How to Find the Right Chess Coach | Ultimate Guide
Wondering how to find the right chess coach? GM Avetik shares what qualities to look for, the red flags to be aware of, and where to find them.
Wondering how to find the right chess coach? GM Avetik shares what qualities to look for, the red flags to be aware of, and where to find them.
“All coaching is, is taking a player where he can’t take himself.” – Bill McCartney
Finding the right chess coach can be a real game-changer. But it’s not easy – especially with so many fake coaches out there.
Imagine finding someone who’s already achieved what you dream about. Someone who knows how to take your chess to the level you want. Someone who has a step-by-step plan to get you there, and who’s already helped many others to do it. Someone who’ll train you and put you in the right direction. Someone who’ll tell you what you should be working on; during and after your sessions. Someone who’ll help you to deal with all the problems and weaknesses you have.
Now imagine you start to feel yourself growing day by day. The number next to your nickname on online platforms gets higher and higher. And you finally celebrate as you reach the goal you set.
Sounds like a dream, right?
Wrong! If you’re ready to invest in your chess, it’s very realistic.
You just need to find the right coach!
And in this article, I’ll show you all the steps you should take to find them, along with the qualities you should look for in a coach.
A word of warning: This isn’t a short article. But if you’re serious about your chess career and ready to invest in it, stick with me, I’ll help you to avoid many very costly mistakes. Also, I’m not accepting students at the moment, so this is not an article, when you read, read and then the authors offer their services😀😀😀
For almost 10 years, I’ve been a chess coach – working with amateurs, IMs, GMs, and even the Thai national team.
I’ve had many coaches in my life too, and not just for improving my chess🙂
I hired coaches to help me with poker, Kung-fu, Muay Thai, gym, swimming, business, and life. Altogether – 27 of them!
Some bad, some good, some great, and some whom I still work with today.
I made many beginner mistakes when I was hiring coaches which I don’t want you to make. And I learned the best questions to ask before hiring, which I’ll share with you today.
Before writing this article, I interviewed many chess coaches to make it as valuable as possible.
Hopefully, after reading this you’ll be able to take the right steps to find the right coach, who’s perfect for working with a student like you.
Some of the steps might be provocative, and many coaches who make a living from teaching chess will not love me for saying them. But I’m going to tell you the truth behind what’s sometimes a murky world.
We’ll start with what qualities you should be looking for in a coach. And then I’ll give you some action steps to find them.
If you ask someone how much they charge for a lesson, and you hear the answer “x dollars, we can start tomorrow,” you need to think twice before hiring.
In the article “Don’t be a Fish”, I shared that there are lots of coaches who are willing to teach whatever you’re willing to pay for – be it chess or breakdance. Sadly, this has only increased after the pandemic hit.
The right coach will do their work professionally and charge you. Like the rest of us, they need to pay their bills and taxes too. But they won’t teach you because of the money.
The right coach will ask many questions before agreeing to work with you. Like:
• What’s your level?
• What’s your goal?
• How much time are you ready to invest in your chess?
They might interview you to see if they’ll enjoy working with you, and if you’re the right fit for each other. If during your chat, you feel that you wanted to find a coach, and you were choosing among many of them, but now they’re choosing you, then you’re on the right track.
You want to be sure that your chess coach has already achieved what you want to achieve, either by hitting the goal themselves or by helping their students to get there. For example:
• If you want to raise your ELO to 2,000, you want to find a coach who’s at least 2,000 rated or has students that they helped to get to 2,000+.
• If you’re an International Master and want to become a Grandmaster, you want to have a Grandmaster coach, who knows what it takes to get there. Or at least, has students who have already made it.
“To know the road ahead, ask those coming back.” - Chinese proverb.
You don’t want to hire a coach who only has an idea how to achieve what you want to but has never done it themselves. And you don’t want to end up as their test subject on an experimental training program that may or may not work.
Note: If you’re rated 1,600 and want to become a Grandmaster, it doesn’t mean you need to start working with a Grandmaster coach.
You want to divide your journey to becoming a GM into stages and work with coaches according to your journey’s next steps.
I often see chess players try to find a coach who will charge as little as possible.
But consider these 2 scenarios:
1. You hire a coach whom you pay $10/hr and you raise 50 rating points in 6 months.
2. You hire a coach whom you pay $30/hr and you raise 100 rating points in two months.
Which one would you choose? Obviously the 2nd one, no?
