Your Top Chess Questions Answered
Topic: Misc.; how to play and train better in general
My View: Some excellent, concise information, though other parts are less relevant
Purchase it here: Top Chess Questions, Answered
GM Igor Smirnov and the RCA released a new course on Christmas Day. Back when GM Smirnov released his new book, he allowed the first 100 buyers to submit questions. In this course, he summarizes and answers the main questions he received. If you bought his book, A Promoted Pawn, when it was first released, you got this for free. If you didn’t, you might be wondering if this is worth a purchase.
In short, I was surprised at the quality. Some of the lessons were simply excellent, and they also threw a few blows at my ego. Let me explain.
Due to the question and answer format, this is not a typical GM Smirnov chess course. There is no practical part, for instance, and not much chess instruction per se. It’s not like Calculate Till Mate, where you get five hours of tactics instruction. Instead we get four general themes, with each theme having two or three lessons. There are eleven lessons altogether, with eight videos and three simply text excerpts.
That surprised me. I expected everything would be video. The questions answered with the text are quite small, not even two pages, and they aren’t really on video-dependent topics. For instance, one questions asked about women in chess, whether they had a disadvantage since men dominate the sport. Do we really need a PowerPoint presentation for this? Probably not … but even just seeing GM Smirnov sit in front of his camera talking, like in the preview video, would have been nice.
Also, these text lessons look ill-formatted. This appears to be a problem on Udemy’s interface, as it doesn’t seem to recognize extra spaces, tabs or line breaks, giving everything a wall-of-text feel, if only slightly. I know this because, honestly, I worked on some of the text. There’s currently no option to download a .pdf of these either, but it doesn’t matter too much. These text lessons are extras, not the main dish.
As mentioned, there are four thematic sections. The shortest and least important one is ‘Chess for Everyone.’ It’s basically a grab-bag of miscellaneous questions. It deals with teaching children how to move the Knight, whether adults can see real improvement starting chess late in life, and the aforementioned question about women. These questions are not trivial, but they are not applicable to everyone.
In fact, not one section here is meant for me. I’m not a woman, I don’t need to teach chess to a youth and I started chess at the age of 6. I simply cannot use this information. GM Smirnov seems to have recognized this, because he threw in a bonus section at the end of the Knight question, a section on visualization training. This is important, but it is quite short, and it is the same as an exercise in the practical section of Calculate Til Mate, so I already knew it. Regardless, this section is the least important part of the course.
The first interesting section is about openings. As always, amateurs love to ask Grandmasters about openings, and as always, the Grandmasters tell us to focus on other areas first before memorizing openings. The same is true here, but if you are going to study openings anyway, he has some advice.
Personally, I learned some interesting things here. I thought I knew how to use a computer to aid my opening study, but I learned a new trick in his lecture. He also shared an interesting idea about when and why to learn new opening variations, something I have been neglecting. He also goes briefly into the debate between 1.e4 vs 1.d4, and this is the one text lesson I think he could have and should have made into a video lecture. All in all, a quality section. Good information here.
The last two section, in my view, are the best. The first is called ‘Chess Skills,’ and it is inspired by a question that asks which chess skills should be a priority to learn, and it comes with a long list likely taken straight out of a modern chess handbook. Smirnov, in typical Smirnov fashion, says you don’t need to worry about any of those things right now. Get a proper thinking system and learn how to attack, then you are set.
This may initially seem odd, as most people already know how to attack. No, they don’t, at least not like a Grandmaster. He shows us a simple position, what looks like the Black side of a Catalan. Not much going on. About six moves later, Black has a vicious attack and White shortly gets mated. This happened out of nowhere. If I, or most people for that matter, were playing Black in that position, we would just ride passively along to a colourless draw. Clearly, I do not know how to attack yet.
As an aside, the same is true for Smirnov’s other course, How to Beat Titled Players. When I watched his section how to attack there, I was blown away. There is so much more involved than just rushing our f-pawn up the board, like so many of us think when we hear ‘attack’. Smirnov is absolutely right that learning how to attack, really learning it, will change your game unimaginably.
As a bonus, these lessons show us how to train this skill of attack the right way, using the right system of thinking. This is excellent, excellent stuff. I believe just about all of it has been presented before in his other work, both free and premium versions, but never in such a direct, powerful form. Seeing this made me go ‘wow,’ and this was where the blow to my ego came in. I thought I was doing pretty well, but this showed exactly where I was going wrong in my study, and it will take some effort to fix it. Oh well, better now than never.
The final section deals with advancing in chess. Smirnov again further explains the attack, and he also answers questions about psychology and what makes the top players so good. One note is that this section does not go into as great detail, as he references his book Champion Psychology and his webinar on Carlsen, and he does not repeat those lessons here. I already own those, so it’s no issue to me, but if you don’t then it may feel like you’ve got a bit of a short straw here. Still, even just going by the information present, you will learn something useful.
In the final analysis, this course felt like a collection of excellent, short YouTube videos. Back in the day, when Smirnov was still establishing his brand, he released incredible free videos every few months. This felt like that again, which was nice. Perhaps a better example, it is almost identical to the bonus section of Grandmaster’s Positional Understanding, in both form and content, but it has higher quality.
Is it worth the purchase? It definitely has good value, and if you got if for free because you bought his book, you are probably laughing. If you didn’t, it’s a bit harder to say. The current sale price makes it about the price of his most expensive webinars, but this course is easily better than 95% of those. In fact, this is probably RCA’s finest product released this year. You’ll probably get more value out of this than any other random $20-30 chess book, and the current sale makes it that much more enticement.
It has my seal of approval, for what that’s worth.
As a final note, these questions are indeed based on his book, but you don’t need to have read it to get value out of this course. He mentions chapters maybe twice, and neither are especially crucial.