Bruce Pandolfini (born September 17, 1947) is an American chess author, teacher, and coach. A USCF national master, he is generally considered to be America’s most experienced chess teacher. As a coach and trainer, Pandolfini has possibly conducted more chess sessions than anyone in the world. By the summer of 2015 he had given an estimated 25,000 private and group lessons.
In his books and columns he has explained his methodology for individual instruction, indicating that it consists of four basic parts.
- Regular review of the student’s games and play;
- Constant practice and examination without moving the pieces;
- Gradual mastery of endgame basics and fundamentals;
- Step-by-step instilling of the analytic method.
The latter he achieves by relentlessly posing relevant questions, until the student absorbs the process of determining reasonable options and making logical choices.
Influence on chess presentation
Starting in the 1980s, Pandolfini identified and filled a role producing books especially for novices and intermediate players. His books have been influential and continue to be steady best sellers. While being one of the first chess writers in America to rely on algebraic chess notation, Pandolfini created and/or popularized a few other innovations in instructional chess writing. It had been common for chess authors to list several moves before showing a diagram. Pandolfini realized beginning players struggle with that format. Most of his books display larger diagrams, often with verbalized explanations (instead of a mere series of notated chess moves), so that beginning and casual players can examine chess games with greater ease and comprehension. Another aspect to Pandolfini’s teaching is his reliance on short, pithy, often counterintuitive statements to seize the student’s attention and stimulate imagination.
Introduction to chess
Pandolfini was born in Lakewood, New Jersey and grew up in Brooklyn, New York. His interest in chess was first realized when he was not quite fourteen. He was browsing in a public library, when he came upon the chess section. There were more than thirty books on the shelf, and they all seemed fascinating to him. The library permitted an individual to take out a certain number of books at a time. Pandolfini took out an initial batch of six books and then went back enough times that day to clear out the entire section. Then he skipped school for a month, instead immersing himself in the withdrawn books.
Chess teaching career
Although Pandolfini hadn’t played in many tournaments, he reached chess master strength by his late teens. His long and prolific chess-teaching career, however, didn’t begin until immediately after Bobby Fischer won the World Chess Championship in 1972 from Boris Spassky in Reykjavik, Iceland, while Pandolfini was still working at the Strand Bookstore in Greenwich Village. During the match Pandolfini became an analyst for the PBS coverage. He served as an assistant to Shelby Lyman, the show’s insightful moderator, and at the time, America’s top chess teacher. It was Lyman who encouraged Pandolfini to pursue chess teaching as a career, and that’s what he soon did.
Starting with private instruction and small seminars, Pandolfini, with George Kane and Frank Thornally, formed U. S. Chess Masters, Inc. (or USCM), an educational organization that structured systematized programs to a wide range of players. In 1973 the same group began teaching chess classes for credit at the New School for Social Research, the first such courses ever offered in America. Pandolfini would remain on the faculty of the New School until 1991.
Through the years, and while maintaining an active private practice, Pandolfini also taught chess and lectured on the game in many different schools and clubs, including the Shelby Lyman Chess Institute, Stuyvesant High School, Lehman College, New York University, Hunter College, the Harvard Club, the University of Alabama, the New York Athletic Club and the Rockefeller Institute.
The 1980s and beyond
In the 1980s Pandolfini’s career took different turns. From 1980-1981 he was a spokesperson for Mattel Electronics, with his picture appearing on the box of Mattel’s initial version of a computer chess game. During those same years Pandolfini became the director of the Chess Institute at the Marshall Chess Club, heading a staff of 23 teachers and masters. At about the same time, Pandolfini developed his longtime relationship with Simon & Schuster, creating the Fireside Chess Library in 1983. In addition to his S & S involvement, Pandolfini published a number of books with Random House and several other publishers.
In 1984, Pandolfini became the executive director of the Manhattan Chess Club, then at Carnegie Hall, a position he retained until 1987. It was from the platform of the Manhattan Chess Club that Pandolfini and Faneuil Adams co-founded in 1986 the Manhattan Chess Club School, which would later be renamed as Chess-in-the-schools, an organization that since its formation has provided free chess instruction to thousands of New York City school children.
Several years later, Pandolfini was featured in Fred Waitzkin’s revealing book "Searching for Bobby Fischer" (1988), a perceptive narrative on his talented son Josh and Josh’s successes in the world of children’s chess. The book would later become a Paramount film (1992) of the same title, in which Pandolfini, Josh’s real-life teacher, was portrayed by award winning actor Ben Kingsley. Pandolfini was the film’s chief chess consultant, training the actors and creating the scenario chess positions. Subsequent films Pandolfini consulted on were "Fresh" and "The Assassins."
