/ Where Grandmasters Advise Young Players

Q & A: GM Yasser Seirawan, Four-Time US Champion

Where Grandmasters Advise Young Players

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?
The ideal time to learn chess is between five and seven years old. At that age your mind is like a sponge and you easily absorb knowledge. It is crucial to instill within yourself a love of the game, a passion. If that doesn’t happen you will easily turn to other distractions. Coming back to chess at a later age is far more problematic. Will you have the time to spend learning? Will the pressures of everyday life interfere? Are you financially secure? These are all tough issues. But, I repeat, if your interest is great and you are willing to put in the time and have the ability to focus, mastery is attainable.

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?
It depends on your perspective! If you are a GM, you are going to work very hard on your openings. If you are a club player you are going to focus on your middlegame play. If you are a beginner, it is the endgame. The endgame is by far the most important. Learning endgames is like cheating on an exam. You just know you are going to get asked certain questions, but will you have the answers ready?

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?
Isolated Queen Pawn (IQP) positions occur in so many openings that it would be a very good idea to learn the ins and outs of these pawn structures for both sides. Of all the endings, those with rooks are by far the most common. Spending an extensive amount of time studying these endings is a very good idea.

Not everyone can be a chess world champion. But how can chess be of benefit in life and business?
Chess teaches us many things: reasoning, responsibility, discipline, patience, critical thinking, competitiveness and the rewards of studying and working hard. The mix of sport, art and creativity is enormously satisfying and these benefits remain with us in whatever field we go. One thing I’m extremely conscious of is excellence. Chess taught me what true excellence really is and how difficult it is to achieve. Now whenever I see excellence I stop to admire those who really excel – no matter what their field.

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?
I’d tell them that some of the most brilliant people who ever lived, past and present, have played chess or at the very least admired those who do. I’d ask these youngsters if they too would like to be considered brilliant? And would they like to reach their highest thinking potentials? If a youngster does decide to go into competitive tournament play I’d give them a stern warning: chess is an emotional roller–coaster ride, as thrilling and devastating as any sport.
Be prepared: one day you are the professor giving lessons, the next day the pupil. Do not lose sleep over a loss, rather be critical of your own play and see where you might have played better.

Read More in American Chess Magazine #02

Q & A: GM Yasser Seirawan, Four-Time US Champion
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