Your Winning Plan
Topic: Planning, center, middlegames
My View: good but not great; likely shouldn’t be your first GM Smirnov course. I found some of the material quite difficult
Size: 60mb, about 2hrs of video lecture, about 100 practical tasks
Purchase it here: Your Winning Plan
Before studying this course, I thought I knew what planning was. It turns out I didn’t. Yes, I knew many standard plans, such as blockading the isolated Queen’s pawn and using pawn storms when attacking with opposite-side castling. Most everyone knows about these typical plans, but that’s not what planning really is.
Another example, perhaps you find yourself down a pawn and decide to launch a nuclear attack against the enemy King. After all, if you just sit around and do nothing you will lose, so you might as well go out with style and maybe salvage a point. This is closer to what planning is: we look at the chess board, we made an evaluation of that position and then found the best way forward given that information.
I did that with some regularity. I would sense that I am winning a game, say, so all I had to do was hold on, trade off the pieces and win the endgame. Other times I realized I was losing and needed to do everything in my power to complicate the situation. Both of these are plans, but they don’t show the true power of planning, not yet. Using planning to its absolute maximum is almost breathtaking, and that’s what this course tries to teach.
‘Your Winning Plan’ feels almost like two smaller courses smushed together. On the one hand, it presents an interesting way of planning out your middle game strategies. I would say it seems logical, maybe even obvious, but that’s with the power of hindsight. I have never done anything like that in any of my games, or if I have it’s exceedingly rare. This is the same system he presents in his other course, the ‘GM’s Secrets‘, but he does so in much more depth.
That said, more than half of the lectures focus on a slightly different topic, namely the centre. This makes sense, as every chess book ever written professes the importance of controlling the centre, but these lectures feel almost like something completely different, almost like a major sub-chapter within a larger chapter. When going through this course, I almost forgot it was about planning, that’s how much the focus changes during these lectures.
The centre determines how a chess game will play out. Again, this is obvious after just a quick glance at different openings. Take the French defence. The advance variation will lead to a very different style of game than the exchange variation. In one the centre is completely blocked and un-accessible, whereas in the other the centre is wide open and both sides strive to place pieces there.
Understanding how these centres work are essential for planning. There are different possibilities depending if the centre is wide open, closed or somewhere in between, and your plan needs to reflect that. That’s why the course focuses so heavily on learning these different centre types.
This is important knowledge, no doubt, but I wish it were presented in a slightly different way. GM Smirnov identifies five different centre types, and each type gets its own lecture. However, each lecture is only 8 to 12 minutes long, and they feel somewhat separate from each other. I feel it would have been better to combine all these smaller lectures into one mega lecture, one that doesn’t just describe the characteristics of these centres but also compares and contrasts them. I feel the treatment was slightly light here and could have been more in depth.
That said, these lectures do contain excellent practical information. Perhaps you’ve seen some grandmasters play and wondered why they just spent the last 20 moves shuffling pieces around and never actually doing anything. I know I have, and it often appears as if one neither side wants to put up a fight. I see now it’s because of the tension in the centre. If the situation in the centre changes radically, it will drastically change the game. If you start a plan that assumes an open centre and then your opponent closes it, suddenly your pieces are completely misplaced. The same is true for the reverse, when you play as if the centre will stay closed and then suddenly it opens. When tension exists in the centre, you need to keep your pieces placed so that they can perform well no matter how the central tension plays out. These manoeuvring phases are like a game of cat and mouse, with one side hoping to help plan the other. Once I understood this, many Grandmaster games suddenly made a lot more sense.
I should add here that the practical part for this section of the course is excellent. It covers 10 examples for each centre type, which means you have 50 problems to look at in total. I have often struggled with closed positions, and going through the practical section for this centre type made a big difference. I’m not saying I now play these types of centres perfectly, or even that well, but at least I have an idea of what I should be doing, which is more than I used to have.
This now leads to what should be the main part of this course, actually planning. I feel here GM Smirnov describes this process almost too efficiently. That is, I completely understand his planning system, but I would like to see more practical examples in his videos. We get a few examples, but they seemed fairly cut and dried to me, fairly obvious. This is in stark contrast to the practical section, in which the positions were difficult and I had less of an idea how to muddle my way through.
Indeed, I was slightly unimpressed with the practical section here. I love the practical aspect of GM Smirnov’s courses. They may be the best part, but here it feels somewhat lacking. To be fair, some of his examples and positions are annotated beautifully, but several are also described with only a few sentences and that’s it. I wasn’t expecting truckloads of variations, as that’s not really what planning means. With planning, you need to look at the chess board, pick up the most important parts of the position and then play to your strengths. You need to look and you need to think, and I would’ve liked a bit more guidance here.
Bottom line, when I completed the practical section of his other courses, I felt like I had mastered over 75% of the course material. With this course, that percentage feels much lower. That said, a big part of it is that planning is very alien to the amateur mind, or at least to my mind. In my previous chess games, I’ve likely spend 99% the time calculating variations and finding candidate moves. That doesn’t leave much time for planning, and I now realize that is such a huge mistake, but it’s not easy to just flip the switch and start focusing more on this somewhat abstract thing. This is material you likely need to go through more than just once.
I should add here that this was one of GM Smirnov’s first courses, and that she some of the drawbacks of his other early work. Sound quality is decent but not great, visuals are very sparse, spelling and grammar are all over the place. None of that affects the overall chess material, obviously, but you can really see the lack of polish compared to his later work.
In the final analysis, I think this is a decent course on an incredibly important topic. I haven’t seen anything like this presented in other chess books. Well, I’ve seen bits and pieces, but nothing like Smirnov integrated system. I’ve realized that mastering planning is likely the difference between the strong amateur players and real chess masters. This course helps bridge that gap, and it does a decent job, but I can’t help think that GM Smirnov could do a much better job explaining the same information today.
On the plus side, it’s quite cheap, and learning the different centre types will greatly affect your game. I still think that GMPU is his best course, and I would recommend that first. Indeed, I think trying to learn Smirnov’s way of planning without learning his chess principles presented in that course would be very hard. Look at that course first. After you studied that, if you feel that middle games are your weakest stage than this course would make excellent supplementary study material. I don’t think it should be your first GM Smirnov course. Again, it’s not bad, but I don’t think it’s the most important.