So the cost per hour is a bad metric. You should look at the cost per rating! That’s what’s important.
At the same time, it doesn’t mean that a coach who charges more will necessarily be better.
Like with many products, some are more expensive not because of the quality, but because of the brand name. And you don’t want to overpay someone because of their name.
...Unless you’re trying to be famous on social media, and you’re hiring a chess coach not to improve, but to brag about who your coach is :D
Sometimes I see super-rich people that just want to hire the best coach in the world for their kids. No matter if their kid is just a beginner.
I once heard a funny story about someone in the top 50 in the world who was teaching a kid how to castle (for big money).
This is another common mistake.As you noticed, the article’s headline is “how to find the right coach”, not the “best coach.”
If you always want to have the best, that’s fine.
But here, the right coach is the best coach.
A Grandmaster isn’t the best coach to help you with basic chess moves and rules. There will be beginners with teaching experience who would be much more suitable (and far cheaper!).
Don’t try to find the best coach. Find the right one!
I’ll tell you another funny story.
You might find yourself a victim, but better sooner rather than later.
When I was in the U.S., I had breakfast scheduled with a Grandmaster who’s also a famous coach. He called me and asked if we could delay our meeting by 30 minutes as he said he needed to prepare for his upcoming lessons.
I said “sure”, but I started to wonder to myself: I knew he had 7 upcoming lessons that day. How could he prepare for them all in just 30 minutes?
He laughed and said “Avetik, your mistake is that you take everything too seriously. Look. I’ll find a good game played by Bobby Fischer. They love Fischer’s games. And I’ll just show it to everyone.”
I was even more confused and asked, “Why don’t you make a group lesson and show everyone the game together?” His voice changed and after a brief pause he said: “How am I going to make money then?”
At the time I even told him that one day I would write about this in an article, to which he answered, “Go ahead. Anyway, I’ll always have students.”
I’ll reveal one more truth, for which a lot of coaches will hate me🙂
Many of them think about how to kill time.
As a result, they often give their students very complicated positions to think about while they do something else. Especially if the lesson is online.
I know a GM who never uses his webcam during his lessons and always eats his meals at the same time. It’s fine if you’re offered a position to think about. But not for half an hour and without talking to your coach. You could do that yourself at home.
When the right coach gives you a position to think about, they’ll be present and often ask you questions. Or they’ll ask you to think/calculate out loud, so they can see your thinking process and fix your weak spots.
The right coach has a big database with training material on each chess topic.
They’re like doctors. You go to them and say “I have a specific weakness in my game,” (or even better, they notice it).
The right coach opens their computer with lots of prepared examples, training methods, and knows how to fix it. When they were sitting late at night and preparing the material for countless hours, you don’t see it.
You’re not just paying your doctor for the 5 minutes they spent looking at your problem and prescribing you the medicine. You need to factor in the many years they spent beforehand that enables them to figure out your problem in just 5 minutes!
The same is true with the right chess coach.
I have a friend, who charges extremely high prices, but at the same time delivers extremely high results. Some complain, while some understand and appreciate the hard work he has done for many years.
Find your doctor.
Some coaches will talk down your openings and offer to teach you new “good ones.”
Sometimes they might be right. But often they’ll do it because:
1. It’s much easier for them to teach you their openings, as they’ll not need to do additional homework.
2. Teaching a new opening repertoire is very time-consuming.
You got the point, no? You’ll need to pay🙂
Sorry, “best” coaches, I care about the chess world.
A few years ago when I was coaching and teaching new openings to my students, there were days when I taught the same thing to 2 different students.
As a result, I made group lessons.
But still, after 6 months a new student would come to me and ask me to teach them 1.c4.
So I thought, why don’t I record the things that I teach? It’ll be more affordable for them, and it will be smarter for me.
Then I started to record courses and this became one of the reasons ChessMood was born.
A key question to always ask yourself is “could this be recorded”?
As a coach, you shouldn’t teach anything which you could just record.
And as a student, you want to learn things which couldn’t be recorded.
When you watch a recording and your coach shows you a game and stops to ask you to think, it’s different.
But your aim should be to get the highest possible return on your investment. Therefore you want to work with your coach on things that you couldn’t have done alone!
A few years ago I thought I was a very good chess coach. I would look into my “coach” folder on my laptop and be very proud of myself. When all my friends and students saw all the files I’d created over many years, they would confirm my pride.
