What does coaching actually mean in chess?

In relation to that, how is it possible for a chess player to coach two different players? Do the trainees share their work, or does the coach work on different areas of the game with each player, and in that way avoid any "moral conflicts"?

Two of the most notable examples would be:

-Peter Heine Nielsen, who was coaching Anand for ten years (Wiki), before switching to his main WCC rival Carlsen in 2013 (although he was also helping Carlsen before 2013);

-Vladimir Chuchelov, who coached both Fabiano Caruana and Anish Giri (I am not sure whether he even coached them simultaneously at some point).

On the other hand, Gelfand stated in 2012 that he refused an offer from Kasparov to help him in his match against Anand, since Kasparov was helping Anand in his WC match against Topalov in 2010.

I cannot imagine coaches deliberately trying to keep secret some of the work they have previously done (it seems too artificial). Also, revealing all the secrets of the player they previously worked with, does not seem to me as "morally sound". So, what is the deal then?

3 Answers 3


Well first lets start with the most simple answer... Chess is not such a simple sport that if taught to multiple people will result in the same thing. Even if what you learned was exactly the same.

If you are interested in getting into more detail then please read on :)

Chess coaching in a sense is just you sharing what you know... That's all there is to it, you tell your students how to think as chess players but that does not necessarily mean they WILL think like that.

Chess coaches simply hone, and help their students master their skills, they give them the knowledge needed (and of course more) but that doesn't mean it will always result in the same thing.

If I were to give a real life example, this would be the most simple and true to chess.

You can have a machine that takes metal as a material and it constructs a bike, however if you go to another machine and give it the exact same material that doesn't mean it will also produce a bike, it might give you a car! Who knows...


^ That was the answer, here is some extra stuff if you are interested in more.

Over time in the history of chess, many players like Mikhail Tal, Boby Fischer, Alekhine and so on... All of them had their own unique play style that is remembered until today. However no one can deny the fact that ALL of them had a lot of shared knowledge, they knew the same things yet even so, they played differently.

Chess is simply a beautiful war on a small 64 square battlefield... Even if you both know the same things and same tactics, you still have your own unique plans.

And now I am done :P Sorry for the long post, but hopefully I helped.

  • Thank you very much for your answer and the addendum! I see what you mean by using shared knowledge in a different way. I was also wondering what happens when e.g. Anand and PHN find a brilliant novelty in a well-known opening. In that case, they have something others probably don't have. So, when PHN switches to Carlsen, is he allowed to pass this secret weapon on to Carlsen? Or the deal is: what Anand and PHN (or PHN alone) find together, that can be shared with potential new partners of PHN, and the things Anand finds himself (or help with other coaches), he keeps it secret from PHN.
    – Zvonimir
    Commented Mar 4, 2015 at 10:02
  • The moment he starts teaching, that knowledge becomes share-able. Doesn't matter if it was only found by 2 people, the moment a chess player becomes a coach or a teacher, his knowledge is immediately public to everyone. So basically, if you;re not prepared to share your knowledge truly and truthfully, don't ever be a coach. As you might hinder a player's growth etc... However, if you're still a player, and never coached and you're still active as a chess player... You can keep all the secrets you want. If you have anymore questions about chess, feel free to ask I'll answer as best I can :)
    – Chessbrain
    Commented Mar 4, 2015 at 10:31

In general a "coach" is someone, which has some more experience and will help you to improve your chess. So at first, he will teach you all the basis concept, show you the most important games played in the history, make you practice and help you improving your analysing process. Finally, when you become a grandmaster (or even stronger in the examples you give) will help you in the "every day training" and in a specific part which is very important in modern chess "the openings". When playing opening you need to be always up-to-date and always have news ideas. Having a coach which can focus to this part is a big help as players must focus and opening AND training there abilities.

About players sharing a coach, some players are training as a team, for instance chinese top players are for most of them training together. Then if people become rival, as in the fight for the world championship. This guys are preparing always new stuff to surprise your opponent, so even if the coach is sharing with his new student it won't be so big problem.


At the top, coaching usually means opening preparation.

In the case of Chuchelov, who trains rather young players, there also some kind of positional assessment course at the beginning of a collaboration and regular calculation training. (According to a chessbase interview.)

It is also very common for players to work with each other on certain openings. So for Chuchelov's trainees to play each other won't be much different from training partners playing each other, which really happens all the time. (For example Svidler/Grischuk)

And apparently it is not unusual that seconds also participate in the training of physical fitness as well.

Peter H. Nielsen didn't coach Carlsen in his first match against Anand, although he had already stopped working for Anand. To me this implies that opening theory moves quickly enough and specific match preparation is sufficiently different from match to match, that after one, two years there aren't that many "deadly" secrets left to reveal.

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