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
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.
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.
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!