But when I compare how I explain some difficult chess concepts now to how I would do so before... there’s a huge difference.
Despite ChessMood’s success and my financial freedom, I still keep working with a few students. The main reason is to hone my skills and keep improving.
No matter my chess and coaching skills, the time I’ve spent working with psychologists and great coaches in different areas, I still need to eat lots of bread and cheese, to become someone like GM Ramesh, who has been coaching for 22 years...
I don’t mean that someone who has just started coaching is a bad coach.
But when you’re looking for your right coach, you should consider the number of years they’ve been coaching.
At the same time, if someone has 10 years of coaching experience, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re an experienced coach.
They might have killed time during all these years and never created their “medicine.”
This is something you can’t check. But you can test your coach on.
Let’s say you have a problem understanding the use of open files. Ask them to explain it to you.
If they explain it to you clearly, or they say “give me some time and I’ll prepare some material for you”, then you found the right coach!
One of my Grandmaster friends was working with a coach with limited chess knowledge and I was surprised how he was able to help.
When I asked my friend why he worked with that coach, he said:
“That’s true. I don’t learn much during the lessons. But after the lessons when I go back home, I want to study chess for the next whole day. I don’t understand how he does that. He’s like a wizard. Somehow he nurtures my love towards the game and inspires me to work more.”
“The power of coaching is this – you are expected to give people the path to find answers, not the answers.“ - Tom Mahalo
The best coaches in all sports are wizards.
They’ll know how to inspire their students, including what to say and do in your toughest moments, before and after important tournaments. Often 1 sentence can be a game-changer. But for that 1 sentence, they might have spent many years mastering psychology.
Is it fun to work with your coach? Do you enjoy your lessons?
I’m not asking if they make jokes that make you laugh. I mean are you super excited during the training and do you enjoy every moment?
If you feel like you want the training to be over, you might need to consider looking for another coach. That’s unless you’re a super-professional, who temporarily works with a coach to learn something important and can put the boredom aside for the greater good of your chess.
When I was an International Master at 18, GM Artur Chibukhchyan came into my life, took my hand, and pushed me to become a Grandmaster in 1 year!
He was my favorite coach. I was his favorite student.
And one day at the end of our lesson he said, “Avetik, it was our last session together.”
I was like “What???”
He took a deep breath and explained: “I gave you all that I could, and all that I knew. Now it’s time for you to move forward and find a coach who will take you to the next level.”
"A great coach can lead you to a place where you don’t need him anymore." – Andre Agassi
This is something extremely hard to do for any coach – to give your favorite student to someone else. The student because of whose success you become famous, because of whom many want to work with you.
But for the right coaches, it doesn’t matter. They deal with their ego and their students' success always comes first.
By now you should have a clear understanding of the qualities of the coach you should be looking for and the possible traps you should avoid.
Now. How do you find your right coach?
Let’s go. I’ll show you the 7 steps you need to take.
To succeed, you should always start with the question “why”?
He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.
- Friedrich Nietzsche
In this case, why do you want to have a coach?
Are you looking for a temporary coach or one who will guide you during your whole journey?
And what do you want? What’s your goal? To achieve… what exactly?
To raise your rating? …If so, by how much?
Without knowing the answers to such questions, you’ll confuse your coach.
The same way sometimes I confuse my wife when I say “Babe, please order something to eat”, without telling her what kind of food I’d love to have🙂
At least answer the following questions:
1. What’s my long-term goal?
2. What’s my short-term goal?
3. What am I ready to invest? (time and money)
Be super honest with yourself and with the coach you’re looking to work with. The Right Coach will create a plan based on your answers.
And if you find you have less time to work on your chess than you told them or in your mind you have a different goal, the plan won’t work. And it won’t be your coach’s fault, it’ll be yours.
By the way, you might be aware that we offer a welcome call with one of our Grandmasters to our PRO Members.
Here’s how it works. We ask them questions, before giving a study plan. What questions do we ask? I guess you already know as you’ve seen them above🙂
Write a list of the people who you think could be the Right Coach for you.
Even if you think they might not have the time or be interested to work with you, do it! Dream big!
You never know what’s on the other side.
Recently I got a very polite email from a chess lover who wanted me to work with him, but thought that I don’t work with beginners. But still, he decided to write to me.
