July 20 was International Chess Day. To celebrate, Grandmaster Igor Smirnov, my chess coach and the founder of the Remote Chess Academy, did an Ask-Me-Anything (AMA) event on Reddit. The event lasted two hours and all told Smirnov wrote over 2000 words of advice, anecdotes and even jokes.
I have summarized all of GM Smirnov’s thoughts into different categories. Reddit is slightly frustrating in format, because five people might ask a question about chess training, but because 20 other people asked different questions in-between those five, the answers are all spread out. I have organized them across several different topics. You can find the original reddit thread here.
ON CHESS TRAINING
- use ACTIVE learning; think for yourself to find the best moves. Just watching videos is for Hollywood, not serious chess training
- Inconsistent training brings inconsistent results. It is rare for people to have a well-thought out training plan, or even a plan at all. Check out these resources: Free: RCA Rapid Improvement Plan Paid: Self-taught Grandmaster, (check my review of that course first!)
- If you want to be a professional at chess, you need to allocate the same time you would spend to become a professional at any other profession.
- That being said, simply becoming better requires a much more modest investment.
- He says he can easily spend eight hours a day on chess, every day, and he’s done close to that for the last 21 years. That puts it in perspective
- On the benefits he received: “I treat chess as a tool to develop myself. I think that high achievements in any field require wisdom and strong character. From this point of view it does not matter WHAT you do. What matters is what kind of personality you become on your way forward.”
- Prefers books written before the computer age, as the authors expressed how they actually thought about a position, not just providing endless computer analysis.
- Recommends the books of Alekhine in particular.
- Playing games is important but it’s the after-analysis where you will get the most out of it. He quotes Korchnoi, “It’s funny how I can spend a week analyzing one game while for an amateur it takes half an hour.”
[My commentary] This is completely true. Two grandmasters will put in 4+ hours playing a regular game, thinking deeply and calculating, and I often zoom through in a fraction of that time… and that means I’m getting a fraction of the benefits. It’s hard, but deep study brings deep results.
- He recommends that if you play practice games against the computer that you spend enough time after to analyze it. That’s where the real improvement comes.
- If you’ve been away from chess for awhile, just play a few practice games and solve a few problems. Your understanding won’t disappear.
- Playing blitz games is fine, but ask yourself what you want to TRAIN in each game, and only play as many games as needed.
- For example, tell yourself you will play three games without getting into time trouble, and focus on that during each game.
- In other places, Smirnov has stated that too often people play Blitz as entertainment. This is fine if you enjoy it but won’t lead to any real improvement.
- Bullet chess, though, he says is generally harmful.
- 25min games are the ideal for getting lots of games in while still having enough time to think.
- Blitz is also useful for getting lots of experience in different openings quickly.
- At the sub-2100 level, playing aggressively works very well, as most people don’t know how to defend below IM level.
- Most games are lost on oversights and blunders.
- Highly recommends his free blunder-eliminating technique: http://chess-teacher.com/how-to-eliminate-blunders/
- He says this anti-blunder check is always required, even in time trouble. It is the most important part of your thinking system (or at least the part you never skip).
- Positional sacrifices are all about activity. You may sacrifice a pawn, for example, to avoid wasting time moving backwards. However, this isn’t always the case.
- They key, as always, is to keep your piece activity high.
- Positional sacrifices are covered in his course How To Beat Titled Players.
- Online and computer chess gives us a natural advantage in modern times. Before it took great time and monetary investment to go to a tournament to meet strong players; now we can get that experience without leaving our home, and he recommends we take advantage of it.
- In regard to planning, only plan during critical positions. You don’t need to plan and replan every move.
- If ever in doubt, judge a move or a position by piece activity.
- play the lines you know well
- don’t break base principles just for the sake of deviation from the mainline
- Study his courses for in depth guidance, like OPENING LAB 2
On particular questions,
- The Colle isn’t that powerful. As Black, try to get your Bishop out before playing e6 and you have nothing to worry about.
- Someone asked if a Benoni-style structure existed against 1.e4. Smirnov says that certain variations of the Dragon Sicilian might be similar.
- That said: “I would NOT recommend that you get stuck in 1 type of position. It would be better for your chess development if you [learn] various skills and positions.”
- Against stronger opponents, you either need to deviate from your opponent’s home preparation (requires scouting and research) or knowing the openings better than him.
- Against strong opponents, play ‘irrefutable openings,” the ones played by the 2700+ for many years.
- Q: What kind of psychologist are you? A: Hopefully a good one.
- To overcome nerves, you need to grow as a person.
- Read his book Champion Psychology for the full story.
- Studying psychology changed his view on coaching significantly. He learned how memory works, how powerful imitation is for the learning process, and how we cannot have multiple complex things in our mind at the same time, meaning it’s not practical to learn many complex rules about chess and apply them in a game.
ON CORRESPONDENCE CHESS
- Studying correspondence chess is ‘discovering hidden gold’ and sometimes ‘mind-boggling’ how good they are.
- Another member, Illusion35, then pointed out that the computer age has almost destroyed correspondence chess. That is, virtually everyone just uses the best computer programs on the best hardware and no longer need human input. The vast majority of ICCF games are now drawn because of the strength of the programs.
- That said, these games are the closest thing we have to perfect play, so studying them is still worthwhile.
ON FUTURE RCA NEWS
- Hopes to have his new book finalized by the summer, topic, “What it takes to be a GM”
- Has lots of ideas for new courses and material, but the problem is always time
- Interestingly, he thought about creating new Opening Labs focused on individual openings.
- Opening prep is much more important and powerful at the IM/GM level.
- GMs have better planning and analysis skills compared to IMs.
- In particular, planning and an organized thinking system are what allow GMs to see 10-15 moves ahead.
- Grandmasters play mercilessly, always creating problems for opponents, while lesser players (he includes FMs here) just follow well-known rules
- IMs and GMs have comprehensive knowledge about chess, whereas NMs tend to be more specialized in some areas.
- Think of a player who is great at tactics but lousy in closed positions, for instance.
- Theory is extensive, but only a problem for IM/GM level.
- When Smirnov was little ans asked what he wanted to be when he grows up, he said either a president of chess world champion. He became disappointed with politicians and thus went with chess.
- Prefers natural food, fruits, veggies, and is a big fan of tea.
- Computers are not ‘sucking the joy out of chess.’ They are a tool that serve us. Analogy, cars more faster than people, but we still run.
- “Everything is hard until it is easy.” Never give up.
- Don’t complicate things: complexity prevents progress
- Don’t be afraid to share things with others. Keeping ‘secrets’ to yourself means you yourself likely don’t advance very far.
- As a bonus, teaching others often means you understand things better for yourself.
- Intuition in chess is powerful. It often shows us the best move that our current chess understanding can see.
- The best part of coaching is the students. The worst part is also the students.
- Cheering for people and seeing progress, both individually and as a group to test teaching methods, is rewarding. A small percentage of students, though, are not serious or dedicated enough.
(Aside: as an instructor, I can say that, sometimes, the worst thing about a student is his or her parents: either unrealistic expectations or pushing too hard)
- Smirnov’s favourite game he played is here: http://en.lichess.org/udElWL3h
- In double Rook endgames, trading Rooks can be useful if you are pushing for the advantage: it takes away a defender, prevents counterplay and may lead to a theoretically won position.
- Endgames with the heavy pieces can become middlegames, with mate threats created.
- Don’t practice something once and be satisfied! Do it again and again until it becomes your nature.
Grandmaster Igor Smirnov is my chess coach and author of several amazing chess courses. You can read more about him, and my reviews of his courses, here.