Review: IM Castellanos' Comprehensive Positional Course for Club Players
For about two years, I’ve received numerous requests to do reviews for chess products I’ve tried. I occasionally do reviews for books on Amazon, so I felt occasionally doing a few on my blog for chess products that I can’t review for Amazon would fill the void. It’s obvious to many that I acquire a rather absurd number of products for training, and so I get many general and specific requests for reviews, or merely asking whether I recommend whichever product. Among the most frequently asked product-review question I get is about products from The Chess World. I’m still not set in my opinion on The Chess World. Probably, the best I can say is that each individual product they produce is going to be hit or miss. The item I’m going to review here is IM Renier Castellanos’ Comprehensive Positional Course for Club Players.
Contra my preliminary impression of The Chess World, Castellanos’ series is phenomenal. In fact, I’ll begin with all the positives, which seem to stem exclusively from Castellanos’ approach, philosophy of instruction, and pedagogical methods; and then I’ll list the negatives, which are almost assuredly the fault of The Chess World as the production company.
IM Castellanos is extremely organized in his presentation. In almost every point of his presentation, where a club player is going to ask about a major alternative move, IM Castellanos’ either goes back and says, “not move X, because…” or “I know what you are thinking, but move Y does not work yet in this position.” Castellanos is very incisive with his question-asking, forcing the view to become engaged and actively think about the positions, ideas, features, of the positions, and variational possibilities. He’s very quick to answer natural questions that arise, such as “If bishops of opposite color are so good for drawing in middlegames, then why is the possession of opposite color bishops so problematic for the weaker side in a middlegame?” He answers in a theoretical fashion, and then points the exemplar positions to give concrete explanations; then he ties in the plans of each game to that concrete explanation. Castellanos is very nearly this systematic in every video, and sometimes more so.
Castellanos covers 15 topics in the course, 4 of which have two videos to cover the 1 topic: IQP, hanging pawns, backward pawns, doubled pawns, Q-side majority, minority attacks, exploiting weak squares, creating weaknesses, space advantage, open files, bishop pair, opposite color bishops, exchange sacs, exchanging pieces, and B vs. N. Each video is about 30 minutes. Just by looking at the contents list, you can probably get a sense of how well thought out this course is. There certainly are some explicit topics missing by name, but even those are included videos, even if not featured as the central topic. For example, N outposts, while not explicitly discussed as a central feature of any video, are still to be found in segments, such as N vs. B and creating weaknesses.
What I have negative to say is probably exclusively the fault of the production company. There were a few errors in the videos, and I feel like they were the result of essentially not having an editor or editorial staff to point things out or double check. The general production quality of the videos was bare bones minimum. The resolution was fine, at least. The company probably should have asked Castellanos to create some related interactive problems, even if only in PGN format, for the viewers to attempt to employ what was learned. There was a bit of an issue with what the target audience was supposed to be, which is a major issue within the production, I think. Castellanos repeatedly stated that the course was for “beginners,” though the company titled it for “club players.” Aside from terminology, this may not have made much difference, but I think Castellanos changed his teaching speed a couple of times to slow down and speak more simply for lower rated players. The general pacing of the series was excellent for the 1200-2000 level, but you will notice these strange “speed changes,” which I think are due to the presenter either not being confident in who his audience is, because there is some disconnect between the presenter’s idea of the intended audience and the production company’s; or the former hadn’t clearly articulated who the audience is to the former, or even the presenter could have petitioned to be more inclusive. I really don’t know.
I got this course for $40, so at $2 video, I think that cost-benefit ratio is right at about where it needs to be to recommend this series. I’m a huge advocate of books over videos, partly because you get so much more content from books. However, if someone tremendously prefers videos or is going to use videos as I do, as a supplementary form of study to augment other studies and to fill time gaps, Castellanos’ course can easily be recommended. It is probably suitable for most players under 2000 (USCF). At $40, I think the course is properly priced. One of the big issues I have with these sorts of video productions is that the companies often want a whole lot more money than a book’s cost, yet so much less work generally goes into them. For me, I might go as high as $60, because I think Castellanos is one of the up-and-coming chess instructors, who are much better than many of the GMs. I’m not sure it will happen, but I’d love to see the production quality of ChessBase get behind Castellanos.
I enjoyed the course, and it went very well with other study materials I’ve been going through on positional play, including Chess Strategy for the Club Player by IM Grooten and GM Nigel Davies’ content on tigerchess.com.