Why Having a Team Can Make You Better

Nationals

If you are a chess player from the Greater Richmond Area, you may know that I’m a team guy when it comes to chess at my school, MLWGS. I think that during my three years in the program, my perspective on why I played chess and how well I played changed as result of being on a team.

In middle school, I kind of hit a dry spell, and my rating stayed between 1250 and 1450 for three to four years. There weren’t many serious tournaments in Richmond, and frankly because of that, I didn’t have a reason to feel like I needed to be any better to improve at the scholastic level. A lot of coaches say that you have to give up scholastic chess to get beyond 1200, but honestly, I don’t think that’s entirely true.

In my three years at MLWGS, I have been a captain, a tournament director, and a coach to try to help my teammates get better. Most of the players on the team have hit the 1000 rating mark since I started coaching, some of whom have only been playing competitively for a year or less! This year, those guys won the U1200 National High School Chess Championships in San Diego, CA.

So how is that experience beneficial for any 1700+ rated player? In truth, I’ve gotten as much out of the program as anyone else has this year, and here’s the secret: coaching. By being a coach, you are forcing yourself to articulate why some ideas are good while others are bad in such a way that a lower rated player can understand.  It sounds silly, but honestly, by hearing yourself repeating the same ideas over and over again, you actually begin to hear yourself. Let me explain:

On a piece of paper, write down three concepts that you think are the most critical to playing a solid opening and three more for planning during the middle game (for example, one of mine is optimization, which is developing your pieces to their best possible squares so they are ready to use in the middle game). Now look over all the games that you have lost against higher rated players over the past year, and bookmark it if you lost as a result of failing to adhere to your three most valued opening principles or middle game stratagems. Surprisingly many, right?

When I started coaching my team, I was rated in the mid–1700s, and as I coached more, I quickly broke 1900 (October 2013). Though I did have to do a fair amount of bookwork on the side, coaching really helped me identify my gray areas as a chess player. Another crucial reason of how coaching a team is beneficial for highly rated players is that it makes you more competitive. As my school team became stronger and stronger this year, I also became more motivated to find my own ways to excel and improve (my team was winning tournament after tournament, shouldn’t I try too?). While my team was busy winning the U1200 National High School Chess Championships, I was meeting my goal of finishing in the Top 100 of the Championship section with a score of 4.5/7 (I placed 76th).

Playing at the scholastic level after breaking 1300 seldom reaps rewards, but sometimes it isn’t the playing that always matters. As long as you save time for yourself to study, coaching helps you improve as both a teacher and a player.

 

Feel like I missed something? Feel free to leave a comment below!

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