The best chess trainer in the World?

A potential student of mine has made an application and named me as the best chess trainer in the World. While I am perfectly suited for what he needs, probably the best suited trainer alive, I could not help feeling slightly repulsed by the idea. Obviously, the best trainer is Mark Dvoretsky, I was thinking, which led to very unhappy thoughts. I will go to Moscow to participate in a rapid tournament for his 70th birthday in December, but sadly Mark will not be there…

How do you define who is the best trainer?

I also thought of GM Ramesh from Chennai. One year, his academy won half of all the gold medals at the World Youth Championship. He was also the captain of the Indian bronze winning team of 2014. And he is a hero of mine. Talking about heroes. Vladimir Potkin and Alexander Motylev. Both highly esteemed Russian trainers (think Karjakin for one) and both European Champions in their own right! Or what about Peter Heine Nielsen, who first took Anand to the World Championship in 2007 and later Carlsen to the 2013 match (where he did not help because of an obvious conflict of interest), but also the chief second in the 2014 and 2016 title defences.

If only there was a system where we could decide! Actually, there sort of is. FIDE gives out awards every year. The FIDE trainer’s committee organised by grandmasters Grivas and Mikhalchishin. Do you find the names of Potkin, Motylev and Ramesh there? No. You find other great trainers, including some Chinese trainers that I know of as players from the past and have seen around, but did not think of. Peter Heine Nielsen won the 2016 Men’s Trainer award. (Also, Nikos Ntirlis was 5th in the Boleslavsky (chess author) award. Who nominated him is unknown. Not us! Sorry Nikos. We tried to nominate Thomas Luther, thinking we could not nominate an opening book.)

Who is the best chess trainer in the World? Well, first of, there is no such thing, there is only the best chess trainer for you personally. Secondly, let’s hear your opinions and definitions. Maybe even some name dropping.

FIDE trainer awards 2008-2016


26 thoughts on “The best chess trainer in the World?”

  1. I would in fact nominate you, because of your double facet as very active trainer and prolific author: there are thousands of people who improve their game thanks to you.

    I guess that also counts: if your category as chess coach were to be measured by the amout of elo points that people wins thanks to you, you would win by large margin. There is a legion of patzers like me who benefited from your work.

  2. Efstratios Grivas

    Dear Jacob,
    Of course all our personal trainees will easily call us the best in the world, as usually they tent to know only us and they are happy, by the way, to work with us, that’s why they have chosen us! But obviously their objectivity is out of the question.
    In general I believe that it is wrong to try to define who the best trainer is – this is quite subjective. But if you want to have a guide-line, then my personal humble opinion is that a top-trainer is the one who has created a fair number of titled players (GMs, IMs, etc), has won with his/her trainees World & Continental Medals and had also success with National Teams. A good addition would be a fair production of books as well. So, can you give a full record of the above for your favourite mentioned trainers?
    I have talked with many top-trainers and a fair number of strong players. Everybody (and me personally) agrees that the late M.Dvoretsky was a great author and a great theoretician of sophisticated training systems – full stop. He also had great success in training in the early 80s with his students A.Jussupow and S.Dolmatov. But can you give a record of his successes as per above in the last (let’s say) 15 years? I had the impression that he was a kind of ‘inactive’, but maybe I am wrong.
    Unfortunately nobody was interested to nominate him for a FIDE-TRG Award for the last 9 years that the Awards are running. It was me and A.Mikhalchishin who nominated him back in the 2010 Awards to win the…

  3. Efstratios Grivas

    the Boleslavsky Medal. We thought that we ‘had’ to do it, as nobody else was interested to do so – it is really embarrassing…
    Now, about the FIDE-TRG Trainer Awards, who has been running already for 9 years and concerns trainers with a FIDE-TRG title. In the start of each year we make the announcements with clear Regulations and then we collect nominations by the end of April approximately. These nominations must mainly concern success/books of the year mentioned. FIDE-TRG Council (it is not only A.Mikhalchishin and E.Grivas – we are five!) selects the five best nominations in each of the six categories and as per its subjective opinion and submits them to the Experts Panel (7 members) for the voting procedure. All clear and fair to everybody. I do not claim that the system is perfect – I do not believe in perfection – but at least this system exists for a fair number of years in a row, with Regulations and procedures.
    It is strange to state that P.H. Nielsen didn’t know about his nomination. The same person who nominated him via his federation (official federation document) was the one who received the prize on his behalf and his written wish in Antalya… And just for the record, P.H. Nielsen joined the FIDE system just in 2016, so he couldn’t be nominated for earlier Awards, by Regulations.
    Actually you didn’t nominated Th.Luther – you tried to, but after the deadline! But we informed you that we will accept him for the 2017 Awards (if you nominate him), as…

