Improving Your Chess: Cost and Quality

Editor’s Note: I saw this outstanding video on chess improvement tools from frequent Chess Life and Chess Life Online contributor Kostya Kavutskiy, and I asked Kostya if he minded if we shared it on our social media channels. He offered to go a step further, augmenting his thoughts as presented in the video with additional text for CLO readers. What follows is Kostya’s view of the lay of the chess educational landscape, and US Chess does not endorse or recommend any of these sites.

With most of the chess world staying at home these days and many looking to use the extra time to improve their game, I felt it was a good time to make a video comparing the many different chess resources out there from a cost-effectiveness perspective. You can watch the video for my full explanations, but I’ve also provided a quick summary of notes here: Online Sites Cost: Diamond Membership is about $100/year, cheaper options available Really deep video library with some really instructive coaches, including Kaidanov, Yermolinsky, Shankland, Bojkov, Khachiyan, Lenderman, and many more. Also has good ‘Lessons’, which teach concepts and strategy in an interactive way. Cost: Premium membership is about $130/year, though Chess24 often runs nice promotions during big events. Monthly option available. Great courses for advanced (1800+) players. In addition to opening repertoires they also have good courses about calculation, middlegames, endgames, etc. from guys like Dvoretsky and Yusupov. They also sell standalone courses but the yearly membership gives you access to everything. Best site for purchasing standalone courses, especially opening repertoires, as the spaced repetition training is hard to beat. Chessable PRO (about $4-$7/month) has some useful features for power users, otherwise probably not worth it for casual members. Chessbase Online Accounts Cost: ~$50/year An underrated platform given the price, with lots of training tools (especially for building an opening repertoire) and a deep video library as well. Separate product from Chessbase software (my review below). Cost: Diamond Membership $79 per year, cheaper options available Has a lot of cool features and is sworn by as a great site for tactical training by many players, although I personally never enjoyed the interface much and have found many of the problem solutions to be a bit too computerized, similar to the Tactics Trainers on Overall a good choice though if you take advantage of their different training tools. Cost: $500/year, although they do allow students to pay in installments – must contact admin through or their Facebook page. This is basically a super-team of renowned chess coaches (Jacob Aagaard, RB Ramesh, and several other GMs), offering weekly live classes through Zoom on a variety of topics (calculation, openings, endgames, etc.). Overall an amazing value if you have the time to attend multiple classes per week, but keep in mind the classes are mainly geared towards advanced (1800+) players. If you’re ambitious and can’t afford a private coach, this is likely the next best thing. Free, 100% free to play, solve tactics, and save your own games/databases using their extremely handy ‘Study’ feature. I don’t love their tactics trainer for the same reason I don’t particularly like most online tactics trainers, the solutions always feel too computerized. I would encourage those who frequent Lichess to donate, if they can, as Lichess depends on user donations to run. Software/apps Chessbase Software Cost: ~$100 Best option for professional/advanced (1800+) players, but unnecessary for most players. For my full thoughts on using Chessbase vs. cheaper alternatives likes Chessable and Lichess Studies, check out this previous video I made: ChessKing Apps Cost: ~$8 per app Known for their flagship software, CT Art, this program has been available for Apple/Android devices for several years now. I’m a big fan not just of CT Art 4.0 but also their other apps named Chess Tactics for Beginners, CT Art (1400-1600) and Manual of Chess Combinations. My favorite thing about the apps is that the problems are organized by theme, which I believe is an excellent asset for building pattern recognition. Books Tried and tested—most of history’s grandmasters grew up without online resources/computers altogether. Undoubtedly, they learned and trained their skills with books. A good book will last you anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to go through, making them very cost-effective. The main thing holding people back is often time when It comes to books. Coaching The most expensive form of training, but arguably the most effective. The advantage of a coach is that they can quickly identify weaknesses in your play and give you the exact tools and methods to improve your skills. Free Resources There has never been more opportunity to become a strong player without paying anything, utilizing the wide variety of free tools and resources on the web. In addition to Lichess, there are other free sites, but as far as chess education is concerned, I believe you have everything you need located on YouTube and Twitch. Here are a few of my favorites/recommendations: YouTube Channels: Saint Louis Chess Club, John Bartholomew, Eric Rosen, Ben Finegold/CCSCATL, Chess Network. I should also recommend my own channel as well as the new ChessDojo channel, which I co-run with GM Jesse Kraai and IM David Pruess. Twitch Channels: Players like Nakamura and Naroditsky stream daily, while Nepomniachtchi, MVL, Carlsen, Kamsky, Hammer, and many other strong players now stream regularly (again, everyone is quarantined) and you can watch them play high level chess as much as you want. It’s not the best form of training, but you can learn a lot simply from watching a strong player play and trying to understand their moves. Again I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention ChessDojo’s Twitch channel, which focuses on educational chess streams. Chess commentary Also a great resource for those seeking free education, the average 4-6 hour commentary will be instructive on all parts of the game. The Saint Louis Chess Club and Chess24 are typically considered to have the best commentators (with STL geared towards a wider audience and Chess24 mainly catering to higher level players). A personal favorite commentator of mine is Peter Leko, who covered the Grenke Chess super-tournament for Chess24 for the past couple years. Commentary can often be found in archived broadcasts on YouTube and now Twitch. ChessDojo Discord Lastly, I’d be really remiss ChessDojo’s Discord server, which was designed to be a hub for chess improvers and coaches. On there are different channels dedicated to discussing games, puzzles, finding training partners, and more. You can join the Discord via this link here. Misc/Conclusion There are quite a few resources I didn’t include in this list. For one, I believe standalone courses (like from the Chessbase Shop or should each be evaluated on their own merit, since they are purchased individually rather than available as a subscription. There are also lots of tools that I just haven’t had enough experience with, so it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to comment on them. To sum up—everything you need to reach your full chess potential is out there, and due to all of the competition it’s often being offered at a fantastic value, sometimes even free! With most tournaments cancelled for the indefinite future, now is the time to hunker down and get serious. If you’re not sure what to do, I previously made another video on the topic as well: Happy training!

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