The Grandmaster of Chess Teachers
Although he's only been a resident here since defecting from the Soviet Union in 1979, Lev Alburt is a national treasure. A three-time U.S. champion, GM Alburt is well-known to the chess world as the only world-class competitor to make a career of exclusively instructing beginning and intermediate players, an impressive credential in a field which not only encourages elitism, but, in fact, mandates it.
In his latest book, Three Days with Bobby Fischer and Other Chess Essays: How to Meet Champions and Choose Your Openings, [Norton & Co., 2003], co-authored with longtime collaborator, Al Lawrence, Alburt discusses the epitome of the chess elite, the World Champions, and their most famous bete noir, the infamous Bobby Fischer. The first American chess champion of the world since Paul Morphy in the 19th century, and in the minds of many, the strongest player ever, the enigmatic Fischer, despite his retirement, recently managed to shock the country once again with his widely publicized remarks expressing apparent admiration for the 9/11 terrorists. As the archetypal embodiment of the game-obsessed child, Fischer still seems to cast a shadow in the minds of chess parents everywhere.
Alburt, however, feels that the lesson to be learned from his sad case is a very different one. "While Fischer, like some of the champions before him, such as Steinitz and Morphy, may suffer from mental illness - certainly paranoia - it's not necessarily true that it was caused by chess. Many great players, like, for example, Spassky, are very socially adept." He points out that some of the immortals, like Lasker, who made contributions to both physics and mathematics in addition to ruling the chess (and contract bridge) world for thirty years, and the currently highest rated player, former World Champion Gary Kasparov, often considered a leading expert in Russian political affairs, were exceptionally well-rounded individuals off the board as well. "Chess gave Fischer a constructive outlet for his energies, and there are much worse things a person could be obsessed with."
"The important thing," Alburt says, "is to motivate a student to study the game in a way that's appropriate for them. While some children may have virtually photographic memories for variations and positions, like Fischer and Kasparov, and long attention spans to learn about their extensive theory, parents should be sensitive to ones that need a different approach. Some learners should concentrate on openings that focus on ideas." Although he's too modest to mention it, an excellent choice of instructional materials for the latter type would be his 2002 guide, the first in a proposed series of opening manuals, Pirc Alert!
When asked what advice he would give to parents of future champions, Alburt replies "unless you're certain a child will be World Champion - and perhaps even if you are - chess should foremost be about entertainment and mental development. Learn to enjoy what you're doing, and you'll learn to play your best."#