  4. Efstratios Grivas

    his book was released in late December 2016. Quality Chess has nominate only one author all these years – you back in 2012 – and you won the Boleslavsky Medal for best book of 2011. And by the way and just for the record, N.Ntirlis was 5th – not 4th. Yes, it was an opening book but it was well-made!
    And you are stating that you know the Chinese winner as a player but not as a trainer. Well, let’s see the nomination document’s notes (by the Chinese Chess Association) of Yu Shaoteng (who actually won the Women Trainer Award for 2016):
    1. The Coach of China National Women team.
    2. In September 2016, as the captain of China National Women team, led the team won the Gold Medal of 42nd Olympiad women section in Baku.
    3. In March 2016, as the Coach of GM Hou Yifan, the fourth time assisted her to gain the 2016 World Women Championship in Lviv.
    Do you have anyone better in mind for this Medal? You see, nominations are not enough; the reasons behind them is what counts in the end…
    To sum-up, in general I do believe that there is nothing like ‘the best trainer’. For every trainee the ‘best’ is the one who can understand him, teach him well and fulfil his expectations. But I liked your article and I felt that I could make a small contribution.
    Keep-up the good work!
    All the best
    Efstratios Grivas

  5. @Paul H
    There is a category for writing. Training is a different animal altogether.

    I am going to a trainer’s seminar in India in December. I think I will be speaking a bit, but I am looking forward to listening to others experience far more, I have to admit.

  6. @Boki
    I think FIDE’s categories make a lot of sense, but obviously there are many subdivisions. In reality I agree with Peter Heine Nielsen that trainers should just praise themselves lucky when they get to work with a talented player who has the will to improve.

    There are those trainers who take a lot of credit for their pupils achievements and those who whine about not being given enough credit. In both cases, they missed the point. The student is making the moves.

    I love it when a strategy works or when you see a student make a great leap forward. But I am also aware that another strategy might have worked and the execution of it matters more. Or that the student might have made the leap forward anyway, because their attitude is so important.

    I take any credit offered to me, but a thank you from someone I like and respect is worth much more than comparisons with other trainers. Basically, I care.

  7. Where is the link to the boleslavsky medal winners. Can find information about the prize on the complicated fide website but no list of winners or shortlists either for this year or previous. Thanks in advance

  8. @Efstratios Grivas
    I will tell Nikos he lied to me :-).

    What I know of someone and what they actually have achieved as a trainer is the point here. It is not a post about your committee as such, just mentioned because it is the only one that has done anything in this direction.

    It would be easy to criticise other people’s work, but what is the point? In this case it would have been weird not to mention it. Mentioning it and pointing out that other great trainers have received awards, was meant to show that there are many great trainers out there, who do not have the same amount of name-recognition. I think most people will read it like that, but when our name is mentioned, we all have a natural tendency to read everything else as relating to ourselves, I guess.

  9. @Jacob Aagaard
    Seems only to mention the winner’s name. Is the medal for a particular book or for a body of work and if for a book how do we know what book it is and what the short list was?

  10. Adrian Mikhalchishin

    Look,Jacob,my first task as a Chairman of Trainers Commission (not a Committee!) was to fight for the position of chess trainers in our chess World.In chess.not like in other sports the status of trainers is much lower than in other sports.So,it was my original idea to create these Awards-simply to show to the chess world the names of real workers.I found great artist and created for myself huge headache- travelling through the Airports securities and customs with these artisrtic sculptures-first 10 kilos !Many times I was checked very badly,one week ago Misha Gurevich statuette was confiscated in Ankara Airport,when Masha Klinova was travelling with it.Of course,we want to give Awards for all top trainers,but we have not very great cooperation from some Federations.

  11. It was nice hearing both from Grivas and Mikhalchishin here. I do sincerely believe that they are doing great work in the trainers’ commission, but a lot of people doesn’t know it. Even titled players who i chat with misunderstand many things.

    Jacob’s point in this article was slightly different as i understood it, but the contribution from Stratos was very useful. (By the way Stratos as i understand it, my book had to be nominated by someone, do you know who he is? :))

    A commission who gives awards to trainers, has to have some criteria. Honestly, i cannot find better ones that those Stratos enlisted. But we all know that for example, writing books, is not what all trainers have in mind. I’d really love Stratos and Adrian to convince people like Motylev for example (as Jacob mentioned him above) or Chuchelov, to start writing books! Ramesh has recently written a nice book who i have just started studying it and i love it more and more with each new page i turn. But we need more from him!

