Charlie Storey: "To be successful you must first enjoy it"

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
4/11/2020 – Charlie Storey decided he would give up trying to be a professional player in order to become a professional chess coach. His approach served him well, as he has collected many success stories during his 25 years as a trainer. In this interview, the FIDE Master from Morpeth, Northumberland shares his views on coaching, the benefits kids get from learning chess and, of course, the Sniper.

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A professional chess coach

Charlie Storey is a chess player and teacher with over 160 victories in open tournaments and several National Junior Chess Champions created, who has worked regularly as coach to England's youth squads. In addition, he is a qualified teacher of Business and Computer Science, performing at 'A' in his Masters in Teaching & Learning. Storey regularly teaches one-on-one via Skype using ChessBase.

Storey is also the creator of 'the Sniper', a sound and universal system that ensures new and creative opening situations full of imbalance and, hence, winning prospects. He has published two DVDs on the subject, a very successful one for Black and, more recently, an adaptation to play it with the white pieces as well. 


The Sniper

You've developed a close-to-universal system for both Black and White, the Sniper. Learning it definitely serves as a time-saving approach, especially for non-professional players. Do most of your students receive it well and employ it in the long run?

Yes, the Sniper is a universal system for both sides and, of course, there is some crossover in the pattern recognition and the middlegame tactics, which is quite a good and unique feature for a White and a Black Sniper practitioner.

My students consist of two types — talented juniors aged 8 -16 and adults looking to developing their Sniper skills. The juniors tend to just build on what they have already learned from school clubs and that means not teaching The Black Sniper. After they have mastered one Black opening (typically 1…e5 or 1…c5) do I then suggest the Black Sniper, unless they are really keen to learn it. The White Sniper is different. This is an excellent universal system  to play for juniors, as the extra tempo makes it easy to learn and play — juniors become very difficult to beat when they have learned The White Sniper.

How much of a difference does it make to play the Sniper with White or with Black? Especially for amateur players, who do not face deeply-prepared opponents frequently.

For amateurs (under 2100), having familiar middlegame plans is invaluable, as it reduces the enormous range of tactical patterns that is needed to know when you play multiple different openings — as all memory decays over time, this helps results. The White Sniper and, to a larger extent, The Black Sniper fly under the radar of traditional main lines, and this ensures your opponent has more opportunity not to know or to recall their learned theory. Most of the traps that are found in the Snipers are favourable too, which is an added bonus of the universal Sniper systems.

When working with beginners, would you say it's easier to teach them the Sniper in comparison to other more classical openings?

The Sniper uses colourful teaching language which helps with the memory of the ideas. Using phrases like Black Dragon / White Dragon and using football teams representing the style of what is going up helps build hooks for our puny human memory in the vast sea of similar chess variations.

I often use the word 'style' to represent how Black plays against The White Sniper. For example, if Black plays the King's Indian Defence against the White Sniper, it is called King's Indian Style, as strictly speaking it is not a King's Indian given the fact that White has not played c4/d4, but this makes it easier to remember the White Sniper variations.

All openings should be learned on a very superficial level, but when you dedicate to one system I do not think that there is a better opening for White than the White Sniper. For Black, now that there is some useful theory it is also an excellent choice. Even though 1…e5 is probably slightly more sound from an engine viewpoint (looking for equality), the Sniper is an excellent human opening for learning traps and learning positional chess, and basic to grasp advanced strategies than can re-occur with some frequency.


The White Sniper

The White Sniper is characterised by three moves against any black setup: 1.g3 2.Bg2 and 3.c4 though not necessarily in that order. Think of The White Sniper as a Hyper- Accelerated Sicilian Dragon against anything that Black plays.


Out of all the possible transpositions (King's Indian Defence, Benoni, Pirc, etc) that might arise from the Sniper, which one is your favourite to play against?

I initially had problems making Benonis work for the Black Sniper, but now I am really happy with Black's positions from a complex chaos with soundness. It is one of the best ways to play for a win with Black, although against strong GMs you are still trying to draw with Black.

Please share two of your favourite games with the Sniper (one with White and one with Black).

The first is a video of a bullet game played against Garry Kasparov's trainer GM Zurab Azmaiparashvilli, with the legend GM Adrian Mikhalchisin watching on — he was the instructor on my FIDE Instructor course. I won the game in an informal setting played in a wonderful spirit. In Zurab’s defence, he beat me in the following game. 

The second is highly instructive. I needed a draw to secure my second IM norm at the 2019 British Chess Championship — the final position is nothing short of legendary!

 

Chess coaching

What is it that brings you joy from teaching? You've been doing it for so long!

I really enjoy Skype coaching using my ChessBase resources and tools, as I still learn a lot whilst investigating new openings with talented students, and also playing out Sniper Tabiya positions with them. ChessBase is fantastic for Skype screen-share, as there is additional real time data with ChessBase online database and with Stockfish 10 assessments. On my super-fast processor I get to 'depth 30' on new positions very fast — I consider depth 30 on Stockfish to be an extremely credible opinion, more so than the opinion of a strong grandmaster, although it is still nice to see games from the 'best opening moves' position. 

