Think, Plan and Win
Topic: Thinking in chess, planning, the Smirnov gambit, time management
My View: A surprisingly fun primer on some important chess principles
Get it here.
In October 2015, GM Smirnov travelled to India and held several chess seminars. There he met with people, gave lessons, held a simul exhibition and, most relevantly, gave four seminars. This course is the recording of each seminar.
First off, some quick notes. During some of the seminars a translator appeared as well. This course has cut all of that out. This makes watching some of these seminars slightly odd from a visual standpoint. It looks like watching a video with lots things taken out, which is exactly what happened. Though the transitions were smooth, it still appeared somewhat jarring at first. Just be aware of that the first time you watch.
Also, because of video length restrictions in the Udemy client, each seminar is broken into separate videos, as opposed to a single, longer video for each. This isn’t really a hassle, but if you have slower Internet it might be an issue.
Finally, Smirnov asks his audience questions at times, and they, being in India, have Indian accents, sometimes very thick ones. Sometimes subtitles appear on screen, but not always. Depending on your ear, this may be irritating or a non-issue, but it’s very small.
Moving onto the chess content, GM Smirnov once again delivers. He is an amazing teacher. He goes through some games, but as usual he doesn’t focus on the amazing moves or variations: he instead focuses on how to find such moves for yourself. It really works, and he has some quality work here.
That said, at times he appeared rushed. He likely only had the stage for a certain time, and with a translator there repeating everything he said, he needed to hurry to get everything in. Unlike his courses or YouTube videos, where he often takes time to deeply explore an idea, here he tends to rush ahead to get everything in and then goes back to fill in any missing pieces. That’s a downside of a live event as opposed to the recording studio.
That said, we get to see Smirnov speak quick and candidly in front of an audience, without a script, and it’s illumination. I couldn’t believe how funny he was. Every few minutes he seemed to make a sly joke or tell an amusing story. It almost got to the point where I thought he wasn’t taking this very seriously, but that wasn’t it at all.
Humour is a way of learning. You often remember jokes and funny events years later. The same is true here. Hearing some of these jokes brought new understanding to some of these concepts. (I’ll never think about pieces coming into contact with each other in the same way… If you watch the seminar you’ll know what I mean.) It also makes this perhaps the most entertaining two-hours of chess material ever.
The chess content spans four main themes: time management, ‘right thinking,’ planning and the Smirnov gambit.
I’ll start with the gambit first. This is an interesting line of the Sicilian, 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.b4!?. This seems to be an improved version of the Wing Gambit. It’s little explored, and it’s amazing how fast Black can lose making normal moves. That said, Smirnov shows the sunny side of this line a little too much, making it appear almost winning by force.
He already has made two YouTube videos on this opening, which I will link at the bottom. Those videos are nearly an hour in total and have lots of lines, some not shown here. This seminar instead focuses more on (short) games, which are entertaining but again a little optimistic, not really showing Black’s best defence. Of course, I ran the position through my computer, and though White looks great, the computer is less impressed. It may well be these are the types of openings that give White nothing with perfect play, only equality, but against non-perfect play (ie, regular people), it’s far more effective. Seriously, this could be an amazing blitz weapon.
I think, in the end, the YouTube videos are just as valuable, if not more complete and objective. The course does contain a .pgn file, which is useful for home study. Anyway, this is entertaining but not the main reason to get the course.
The time management part is really a mixed bag of items. On the one hand, he talks specifically about using your time better, but he focuses on moving quicker. As he says, if you always play quicker than your opponent, you will never lose on time. Of course, it’s not just enough to play faster, you need to know how to make fast moves without making mistakes.
In particular, he talks about simplifying your opening thinking. This complements his last seminar of the four, which is about the middlegame. He then goes into some particular time-management skills, what to think about when it’s your move and when it’s your opponent’s move, and he describes his anti-blunder check system.
Much of this is spread around in Smirnov’s various courses, but I don’t think any of them collect it all like this, in this way.
It’s similar with his ‘right thinking’ section. Some of these ideas have been expressed in other courses. Indeed, I’d say much of this is also in GM Secret’s, though in some cases it’s better explained here. It doesn’t go into as much detail, but the explanations are clearer, if that makes sense.
It’s similar with his last section, the art of planning. Almost all of this is already in Your Winning Plan. That said, we are given a lite-version of these courses. We get short, practical tips that really work. As always, Smirnov simplifies common chess ideas, such as when to calculate and when it’s not needed.
On the whole, I would say this is a very good introduction to GM Smirnov’s teaching style. Smirnov’s courses are rather expensive. My personal recommendation, Grandmaster’s Positional Understanding, is over $100, and other courses are near that mark. If that’s too expensive for you, this may be the ideal introduction to his work.
If you are a Smirnov veteran, the main value is the repetition. You get to see known ideas in new positions. You get to test yourself. If you only have a few courses, you may learn ideas you haven’t learned yet.
Bottomline, this is a very entertaining and useful chess course. That said, because it covers so much variety, it doesn’t go into as much depth on any one. If you have little money, if it’s really tight, this is probably a luxury. If money isn’t an issue, this is a lot of fun and very useful in a lot of ways.
Smirnov Gambit on Youtube
(turns out there’s actually THREE videos! Lucky!)