In 1990, Pandolfini was the chief commentator at the New York half of the Garry Kasparov–Anatoly Karpov World Chess Championship Match. Later that same year, he was the head coach of the American delegation to the World Youth Chess Championships in Fon-du-lac, Wisconsin. In addition to co-creating the Chess-in-the-schools program  for public schools, Pandolfini has been associated with various private institutions, including long-time relationships with Trinity, Browning, Dalton, and Berkeley Carroll.
Pandolfini’s list of successful students is impressive, including Fabiano Caruana, one of the highest ranked chess players in history; Josh Waitzkin, subject of the film Searching for Bobby Fischer); Rachel Crotto, two-time U.S. Women’s Chess Champion; Jeff Sarwer, the 1988 Under-10 World Chess Champion and now professional poker player. Other grandmasters receiving lessons as children from Bruce include grandmasters Joel Benjamin, three-time U.S. Chess Champion; and Max Dlugy, 1985 World Junior Chess Champion. On the September 2015 USCF rating list, several of his students continue to be among the nation’s top ranked scholastic players.
Pandolfini's Teaching Principles
- Simplify when winning; complicate when losing.
- Play the board, not the player, unless you know something about the player.
- Sacrifice your opponent’s pieces before sacrificing your own.
- A principle says where to look, not what to see.
- Master the principles so you can know when to break them.
- Don’t just do something. Sit there.
- The biggest mistake is to think you can’t make one.
- Learn from your mistakes, especially not to repeat them.
- Don’t consider everything, just everything that matters.
- Solve it yourself and it’s yours for life.
- Every win is first won in practice.
- Don’t ignore an opening move just because you used to rely on it.
- Bad players can play good moves by accident.
- No one ever won by resigning.
Convenient shortcuts to presentation:
Not only has Pandolfini relied on terse, often epigrammatic phrasings of principles, he typically provides useful constructs for remembering and reinforcing them. One aspect that Pandolfini has codified nicely concerns planning, an area of chess thinking with which students tend to have difficulty. Indeed, in choosing plans, students often opt for courses of action opposed to what they should be doing. For example, students thoughtlessly complicate when they should be simplifying or simplify when they should be complicating. The following chart, from "Pandolfini’s Chess Complete," is an example of his use of classification to enable students to recall and access basic chess strategies.
Enemy Problem – Do This Against It:
- Bad minor piece – avoid its exchange; keep it restricted
- Blocked pieces – keep them blocked
- Cramped game – avoid freeing exchanges
- Down the Exchange – use rook to set up winning endgame
- Exposed king – threaten with pieces; set up double attacks
- Ill-timed flank attack – counter in the center
- Lack of development – look for tactics and combinations
- Unprotected pieces – play for double attacks
- Material disadvantage – trade pieces, not pawns
- . Weak castled position – open lines; invade on weak squares
- Overextended pawns – attack with pieces
- Pawn-grabbing – exploit disarray; storm the king
- Pinned units – pile up on them
- Early queen moves – attack it with development
- Time trouble – find good, but surprising threats
- Uncastled king – prevent castling; open the center
- Under heavy attack – shun simplification until gain
- Unfavorable majorities – create passed pawn
- Weak pawns – fix, exploit and attack
- Weak squares – occupy them
Pandolfini has written a monthly column for the magazine Chess Life titled "The ABC's of Chess" since 1979. This column once featured endgame lessons, then monthly tutorials on openings, but since the early 1990s has evolved into "Solitaire Chess," an instructional column inviting readers to guess the moves played in a single chess game. Pandolfini also has written regular features for the Chess Cafe ("The Q & A Way") and Chess.com, both of which offer online services. But it is as an author of chess books that his writings are perhaps best known. Pandolfini has to his credit more than thirty titles on the game of chess.
