My View: Solid, but often appears as an advertisement for his other courses; should not be your first RCA course
Size: 150mb download, about 2 hours of lectures, around 200 training tasks, a full training plan
Purchase it here: Self-taught Grandmaster
Don’t be misled by the title or the fancy promo video on his site: this course will NOT make you a better chess player, at least not directly. When it says ‘self-taught,’ it means that literally. This course will teach you what to study, and how to study, but by and large it will not give you the actual study material.
This course basically has two parts. First, it tells you how to actually study chess. Most people don’t study chess, not really. We study a lot of tactics, especially tactical puzzles, but we don’t really study chess as a whole. When we do study chess, such as reading a book or watching a lecture, we often do it passively, just taking in the material. This is not the best way to study chess. Igor Smirnov has studied psychology, holding a master’s degree in the subject, and he knows how the brain actually learns. Using this knowledge, he shows us the best way to study and train chess.
The second part of the course is the comprehensive study plan. The focus here is making sure we have no gaps in our chess knowledge. When you get a degree at a university, you cannot only pick your favourite courses: you need to learn everything about the subject, even the potentially more boring parts. The same is true with chess, at least if you want to master it. Igor Smirnov lays out a full curriculum, starting with basics and working on up to more advanced concepts. If you follow the training plan, you should have no gaps in your chess knowledge and thus be very close to mastership, if not grand-mastership.
This is what I mean: the course tells you how to study and what to study. However, for the most part, it does not give you the actual study materials. GM Smirnov will give you recommendations on what to study, such as classic books and such, but he also references his own courses. That is, when you get to studying endgames, for example, he will tell you to study his course Endgame Expert. Need to learn openings? “Here, try my opening courses!” It often feels like you just paid a hefty amount to learn about how great his other courses are. I did not realize this when I first bought this course, and it really frustrated me.
(That said, his other courses really are fantastic; his endgame course taught me more in a shorter time every other endgame book I’ve read. I did not own those courses yet, though, so I left that part of the lecture with literally nothing to show for it. Indeed, it can sometimes feel that his other courses are necessary to fulfill the training plan.)
Finally, I should add that this course is aimed at the serious player, and I mean serious. If you only play chess on the weekend against your friend, maybe playing a few blitz games on the Internet, this course is not for you. Do you intend to play in tournaments? Are you willing to spend several hours a week improving your game? If not, this course is not for you. If you legitimately want to be a master-level player and are willing to put in the time and patience to get there, this course will help you get there.
As such, this course is really aimed at a very small audience. For most people, you don’t really need this. Regardless of your chess aspirations, this should NOT be your first Igor Smirnov course. Indeed, I think Grandmaster’s Positional Understanding should be a pre-requisite before purchasing this. Without it, you won’t really understand his whole ‘thinking system’ bit.
Again, I should emphasize that this course is not bad. Far from it; a comprehensive chess training plan is a great thing, and studying effectively is obviously by definition the best use of your time. However, most average chess players will get better value and more satisfaction out of his other courses.