this one.

Commented Classics

It’s your call. Your chess journey. And your decisions. Connect the dots, and work smartly.

P.S. Speaking about classics, I highly recommend that you check out our article about why it’s a must to study classical chess games.

P.P.S. If before reading this article you’ve been working very hard on acquiring new dots, then great job! Now connect them. You’ll start seeing very different numbers on your chess rating.

And don’t forget to come back and share your thoughts and stories in our forum.

Originally published May 04, 2021

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