List of Books, APPs, Videos, and DVDs by Pandolfini
1980 Let’s Play Chess (Simon & Schuster)
1985 Bobby Fischer's Outrageous Chess Moves (Fireside Chess Library)
1985 One Move Chess By The Champions (Fireside Chess Library)
1986 ABC's of Chess (Fireside Chess Library)
1986 Principles of the New Chess (Fireside Chess Library)
1986 Kasparov's Winning Chess Tactics (Fireside Chess Library)
1987 Russian Chess (Fireside Chess Library)
1988 Pandolfini's Endgame Course: Basic Endgame Concepts Explained by America's Leading Chess Teacher (Fireside Chess Library)
1988 Best of Chess Life and Review, Volume 1 (Fireside Chess Library)
1988 Best of Chess Life and Review, Volume 2 (Fireside Chess Library)
1989 Chess Openings: Traps And Zaps (Fireside Chess Library)
1989 Weapons of Chess: An Omnibus of Chess Strategies (Fireside Chess Library)
1990 Understanding Chess - Pandolfini on Video: Master teacher Bruce Pandolfini teaches the elements and tactical themes of chess
1991 Chessercizes: New Winning Techniques for Players of All Levels (Fireside Chess Library)
1991 More Chessercizes: Checkmate: 300 Winning Strategies for Players of All Levels (Fireside Chess Library)
1992 Pandolfini's Chess Complete: The Most Comprehensive Guide to the Game, from History to Strategy (Fireside Chess Library)
1993 Beginning Chess: Over 300 Elementary Problems for Players New to the Game (Fireside Chess Library)
1993 More Chess Openings: Traps and Zaps 2 (Fireside Chess Library)
1994 Square One: A Chess Drill Book for Beginners (Fireside Chess Library)
1994 Chess Target Practice: Battle Tactics for Every Square on the Board (Fireside Chess Library)
1995 Chess Thinking: The Visual Dictionary of Chess Moves, Rules, Strategies and Concepts (Fireside Chess Library)
1995 Chess Doctor: Surefire Cures for What Ails Your Game (Fireside Chess Library)
1996 Power Mates: Essential Checkmating Strategies and Techniques (Fireside Chess Library)
1996 Chess Starts Here (Waitzkin & Pandolfini) – Audio (Chess Beat LLC)
1997 Kasparov and Deep Blue: The Historic Chess Match Between Man and Machine (Fireside Chess Library)
1998 The Winning Way (Fireside Chess Library)
2003 Pandolfini's Ultimate Guide to Chess (Fireside Chess Library)
2003 Every Move Must Have A Purpose: Strategies From Chess For Business And Life (Hyperion)
2003 Every Move Must Have a Purpose: Strategies From Chess For Business And Life (Listen and Live Audio, Inc.)
2005 Q&A Way in Chess (Random House)
2005 Solitaire Chess (Random House)
2007 Treasure Chess: Trivia, Quotes, Puzzles, and Lore from the World's Oldest Game –Hardcover – (Random House)
2007 Pandolfini's Chess Challenges: 111 Winning Endgames (Random House)
2008 Let's Play Chess: A Step by Step Guide for New Players (The Pandolfini Chess Library – Russell Enterprises))
2009 Endgame Workshop: Principles for the Practical Player (Russell Enterprises)
2010 The Rules of Chess (Russell Enterprises)
2010 Chess Movies 1 (Russell Enterprises)
2011 Chess Movies 2: The Means and Ends (Russell Enterprises)
2012 Pandolfini’s Mates in One: (An APP)
Quotes by Bruce Pandolfini
"Playing chess gives us a chance to start out life over again, and this time, no one has more money than us, no one is more beautiful, no one lives in a better neighborhood, and we all go to the same school. Other than having the first move (and this benefit is shared equally) no one starts with any unfair advantage." (Chess Life magazine)
"Chess is art. Chess is sport. But it's also war. You have to master on the order of a hundred thousand different chess ideas and concepts, patterns of pawns and pieces. That takes work. And you're going to lose a lot of games in the process, so you'll have to be able to make your peace with that, which isn't easy. Because there is no luck involved in the game, you have to face the fact that you lost because your opponent outwitted you. Ninety per cent of my students give up on tournament chess when they get into junior high school and the main reason is that they can't stand losing." (New Yorker Interview, 6-4-01 p. 73))
"If you rely on your own judgment, either of two good things will happen. Either you’ll be right, and succeed, or you’ll be wrong, and learn something." ("Let’s Play Chess", 1980)
"We don't really know how the game was invented, though there are suspicions. As soon as we discover the culprits, we'll let you know." (Chess Cafe, 2004)
"The polarity is clear. When you teach, you're trying to help someone (the student), and when you play, you're trying to hurt someone (the opponent). Both of these situations - being too sympathetic while playing or too antipathetic while teaching - are not necessarily perceived, since they tend to exist on the unconscious level." (2007)
"Chess is a creative process. Its purpose is to find the truth. To discover the truth, you must be uncompromising. You must be brave."
"The two most important forms of intelligence are the ability to read other people and the ability to understand oneself." (ABC News Interview)
"After 1972, we lost so many great pieces of art. Hundreds of masterpieces he would have created if he had stayed a sane being. We feel the great loss. All chess players do." (On Bobby Fischer’s estrangement from competitive chess, NY Times, Quote of the Day, 2012)
"Play as if the future of humanity depends on your efforts. It really does." ("Every Move Must Have A Purpose," Hyperion, 2003, his final advice to students)