Chess is not taught, it is only learned

MEXICO CITY (appro).– The phrase that gives this column its title is from the former world champion, Mikhail Botvinnik, the patriarch of Soviet chess who, curiously, had a chess school for advanced students. Vladimir Kramnik and Garry Kasparov, among others, were pupils of this school. And here what is interesting is the reflection that Botvinnik makes. How can chess not be taught? The phrase has a trick because finally, teaching in chess and in any other field of knowledge, has to do with the development of ideas that students can acquire according to the knowledge presented.

For example, if you want to study physics and you are faced with Newton’s laws, it is not enough for them to be stated. Here we have to show the students examples of how these laws are applied in an infinity of physical phenomena. Come on, you have to have a pragmatic approach: that the student sees, feels, realizes how the laws are applied and how nature behaves in classical mechanics. When this has been learned, the knowledge remains and so the students learn.

The teaching/learning process is simple: it is not just about giving information and that’s it. There is no learning there. The latter occurs when the student gets involved in the subject and when he reaches his conclusions, which makes him finally learn a subject, capture it, make it his own. And then we say that the student has learned.

Going back to chess, if you want to improve your level of play, you have to dedicate yourself to working hard on the different issues. For example, if it is a question of studying pawn endings, one must internalize the methods used in this part of the game: the square of the pawn, the opposition, the conjugated squares, among many topics. The scholar must analyze each position carefully and always doubt the value judgments that book authors make. There are well-known cases of endgames, where someone, even an obscure fan, found a move that everyone overlooked and that ultimately changes a result from a draw to the victory of one of the sides.

The theme of improving is recurring in all chess players, but suddenly most of us face a blockage that we can’t seem to overcome. The reason for this is that we may take things for granted. We don’t make the corresponding effort and so we don’t delve into the subtleties of the position, which can finally teach us to understand the correct evaluation of what happens on the board.

Perhaps also, you have to accept it, the worst problem that we chess fans have is that we don’t have enough time to study. And so we work as far as possible. And then many times we regret because we are going to compete and we lose positions that we should never lose. And again, the reason is that there are a host of external elements that prevent us from working and improving our game.

To do? The only solution is to find more free time. However, what can be done in the face of this time limitation for the study is to discipline oneself. Come on, let’s say we have one free hour per day to study chess. Well then, let’s work in that free hour and do it with perseverance, method and discipline. Let’s not miss the study appointment. Wilhem Steinitz, the first World Champion, already said it: “it is better to study one hour a day than six hours a single day”. In this way we can alleviate some of the difficulties of lack of time.

The teaching is simple: if we work and get involved in the positions we study, eventually the perception of many positions will open up and then we will be learning. Teaching is actually a guided learning process, but the students are the ones who bear the brunt of this process.

Chess is not taught, it is only learned