Where Grandmasters Advise Young Players
5X5: Q & A with GM Patrick Wolff
Twice US Champion and former second to World Champion Vishwanathan Anand
- 1.What is the advantage of someone starting to play chess at an early age? When is it best to start? And for those who might be late in learning the game, are they able to get back on track to becoming a titled player?
I think the biggest advantage is that youngsters start to enjoy chess as soon as possible! In terms of improving at the game, the earlier you learn, clearly the better your chances of fulfilling your potential, but I don’t think it is ever too late to start.
- 2.If there are three main departments of the game – opening, middlegame and endgame – what portion of our time should we spend on each? And what is the most important?
You may find answers to these questions if you read my book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Chess! I am quite proud of this book: I put a lot of effort into writing it and, even though I say so myself, I really do believe that it is one of the best basic chess tutors out there. But to answer your question directly, there is no easy way to determine the amount of time you should spend on each phase.
For the endgame, there is basic knowledge that is important to acquire and which can be learned with effort. Any serious player must eventually master essential endgame principles and procedures.
For the opening, the most important thing is to have a complete repertoire and scheme of play that enables you to obtain positions in the middlegame which you like and can play well. Then you should improve your understanding of these middlegame positions in order to get the most out of them. One of the best ways to do this is to play through the games of top grandmasters who adopt the same openings as you. I remember, almost 25(!) years ago, I was working on the Meran Slav and I asked Anand how to master it. He told me to study the games of Ivanchuk and Bareev. Note that he did not tell me simply to copy them! He said study them in order to learn from them. I think that is very good advice.
Then, once you have gained the necessary knowledge of opening and middlegame positions so as to play them well, it is up to you to figure out how to expand and/or deepen that knowledge. But keep studying endgames for the rest of your life, because you can never be too good at playing them!
- 3.From your own experience can you recall any specific type of opening position or endgame theme that an aspiring chess player should be sure to study because of its particular importance?
You should feel comfortable with your choice of openings. Some people will do well to play the Dragon Sicilian, others the French Defense or the Petroff, for example. The most important thing is to recognize which opening variations best suit your style and then study them as diligently as you can. And, of course, your opening repertoire should be both sound and complete. As for the endgame, you just have to learn all of it! Endgames with king and pawn, rook and pawn, minor pieces, etc.
- 4.Not everyone can be a chess world champion. But how can chess be of benefit in life and business?
Chess is very unusual in that it is completely fair. As Lasker famously said, “On the chessboard lies and hypocrisy do not survive long. The creative combination lays bare the presumption of lies; the merciless fact, culmination in checkmate, contradicts the hypocrites.” If you excel at chess, you will be more conscious of integrity. Your character will be further developed by your respect for the truth of chess and your acceptance of the real reasons why you win and lose at the game, as you look objectively at both the strengths and shortcomings of yourself and of others. Then, entering the wider world, you will see that lies and hypocrisy not only survive but often decide. This fact – that lies and hypocrisy are so prevalent in our world – necessarily causes a great deal of distress to all of us. But, because you have played chess, you will have a clearer perception of truth and fairness. When you experience the wonders of chess and understand that it is a beautiful fantasy – but only a fantasy – this can make it easier to cope with the limitations of living in the real world. Perhaps then you can accept life and business for what they really are. Of course, as everyone knows, chess also strengthens your mind and increases your fighting spirit.
- 5.Why would you recommend chess to youngsters? What joys may they expect to experience on this thrilling journey, in addition to those you have mentioned in your previous answer?
It is an endless arena of intellectual challenge, aesthetic beauty, and competitive excitement. That’s not bad for a game that at first sight seems so simple!