The Secrets of Strong Players


Some time ago I published a lesson “The Secrets of Strong Players”. It became “a hotcake” indeed!

The lesson was viewed by close to 200,000 students on my YouTube channel and shared on many other chess websites; and recently the text version of this lesson was published in a German chess magazine “Computerschach” (here’s their website: LINK)

I received a lot of positive messages from students who learned this lesson and applied its recommendations in their games. Therefore, the lesson may bring great results for you as well!

Even if you have seen this lesson already, it will be useful to review it again. You know, the point is not just “seeing it” but acquiring these practical skills. Plus, you can find a text version of the lesson below the video.

Today we have a very interesting topic: The Secrets of Strong Chess Players.

During a game of chess you demonstrate your way of thinking. Obviously there is a difference in the way of thinking between strong and not-so-strong players, but what is it about their way of thinking that makes these players stronger and helps them to gain more victories?

If you have pondered such questions before, you may have discovered that finding the answer is not that easy. Perhaps you have found that many of these strong players are unwilling to share these ‘insider secrets’ with you.

Similarly, there are a lot of lessons out there prepared by strong Grandmasters that will show you some opening moves or some strong moves played in the games of strong Grandmasters. However, they do not reveal the most important thing: How do these players find such strong moves and how can you do the same?

Today, however, you are in luck as this is exactly the topic of this lesson. Today we will be discussing powerful techniques for finding strong moves!

Naturally I cannot cover everything in just one lesson. Nevertheless, I will give you a couple of practical and powerful recommendations that you’ll be able to implement and improve your results with right after this lesson.


In order to demonstrate the difference in the way of thinking between strong and not-so-strong players, let’s consider the following example:

Diagram 1

GM Reinderman – GM NyzhnykDiagram1White to move

In this position White played 29. Rxd6 (winning a pawn) and then Black played 29…Qe5. Perhaps Black wanted to block White’s e-pawn while at the same time attack White’s queen and also keep an eye on the d6-rook. But here I have a question for you. How would you play here as White?

I’m pretty sure that most players would just take Black’s queen on e5. Generally, when you have a material advantage it is good to exchange pieces. However, in this position it is not the best move because if White takes Black’s queen on e5, he will only have succeeded in helping Black to activate his knight and bring it to a good central square.

So what to do instead? If you have studied my previous lessons you will know already that to take is a mistake and that in such positions it is far better that you maintain the tension and let your opponent be the one who releases this tension.

Accordingly, White played 30. Kh2 and now you can see this idea clearly. If White takes Black’s queen on e5 Black will activate his knight and put it on a good central square. The opposite situation is applicable for Black. If Black takes White’s queen on g3, it will help White to activate his king and bring it closer to the center.

In the actual game, Black took White’s queen (30…Qxg3+) and after the recapture (31. Kxg3) White achieved an easily winning position. Notice that White can bring his king to f4 and then push e5, he has an extra pawn and Black has a lot of weaknesses. This is totally winning for White.

So now you know one secret of strong players: they understand the rule that to take is a mistake. It may sound rather simple but most players do not follow this rule or do not know about it. What they actually do is the opposite thing and they take whenever they can. Why do so many players make this mistake? It’s actually quite easy to explain. Consider for a moment the following example:

Diagram 2Diagram2Black to move

Now, imagine that you are playing Black and you are considering the move 10…d5. Which variations do you need to check before you can play this move?

Obviously you need to be sure that you don’t lose any material and so maybe you start your calculation and think to yourself, “Okay, I’ll play d5 and after cxd5 I’ll take with my knight (Nxd5), he’ll recapture with his knight (Nxd5), I’ll take on d5 again with my bishop (Bxd5), he’ll take with his bishop (Bxd5), I’ll take with my queen (Qxd5).” And then you see that everything is fine and say to yourself, “Okay, I can play d5.”

This is the usual method of calculating variations and after some practice it becomes a habit. That’s why most chess players follow this way of thinking automatically. When they see that they can take something they start their calculations right from that move. Stronger players, on the other hand, know that to take is a mistake and that they should look for something better.

Before we move on, let me just clarify something. Of course I’m not saying that you should never take. Sometimes you can win an opponent’s material and sometimes you are forced to recapture in order to keep the material balance. In such cases of course you will naturally take. To give you an example, let’s go back a few moves in this game.

