I had a chat with a Chessable user, Professor Tim McGrew. Tim provides an in-depth Chessable review and how it has helped him improve his chess. Tim told us that opening preparation was one of the keys to achieve his lifelong ambition, the USCF National Master title. Openings that Tim rehearsed on Chessable were played in some important games. Thanks to our science-backed chess opening learning tools, Tim was able to make the most out of his opening preparation. His review follows in form of an unaltered interview:
Read on; this review style interview is packed full of instructional moments!
Word of mouth — my teenage daughter had found the site and described it to me.
Initially, I clicked around to see what was free and started exploring it. IM John Bartholomew’s Scandinavian repertoire — the free version — blew me away. Once I had seen that, I realized that I needed to get an account and import some of my own analysis for study.
The biggest change came when I realized the kind of work I needed to do in order to create my own opening repertoires for self study. There are two critical points here. First, a serious repertoire that will actually serve in tournament conditions at master level has to be fairly detailed. Yes, there are some openings that require a lot more work than others, but even theoretical sidelines demand some detail work these days. Second, I realized that the fundamental feature of Chessable — the spaced repetition — would enable me to recall much more than I was used to carrying around in my memory.
This varies greatly, as I have a family and a day job. Some days I may put in several hours (which fly by, since it’s fun); others, just a few minutes.
I like to do at least something every day. If I set myself a micro goal of doing ten positions a day, there is really no excuse not to do it. And generally I will do much more than the micro goal, even on a busy day.
My favorite public repertoire has to be the full version of John Bartholomew’s Scandinavian repertoire. It’s solid, interesting, and full of ideas that he has clearly tested with computer assistance. And he covers even the more obscure sidelines, making it a complete repertoire against 1.e4.
I have several private repertoires that I have constructed. Usually I will start with an idea I like, fold in the main lines from some GM games, and then look it up on a theory site to see what is current. Once I have built it out to a certain level of detail, I run through all of the lines with Stockfish 7 at 20 ply or deeper to do some tactical cleaning.
It’s very important, however, not to restrict the repertoire to lines the computer comes up with. Human opponents are going to play moves that look natural to them, and at this stage of repertoire building one needs to include those lines to maximize the probability of using one’s preparation over the board.
I had several holes in my repertoire that needed to be plugged. I’ve been in the upper 2100s USCF for about a decade, and my repertoire was fine for beating most club players, but closer to master level it began to break down. I was still playing some lines that weren’t ready for mission-critical applications. And these days, strong opponents do their homework between encounters with the assistance of GM-strength chess engines. So if there are holes in your repertoire, they are going to find them!
With the Chessable tools, I was able to address this problem and plug those holes. I have also built some repertoires just for fun to explore some new lines I am considering playing. So Chessable has not only helped me to fix concrete problems but also inspired me to widen my repertoire, which should make me a moving target for my opponents’ opening preparation.
Actually, yes! About a month and a half after I started using Chessable heavily, I finally went over 2200 and earned my National Master title, a lifetime ambition of mine. I’m over 50, and at my age, most chess players find their ratings going down rather than up, so you can well imagine how pleased I am with this turn of events! I have no doubt that my work on Chessable was a significant factor, not only because it sharpened my openings but also because it increased my confidence in my opening preparation.
I think it’s unrealistic for non-professionals to aspire to play every opening well, if by “well” you mean at their own rating standard. For example, I don’t play the Grünfeld from either side. Now, it’s good to understand the basic strategic concepts behind openings one doesn’t play. But the most important thing is to understand the openings one does play.
Players at different levels need different things. If you are a beginner, you need to get into the middlegame alive. I’ve been thinking of creating a repertoire for just that purpose for some of my younger students. If you are a club player (say, 1400-1800) and serious about moving up, you may want to work with a stronger player to develop a repertoire that is right for you. If you are over 2000 OTB and are willing to work at it, you can develop your own repertoires and upload them as private repertoires for personal study. But have a look at some of the ones that are built and for sale already — it could save you some time, and who knows, you might fall in love with something new!
David is Chessable’s CEO and Chief Scientist. He finished his dissertation on expertise and expert performance as part of a MSc in Psychology of Education (BPS) at the University of Bristol, and also holds a PGCert in Applied Psychology from the University of Liverpool. David’s chess rating is around 1,850 FIDE.