Grandmaster’s Opening Lab 2
Topic: How to play the Opening
My View: Absolutely fantastic; universal opening instruction
Size: 270mb, over 5 hours (!) of lectures, and a very decent opening repertoire
Get it here: The Grandmaster’s Openings Laboratory 2
There are two ways to learn about openings. One is to study a particular opening, such as the French Defence. You learn the main moves, and then you learn the most important main lines, then you learn the sidelines, then you learn the side-side lines and new novelties, and after you’ve done that you know how to play one such opening. And by ‘study’ I really mean memorize. Perfect play, in this model, requires no actual thinking, just regurgitation. Do it for every opening you play and you are set! Just don’t forget anything along the way!
I hesitate to call this the easy way, as it entails a near lifetime or rote learning, but it’s easier to memorize answers than understand them. In this course, GM Smirnov tries to give us real opening understanding. And he succeeds brilliantly. This may be my favourite course of his.
He begins by showing how little we understand openings. He gives us the fifth move of the Sicilian defence and asks what we should play next. If you know the mainlines you know the answer easy. But why? Why is that move better than these three other possibilities? All these moves make sense, and the other side has no way of refuting it, and yet overwhelmingly we play the mainline. Why? We realize we can recite opening moves without a problem but struggle to explain why these moves are best!
Smirnov then goes through his opening principles. You likely already know them: develop your pieces, castle your king, bring your Rooks into play, don’t move the same piece twice, etc. We all know this; everyone has heard these things before … and yet most people struggle mightily with the opening stage. Like in his other courses, Smirnov goes deeper and explains why these principles exist. Once we realize this, it’s almost a lightbulb eureka moment. It seems so obvious.
In some openings, playing an early a3 or h3 is considered good, and in others it’s a waste of time. Why? Most chess authorities say something like, “it comes down to the needs of the position,” which is great, but how do I understand that? Only after studying this course did I discover the answer to this, and not just for one opening but for all openings.
That’s the real ticket right there. This course teaches general opening knowledge. You can now play just about any opening competently, if not perfectly. Yes, certain openings require dedicated study: you shouldn’t expect to study this course and then go out and play King’s Gambits and Dragon Sicilians like a master. However, given any standard opening position, even if you don’t know the theory, you will know what to look for and, in general, what to play next. It makes your job a heck of a lot easier. It also makes memorizing theory lines easier, as 90% of theory follows Smirnov’s principles.
If there is a downside, Smirnov insists on his principles almost dogmatically. I heard shades of Tarrasch in some of his pronouncements. He doesn’t recommend we play many popular openings, such as the Modern. It’s not so much that these openings are terrible, but they violate the principles; this means it makes it easier for the other side to find good moves and makes it harder for us. I love(d) playing the Modern, but I freely admit that Black can get swept off the board, sometimes without making an obvious mistake. White certainly has the freer hand. This is true for all openings Smirnov dismisses. Once you are at master level, he says, feel free to experiment with these openings. Until then, avoid. I think that’s a sensible position.
Technically, this course is Smirnov and RCA’s best. The sound quality and visuals are superb, the spelling and grammar are the best ever, and attention to detail is evident throughout. Note that the lectures are much longer than other courses. Your Winning Plan, for instance, has 11 lectures, but about 8 of them are less than ten minutes. Here we have five lectures, and three of them exceed an hour. I prefer it this way, actually, and you can always pause a video lecture if you need a break, but it’s worth knowing ahead of time if you’re buying.
The opening repertoire section is much better and more thorough than the first course. Not that the first course was bad, but it had far fewer notes and variations than this one. Note that it is not a complete repertoire, as you will need Opening Lab 1 for additional lines. That’s a shame, as I would have liked to see more lines and ideas in the Sicilian for Black. Anyway, you shouldn’t buy this course for the opening repertoire. You can get a fuller, wider and more explained repertoire book for far cheaper. Buy this course for the incredible content, and the openings lines are a bonus to help you put your new knowledge into practice.
I absolutely love this course. It’s only downside is that it only covers openings. You will need to learn middlegame and endgame theory and principles to supplement what you learn here. On the flipside, you always play the opening, and sometimes the game ends before you get deep in the middlegame or endgame, so you can rest assure that you will always use this knowledge in every game. I believe Grandmaster’s Positional Understanding is Smirnov’s best course, but this is close.
If you are looking at your first Igor Smirnov course, this or GMPU is a great first step. Get it here: I highly recommend it.
(Note that if you are interested in Smirnov’s complete opening repertoire, you can get the Opening Bundle, which will save you money on his opening courses. You can read my thoughts on the first Opening Lab here.)