If after Black plays 10…d5 White responds with 11. cxd5, then of course Black must recapture. If he does not he will lose material and so there is nothing to think about. He has no other option but to take. However, in the subsequent position after 11…Nxd5 (see Diagram 3 below) White should not take on d5. This would be a mistake and White should refrain from making this move because of the rule: to take is a mistake.

Diagram 3Diagram3White to move

Now that you know the rule that to automatically take is a mistake, and that you should always try to maintain the tension, let’s move on a little.



Okay. Let’s continue our exploration of the way strong players think with another example. Below is a theoretical position from the Sicilian defense, Najdorf variation.

Diagram 4Diagram4Black to move

Let’s say that Black plays 12…b4 attacking the knight, White retreats the knight to e2 (13. Nce2), Black plays 13…Qc7, White replies with 14. h4 (preparing an attack on the king-side) and Black answers with 14…d5 (attacking White’s centre and more specifically, the pawn on e4).

Diagram 5Diagram5White to move

Okay? Now, here is a question for you. How would you play here as White?

I’ll be very glad if you decided not to take the d5 pawn. You know already that to take is a mistake and in this position it is indeed not the best option. After 15.exd5 Black will recapture with 16…Nxd5. With this move Black brings the knight into the centre, attacks White’s bishop on e3 and gains more activity. As a result White needs to find something better.

Although we know that we should try to keep the tension and avoid moves like exd5, here it is not so easy to find a suitable way to keep the tension and somehow protect the e4-pawn:

White can’t play 15.Ng3 because that square is under control of Black’s queen on c7.

A move like 15.Bg2 would place the bishop in a very passive position and after an exchange would cause the g4-pawn to be hanging. Also Black can move his knight to c4, so none of this looks very good for White.

If White tries a move like 15.Qd3, a rather awkward idea, then Black can play 15…Ne5 or 15…Nc5 and gain extra tempi. Again, this is certainly not something that White would want.

Perhaps now you are thinking that if you don’t have a good way to defend the e4-pawn then maybe you just have to take on d5. This is certainly how most chess players think in such situations. However, this way of thinking has one major drawback: everything that we’ve been considering so far in this position has been focused on an opponent’s threats and we completely forgot about our own plans.

Let me give you a quick analogy. It is rather like a tug-of-war competition. Each side is trying to pull the rope in their own direction and the side who does it stronger will win the competition. A similar thing happens in chess. Each player is trying to pull the game in the direction that he wants, and the one who does it more insistently will win the game.

Tug-of-WarHaving said that, let us take this new approach and apply it in the above position. Our task is to see what other resources we can find for White. We can do this by simply shifting our focus from Black’s threats to White’s plans.

Okay, so what is White’s plan here? Obviously White wants to push g5. That is why he played h4 and g4 on the previous moves. However, he cannot play g5 immediately because after 15…hxg, White cannot recapture with 16.hxg because the h-pawn is pinned to the undefended rook on h1. Therefore White needs to prepare this move somehow. He just needs to solve this problem of the hanging rook on h1.

We can find a couple of ideas for this purpose. For example:

White could play 15.Bh3 and cover the h-file. Then after 15…dxe4 White can push g5 successfully. Also, the bishop on h3 attacks Blacks e6-pawn. Maybe White will sacrifice a piece there or he could push g6 and undermine this e6-pawn. All in all this position looks very promising for White. So that’s one interesting idea.

At the very least White can remove the rook from danger by playing 15.Rg1 with similar ideas of pushing g5 and then g6 and developing an attack on the king-side. That’s another alternative.

In the actual game, White found another move with a similar idea. He played 15.Bf4 (attacking Black’s queen) and after Black played 15…e5 White played 16.Bh2. With this maneuver White has covered the h-file with his dark-squared bishop and he is ready to push g5. Of course Black cannot take the knight on d4 because the pawn is pinned and so he took on e4 (16…dxe4). After that, White pushed 17.g5 (see Diagram below).

Diagram 6Diagram6Black to move

As you can see, White is developing his attack. Of course it is still a very complicated position but White has good chances to develop a successful attack and Black should be really careful. For example, if after 17…hxg5, 18.hxg5 Black makes the natural move 18…Nd5 he is losing immediately as White can take with 19.Bxc5 (attacking Black’s queen and unleashing a discovered attack on Black’s h8-rook).

