Short version: Loved Chessable initially; had two major and a few minor issues which stopped me using it; fantastic customer service and an ethos of continuous improvement resulted in those being fixed; Love it again and would recommend it freely.
The debate about how much time a chess player should spend studying openings will rage on forever. Some say don’t touch openings until you reach 2000, others report how 1200s are booked to the teeth in the US.
My own view is that I will study openings insofar as they help me become a better chess player. At the moment (Dec 2016, rated ~1550) that means sticking with a very narrow repertoire (as advocated by GM Nigel Davies in his Building an Opening Repertoire course on Tiger Chess).
There are two aims for me. Firstly, I want to be able to rush through the first ten or so moves whenever possible, to give me time to think in critical positions later in the game. That means learning the lines of my opening repertoire (or sometimes the general structures, since much of it is system-based).
Secondly, I want to understand the positions I end up in, so that I can apply known plans and ideas and rely on pattern recognition rather than calculation.
In pursuit of the first aim, rote learning of lines, I have used all sorts of methods. These have included bespoke software such as Chess Opening Wizard and Chess Position Trainer. When IM John Bartholomew announced early this year that he was part of the team behind a new website, Chessable, aimed at helping people learn openings, I signed up. I was a very active user early on, staying on the overall points leaderboard (not that that is important) and racking up a 109 day streak, broken only when I went on holiday.
Initially I really enjoyed Chessable, as my activity level showed. Things I loved included:
- The idea of using spaced repetition to learn openings; this was missing from other software.
- Being able to import pgn files.
- Having access to free books set up by IM Bartholomew; rook and pawn endgames and simple checkmates.
- The initial learning process, where you are shown the move before being asked to play it, then repeating your full line twice.
- When reviewing a line, if you make a mistake, Chessable shows the correct move and repeats it at the end of that set of ten moves.
- The Quick Move mode.
But all was not well. There were things that made me drop my activity dramatically, eventually to the point where I stopped using Chessable and moved back to Chess Opening Wizard. The main issues for me were:
- In review mode, being fed out of sequence, random positions. The more I used it, the more it irritated me. This was simply not how I wanted to learn openings. I wanted to start at the beginning position, then play a full line while Chessable plays the opposition’s moves.
- Chessable was unusable on my mobile phone, because it showed only a quarter of the board and was not resizeable.
Minor issues which did not bother me that much, but which added to my decision to stop using Chessable, included a chaotic forum format with no search function and problems with uploading pgns (100k was ‘too big’ a file and had to be queued).
Then in September I received an email from Chessable asking me to review the site. Before writing the review I emailed the main man behind the project, David, to let him know the review is not likely to be all positive. And this is where Chessable stands out. The customer service is outstanding.
I had emailed David a few times in the early days and he had always been very helpful. This time again he offered to address the issues I raised. He tinkered with the mobile version of the website and after a few false starts, I was able to report that it worked just fine on Android.
More importantly, he introduced a linear review option. Now you have the option to get the full line when you click ‘Review’. You may still get random lines, and that is great, but rather than ask for a random move in the middle of one line, then jumping to a random position in another line, the review now starts from the starting position and plays out like a normal opening would, logically and in order.
David is constantly improving the site and listening to user feedback. Another improvement that comes to mind is when he fixed an issue where the overstudy function would play through all moves, not just key moves. Some descriptions for those who don’t know, overstudy is an option where you can study a specific line even if it is not due for review. I used this a lot before the linear review option was introduced. Key moves: if you have a repertoire which includes a block of 20 lines which starts with say 11.Qc2, you might not want to play moves 1 through 10 every time, just to get to 11.Qc2. You can select 11.Qc2 as a key move for those lines, so that when you study those lines, they start at move 11. Great function.
I have uploaded my refreshed repertoire onto Chessable and use it as the only tool to simply learn lines (not themes and ideas). It does a great job of this, has ever improving functionality and options, and I would recommend you give it a try.