Review of Grandmaster’s Positional Understanding

Quick Look

Grandmaster’s Positional Understanding

Topic: Strategy and Thinking

My View: Best Chess Investment Ever

Size: 200mb, nearly 5 hours of video, just over 200 practical training positions

Purchase it here: The Grandmaster’s Positional Understanding

In Depth

This course, without exaggeration, completely changed the way I look at chess.

GM Igor Smirnov says he created this course with the intent of explaining all chess strategy.  However, it does so much more.  This course lays a foundation for all future chess education.  I cannot emphasise how important this is.  When I read most chess books, I see a collection of tips and ideas with little continuity.  For example, look at Yasser Seirawan’s classic Winning Chess Strategy.  I found that book at a garage sale, and it helped my chess improvement immensely.  However, there was no theme or thread connecting everything within the various chapters.  Seirawan taught about holes and pawn structure and attacking the king, all important topics, all analyzed well, but I can only use this material by memorizing it.  Also, why these topics?  Why are holes important?  Obviously, they mean pawns cannot chase my pieces away.  Why is that important?  It seems a funny question to ask, but why?  In much of chess literature, we are told rules but are rarely, if ever, explained why the rules are so, why the rules matter.

This course bridges that gap.  It does it in a way that I have never seen before, and one that makes perfect sense.  GM Smirnov begins at the very beginning, explaining the fundamental principles of chess.  With this set as a foundation, he can then build up the concrete strategic rules logically and seamlessly.   This means you understand why every chess rule matters.  In fact, if you fully understand the base principles that he sets out, you do not need to memorize anything.  The rules seem logical, necessary, unmistakable.

The lectures of Grandmaster’s Positional Understanding are divided into three distinct parts.  First, it lays the foundation I spoke about above.  The first three lectures, in my view, are some of the best chess literature ever written.  If a beginner were shown these lectures, they would progress so much faster.  At the end of the third lecture, he analyzes a game between Alekhine and Lasker, using only the four principles he has discussed.  Yes, only four, and those four completely explain every move.  As the lecture goes on, I began guessing each move.  Said another way, I was playing on par with Alekhine, at least in that one game.  I knew, at that instant, chess would never be the same again.

After setting out this foundation, we learn about pawn structure and pawn play.  Essentially, we learn how to use our pawns and why pawns are important.  Again, Smirnov derives all these rules and suggestions based on his principles.  After this, we learn how to effectively use all our pieces, with special emphasis on the Bishops.  Our pieces’ effectiveness, of course, are determined by pawn structure.  You see, everything fits together beautifully.  As the title suggests, this course gives us a complete understanding of the chess game.

Now, there are some things the course does not cover.  Material imbalances, for example, are not covered in any detail.  We learn about Bishop vs Knight, but we do not learn about exchange sacrifices, or giving up a pawn for an attack, these types of things.  Concepts like planning or simplifying, ideas present in Seirawan’s aforementioned book, are also not present (though Smirnov does cover these topics in his other courses).  Nonetheless, this course is amazing.  At the very end, in a so-called Bonus Lesson, GM Smirnov takes us through a game between Botvinnik and Korchnoi.  Using just the information in his course, he analyzes the entire game, and it makes perfect sense.  Think about that.  A game between two of the best ever players makes perfect sense.  Not only that, we find improvements for both players.  That’s incredible.

It is also not easy.  Just because everything makes logical sense does not make it easy, no more than knowing about pins and forks makes tactical puzzles easy.  That is where the Practical part of the course comes in.  We have over 200 positions, games and fragments to test our new-found knowledge.  You get a position, you recollect the relevant strategic rules, and then you guess your move.  Smirnov provides brief and to-the-point commentary.  For best results, you should keep guessing the moves for the rest of the game, even when the commentary stops.  This gives you extra practice, a chance to further hone your skills.

I will say it again: this course changed the way I think about chess.  I can give it no higher praise.  I recommend it without reservation.

Here is the link.  You will not be disappointed.

Other Info

Q: I’m a beginner and/or I’m really advanced, is this course for me?

A: I was 1800 ELO and found it absolutely amazing.  I imagine up to about 2000 rating you will find it worthwhile.  For beginners, the question becomes harder.  If you are around 1400 or so, definitely get it.  If you are below that, you would likely benefit more from GM’s Secrets.  That said, this course is better by far: longer, more information, higher quality video and audio, it’s just amazing.  If you could afford it, get the RCA Beginners Package: it contains both courses, plus the Opening Lab 1, at a discount.

If you are a very new to chess, your best bet would be to just play lots of fast games until you start getting a feel for what’s going on.  The practical section will be very hard if you are less than 1200, and I’d wager that’s about the minimum you should aim for before purchasing.  1400 would probably be ideal.

My Results

I spent three months studying this course from January – March 2015.  I went through every exercise meticulously and rewatched the videos several times.  My old best rating was 1800.  At the time of writing, December 2015, my rating is 1967, a gain of over 150 points from my previous best.  I still think I have room to improve.

Edit: As of March 2016, so one year later, my rating got over 2100.  Holy cow!  I’m so happy!

5 thoughts on “Review of Grandmaster’s Positional Understanding

  1. Andrew

    Hey love your blog! I have read some weird reviews and stuff about smirnov courses but I personally own all of them and agree with what you say. I didn’t really understand chess until I read his material but had read some popular books such as silman etc. It’s crazy to think how recent smirnov’s material is and nothing like it has been really published before. Even laskers manual and capablancas fundamentals talk about similar material but doesn’t really “insert” it into your brain the way smirnov’s does. I sometimes hope others don’t buy the courses cause it will make them very clear on how to play! I have studied all of his courses in 8 months and am currently uscf expert level, almost have NM. What is your level currently? Good luck with your chess!

  2. JP Post author

    Hey Andrew, thanks for the comment!

    I agree, it’s strange how chess has literature going back literally a hundred years, and yet somehow Smirnov has found a way to distill the core ideas of chess in a way others haven’t. When I read other books, even ones I really like, I feel as if I’m learning individual tricks or analyzing one individual game, whereas with Smirnov I feel as if I’m learning about chess itself.

    You have made some excellent progress. I’m currently rated around 2100 online, which is in that expert-level ballpark, maybe a bit less when you factor in OTB versus online ratings. Good luck on getting that NM title! Once I get a chance to attend OTB tournaments, that will be my next goal.

  3. Fay Kelley

    I read Igor’s site and he said this is the most important training of all his products.

    I bought the “My System” and that small course helped me so very much adn I am a beginner. This is the product I will purchase next for sure.

  4. JP Post author

    If you enjoyed ‘My Thinking System,’ then you will absolutely love GMPU. It takes the same core ideas and multiples them tenfold. As a beginner, you will want to spend most of your time on the first three lessons, watching them over and over to really absorb them, but the results will be worth it.

    I stand by what I said: this is some of the best chess instruction ever, and likely the single best chess investment you can make. Good luck in your studies.

  5. Gringo

    I am going through the GMPU and can see the value of this course. In the past I only watched the videos and never went beyond that, and still it was enough to raise my rating. This time though, and going through the practical part I am beginning to see patterns. Instead of tactical patterns, these are more like positional or strategic patterns. Smirnov doesn’t let one off the hook unless a theme is touched from multiple angles. It’s becoming evident the care that went into creating this course. The idea to keep chugging along at a pleasant pace instead of aiming for perfection seems to generate far better and unexpected results. Your blog does bring a lot of life and chess lessons into one whole.


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