***The content of this Blog was acquired from an USCF-certified chess coach***
Why analyze our games?
A- To compare our decisions against the record.
B- To understand our thinking during the game(s).
C- To learn about the openings we play, the middlegames, and the endgames that might be improved. During your analysis, new ideas will occur to you, and you will know more and more about yourself and about how you think and react.
D- To bring your mistakes to the surface (knowledge, mental processes, recurring errors, etc.
The guidelines for analyzing your chess games:
To analyze your game, the first and the second steps take place during the game.
STEP 1 – Write down the time spent in the game on every move as you play.
The fact that you spend more time on one move than another, or in one phase of the game, or in certain positions can sometimes be an indication of gaps in your knowledge or playing technique. A compilation of these records over time can give you an idea where you might be failing
STEP 2 – During the game create code signs on your score sheet to point out the critical moments of the game.
As the game changed phases, were you disoriented in the position? Did you overlook a tactic? These are all critical times. For more information, go to Step Six.
STEP 3 – Immediately after the game, write down what you remember from the game.
Write down what went through your head during the game, the reasons for your decisions, all the plans and calculations that you did. If you did a post mortem with your opponent try to avoid mixing analysis done during that time with these thoughts. It’s good to also include that post-mortem analysis, but separate it from your own train of thought during the game. This will help you successfully perform Step Nine.
STEP 4 – Write at least three things you learned from the game you just completed
Jacob Aargard in his excellent book Excelling at Positional Chess recommends three, but if there are more than that, then that’s even better. Go the extra mile – think and try to extract some new ideas. Did you correctly assess the position? How many times did you had to do it again because you missed something, or because you realized the plans you made were not correct? To search for excellence, this is an opportunity to learn and to verbalize what you know and what you don’t, what you thought was right during your initial calculations but had to correct in the course of the game.
STEP 5 –Identify the critical moments of the game …
… and add what you found after the game to those recorded using code signs on your score sheet, (Step Two). This is necessary because they are starting points from which you can begin to analyze and also offer valuable information both pure chess related as well as insights as they come to you.
“But,” you ask, “What are the critical moments of the game? How do I identify them?” Every change, either actually played over the board, or just appearing in analysis variations, is a critical position.
The first is when you run out of moves that you know in the opening you played. No matter who made the “novelty”, the important thing is your thought process. Did the move surprise you? How did you respond? Did you assess the resulting position as good or bad for you?
How could you identify another critical moment in the game? The pattern is that every change in the game is a critical moment, as stage and state transitions:
- From opening to Middle game
- Middle game to the Endgame.
- A quiet game into a tactical storm (or vice versa), or a draw in the endgame to a lost one.
- The conversion of advantages in others (or change of plans, or when the configuration of pawns changes drastically, or a massive trade of pieces)
- Your mood changes during the game
- Identify where you felt “lost” in the position, struggled to develop a plan, or overlooked a continuation.
The more you collect, the more you will improve. Start immediately after finishing your game (analyze the game with your opponent, if time permits).
“I will spend more time writing than thinking about the game!” No, come up with a couple of codes (e.g., O for the end of the opening, or E for the endgame and so, etc.). Then, every time you identify a critical moment in the game you write it down next to the annotated move. It will be burdensome at first, but with practice it will become easier, and you won’t spend more than a second or two doing so.
STEP 6 – After establishing the critical points, you can begin to analyze them.
Put the most effort into this, yourself. Remember to separate what you saw during the game with the things that you’ve been discovering. This is of enormous importance and it will help you in Step Eight.
STEP 7 – Check opening theory
(Starting from the moment you were on your own in the opening because you had run out of moves from the book, or if you decided that the variation played is good till moving 12, the analysis of the opening and the transition to the middle game start right there.) Actually, the real work is more difficult: it is not only finding your mistake, it’s discovering why it was wrong. It’s challenging you on whether you know (or knew) the main plans in the system chosen and the kind of middle games that derive from those openings. It also does not have to be a punishment, this way you may even discover new opening ideas and novelties.
DEVELOP. DEVELOP. DEVELOP.
STEP 8 – Positional patterns searching.
This is an intermediate step from which your game can make a qualitative leap by doing this consistently.
Pay attention mainly to the pawn structure and the remaining pieces, and perform a search query in Chessbase. Select games of the masters, both past, and present. Using the rating selection to choose among games from only titled players you will get positions of great value which will help you to understand the kind of structures you would like to reach in your games.
We can enhance this step by making it much more general. Suppose you could manage finding the correct game plan, like trading the correct pieces…now you can search for similar positions and see how masters played. Maybe you chose the correct plan (good!) but learn something new.
STEP 9- Analyze the game by yourself (don’t rely on programs like Fritz and Rybka.)
The computer will point you out the tactical moves you missed, but by no means is it able to teach you anything about positional chess and strategies, or explain to you why a movie is bad, and so on.
When to use the software? It can be used in openings theory and for other info described in Step Eight. Use the computer only when you have done your personal analysis (by writing down variations and describing verbally everything that happened). Only then you can go to any engine you have and set it in “blunder-check” mode (error checking) to see what the engine found that you missed.
However, that’s not what is the most important; what matters most is when the engine finds a tactical error in your game (and in the analysis of variations that you said you saw in the game) you have to look for patterns. Searching for tactical patterns, you have to look at how many moves in your calculations until you made a serious mistake. This will help you
determine your horizon. If you find that you often make a mistake in your calculations after four moves, then you will develop a more watchful eye and pay more attention in such calculations during your games.
STEP 10- Reports and diagnostics.
We thank Aargard for putting into words this advice. It simply involves making a list of errors in the tournament and describing them verbally. At the same time, adding the patterns found by the analysis of program such as Fritz or Rybka, using it to make a diagnostic report of your major weaknesses (so that you may seek a remedy for each one).
STEP 11 – How to strengthen your game analysis.
There are different ways to do this: In your club, with a player stronger than you, or with a chess buddy. The objective is to check the analysis out with people, not engines. Please, even if you think you have the perfect analysis, be humble and accept criticism.
“Why do I need to check it against other humans, if I used Rybka (Fritz, Shredder, you name it)?”
The brain is a complex organ, and one of the many tricks it can make us suffer is complacency and exhaustion, both grouped in a conduct named recursion. Recursion is when our thinking runs along the same path to reach the same place, and in the case of chess, complacency, and exhaustion that gives a long analysis can lead to the belief that our analysis is excellent (or that a brief one is lacking). Sometimes it is, but sometimes we overlook a mate in two, to give an extreme example, or mistake the value of a position.
STEP 12- Time to wrap up and verbalize the acquired knowledge.
Did you learn anything more than what you wrote in Step Four? If so, add it. Describe it from your point of view, like “in this opening variation, I’m better to trade the X bishop”, or “in this middle game with this pawn structure the open line is useless and I should seek to open another one”, or “in this endgame I need to keep this piece”… You get the idea.
DEVELOP. DEVELOP. DEVELOP.