Chess: England junior talent manager says ‘growth mindset’ key to progress | Chess

Peter Wells may not be a familiar chess name, but the 55-year-old is on a mission. Wells has a key role in efforts to restore England’s current low ranking in junior chess to nearer to what it was 40 years ago. At that time a galaxy of talents led by Nigel Short and Michael Adams were equal rivals to their contemporaries in the former USSR, while teams of English teenagers scored heavily in simultaneous matches against Soviet grandmasters, right up to Anatoly Karpov and Boris Spassky.

The man who famously lost to Bobby Fischer in Reykjavik described his January 1979 encounter with England juniors as “hard bread” and “my worst ever simul result”.

Wells, who on that day 41 years ago was British under-14 co-champion and drew his game against the legendary Russian, is now manager of the English Chess Federation’s Accelerator Programme, which funds training and coaching for a dozen of the nation’s best talents. He aims to mentor the players individually, guide them to appropriate tournaments, develop their opening repertoire, prepare them for international chess, and to be on call when an event, an opening, or an endgame goes wrong.

Wells’s new book Chess Improvement: It’s All In The Mindset, co-authored with the educational psychologist Barry Hymer (Crown House Publishing, £15) is geared to helping players of all ages and levels acquire a more positive mental approach.

He analyses typical difficult situations which players frequently encounter when trying to improve their game for better results. Motivation, dealing with failure, how best to check your games with an engine, and the role of friends, coaches and mentors, are all discussed in detail.

England’s best players Micharl Adams, Nigel Short, Matthew Sadler, Luke McShane, David Howell, Gawain Jones and Harriet Hunt reflect on how their mindset at different times affected their achievements and setbacks.

The revealing foreword by Magnus Carlsen’s father Henrik recounts how during Magnus’s school years the future world champion’s arithmetic got worse than it was at age six, and provides an insider account of what exactly happened in 2005 when Garry Kasparov was hired as Magnus’s trainer, then sacked after one session.

A selection of 40 games and positions illustrate the book’s themes, of which the most striking is a win by McShane against Levon Aronian in the world under-10 championship, where McShane blundered a centre pawn early, then strategically outplayed the future elite GM.

Wells’s thoughtful book should be a useful resource for players of all strengths who are seriously trying to upgrade their results and ratings, for promising juniors, and for their parents and coaches. It can also prove a spark for players whose results are static and who seek a more positive and systematic approach, a different mindset.

Saturday morning sees the start of an annual event with a fine track record of launching the careers of future masters.The under-eight, under-10 and under-12 qualifying sections of the London Junior Championships, first played in 1924 as an under-18 tournament, are staged online this year on the lichess website.

The finals are in December. Entry is open to non-Londoners ineligible for titles, so that back In the second staging of the under-10 in 1975, Short, then from Bolton, won with 9/9 before defeating the legendary Viktor Korchnoi at the prizegiving simul.

Can a new English talent emerge from the London junior seedbed in 2020? These are very early days, but I shall be watching one young player’s games on Saturday with particular interest.

3697: 1 Rf1! and if Rxf1 2 Qxf1 Qxe3?? 3 Qf8 mate. If 2…Re5 3 Bxe5 dxe5 4 Qf7 White wins easily on material. In the diagram 1 Re6?? Rf2?+ loses, while in the game 1 Bxg7+? led to a draw. The position is from Barden v Geoff Harris, Nottingham 1954, final round.


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