Okay, so let’s now go back to the critical position (Diagram 5). The important thing for you to take from this is that after we adopted a new approach, we were able to find a lot of interesting and powerful possibilities for White. This is a key difference between the way strong players and weak players think.

When attacked, weak players think of how to defend. Unlike them, strong players try to pull the game in the direction that they want and they always try to keep focusing on their own plans.

We can summarize these ideas by stating the rule: offense is the best defense. While I’m sure you’ve heard this several times in the past, without any real understanding of this idea the rule by itself is rather useless.

Let me be clear that I’m not talking about an active defense, or a counter-attack, or anything like that. I’m simply talking about another approach for the game. What I mean is that you should always try to push your own plan and try to lead the game in the direction that you want. It’s not about counter-blows or any kind of tactical tricks. It relates more to your deep understanding of the chess game and the adoption of the proper approach.


In this lesson we have been discussing the secrets of strong players. You now know two powerful secrets of these strong players. Let us review them quickly.

  • To take is mistake:

A major difference between strong and not-so-strong players is that when there is the possibility for an exchange, weaker players will usually just take automatically. Unlike them, strong players know that to take is a mistake and that you should therefore look for a way to keep the tension.

Strong players understand that it is often beneficial to let an opponent be the one to make the exchange and release the tension because it can help you to be more active. Additionally, they understand that such automatic exchanges can often just make your opponent’s choice of moves easier. In general you should provide your opponent with every opportunity to make a mistake.

Of course if you can win an opponents material, then you can and should take.

  • Offense is the best defense:

Another key difference between strong players and not-so-strong players is that when they are attacked, weaker players will usually think only about defense. Contrary to this, strong players follow the rule that offense is the best defense. They realize that it is a mistake to focus solely on your opponent’s threats and forget about your own plans.

Strong players understand that you should not make defensive moves automatically. Very often you will have something more powerful to play and you should look for it.

Strong players understand that chess is much like a tug-of-war competition where each player is trying to pull the game in the direction that he wants, and the one who does it more insistently will win the game.

I will end this here for now, but let me say in closing that when you know the secrets of strong players, everything becomes pretty simple. If you adopt these rules you may not become a Grandmaster overnight but your game will improve dramatically.

I wish you well-deserved success!

P.S. If you enjoyed the lesson or have any questions/comments – please write them in the comments area below.
  • Practicality

    Thanks! This makes perfect sense. It looks like a lot of fun and I will start doing this right away.

  • Simon 22

    WOW!!!!!!!!!! GM Igor Smirnov made me realize the potential to succeed in chess. He becomes a bridge between the Rich and The Desperately Hungry in chess skills and knowledge. Hence forth (If I had the power, would) dub him, the Robin hood of Chess. (When I start making a descent earning I am getting all of his main chess courses.


    Thank you so much. It is very useful to me.

  • marwanradman123

    Thanks very very much for our teacher GM Igor Smirnov….and these 2 ideas are very close and linked each to other……and for very wide explained for these ideas ..Look to: very wonderful course “Your Winning Plan”

  • Peter

    What a pointless video! “To take is a mistake”. WOW

  • guest

    No video, just black screen. I tried IE and google chrome.

    • Adobe

      How about updating your adobe flash player?

  • koravi

    Sir in the first example you said that white is winning with Kf4,e5 and so on how to continue if black plays Ne5 ???

    • RCA_moderator

      Hello, White can continue with Red1 (to occupy the d file) Bb7 and Kf4. White is a pawn up and his/her pieces are much more active.

      Thanks. Manuel / Student Support Officer

  • Dennis

    Great video thank U , Igor tell more about The Secrets of Strong Players , in the course how to beat titled players 🙂

  • stanbeers

    I enjoy your videos , they are helping me. I wish I could afford the whole system. Please let me know when any of the videos are on sale. Also I’m a senior citizen if that makes any difference on the price…Stan Beers

  • Erik

    Thanks Igor, very nice!! Can you tell us who was white and who was black? The white player played very nice so I can look at more games from this grandmaster.

    • Please, find the comment of “olaf” – he provided the answer.
      By the way the game was played just a few days ago.
      Both players are 2700+ players, and now you can see HOW such super GMs find correct moves.

