The Grandmaster’s Secrets
Topic: How to Think and Calculate during each stage of game
My View: Great insight into a chess game,but somewhat general in scope; most beneficial for beginners, sub-1600 Elo. The higher your rating, the more useful GMPU will be.
Size: 50mb, about 2hours of lectures, about 100 practical puzzles, plus about 50 games to analyze
Purchase it here.
[This course has been updated, and I got a free copy because I purchased the original one. I’ve updated the review to highlight the changes in the update.]
I won’t lie: when I first read that GM Smirnov‘s course “The Grandmaster’s Secrets” covered basic chess knowledge, I thought it didn’t apply to me, an 1800-rated player at the time. This was especially true when, about five minutes into the first lesson, Smirnov explains why Nc3 is the best move to defend the e4-pawn. I remember sighing, thinking I had wasted my money on something completely beginner-level.
An hour later, though, Smirnov presented an incredibly complex position, and his ideas (or principles as he called them) explained everything perfectly. At that point I realized these ‘beginner-level’ ideas went far deeper than I first thought.
The GM’s Secrets has roughly two parts, one dealing with the chess game itself and the other dealing with preparing for tournaments and specific opponents. As someone with no real interest in attending tournaments, I found that section relatively unimportant. The chess section, though, was absolute gold.
Here, Smirnov tells us what to do in general during every stage of the game, and he also shows us his chess principles, the way to find any given move in any position. His ideas seem very easy, almost too easy, but they have incredible depth. Using these chess principles has completely transformed my game.
Before, I’d stare at the board and essentially pick out moves randomly, calculating as far as I could, and I would do that for as many moves as I could until I found something that looked good. Now I have a structured, logical thinking process for finding moves, and my results have skyrocketed.
Perhaps the best part, though, was the practical part, the series of exercises and tasks that train this new skill. Here, Smirnov has commented on some games, and he explains virtually every move with one of his principles. This shows how powerful these ideas are, and soon I was accurately predicting the moves of a grandmaster. Smirnov’s thinking system presented here, as basic as it first looks, really is that good.
All that said, the original course wasn’t perfect. It had three main problems. First, the audio quality was quite low. This was Smirnov’s first course, and he did not sound very comfortable in front of the mic. He had a constant monotone, as well as awkward periods of silence. Second, the visuals were very basic. The PowerPoint information was often sparse, with maybe eight different slides for a 15min lecture. For a video-based course, that was a significant weakness. Finally, the practical part had many spelling and grammar errors. In short, the GM’s Secrets had none of the polish of his later courses.
The updated version has kept all the chess information the same, but it has improved on all three areas, often significantly so.
The biggest change is that an English speaker is doing all the narration instead of GM Smirnov. The content is identical, virtually word for word, but an enthusiastic and unaccented English speaker is now saying it. It was a bit strange not hearing Igor’s slavic accent explaining all the chess rules, but the audio quality is superb and easy to follow.
Second, the PowerPoints have been completely redesigned. There is more information, more colour, more images, more everything. This may be the most important change, as the lectures are more engaging and easier to follow. This is a huge improvement over the original.
Finally, the practical section has been completely cleaned up. There is proper spelling and grammar for every move, with maybe an odd typo here and there. Extra explanations have been added, as well as arrows and diagrams on certain moves. This is relatively minor, but it shows the attention to detail put in the entire course, and it makes your ‘homework’ that much easier to follow.
There are a few minor glitches, such as the odd typo or the screen fading white to black quickly in between PP slides, but these are few and far between. On the whole, it’s a polished project, inline with RCA’s more recent work.
Bottom line, this course is ideal for the improving beginner and intermediate player. The higher your rating, the less you will get out it. I imagine anyone below 1800 or so will get something out of it, but those under 1600 will get the most value. Once you learn these chess principles deeply, you will never look at the chess board the same.
With the update, GM Secrets is now one of RCA’s best courses, especially for beginners. That said, it’s still a step below Grandmaster’s Positional Understanding, which is Smirnov’s best, and the two courses have some overlap. If you are intermediate level, that course will be your best chess investment by far. If you are closer to beginner level, or if money is tight, then GM Secrets is a very good alternative.