It’s true. In the past few years, I didn’t work with beginners and only worked with our PRO Members. But at the time when I received the email, I was thinking to work with a few beginners. The thing is that soon we’re going to launch step-by-step courses for beginners.
And I wanted to work with them so I could understand the way they think better and improve the quality of the upcoming courses.
So, I agreed and we started to work with him.
When I was looking for a business consultant at ChessMood, there was a guy I thought would be the perfect fit. The chances were 1 to 99 that he would answer my email but I wrote to him anyway. He not only answered, but became my partner at ChessMood.
Write to the first person on your list. If it didn’t work, then write to the second... and so on…
Research takes time. But in the long term, conducting the right research and finding the right coach, will save you lots of it.
Here are 3 places to start your coach hunt!
If your friend has a coach that they like, it’s not enough. Their training might be fun, but not effective.
But if they raised 300 points in the last 6 months of working with them, you may want to ask your friend for their coach’s email.
If none of your friends have proven coaches, you might need to look for answers on social media. But again, “I like my coach” is not a good enough sentence for adding that coach to your contact list.
You don’t want to hear from someone who is trying to improve, but from someone who has already improved with their coach.
There are many websites, where you can find the profiles and contact details of chess coaches.
The most famous ones are:
The problem, as GM Struder shared in his great article about this topic, is that there are 2 types of coaches:
a) Players that give lessons to make a living
b) Coaches by choice
I don’t blame anyone who during the pandemic found that teaching chess was a good way to make money.
But you want to work with someone experienced that decided to become a coach because they love to do it – not because it’s an easy way to pay the bills.
Another problem you might encounter is that when you look at different coaches’ profiles, you will find lots of fake information including fake testimonials.
That’s why word of mouth or private recommendations are normally the best options!
When it comes to creating a list of coaches that you want to message, you might not know exactly what to write.
Luckily, I have a few tips for you:
Don’t think too much about your message – just be yourself. If you love to make jokes all the time, feel free to joke in the email.
Who are you, what’s your rating, what’s your goal, and a very important one – why do you want them to be your coach? This way the coach won’t feel it’s a spam message that you copied and sent to 100 different people.
Just don’t overdo with information. If you send an email with 2,000 words, often the other person won’t have time to read it or will forget about it.
Don’t expect a response if you write a message like:
"Hi, I'm 25. I just started to play chess. I want you to coach me. I can't pay you now, but I'm sure I'll become a GM in a year and I can give you a % of my wins. Please give me a trial lesson, so I can evaluate you as a coach.”
You might be laughing now, but it’s a message I’ve got recently.
At the end of your message ask for a short call.
You might find the coach's profile read nicely, but you don’t like something during the call. Your inner voice might say no.
As we’ve already discussed, if your coach is the right one, you won’t choose them, they’ll choose you.
So the right coach should be interested in having a 1-1 call themselves.
Don’t commit yourself by sending a prepayment for 20 hours of coaching. Your inner voice could be wrong or something unexpected could happen.
Just take 1-3 classes, and then decide.
If the coach forces you to commit after the first session, it’s time to step back. The right coach will not want any commitment too until they see that you’re committed to your goal.
(We’ll talk more about payments in the FAQ section)
If something goes wrong, and you’re not sure you found the right coach – step back. It’s OK if you don’t find the right coach on your first attempt.
But if you feel this is the coach who you were looking for, then relax and trust them. Experienced coaches, over many years, have developed specific and non-standard training methods. Even if it sounds strange, just believe in them and do it.
Your cooperation will work only when you allow your coach to execute the training plan, and you do your best.
Here are some common questions that might also be on your mind. If I haven’t answered your question, feel free to ask in our forum.
If it’s a small group, let’s say 2-4 people, it can work.
If it’s more than 4, it becomes a lecture.
If you have a friend around your rating level, it’s fine if you ask your coach for a group lesson and you share the price with your friends. Group lessons might be more affordable for you.
It can be fine to have a group lesson with 10 students, especially if you’ve only got a very limited budget.
In summary, while 1-1 sessions are the best, it may still be smart for you to choose group lessons if you can’t afford individual coaching.
It can be detrimental or it can be super effective.
Abhi was working with 2 coaches at the same time. GM Magesh and GM Arun. But these 2 coaches cooperated very well together.
One was working on openings, while the other was working on middlegames and endgames.
But if the 2 coaches are not in sync – for example, one teaches you the French Defense, while another teaches you the Caro-Kann, you’ll become very confused.
