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Analysing Chess Games


Welcome to my article on analysing chess games. It has long been said that the key to improvement is to analyse your chess games. This was stressed out in a whole book called The Road to Chess Improvement by American grandmaster Alexander Yermolinsky. Additionally, the concept of thoroughly studying your own games is also discussed and strongly recommended in many other pieces of chess literature. Therefore, it is strange how the majority of chess players fail to do this or do not analyse their games in enough detail.

According to GM Edmar Mednis, "playing without a concurrent critical review of one's skills will simply get you nowhere". He gives the example of learning to swim at the age of 10, but without taking any steps to improve himself, he hasn't "shown a speck of progress". However, it's good that chess provides greater longevity than a swimming career! In The Road to Chess Improvement, Yermolinsky takes us through the steps he took from his time as a junior player to finally attain the GM title at age 34 (!). One day, in search for inspiration after playing chess for some 20 years, he decided to follow "the most common advice one can find in the works of Alekhine ([his] favourite player) and Botvinnik (one of [his] least favourite ones), which can be put into simple words - study your games". He notes that, "ever since, every game I played has been extensively annotated". In former World Champion GM Garry Kasparov's book The Test of Time, he writes, "by strictly observing Botvinnik's rule regarding the thorough analysis of one's own games, with the years I have come to realise that this provides the foundation for the continuous development of chess mastery". What could be a better recommendation than that?

At one point, my chess coach decided with his students (including myself) that we would start to annotate our games, taking inspiration from Yermolinsky's book and also GM John Nunn's Understanding Chess Move by Move, and he would collect them in a database. Of course, still being rather young, perhaps my English isn't that great in annotating games, but I've made an effort to annotate every tournament game I've played since then. And I can say, I think it was vital in my chess improvement, along with tournament play and study.

How to Analyse Your Chess Games

Now that we've been through the justification and "evidence", let's get to the actual analysis of games.

Using a Chess Program

It is now the 21st century, and it typical to use a chess database program in order to store your games. With carbon copies readily available in tournaments now, this is made very easy. You can have your chess database, "MyGames", next to other databases like "KasparovWhite" and "KarpovEndgames". For chess database software, I use and recommend the paid program Fritz, which is the premier leading chess software. The program, ChessBase, is made by the same company as Fritz, and it is very similar in its use. One could argue whether Fritz is a stronger chess program than its rivals like Shredder or Rybka. For the purposes of annotating and analysing chess games, playing strength is irrelevant as most players don't have "a snowflake's chance in hell" (AccoonaChess) in defeating such programs. The newest version of ChessBase Light, a free program, no longer supports the saving of games. Although, if you can get your hands on the old version, based on ChessBase 6.0, the old one can save games. Other programs, probably quite capable of analysing, saving and annotating games are Chess Assistant, Scid, Chessmaster and many others.

Notes on Annotating

When annotating games, I like to enter my whole tournament game and then enter some of the variations (even 2-move variations) I saw without an evaluation. Then I go through the whole game from move 1, annotating parts where relevant. It is important that each game should be annotated from a personal "I" viewpoint, as you are "doing it strictly for your own future benefit" (Mednis). I, personally, prefer to spend at least a couple of hours on each game I play. Mednis doesn't think that "anything worthwhile can be accomplished in one hour or less". Unless, perhaps in quick analysis of a blitz game, where the player points out where he or his opponent deviated from theory and major blunders that sneaked into the game. Computer analysis can also conclude whether a speculative positional pawn sacrifice was worth going into. It should also be noted that players should not be too active in tournament play as this leaves him/her without enough time to thoroughly go through their games on the computer.

In reviewing and annotating your games, you will often find that you need to review certain opening variations. Often, such games are instructive as you learn what not to play (in case you lost that game because of the opening). Players will extremely uncommonly and possibly never experience a clear refutation of a reputable opening, and are forced to move onto another opening system. Players will also discover where they calculated variations out correctly and where their assessments were inaccurate or they simply missed a strong move. Unexpected tactical and positional possibilities will continually emerge in the middlegame and endgame.

I have also experienced the occasional "unsolvable" position, such as a seemingly defendable endgame which cannot be defended or a middlegame bishop sacrifice without absolutely unclear consequences. When you find these, simply "stop hitting your head against the wall" and as you become a stronger player, you will find that "such unsolvable positions will become much rarer" (Mednis).

To see examples of excellently annotated games, check out GMs Robert Hübner and Lubomir Ftacnik's annotations in any ChessBase database, e.g. the one you get for free when you purchase Fritz. Alternatively, you can purchase Yermolinsky's The Road to Chess Improvement, Nunn's John Nunn's Best Games, Understanding Chess Move by Move and Grandmaster Chess Move by Move, and finally, Irving Chernev's Logical Chess: Move by Move.

The overwhelming conclusion is that, in order to improve your chess, it is essential that you thoroughly review the games you play.

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Posted by Webmaster on Thursday, July 2, 2009.


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