Review of GM Smirnov’s Opening Lab 1

Quick Look

411Grandmaster’s Opening Laboratory 1

Topic: Opening Preparation, Opening Repertoire

My View: Decent; beyond my current level, and likely most people as well.  Should not get for only the opening repertoire

Size: 60mb, nearly 2hrs of video lecture, lots of opening lines

Purchase it here: The Grandmaster’s Openings Laboratory

In Depth

It’s important to understand what this is and what it isn’t.  This course is essentially two distinct things: a series of lectures on how to study, prepare for and learn the opening, and an opening repertoire.

First, the lectures.  GM Smirnov, very quickly, tells us why certain openings are good and others are bad.  He does this almost dogmatically, throwing out 90% of chess theory as, if not correct, than sub-optimal.  This initially seems brazen, but when you look at the world’s elite, very few openings are played.  We see a lot of Sicilians and Spanish games, much less Pirc or Alekhine games.  Why?  Because at the highest level, you need every advantage you can get, and playing a slightly inferior variation, let alone a slightly inferior opening, is just being a glutton for punishment.  If you imagine perfect chess, it would start from a perfect opening, which would be one of only a small handful of openings.

Though interesting, the above is not the most interesting of his lectures.  GM Smirnov shows us how to study and learn openings.  Quite literally, he walks us through how a Grandmaster would prepare an opening line from scratch.  He also gives various tips in order to memorize the resulting lines, though paradoxically his main tip is always don’t memorize, understand instead.  This stuff is master class … and that’s exactly the problem.

Most chess players, especially chess players struggling with opening variations, are not chess masters.  We don’t need to know the theory of the Najdorf until nth move; we need to learn how to stop getting losing positions by move 17.  Chess masters face other masters, while amateurs primarily face amateurs.  Completely unsound lines win all the time … because it’s amateur-level.  No one plays mainlines because no one knows them, or knows how to play them.  Simply put, the level of depth that Smirnov shows us is far beyond what most of us need.  Or, said another way, it makes little sense to prepare for the opening like a master until one plays the rest of the game like a master.

Something similar happens with the opening repertoire of the section.  GM Smirnov gives lines for both Black and White on several different openings.  This repertoire is solid enough, covering important openings but not expecting you to memorize ten-thousand moves.  Indeed, compared to any repertoire book, the lines are sparse.  This is mostly because Smirnov does not go deep into middlegame positions.  Really, he completes development, tells us the middlegame plans and then stops.  Many lines do not get beyond move 15, which is exactly what an amateur needs.

Unfortunately, I guess, the analysis is mainline heavy.  Smirnov discounts most deviations, often not even mentioning inferior tries.  On the one hand, this allows efficiency of study, as you mostly prepare for the most difficult positions.  On the other, for most of us, we will rarely play such positions because our opponent’s won’t know and won’t play the mainlines.  If you are an amateur, you will spend the bulk of your time studying things you won’t use, and that’s frustrating.  I should add, though, that most opening manuals are like this.  I once studied all the ins and out of the Nimzoindian as Black, and after 10 game starting against 1.d4, I played 3 Nimzos and not one was a position I studied after 8 moves.  My opponents deviated too often, and my months of studying were for naught.

This course thus sits in a strange limbo.  It has excellent info that most of us simply have no need.  If you really struggle with openings, you need to learn opening principles more than you need to memorize mainlines (this is the subject of Smirnov’s Opening Lab 2, which I highly recommend).  Serious amateur players with serious ambition, willing to put in the work to master early deviations, will get serious value out of it.  Others will get less.  For many people, the draw is the opening repertoire.  Note that to get full value out of the opening repertoire, you will need to get the Opening Lab 2 as well, or just the Opening Bundle, which saves some money.  That said, if you only plan to memorize the repertoire, not touch the lessons, then don’t get it, as you can find cheaper complete repertoire books.  Indeed, if the only draw is the opening repertoire, find a repertoire book on Amazon instead.

Ultimately, this is a good product that is out of reach or impractical for most non-serious players.  The more serious you are about chess, the more value you will get.  Make sure you ask yourself about your own chess goals and willingness to work before making a decision either way.

You can purchase it here.

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