I’ve been asked by a few friends to review chessable.com, and it seems I’m getting more and more requests, as people learn that I’m on there. So here goes.
I came to chessable thinking it was a joke. It’s heavily points-oriented, like a video game, and it has a slightly overly flashy look to it, though the aesthetics of the interface are decent. This clicked with my brains prior conditioning to avoid such gimmicky looking things. I signed up for an account a long, long time ago, but never touched it after looking around. However, I finally gave it a go, as I learned that there might be a way that the website could play a role in my training. I went through 100 Endgames You Must Know by de la Villa when it first came out, and I had been planning to grind through the endgames using some of my speed chess training methods. For anyone who hasn’t used chessable, it’s essentially an online platform that allows you to acquire digital books that you can play with. It’s not like books through Forward Chess or one of the other great iPad oriented book services. These aren’t mere PGNs, that you scroll through. These books in the chessable interface run you through positions three times, and then sets the spaced-repetition schedule for you, so that you know when it’s time to go through the tactical patterns, endgame ideas, game-memorization replay, or opening lines again. If you get a move wrong, it will be queued for you more frequently. If you don’t know anything about spaced repetition and the forgetting curve, you should seriously research it, in order to understand one of the major benefits of this website. It’s one aspect of brain science that I’ve been using since I started playing chess competitively.
My experience with the chessable digital version of 100 Endgames You Must Know was highly favorable. Because I’m a data nut, I can tell you exactly how long it took me to go through the paper version in 2008, setting the board included: 88 hours. That doesn’t include positions I photocopied and carried with me, but actual sit-down time with the book and board. The chessable version has taken me 34 hours (and change), and I’ve gone through the book more than 9 times already. The degree of efficiency, not having to deal with setting up the board, is outrageous. Even if you are a Cretan who must count on your fingers, you certainly get the gist of that kind of efficiency. The books still contain the text that they have in hardcopy version, so you aren’t losing anything. There are analysis boards, so you can study the content in a spaced repetition format, as is their feature; or you can slowly study positions.
Moving from endgames, I felt that the website had limited function. I thought, “well, this is great for endings, but I can’t imagine this will be good for openings or much of anything else.” Again, I was wrong. Being as much of an Expert as one can be U2200 with the Sicilian Dragon (from both sides, with a 2254 performance rating with the opening in 2017), I was asked by friend, Elijah Logozar (officially rated 1900+ USCF, but he will make NM this year, undoubtedly, and FM shortly after), to review his Crush the Dragon repertoire. I hesitated: what was an NM-strength player going to teach me about the Dragon, and how in the world would chessable help me learn things I already knew? Pleasantly surprised, the games collection Logozar selected for his book were better than some I had seen in many books, and the variations were explain in my most preferred way: not just words and variation, but with a sophisticated, yet intuitive system of circles, highlighted squares, and arrows. The variations chosen in the repertoire were, in some cases, deeper than my own research, and the introductory lines were perfectly suited for a beginner, just starting in the Yugoslav Attack. I was shocked. I have since purchased every opening books on there that may be of some use to me. I should note that while some repertoires are written by non-GMs/non-IMs, there is a growing number of GM and IM texts, as suggest by the Jesus de la Villa book. In some cases, someone will convert a GM’s work into the chessable format at almost no work requirement from the author, and then the GM will endorse the book, earning royalties. I look forward to authors putting their book in this format by commissioning lower-rated players to do the format conversion.
Thus far, the chessable platform has proven effective for tactics, openings, game memorization, and endgame study. The platform has made books like NIC’s regular digital tactics books, such as though on Carlsen and Polgar, much more user friendly. I attempted to use these in iPhone app version, and I was really turned off. Most likely, New in Chess jumped on chessable to make up losses on these products, and suddenly the products went from unappealing to very usable.
The mere fact that I can use my iPhone to do these studies is enough for me to suggest giving the platform a try. Determine where you think the platform might help you most, and then give it a shot. You might be pleasantly surprised, as I was. What’s more, the feature of being able to store your own “books” and collated personal repertoires for practice makes it more useful than Chess Position Trainer, because you can take it with you everywhere. This mobility aspect is important for me, because I have 3 solid hours or less to work in my home’s chess lab, so much of my training has to be managed while on the run.
Chessable isn’t without shortcomings. The short delays after “lessons,” which are sections of the book, or delays between piece moves when the interface is showing you the correct move series, is actually quite annoying. Most will think I’m crazy for saying that, because the delay is probably a second, or just a bit more, tops. However, being someone who is using this platform to do a large volume and for doing speed tactics, the delay is hard on my time. If they can somehow save the points and not show you every accumulation of points after the lesson, I would find the platform even more critical to my chess improvement. Another shortcoming, quickly being rectified, is the lack of mainstream published texts. I think everyone has just realized the potential of this platform, and so there has been a recent surge of texts on the site.
As far as service, Chessable is hard to beat. I’ve only ever been inconvenienced once by the site being down, and it wasn’t down for long. (Compare that to chess dot com, which has been down multiple times for long periods over the same duration.) I mentioned a glitch in the interface and it was fixed instantly, and I was email instantly, as well. They respond very well to criticism and respond quickly to good ideas. A friend of mine complained that he hated studying openings from random positions.
As for my part, I’m support the website hard. I’m purchasing every book that I think could even be remotely useful, simply to support the site. With the kind responses I’ve received about concerns and the amount of care being put into it by the developers and head of the organization, I expect future developments to massively improve an already-great platform.