  • God of Jacob saved me forever

    Thank you to my God of Jacob for this free lesson. I need as many free lessons as I can get.

  • ernesto oyanan

    Another useful video lesson,thank you very much Sir Igor.

  • blabla

    good lesson but you snouldnt say ‘ofcourse’ so often

    • heavypieces

      Tell you what. You start offering free, excellent, informative, chess lesson videos, Then, we’ll start listening to your tips on vocal presentation.

    • DS

      That’s ok. By the way, you can capitalize “good”, add a comma after “lesson” maybe consider adjusting “snouldnt” for “shouldn’t”, switch apostrophes for quotation marks, write “of course” as two words, and finish with a full stop (period, if you’re American). *Then* you can comment on presentation.

  • olaf

    Nice Game! The White Player is GM Le Quang Liem. He plays against GM Vallejo Pons (FIDE World Cup 2013)

  • heavypieces

    Another great lesson Mr Smirnov. You’ve mentioned recently that you’re working on a new opening course. I’m very eager to hear more about it! Any chance of some information about the upcoming product? How would it differ from ‘GMs Opening Laboratory’? Kind Regards, Heavypieces.

    • RCA_moderator

      Hi, unfortunately we have no further news so far, but please follow our blog regularly and we’ll keep you updated! Thanks,
      Manuel / Student Support Officer

  • JP Singh, Dehradun, India

    great video, this method works against strong players too.

  • Karl

    Igor, Your Chess Courses are to expensive! I can get from the top GM
    a DVD for US$ 36.00 plus freight. a DVD of 5 to 5 1/2 hrs in my hand.
    Your system? I cannot burn to a DVD.

    • RCA_moderator

      Dear Karl,
      Thanks for your feedback. We believe in the value of our courses (which are more than just a DVD). Furthermore, most of our clients confirm this as they feel really happy with our products…please let me know if you need more information about them and hope you enjoy our free lessons!


      Manuel / Student Support Officer

    • William

      While GM Smirnov’s courses are more expensive, they are worth it in my view. First of all, the sheer amount of material is impressive. Along with the lectures, the training exercises contained in what he calls “the practical part” are a valuable resource and comprise a lot of material.

      Second, the courses work. I can say that I am a middle aged club player. I am no one special and I certainly don’t have any great “chess talent” except for a love of the game. However, after studying “GM Secrets” (his most fundamental course) I experienced a real improvement in my results. I didn’t just “know” more about chess. He teaches you how to apply the knowledge in a real game. You have to work with the material and make a serious effort. You can’t just listen to the lectures once or twice and skip the training exercises because you think that “I already know that” or “I am too busy”. But if you really study the lectures and do all of the exercises as instructed in the order that they are given then you will see improvement.

      Besides, if you buy the course and make the effort and you still are not happy he has a money back guarantee. If the course really does not work for you simply get your money back.

      Remember, when judging the cost of something, You get the quality that you are willing to pay for.

  • Adobe

    Hello GM Smirnov, any idea on your next chess course? 🙂

  • Christos

    EXcellent Video lesson Igor !! I like very much video like this

  • Nithyalakshmi

    Hello GM Smirnov. I am your student from Malaysia .I like this vedio and the game you have showed. I learned a lot from this lesson and your courses. Thank you so much!!!

    • RCA_moderator

      We are glad that lessons and games are helpful! Thank you for your support! Graciela/ Student Support Officer

  • two juegos

    This game really needs a smart brain. it requires the calculation, and it is a game that I used to play with his grandfather at their leisure.

  • Nige

    clap clap. A great lesson, showing the counter-intuitive nature of some chess learning.

  • Zikrullah Haidari

    Hi Smirnov, i wanted to request that could u do some videos on opening variations, and some tactics. thank You

    • RCA_moderator

      Hi Zikrullah,
      Igor Smirnov has a busy schedule but I will help you.
      Igor Smirnov has a various free opening videos as well as comprehensive courses for opening called Grandmaster’s Opening Lab 1 and Grandmaster’s Opening Lab 2.
      For your convenience I provided the links to the opening course and Igor Smirnov’s Youtube channel.


      Prasaadh / Student Support Officer

  • Frank

    Very useful idea.. and easy to understand.. thank you teacher…

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