Coaching Techniques

Alongside our league matches on a Tuesday night we have a number of eager new players who come along to Horfield, practice chess and learn from those more experienced. One challenge for us is to provide good games for a lot of different levels of players. I have found that playing a whole game is often not the best thing for coaching purposes. It’s not fun getting crushed, neither is it satisfying winning against someone who is deliberately playing badly.

A chess game can also take many forms (which is the whole point really!) but this means learning from a single game can be confusing. It won’t necessarily teach you any strategic lessons – most games just teach you not to blunder! At beginner levels I find that mini training games – especially endings – are much more valuable and instructive. “Openings teach you openings. Endgames teach you chess” – said a top player from yonks ago (maybe Lasker or someone like that). Let’s see an example:


Two knights versus one – its trickier than you might think to clearly convert this to a win!

I use this to teach how to play with one particular piece. Chess gets pretty complicated (to say the least!) when you have so many different pieces – but a fundamental starting point is knowing what each piece does best. Knights are magic – they can hop around and hassle everything. Bishops are long-range, but limited to half the board. Rooks are sweepers, director generals leading from the back, etc. However you want to think about it, you need to know your pieces. There are other advantages to using endgames in coaching as well:

  • Having more pieces (e.g. two knights against one) will hopefully show that you should exchange from ahead. Going from 2 vs 1 down to 1 vs 0 is the most powerful demonstration of this.
  • You will (almost certainly) have to win the game by promoting a pawn and using the queen to checkmate. This is an essential technique that you just have to be comfortable in doing.
  • The various strategies for promoting pawns takes time to learn – there is sacrificing pieces, getting a majority on one side, pawnstorming, using the king, etc. This is the step before the last step of promotion/checkmate – learning those means you begin to work backwards, and eventually, you’ll find your own paths through the chasm of chess strategies.
  • You will learn how to avoid typical drawing strategies – like swapping all the pawns! (or stalemates).

Playing through the final stages of a game helps you visualise winning – and should help you with the early and middle stages of the game too (see Maurice Ashley’s talk on the subject)

It’s important to have various levels available with these training games – for example you might start with 2 vs. 0 pieces – then 2 vs. 1, then 2 vs. 2 with a few pawns missing, etc.

Other types of endgames I use help to demonstrate some of the principles in chess – such as why doubled pawns are generally bad. I start with 4 sets of doubled pawns and my opponent gets the usual 8 connected pawns.


Everyone would prefer to play Black here – but the challenge is to work out how to actually take advantage of the weaknesses

If they win this, maybe I’ll un-double one pair of pawns, or play with two pairs on neighbouring files. Keep going until your pupil cannot find clear ways to win.

We would love to know what other training games or coaching strategies other clubs use to help new players – so get in touch if you have ideas!


Mike Harris

Mike is a regular pretender in Bristol’s top division and can also be seen propping up local tournament ladders. He writes a regular column for the Bristol Chess Times and plays a solid 20 openings a season.

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