Opening courses are everywhere. The prospect of playing the same line as a Top Player is just too tempting to resist. Some Chess fans seem to buy an opening course more frequently than they change their underwear.
But is it sensible for amateur chess improvers to buy and study Opening courses from (Grand)Masters?
I have always strictly answered “No” to this question for a long time.
Now I have changed my answer. It is rather “Yes, if…”
In this article, I explain why I changed my mind and explain the problems I see with most opening courses.
And before I piss off a lot of people here: if you simply enjoy studying opening courses, then keep on buying them. There is nothing wrong with that! I’m writing this from a chess improvement perspective.
That means buying and studying an opening course should be better (and certainly not much worse) than your many alternatives (solving tactics, playing games, analyzing your own openings…).
Why I Don’t Like Most Opening Courses
As mentioned, for a long time, I have been a big voice against opening courses. From many discussions with students, readers, and Coaches, I realized: I’m actually against BAD opening courses and the vicious marketing of most opening course sellers.
Good opening courses, specifically aimed at your level and with sensible marketing (without promising absurd things) are actually beneficial.
To filter out the good ones, you should know the three main problems with most opening courses.
Problem#1: Chess Opening Courses Are Too Big
A huge majority of Chess improvers are only hobby players and have limited time.
That means every hour spent on Openings can not be spent on other areas. The problem is that Tactics and Calculation are where you will see most improvements, not Openings!
Logically, you should then restrict your time on Opening study and focus on what really matters. Buying a course and learning from an experienced player should do just that, right?
Hmm, sadly, it isn’t that easy.
30+ Hours Courses
Opening courses seem only to get bigger every year.
Actually, it is easier to make a long opening course than to make a short one. Analyzing more lines with an Engine and a Database is not hard for an experienced Coach/Player. But cutting out everything that does not matter is.
That is why you see a course called “Keep it simple” that lasts over 40 hours!
If you spend 5 hours on your chess study per week, you will have two full months until you complete the course.
In this period, you did not play any single game, repeat anything from the course or solve a single tactic exercise.
Remembering Everything Is Impossible
Once you finally finished the course, you will basically have to start over again because you can’t remember anything you studied in the first month.
Now you enter this vicious cycle of only doing opening work and still feeling that you don’t get anywhere.
You feel overwhelmed and frustrated.
Until the next course comes around.
As the marketing of those courses is great, you’ll get a boost of motivation and think, “If I only played this opening, I would not have those problems.”
Two months pass, and you are at the same point with another opening. As the only way out seems to buy yet another course, those sites selling the courses have very little interest in helping you.
Most sites profit from selling as many courses as possible and thus aren’t fully aligned with what you need: one simple, stable opening repertoire!
If you are looking to buy your first opening course, get one that is at most 10 hours long.
Problem #2: Chess Opening Courses Are Not Specific Enough
Problem #2 ties in nicely with Problem #1. As the sites want to sell to the biggest possible audience, they make opening courses for nearly everyone.
If you filter on Chessable, the leading site for opening courses, for Beginner and Opening, you will actually get courses made by Grandmasters.
Those same courses are also labeled for Masters.
Thus all the lines and the explanations are directed at Master players (FIDE 2300+). How in the World should a Beginner understand this?
A relevant line for a Fide Master is most likely already irrelevant for a player below 1900.
Additionally, the explanation should also differ. The language I use when I coach Fide Masters is totally different from the language I use when I Coach beginners.
Cutting Out Moves Does Not Work
You might say, “Well, just only watch the course until move 10 if you are a beginner”. Sadly once more, chess is not that easy.
Some lines require a tactical continuation; others focus on ideas that are only explained at the end of a line. By cutting before the video/line finishes, you will miss out on most explanations and have an incomplete repertoire.
That means you really need a more specific course to avoid overwhelm and get a repertoire good for your specific situation.
Problem #3: Only Moves, Little Understanding
Many Chess improvers I interact with have the same problem: after their remembered theoretical line is finished, they have no clue what they should do.
