The necessity of companionship

Michael Neill, the Hollywood success coach, once said that he had met no one in his time in Hollywood who had achieved success on their own. Everyone had someone who supported them, someone who was a part of their team in one way or another. This could either be as a manager, coach, parent, sibling, spouse and so on. It was always: β€œmy people will call your people” and so on. The construction was always different.
I heard this on his internet radio show in early 2007 and I immediately could see reasons why this was so, on top of the obvious sharing of tasks: we are social animals and we simply do much better if we are not alone in our quest.
In chess you have very few exceptions to this rule (Fischer, Larsen). I would like to point to the two most obvious examples of symbiotic relationships:
Kasparov had Dokhoian to carry his suitcases, book his tickets and help him with the chess.
Topalov has Danailov to organise everything and tell him what to do.
In the first case the player was the boss, in the second case the manager is the boss. I attach no value judgment to either set-up; they both suited the player ideally. Kasparov has a great need to dominate his surroundings; Topalov, on the other hand, would rather play tennis than be involved in business discussions.
The consequences of this idea were dramatic for me in 2007. I played in the Spanish team Championship and got a few ideas at home from John, who had taken on the job as my second. The same happened during the British Championship. In both events I scored 2700 performances and at times played brilliantly.
I won the remaining points I needed to go over 2500 and became a grandmaster – as well as won the British Championship.
What this means for you!
Not everyone is able to hire a second for a tournament, but there are a lot of things you can do to add people to your chess team. The following is probably the only training tip I have that can compete with the 20 minute/6 times a week tip: create a training team!
The idea is simple: collect 1-3 friends of similar strength and meet up regularly to do training together.
The main training should be solving, but you can also discuss opening ideas and play training games. But this would require that everyone studies consistently, which is often not the case.
The combination of social interaction with friendly competition is very powerful. It has the power to produce champions…

26 thoughts on “The necessity of companionship”

  1. ===> The combination of social interaction with friendly competition is very powerful.
    I agree. I would dream of this.
    Alas, we are not many in our club and no one is working seriously chess (they are beetween 1800 and 2100).
    So, I have to motivate myself. Not easy even with the “winning habit”.

  2. Gilchrist is a Legend

    What happens if one analyses with one’s opponents and they try to prepare for next time based on how they see your analysis of positions and opening repertoire? Sometimes if one similarly rated tournament player might ask, “So, what is your opening repertoire?”…

  3. I wholeheartedly agree. When I was in college (4-5 years ago), I had 3 friends who were all around the same strength. We all gained hundreds of rating points from working with each other over the course of about two years. Some of the best chess study of my life for sure.

  4. Good Advice!

    I wish oi could find this were I live. There is one master that I know of where I live who is busy teaching kids or you can take private lessons from. Financially this does not really work. And He is a full time Teacher, Dad, Martial artists etc…

    The couple players I played with when I first started where not interested in taking the game seriously, and especially not studying it. These were all the London and Colle Players that made me stop going to the very small local chess club( sometimes 5 people other times 8, and plent of times 3 or 4) Also only one or two players knew anything concrete about chess, unfortunately there were older and just wanted to lay for fun. They had played there whole lives and were not interested in discussing chess as much as I wanted to!

    I live almost an hour and a half outside of San Francisco and there is a famous chess club there the Mechanics Institute Chess Club run by IM John Donaldson, but the drive, gas money, parking, $$$ Make it difficult. I guess the best thing is to move there if I want more chess in my life. The U.S. is funny that way. I love chess and European Football, but even though these things are popular all over the world, here not as much interest.

    So I guess Its San Francisco… Or move to Europe which I would totally consider and have dreamed about and would if I could figure out how!!!

    Great Article…Good reminder to try and find some Chess Family.(in person!)

  5. Gilchrist is a Legend

    Each time I am in the Netherlands I think about Wijk Aan Zee, Maastricht. Tilburg, Leeuwarden, Scheveningen all of the chess cities..and of course the chess variation

  6. @Michael Wilde
    You can take weekends with friends, or a small holiday or even make a small team online, where each person takes time to be the chair and have exercises. The latter I had running for a few years with some pupils, all living in remote places around the world. Don’t let obstacles become blockages.

