Unlocking the GM’s Mind
My View: Worst RCA course by far, avoid
Size: 300mb, about 3hrs of ‘lectures’, about 60 practical problems
Purchase it here.
(edit: a new, updated version has been released; check the bottom for my original review)
[Note: An updated version has been released; this review reflects those changes. My original scathing review is at the bottom.]
Update on the Second Edition
Unlocking the GM’s Mind received near unanimous negative feedback. It was, by far, RCA’s worst chess course. It wasn’t even close. A few months after release, GM Smirnov released an update. It has three bonus lessons by Smirnov himself, plus the webinar ‘How to Succeed at Blitz’ by GM Dlugy. The webinar is decent but unspectacular; fortunately, it comes with a cheat sheet that summarizes all the main points, so you have a training guide and principles for blitz play. Useful if you enjoy blitz, but mostly just filler. Nice, not essential.
The lectures by GM Smirnov, on the other hand, are excellent. This shows clearly the huge difference in teaching ability between Smirnov and Dlugy. Dlugy may be the stronger player, but you will learn more in the first 5min of Smirnov’s first lecture than you will get out of virtually all six of Dlugy’s complete lectures. Smirnov breaks things down, shows us the key elements to notice and tells us exactly how we should think in the given position. What makes this funny is that it is the same source material: Smirnov comments on the very games Dlugy presented in the first edition. This highlights the huge gulf that exists between these two.
I do not mean to attack or slander GM Dlugy. He is a strong player, but he is a poor teacher, and as such has no business releasing an educational course. Indeed, even the updated splash box has omitted Dlugy’s image!
While the lectures by GM Smirnov provide value, they aren’t enough to make me recommend the course. The lectures cover defence, converting advantages into a winning position, and then a lecture on how GM’s actually think. For the first topic, most of the information is available from his free webinar Art of Defence (included at the bottom of the page). The second topic has a webinar (a fancy way of saying $20 premium video), which costs one-third of the course. The last lecture is indeed interesting and useful, but again you are paying a lot of money for relatively little content.
The added content makes this course no longer a complete waste of money, but I would still stay far away. It should NOT be your first GM Smirnov course. If you have never studied a course, I again recommend Grandmaster’s Positional Understanding. If money is tight, you would still be better off saving up for it than spending on this inferior product. If you are still interested for some reason, just go in with very low expectations.
[what follows is what I originally wrote for the first edition of the course]
When this course was first announced, I was excited. Igor Smirnov had not released a new chess course in over a year. When I learned Igor Smirnov was not the main instructor of the course, I was disappointed. When I actually purchased the course, I was far more disappointed. This is a terrible product.
Let’s start with the good. It has a nice intro video. Special effects are decent. The practical part has some interesting puzzles.
That’s it. Let’s list the bad.
There are no lectures, not really. Instead, we get Maxim Dlugy commenting on six of his games. I have nothing against Maxim Dlugy. He is a GM, far stronger than I am, and the games he presents are fairly interesting. However, he is not a good teacher and the games are not instructive. For example, if you analyze a few of Morphy’s games, you quickly learn the power of development and how to use it. Similarly, Petrosian’s games show us the value of prophylaxis. Dlugy’s games do not illustrate any such themes. Even the lecture has no theme. A lecture title may say ‘Defence,’ but he will only talk about defence for a few variations; the other 40min are spent on a myriad of different things. When I tried to take notes, it was a mess. There was no consistency, no driving educational point.
In short, Dlugy is a strong player but a rather poor teacher. It honestly seems that little thought or preparation went into this. He just talked off the cuff, whatever came to mind.
A related problem is that he doesn’t teach so much as he recites variations. He will make a few moves in the game, get to a position, and then rattle off several different variations. Why these variations? Why these moves? Why are they important? Sometimes he tells us, most of the time he doesn’t. Many chess ‘books’ have this problem: they just slap ten-thousand computer variations in between two covers and call it a book. Variations without commentary are useless, especially from an educational standpoint. This is in stark contrast to GM Smirnov’s other courses, where he explains everything. Here there is no explanation.
Perhaps the biggest problem is that it doesn’t even teach what it set out to teach. GM Dlugy talks a lot about psychological pressure, about feeling nervous, about making mistakes and overcoming them. These are all feelings. He tells us what he feels, not what he thinks. This is common in all chess instruction. We hear, “I believed white did not have sufficient attacking chances on the Kingside, so I launched a counterattack.” This doesn’t help us. What we need is something like, “White only has three potential attackers. I have two defenders plus a good pawn structure; if White tries a pawn storm, if will take at least six moves, which gives me all that time to launch my own play before his attack becomes dangerous. Knowing this, I started attacking on the c-file.” THIS would have been incredibly useful, giving us a blueprint for approaching such positions. Alas, we get nothing.
I better stop listing the bad, as this post will become novel. I think the most damning point is this: youtube has thousands of chess tutorials, some done by GMs. They are free. This is a paid program. It is is not noticeably better than youtube. The course is not completely useless, but it is not very interesting, not well organized, hard to study, hard to get value out of it. It has nuggets of good information, but you have to sift through a lot of rubbish to get there. Save your money. Get GMPU instead.