In this interview with Brendan Norman, who is a part-time player, a chess coach and the co-founder of Smart Dolphin’s Chess, we hear how he became addicted to this seemingly ‘simple’ game and his opinion on chess and being a chess coach.

1. You started chess when you were 16, I believe. I started because my friends were playing it in the library and I got involved. What event in your life made you start taking up chess seriously?

Well…I actually started reading chess books just before turning 15 (although my first tournament was at 16).
At school I was not the greatest student…It wasn’t the lack of intellectual capacity but a poor attitude which inhibited me so greatly but anyway, one day I was placed on detention and this happened to be in a room where the chess club was also held…

I watched as Francisco Plaza (2 years my senior) played multiple games at once while commentating at the same time and I was impressed at his ability and it drew my close attention.

The teacher said “why don’t you give it a try?” and the rest is history as they say…Now I am more than 100 points higher rated than my former mentor and climbing slowly... 

2. Research has shown many times chess improves intellectual ability, concentration, logical thinking and many other aspects of our life considerably. How has studying chess affected your life?

Studying chess has helped me to cultivate structured and methodical study-habits, improve my memory, decision making and also to react to obstacles calmly and in a clear minded manner…I think these attributes are worth the years of study alone and for this reason when I eventually have children I will encourage them to study chess as well.

3. What are some hobbies you have apart from chess and how have they been affected by your chess?

I like to study many different subjects from business, personal growth, and language, to history, philosophy, wisdom, language and video editing…well I guess you could call these hobbies.

I AM human though and IF there is time, I like to spend time with loved ones and have a BBQ etc…but I rarely have time these days.

4. In your time as a chess coach, no doubt you have been proud of your students whenever they run up to you with a big smile after a tournament game and exclaim “I won!” What is the most fun aspect about chess coaching and why?

From a business/financial perspective, teaching chess is rewarding because you cater to a small niche market and have specialised skills, however the emotional rewards in my opinion far outweigh any materialistic mindedness.

When I am in front of a large class of children sharing knowledge, stories and experiences and I see that the children’s eyes are locked on me and all are engaged and soaking up everything I say, then I feel that I am contributing something valuable to the world.

Sometimes I will vividly recount a story from a tournament of some funny happening and veer completely off the course of the lesson…
For example, mid way through a sentence in the lecture I might say “hey…that reminds me of a funny story…”, and share it with the children…who will usually erupt in laughter as I veer smoothly back into the lecture.

This method implies that I am not trying to train super strength robots, but develop a passion for the game in the children and give them the motivation to seek their own path to improvement…from here I can train them more effectively.

The role of a chess coach is even deeper than a school teacher in some respects as a school teacher usually only spends one year with a child and in most cases in a group situation.
A chess coach may spend many years teaching a child and develop a family like relationship with the child and their family, sharing triumphs and tragedies as a team.
I have taught a few of my students for a number of years and some of them and their families view me more like a wise uncle than a “teacher” figure now and this is very humbling for me and is one of the nicest rewards.

Having a child run up during a tournament and say “I won” is of course a great experience and a very proud moment but there are also just as many times when you have to comfort a young girl (usually) student who has painfully lost a game or two and grown discouraged, is in tears etc. This is a common occurrence and a coach must tred lightly and show sensitivity but I also enjoy this sort of thing as I feel it teaches me to develop a deeper level of sensitivity and compassion than I have had in the past.

Overall, chess coaching is a lot of “fun” and probably more so than my dry and fragmented response to your question would suggest, but I simply like it for the reason stated elsewhere…It is where I feel I am contributing the most value at this time.

5. Aside from the actual studying and playing of chess, what advice would you give to the serious student wishing to have a profession in chess?

Well I am not a chess professional…not in a playing sense anyway. But the same advice applies to everybody with a dream and that is, Never think of anything else but being a chess professional, work day and night, discipline yourself, develop self-confidence with a good dose of humility, IGNORE those negative people who say “You cannot do it”, “You don’t have the talent”, “Nobody makes it” as they will always exist no matter what you attempt.

Recently I told some well educated straight arrow type one of my lofty goals for the future and he said “It’s impossible” to which I responded “Yes, you are right…it’s impossible… for YOU!”, You see with a poor attitude we are doomed before we start.
So always believe in yourself and do the necessary work…the rest will come naturally.

6. “Great players may not be great coaches.” This quote certainly applied in all areas of life. Aside from the expertise required, what are the 3 most important traits a good teacher/coach has to have?

Apart from a decent level of expertise in his field, a good coach, teacher, mentor or any person in a position of giving guidance needs to have good communication skills and with this the ability and intelligence to make a very complicated subject seem simple and UNcomplicated without patronizing the learner. To be able to break subject matter down into structured and logical elements a student can absorb easily.

Other important skills are patience and understanding. A coach needs to understand that different people learn things in different ways, at different speeds and with different levels of difficulty…You cannot treat everybody’s situation the same.

If a coach can conduct himself in such a way where as he speaks, people listen closely…some smile, some take notes, some thoughtfully nod their heads but ALL are engrossed and absorbing his words then he will be remembered warmly and considered great.

7. Most of your friends know your favourite player is Vladmir Kramnik, the 14th World Champion. How has studying his style influenced your play and personality?

Vladimir Kramnik at his best has a style of play which features elements of art, beauty and perfect harmony, but behind it is a sound scientific approach, deep understanding and thorough preparation. I have studied all of the world champions lives, results and playing styles but none has had the effect on my play as has Kramnik and in fact at the Sydney International Open last year I was giving a simul to some players outside the tournament hall and one of the spectators who was an older gentleman upon watching my style exclaimed to the crowd (somewhat rudely), “This guy thinks’ he’s Vladimir Kramnik”, to which my friend Andrew Bird (who is also a big fan of Kramnik) jokingly replied “He IS Vladimir Kramnik” haha. I don’t think studying him has affected my personality at all though or if so, in a very limited way.

8. Some people describe chess as a metaphor to the difficulties and decision making of life. Has any chess principles been implemented to any of your life?

Well chess can be viewed as a metaphor for life…but so can many other things, such as a garden or a sailing boat. For example, If your life is a garden…you have to be constantly aware of the need to fertilize it with loving relationships, hard work and a stable home life. You must also be aware that there will ALWAYS be weeds getting in (in the form of negative influences and people) and weeding and pruning the negative influences from your life will assure a healthy garden.

As a sailing boat metaphor we will become aware of the need to have compelling goals in the future as a sailing boat without a destination is sure to end up on the rocks, shipwrecked or simply drifting forever as we will in life without strong and compelling goals.

Chess can be viewed as life…because of the need to be decisive, analytical and objective and I have tried to incorporate these disciplines into my life as well as chess.

9. To the people that do not play chess, how would you describe such an enigmatic and complex game to them?

Chess is an intellectual combat sport. Both sides have the same armies, the same weapons, the same conditions but different brains…this is how the game is decided…the winner is he who uses these elements most effectively.

10. How often have you lied in bed during/after a tournament cursing “Why did I play that stupid move!” Does chess permanently keep your brain running, and if so, is that a good thing?

Never anymore…When I had aspirations to reach certain heights in chess, a loss could keep me awake at night and have me jumping out of bed as I discovered in my minds eye some mistake in my game I wanted to check, but these days it doesn’t really have such a great emotional impact as I have more important things which can upset me.. 

As for whether it is a good thing, yes I think it is.

Of course there must be balance to prevent insanity from setting in but this level of seriousness is probably necessary in order to reach a very high level.

As a very busy man, I sincerely thank you so much for your time. I wish you the very best and once again thank you.

You may also like to visit Brendan’s blog at or his business website