  7. Gilchrist is a Legend

    @Jacob Aagaard
    No, just that I remember when I was playing and was about 1900, I noticed that after analysing with others who were competing with me, they usually prepared against me much better than if they had not analysed the games after. And one guy who analysed with us once asked me what my repertoire was and the repertoires of our friends. I did not answer..

  8. Michael Wilde

    I have a question about GM12, in the following line

    1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. d5 e6 4. Nc3 exd5 5. cxd5 d6 6. e4 g6 7. Bb5

    I ran into this move last night playing online. The Bb5+ come without f4, is there a right move here? I am totally new to this opening and just thought it was a normal Flick Knife so I played Nfd7. Then Nf3 with no f4 and I got confused and made some mistakes and lost. Interesting though later looking at the game I had many chances still, including a mate with Two bishops that I missed. But I am just not yet used to the positions, and got my lines crossed.

    My Question is, What is the best way to meet this early check 7Bb5+. Looking at I see 7…Bd7 and on database the same. The reason I did not play 7…Bd7 or Nbd7 is because I thought after 8.f4 we would just transpose and Nfd7 was the better move in this position.

    Is this a trick move order or just not important. What is the best way to block the check 7. Bb5+?

    Open question.



  9. 7.Bb5+ has never been very popular on account of 7…Bd7. The reason is as follows (as I interpret it):

    The light-squared bishop is a problem piece for Black in a lot of positions – occasionally it’s not easy to find a square, and it sits on c8 for a long time. With 7.Bb5+, White gives Black a great opportunity to get rid of it, and with a gain of time no less (after 8.Bxd7+ that is). Black is happy to exchange some pieces, as he has slightly less space in the center as well. The problem with your reasoning regarding the transpo to the Flick-Knife is that 7.f4 Bg7 8.Bb5+ Bd7? 9.e5! is very good for White, while 7.Bb5+ Bd7! and White has no time for 8.f4 and 9.e5, since 8.f4 Bxb5 hangs the e4-pawn, and 8.Bxd7+ Nbxd7 9.f4 Bg7 10.e5 isn’t dangerous at all. White doesn’t have to take on d7, and can try things like 8.a4, but still, this is not dangerous for Black, as it gives him time to develop and castle quickly.

  10. Michael Wilde

    Thank you TonyRo!!!

    Like I said totally new to this opening and felt like my Nfd7 block did not work out so well.
    Thanks for explaining it to me the newbie Benoni player!

  11. Frankfurter_Bub

    Quite interesting your explanation TonyRo. But what about if white plays 7. Bb5+ Bd7 and now 8. Bd3/Be2? Both on d3 and e2 the white bishop is standing great, while the black bishop takes of the square d7 which might be used by Nb8.

  12. Jacob Aagaard

    @Michael Wilde
    In general it is worth remembering that artificial looking moves are only played in specific circumstances and should not be played automatically in similar, but not idential positions.

  13. @Frankfurter_Bub Yes, 7.Bd3 might be the best move. According to my database, the most popular line of play for White is 7.Bd3 Bg7 8.f4 O-O 9.Nf3 and now Black has scored well after 9…Bg4.

  14. Funny I have been trying to practice the Modern Benoni on both ICC and Playchess and cant get that many people to play 2.c4 always some silly 2.e6 or 2.c3 or of course 2.Nf3. Well at least I have my Grunfeld for all these silly sidetracks.

    It kind of reminds mw of when I was really trying to hash out the e6 English Attack lines, people would play anything but the Englsih and I do mean anything! 6.Bc4 6.f4 6.Bg5 6.g3 6.h3 and nothing but closed Sicilians and Grand Prix Attacks. So when I finally got 15 or 20 moves into the e6 Englsih I had forgotton what I had learned simple because I had been forced to pay attention to anything except the English.

    This is happening again with the Sicilian but I am much more comfortable against the English and had some beautiful wins, now I must turn most of my attention to the Closed and the Grand Prix Attack, part of my problem is I find this boring to play against but it may be the lines I am choosing an early …a6-b5. I have to look at GM6 again and maybe let white enter into what he want, that kingside attack and learn how to counter!