Once Magnus Carlsen said that winning games is one of the most important motivators to keep improving, while it's common knowledge that one learns the most from setbacks. How do you handle this factor with your students? Should they be — at least partially — "shielded" against losing more than necessary?

A great question. The reality is that the nature of Swiss events means you are normally playing players on a similar ability level to yourself, so you are constantly going to score not much more or less than fifty percent.

I teach students in chess and computing — the pedagogy is very similar — that to be successful you must first enjoy it (the teacher should ensure this), embrace failure like it is your best friend, recognise you are human, that you are trying your best and that it is good enough whatever the outcome. We have a tendency to feel 'chess pain', which is good but very painful. It is important to teach students that they can control how much or how little they can comfortably handle when they have inevitable setbacks. This leads to the answer to your question, which is a persistent advice I give: "The only way you lose at chess is if you don’t learn something from the game".

Have you noticed that learning chess helps kids in other areas of their development? If so, which ones?

I have known for many years the benefits of what playing and studying chess does for kids.

  • Gives them the ability to sit down and think
  • Opens a door to education
  • Confidence in your own opinion
  • A scientific and growth mind-set is cultivated
  • Intellectual friendship circle is increased
  • Self-learning is accelerated for all areas of interest
  • Learning how to effectively manage your thoughts and emotions
  • Most importantly, it teaches humility, which is the ultimate power

It also massively reduces ADHD in kids and helps kids with Asperger's and minor autism, as the chess community generally embrace kids like this, whereas in many other sports/activities they are sometimes ridiculed by kids who have yet to be correctly educated. In fact, they can easily excel with their focused mindset.

Online teaching has become much more prevalent in recent years. It's only natural to think that some of the coaching offered might not be of a very high standard. Is this true in the world of chess instruction? How should people avoid hiring non-qualified instructors?

I am a qualified teacher trained at a top university with a focus on pedagogy and I performed at A in Masters in Teaching & Learning, so my view should carry some weight here.

As a chess teacher/coach/trainer of 25 years, I have seen the best and the worst, and it is clear the best are first and foremost excellent communicators with charisma and who have excellent knowledge about chess and also have had many years' experience. The two best I have seen — I have tried to learn as much as I could from them — are GM Adrian Mikhalchisin and IM Andrew Martin. Charisma + Enthusiasm + Knowledge + Experience + Teaching and/or FIDE Training are essentials, but the most important factor is to really care about your students and have fun with them.

If you want the best coaches, they are proven DVD presenters and, as ChessBase is what I call "The Hollywood of chess DVD presentation", I would suggest ChessBase Authors page is the first and best place to seek an excellent proven qualified coach. This normally means they can charge premium prices for their time, but their training and mentorship is worth it and will help the student become the best they can be for the amount of time they have available for their chess learning.

Miscellaneous questions

You've won a huge amount of open tournaments in the UK. What are your ambitions as a chess player?

Many years ago, back in 1991, I had a 'religious experience' which resulted in a vision. This vision guided me to become a chess teacher (perhaps one for another interview as this experience had a deeply profound effect on me!). After studying the Bible, it became clear to me you had to give up your life to find your life — for me that meant giving up trying to be a chess professional player and instead becoming a professional chess coach. My ambition was to become the best chess teacher in the world. I'm not quite there yet, as Adrian and Andy Martin are still above me, but I am catching them!

As a player, I am a FIDE Master with two IM norms and I have won over 160 UK Opens consisting of standard, rapidplay and blitz. The latest IM norm I got was using the Black Sniper and the White Sniper at The British Chess Championship 2019, and I need to play a few more tournaments to get the rating up and the final norm, but I often find I have to rush the end of my games in tournaments to get back to do the coaching. This sometimes has an effect on my performance, but it's still worth it, as first and foremost I am a dedicated chess coach.

Do you have chess idols? Who are they? Why?

I am a Christian and don't believe in idols. However, I respect the best chess teachers, so back to Adrian and Andy. I use a lot of Capablanca's games in my endgame training programs and I think Karsten Muller is worthy of immense respect in the endgame.

Who would you want to see challenging Magnus Carlsen in a World Championship match? Why?

I would like to see a woman challenge him and win it, preferably also a Viking!

Do you feel nostalgic about the pre-computer era in chess?

ChessBase and computers have been interwoven in my life since 1992. I love everything about ChessBase and to be a FritzTrainer author is literally a dream come true for me. I would like to have all of the ChessBase programs on display in my study when the royalties from this White Sniper enable me to buy a bigger house! I have memory of going through an ECO Tomb with a highlighter trying to remember the variations. That was so very boring — thank God for ChessBase!


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Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.