It often happens that they go wrong only one or two moves after they are out of book. Without plans and ideas as their guiding compass, they feel lost and make big mistakes.
This is not their fault. Many opening courses sadly focus on repeating the lines (spaced repetition…) instead of teaching how a certain opening should be played.
What happens is that early on you might get some quick wins thanks to memorized lines. You feel the course was worth it until your opponents deviate from what you know.
Now you have a bloated rating (you are not stronger than before, you just won some games for free) and have no clue what your ideas and plans are.
This is when the frustration sets in.
Never Play Moves You Don’t Understand
No matter how you study your openings, you should never play moves you don’t understand in the first place. A good process would be:
- Understand ideas for both sides
- Search moves that follow these ideas
- Find the move that concretely works and achieves your idea while undermining your opponent’s ideas
This way, even if you forget your lines, you can find a decent move at the board.
Actually, this process is amazing because you save a lot of time and avoid being overwhelmed.
No more 40-hour opening courses with hundreds of lines you need to hammer into your brain.
How Opening Courses Should Be Done
Now after reading these three major problems with Chess opening courses, you might understand why I was very much against them.
I’ve just had too many readers and students caught in the endless vicious cycle of yet another opening course that doesn’t solve the long-term issues they face in their chess improvement.
But as mentioned above, I’ve since changed my opinion. If an opening course avoids the three problems explained above and does not promise to solve all problems, it can be very beneficial.
Piecing together those three major problems, here is how opening courses actually should be done:
- Hyper-Specific —> “Attacking Repertoire for Beginners” would be a great title
- As simple and short as possible, with no unnecessary lines
- Lot’s of explanations of the arising structures with plans, ideas, and common motifs
Recommended Opening Courses
Now you might ask yourself: do you have any recommendations for good opening courses?
Yes and no.
Opening courses get old quickly. And there are new ones published daily. So it would be impossible for me to give you an updated list of great opening courses.
What I will do instead is give you some of my favorites, plus some hints about great authors and types of opening courses that might be worth your money.
ChessMood has the highest-quality chess courses on the market. The founder and head Coach GM Avetik Grigoryan has a very healthy approach to openings. Lots of plans & ideas, little concrete move-by-move theory.
Start with the simplified repertoire, watch some model games, and only then dive deeper into the theory if needed.
Just what the doctor ordered!
100 Repertoires on Chessable
I’m not a big fan of Chessable. They have way too many opening courses for my taste. But they recently started a series of so-called “100 Repertoires”. These are Repertoires that have a maximum of 100 variations included. The video course takes 5-10 hours, which is a good size for most Chess improvers.
To find those you can simply search for ’100’ on Chessable. I also recommend putting in your current playing strength as a filter.
For even more simple repertoires, you can filter for Free, Opening & optionally your playing strength to get some short & sweet starter repertoires.
Be aware that those aren’t full repertoires and the idea is that you then get the huge course (that likely isn’t optimal for you).
Sam Shanklands & Giri’s Repertoires
If you really want super-high-quality Opening courses and to learn from the best of the best, I can recommend Shankland’s & Giri’s courses. These are super-in-depth Repertoires, so I would stay far away if you aren’t 2300+ FIDE.
To have a baseline for a great professional Repertoire, those are the courses I recommend. I can only say it again: if you are an amateur and below 2300, these repertoires will only overwhelm you.
Only Play One Opening
Now that you know which opening courses are worth your money, let’s shortly tackle a common question to wrap up:
How many openings should I play?
My answer is always the same: if you aren’t 2300+ FIDE, you don’t need to play more than one opening. The amount of work learning a new opening takes is not worth it if you still have other areas where major improvements are possible with much less time & energy.
I basically only played 1.e4 until I reached the IM title and stuck with my French defense until my GM title. Using my time for tactics, strategy & endgame training improved my skills tremendously, which helped me in all positions I played.
So, don’t fall for the FOMO of the latest amazing opening course and stick to what you know well until it doesn’t work anymore.
After all, why should you fix something that is still working?