    @Jacob, thanks for the advice about the online group, that is something I might be able to do, plus finding some people to drive into San Francisco with to play Tuesday night marathon tournaments at the Mechanics Institute. They are just starting to build a train that goes down that way but that may take years…Sure if I look I could eventually find some people to pick up and car pool with share $$$ cost and then do some training in between rounds or if I finish my games early. And thanks for a very important reminder about opening play in the Benoni and in general, have made this mistake before. I am going to have to keep working on it, the Grunfeld was my first defense and still my main defense to 1.d4 I never found anything else I liked so this is my first real attempt to learn real lines in a second…Against 1.e4 it was much easier, I am a true Sicilian player and found it easier to learn new or second lines in that openings as back ups. But I really enjoy the Modern Benoni and will keep working on it. I think that is why we are all asking you to please do a book in this opening or that opening because the QC books are such higher quality that most others!

    And thanks to Tony for helping me with the Benoni sideline, I don’t have a proper databse right now and frankly sis not see after looking at the position the draw back of this early check, so thanks!

  15. Gilchrist is a Legend

    @Michael Wilde
    The 4NCL is close enough for most people in Britain to take the train for each round..unless one lives in the Scottish Highlands, it should not take more than 4 hours.

    The problem is any main opening is that most will play rubbish sidelines. That is for what GM11 exists though. I remember when I used to play the Benoni many played the English transposition: 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. Nf3. Then of course the usual complexes with 1. d4 Nf6 and then the TLC (Torre/London/Colle). Maybe 1. d4 e6 to play against the Torre and London without the knight committed: 2. Nf3 c5 3. Bg5 Qb6 or 3. Bf4 Qb6. It is interesting to try these move orders against those who play systemopenings.

  16. Michael Wilde

    @Gilchrist is a Legend
    Well I don’t live in Britain but if I did I would definitely make the trip!
    This sounds good… I am guessing this it what you do?

    As for the Modern Benoni…GM12 is my first experience with this opening and of course at lower levels of chess I will see the lines you talked about a lot!!! I see the 3.Nf3 line including early dxe6 but to my delight this is covered in the book, and I just won a nice game after reading this chapter. I am tempted to play 2…c5 after 2.Nf3, will try out in some blitz games and see…Thanks!

  17. Gilchrist is a Legend

    @Michael Wilde
    1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 c5 is interesting, but I meant 1. d4 e6 first is interesting as well, since some Benoni players play 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 to enter the Benoni (Petrov mentions this in the book as well). But 1. d4 e6 2. Nf3 c5 might confuse Torre and London players, and avoids the Trompowsky completely. Unfortunately I do not think Colle players can be confused since 1. d4/2. e3/3. Bd34. c3/5. Nf3 is basically legal and plausible against everything. You should not worry about these, definitely not more than the Modern Main Line, Taimanov Attack, Fianchetto, etc. I think Jacob may have mentioned you can use the gambit line 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. c4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 e5 5. Nb5 d5 6. cxd5 Bc5. If I remember correctly, this is in Alterman’s book. Players of the English (or those who would not mind transposing to it) might be uncomfortable with the potentially tactical nature of the game. However, I think one can still transpose to the Hedgehog after 3. c4. You said you did not especially like this with the Kan, but the Hedgehog should be fine for 3. c4.

  18. Michael Wilde

    @Gilchrist is a Legend
    I see what you mean…The only drawback I can see is I like to play against the London and Colle with …g6. But I may give it a try and see what the resulting positions feel like to play.

    I did say that I was not especially like the Bind against the Kan. but this position is a bit different. I have been using the Taimanov lately as a second and am amazed at how many people will play c4 quickly without setting it up properly against the Taimanov with Nbd5 d6 c4.

  19. Michael Wilde

    @Michael Wilde
    Its funny because I am a QG player and never had I thought to try and avoid the Benoni…So when I wanted to play the black side I thought everyone would just play into the main lines like I do when I am white. So much for that theory.

  20. Michael Wilde


    I have been using the Taimanov lately as a second and am amazed at how many people will play c4 quickly without setting it up properly against the Taimanov with Ndb5 d6 c4.

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