Chessable Review

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).

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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.


5 thoughts on “Chessable Review

  • 14th December 2016 at 8:32 am

    Hi, first I just wanted to say that I love this blog. My background is a bit different – I’m 36, played chess since I was 9, and am rated 2100+ – but I have the exact same needs as you have in terms of tools and processes in order to become a better player!

    Being a Linux user, I’ve been limited. I loved the idea with Chess Position Trainer but got tired of being dependent on a Windows virtual machine and it was tiring to solve the thing about having access to the tool and the databases at all times.

    So Chessable really seems like the ultimate option for me.

    My question is, how does your process look like when creating a repertoire or a certain line? I suppose you create it first in a normal chess program and then import the line or repertoire into Chessable as a PGN?

    But more importantly actually, how do you go about updating a repertoire? Let’s say you want to edit a line. Do you only change it in Chessable, or do you change it both in Chessable and in your PGN from your other tool, or do you only change it in your PGN and then do a new import?

    I’m looking for a process which is just smooth and avoids discrepancies between e.g. Chessable and the same repertoire stored elsewhere.

    • 14th December 2016 at 10:25 pm

      Hi Mikael, thanks for the comments.
      I create my repertoire in ChessBase, export it as a PGN file and then import the PGN file into Chessable.
      In terms of updating, I’ve not had to do that yet in Chessable. I follow the repertoire GM Nigel Davies recommends in his Building an Opening Repertoire course on Tiger Chess. So far I have spent my time on just getting all the lines (a surprisingly big number for a relatively simple repertoire) into ChessBase, so have not spent time on expanding it. So I can’t speak about that functionality in Chessable. I think if I came to expand or change it, I would probably do it in Chessbase, as I consider that my ‘core’ tool. You could either import the whole repertoire file, or just delete the single line in Chessable and then import the new line as a single PGN file.
      An impact of replacing the whole repertoire with a new full PGN file is that all your training progress will be lost. But you could view that as an opportunity to learn the whole repertoire again – glass half full!
      If I were you, I’d give it a try on small scale, play with the functionality you think you would use most, and see if it is worth paying for the PRO version.
      All the best.

      • 16th December 2016 at 3:12 pm

        Thanks for your reply! From my quick experiments it does seem like I have to do it the way you proposed. Since I was very interested in their own thoughts I asked the question in their forum to see if they have any plans for supporting scenarios related to long-term maintenance of one’s repertoire.

        I will try it out and see how it works out for me!

  • 15th August 2017 at 8:28 pm

    Excellent review.

    Given your review, I will more than likely use chessable for endings. I’d hate to pay for “100 Endgames You Must Know” for a second time, but the book is so great, and probably a further testament to how hard copy chess books are probably on their deathbed. Nonetheless, I might end up purchasing it a second time for the efficiency of the platform. I think I’ll give their free content a try beforehand.

    Off topic, but I think a major point of not doing explicitly opening study is because you intuitively learn as much as you need to as you play, especially when you play faster controls. In the States, you see so many 1800-1999’s make zero progress over 1-2 decades of play, despite studying. As you know from our conversations, and I think I mentioned this when we met in NYC, the American A-Class players are psycho-booked-up, and to the point where even some booked-up 1300’s will say they think so. I think if these players had legit 1800-1999 skills, they’d fly upward upon taking up opening study, but, instead, they sit in the A-Class forever, falling to B-Class if they can’t remember their prep or don’t keep sharp on it. As my 3-week/240-hr opening clinic is proving, opening study is a black hole for time, so it is no wonder that the opening-obsessed lower-rateds exhibit no sustained improvement. It’s insane how much time one could spend on chess and not get any better. On a humorous note, I recently had lunch with a local tournament director, who told me he didn’t think it mattered that he spends 25 hours per week on openings, because that improves his chess. Ummmm… I wanted point out that he’s been about 1825 for 25 years. Heck of a lot of time to be throwing at openings, though he is quite strong at them. If only his game didn’t fall apart when I threw absurd losing opening moves at him. It’s a shame that I have to give my annotations a double exclam for pawn sacs without compensation, because they take the opponent out of book, ultimately winning me the game.

    Thanks again.

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