    Also, many of them keep their (successful) students secret. This makes a lot of sense, as it becomes more difficult for their students’ direct competitors to make assumptions about opening preparation for example. As for Dvoretsky, Jacob knows better, but i had the impression that he was giving training camps to quite many people the last 15 years. Not a full time job, but short training camps.

  12. @Adrian Mikhalchishin
    I can only repeat that I did not write any criticism of anyone. Reading my piece looking for it, maybe you will find it. But if not, you will find that I do not find myself infallible or all-knowing at all. The existence of other successful trainers is just great and a part of me real point, which has nothing to do with FIDE.

    It is always possible to criticise things. I am not out to do this and have not done this. If I wanted to criticise the trainers committee, I would start a different place, but I see no purpose in doing something negative towards people I respect, who are trying to do something positive for chess.

  13. One addition: It depends on the playing strength of the pupils to. Who’s best for one level might be inappropriate for another level.

  14. An Ordinary Chessplayer

    In RE Jupp53’s comment — Exactly.

    This is a slightly different angle than the subjectivity/objectivity mentioned by GMs Aaagaard and Grivas.

    There is a quite famous trainer in the USA about whom it was remarked, as a criticism, “His students only reach a certain level and go no higher.” When I first read this, I thought: Aha, he is not such a good trainer then. It was only years later that I realized this precise comment could be applied to most any trainer, excepting (perhaps) the trainers of world champions. But then again, would the world champion’s trainer be effective teaching a roomful of primary school beginners? I have enough respect for the profession of school-teacher to think it would not be the case.

  15. Frank van Tellingen

    What makes someone a great trainer? It also depends on what you need to learn. In the Netherlands the trainers that had a great impact on a lot of children passionate about chess are without any doubt the late Rob Brunia, Cor van Wijgerden and Herman Grooten. They taught you to first work a lot on tactics and developed the (in my humble opinion) very well thought-out step method, which helps to get you from scracth to about 2000. As for Brunia, he foremost understood how to deal with children and you always left a session not only with a feeling of having worked a lot, but also with a new perspective, a new way of investigating positions. One of the exercises was very useful: one would be sitting next to an empty board,the pieces neatly arranged next to it. Then you got a sheet with 12 diagrams. You got one minute to look a diagrammed position and were supposed to remember it. Then there was one minute of small talk to distract you, after which you were ordered to set up the position you look at. If you got it a number of times, your personal time would be reduced by ten seconds and so on. It was great fun trying to get it down to 10 seconds and we were told that Loek vn Wely’s personal record was three seconds. It was meant to train your visual memory and you could do this at home as well. There was also a next level to this exercise: you had to remember the position and find the tactical solution in it as well (at first they where simple tactical positions with a one-ply…

  16. One angle on this for me is about language and motivation.
    What I mean is how the trainer speaks or writes to meet my personality and or mood on the day. With a sense of humour and happy upbeat words, with seriousness and direct speach, contemplativeness and motivating quotes or some other way of transferring the necessary needed knowledge… Making chesslearning fun, or as fun as can be, to motivate through tough days on the road to improvement is essential I think. Like Bobby said about the russians: they keep at it! To get better – constant motivation to work is what I need. For this, flexibility can also be very helpful. Came to the lesson to teach endgames, tactics or a specific opening!? What if I change my mind and want to look at something else entirely because I saw a game with an idea that inspired me – if you can meet that sudden inspiration and energy and hold back your prepared lesson til next time, then you might be the (best) trainer for me…

  17. @Miq
    I agree entirely. I always try to find out what kind of Jacob I need to be with a student. You need to connect. Some like my humour, some just want to focus on the chess. Some need to look at a position in depth, others just want to check if their variation is correct.

    I try to install the same understanding and methods into people’s play, but I do it in different ways and focus on different things. Right now I am lecturing in Spain and I am trying to make the points based on conversations with the students, not based on what I was intending to start with.

  18. @Efstratios Grivas: Dvoretsky thanks to his books,also helped various generations of Chess Players to make progress in chess understanding, by describing accurately such things as prophylaxia, for example. Thus he was a kind of universal trainer :every strong aspiring player was reading his books.

  19. Hi Jacob

    As well as the late Mark Dvoretsky’s series, Chess24 have just published a series by Dorfman

    I know Mark had his disagreements with Dorfman’s methods and you have your own theory as spelled out in youur GM prep series and I know you’re not a man to hold back on an opinion , so what is your take on either or both and how they would slot into your way of thinking if it all?


    PS Your QC catalog says ‘A Matter of Technique’ was ‘ published in 2018’ .Guess your illness has delayed things but do we have a timeline and what does it cover? Winning a won position most efficiently??

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