My advice: Don’t work with 2 coaches, unless your main coach recommends you to. And believe me, the right coach, at some point, will certainly do.
Generally, it’s fine to ask as long as your offer is realistic and you’re not asking for an 80% discount🙂
Coaches will often give discounts if you’re willing to pay for many hours of lessons upfront. Still, some coaches don’t offer discounts – that’s fine too.
Also, your coach might notice your hard work and commitment and offer you a discount after working with you for some time.
Not at all. The right coach will choose to work with you, not because of your budget but because you’re a good fit to work together.
From a coach’s perspective, it’s not uncommon for new students to take a lesson and never send payment. So understandably, coaches don’t want to be tricked.
But most of the time the right coaches will not ask.
As they’re choosing you for the right reasons, and not to make money, they probably liked you and believed in you. Most probably they also respect and trust you. Otherwise, they would say no.
But I’d say it’s okay if they ask you for prepayment – especially at the beginning when they don’t know you very well.
Not at all. Some people think that FIDE tries to filter good coaches from fake coaches. Others think that it’s just a business (you need to pay to apply).
If the coach is a FIDE trainer, they may be more reliable. But it doesn’t mean they’re trustworthy.
I know many coaches, who’re not FIDE trainers but are among the best out there. These people don’t need “FIDE trainer” next to their coach’s profile to get students. They just don’t care. And personally, I also don’t care.
Well, if you are asking this question, you’re already a good coach. Only good coaches will always think about constant improvement.
Here are some tips:
Even being a coach, you can hire them and spend time improving your chess understanding and coaching skills. You’ll learn lots of new and interesting techniques. I’ve worked with many top coaches and wouldn’t be there where I’m now, without their insights.
If you can’t afford paying for a coach (experienced coaches will have high rates), go for the 2nd advice.
You can read their books, read interviews, and follow them on Social Media. Many share lots of insights in their posts. Personally, I follow GM Ramesh’s FB posts and GM Struder’s Twitter.
How to constantly perform your maximum? How to deal with painful defeats? How to have a quality rest? These are the questions the answer to which you don’t have to get from a chess coach.
Personally, I follow many coaches and psychologists.
Right now I’m reading the legendary coach Tim Grover’s books, who has trained superstars like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and others.
No. If your coach asks you to do that, you should step back.
The right coach will always give you homework, courses to watch, and books to read.
Chess courses and books can’t replace the right coach. But they can enormously help the coach. They’ll teach you things that couldn’t be recorded or written, and refer you to the right sources, whenever there’s a need.
You shouldn’t look for a good coach, but the right coach, who’s right for your level and your goals. But I can try to help you by recommending someone.
Below you’ll find a form to fill in. Depending on your level, goals, and budget, I’ll try to connect you with a coach whom I trust. The rest is up to you.
Disclaimer: I’m not going to take any commission. I’ll just connect you with a coach, for the rest you’ll need to speak with them. I hope it’ll work for you and you’ll accelerate your growth.
I’m also looking for experienced coaches to recommend to our students or to cooperate with ChessMood.
If you agree about the qualities that a coach should have, you believe you have them, and you love coaching, please, fill in this coaching form.
Liked this article? You might also love to read:
1. GM Noël Struder’s article about finding your perfect chess coach.
There are some amazing examples, that I would love to copy and paste here :D But I didn’t, so you can enjoy reading it.
2. How to spot real & (fake) chess gurus by Indian chess player Ranveer Mohite
Many “money-maker” coaches will hate this article for revealing the ugly truth. I have no apologies to them.
I tried to reveal things that are behind the curtain and you don’t see. The traps that exist and are easy to fall in.
Hopefully, you’ll follow the suggested steps, in order to avoid the traps and find not a good coach, not the best coach, but the right coach for you.
It’ll take time. No rush. But when you find them, you’ll feel that you caught the wind, and will sail to your destination much faster.
#Right Mood - Right Move🙂
#Right Steps - Right Coach
P.S. Now that you know lots of tricks about how to find the right coach, I have 2 questions.
1. If you were in the shoes of the World Championship challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi, who would you love to be your coach? Grischuk, Svidler, Kramnik, or someone else?
2. Who are top 3 coaches on your list that you would love to contact?
Post your answers, in our forum!
I might even be able to connect you with them🙂
Originally published Jul 20, 2021