How to Analyze Chess Games

  • WGM Natalia_Pogonina
  • | Aug 3, 2010

One of the most efficient ways of improving in chess is analyzing one’s own games. The legendary world chess champion Botvinnik emphasized the importance of this activity and urged masters to publish analyses of their games in the media. I believe that most readers will agree with me that studying one’s mistakes is more important than dwelling on other people’s failures. There is just one tiny problem: most chess players have no idea how to do it.

Ok, another round has ended. You are tired and worried about the next game, so why bother making things worse by reviewing today’s loss? Oh, sorry, did you actually win? A won game is won, why bother looking at it? Sounds funny, but many chess players really act this way.

A second widespread option is far from perfect too:  after the end of the tournament the player turns on his PC, quickly pinpoints the blunders and substitutes them with the “right” moves (using space bar) and hastily edits the opening tree (the dubious moves are replaced by the most popular book lines). A quarter of an hour, and you’re done! This approach hardly achieves anything though.

If the description above more or less fits you, you might ask: and what is the correct way to analyze games? Let’s talk about it in detail:
1.    Right after the game is over you should write down the thoughts you had in mind during the encounter. This will help you understand the nature of your mistakes later on. For example, put down: “I wanted to get the knight to f5, but was afraid of the move g5 by Black.” Or “I believed this exchange leads to a favorable pawn structure, so I wanted to trade all the pieces and win the endgame.”  At this stage there is no need for using chess engines. Of course, you may be forced to fix your openings if someone finds a hole there. Let your coach/second (if available) do it, or review the variation yourself, but don’t feed the whole game to your computer assistant.
2.    Once you have spare time (after the tournament), you should recall what happened over the board. Your notes will prove helpful at this point. Now you will have a chance to reconsider your decisions and try to understand where you went wrong. Try to scan the game move by move and find tactical refutations, positional errors, right plans, etc. Annotate the game again using a different color, e.g. “I wanted to get the knight to f5, but was afraid of the move g5 by Black”. "I guess I should have done that anyway since g5 runs into h4 with good attacking chances for White".
3.    After you’re done, you may finally bring your chess engine to the rescue. Take a look at the mistakes you have made otb and during your home analysis. Pay special attention to the positions where you couldn’t find the right solution after two attempts. For instance, if you blundered terribly otb, chances are you will be able to find the correct move at home. However, if the nature of your mistake was deeper, e.g. not understanding a certain middlegame position or not knowing how to handle an endgame, chances are you will face problems untangling it even during post-mortem.  In this case your PC or coach may prove extremely helpful.
4.    After you have reviewed the game and annotations using a chess engine, pay special attention to the key moments of the game. Memorize the associated principles, e.g. “in such rook endgames the pawns should be placed like this.” Or “in this opening the light-squared bishop shouldn’t be exchanged since keeping it is essential for protecting the light squares on the queenside.” Or “in such structures an isolated pawn may prove to be a force, not a weakness.” The same refers to your opening tree – make the appropriate changes.

Last time we have seen a game from the Mulhouse 2010-GM tournament that I should have won, but lost. Now the case is different: I was totally lost, but managed to hang on and eventually grab the full point. Here is how it proceeded:


Having faced serious problems in the opening, I had to analyze the game carefully to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Also, thanks to the analysis, I have refreshed my knowledge of rook endings and Q vs R. This is very beneficial for an improving chess player.

P.S. A classic reminder: I understand perfectly well that for many people chess is just a game played for fun, so I am not claiming that everyone should follow the steps described above. However, for people who take chess seriously and/or set ambitious goals, this process is almost a must-do. Wink


  • 3 months ago


    I know this article has been up for a long time now, but it still is terrific! Thank you for the advice.

  • 13 months ago


    Why doesn't black take the bishop with his queen during move 11?

  • 2 years ago


    at 34 why not something like 34 Red2 and why white transfered his queen from A file to H ? since the main pressure was at blacks quen rook battery? why not keeping the queen at A and thus continue the tension and then doing some stuff whit the knight :P 

    edit: I meant near to A file (near to the battery like keeping watch on the b pawn) 

  • 3 years ago


    Terrific advice! Thank you very much

  • 3 years ago


    Thanks for posting this article (I know it has been up for a long time).

    I wrote up my own blog post pointing back here, as I think this is a skill I,  and many other ambitious improvers, need to develop. But, it is not easy and your article helps give us a blueprint to follow.

  • 3 years ago

    WGM Natalia_Pogonina

    Sure ;-)

  • 3 years ago


    Great blog post. I hope you don't mind if I post it here.

  • 3 years ago

    WGM Natalia_Pogonina

    Let’s stay in touch on social networks! Here are my official accounts:

    Account 1, Account 2, Account 3

  • 4 years ago


    Very nice article!!I would only like to know as how much time one should spend on the analysis of one game. Thank you..

  • 5 years ago


    Many thanks for the article!

  • 5 years ago



  • 5 years ago

    WGM Natalia_Pogonina

    @ arjunghose10Check out the annotations! Wink

  • 5 years ago


    I don't know why in Natalia's game she doesn't capture the bishop on move 11, can anybody please explain I did not understand it.

  • 5 years ago


    Sorry to dig old post but I feel this instructive guide is one of the classics and I have done something related and wish to seek advice:)

    Upon completion of my first OTB tournament game in my life I have done one analysis by myself (quite in depth I suppose) and one followed by Mr. Fritz (with "discoveries" annotated". The in-between analysis was not performed since I need to spot out my weak part quickly for the match 3 days after.

    Here is the two analysis done. If you have time and find this game worthy please give your valuable advice. I am sure that there are immaturity in my analysis and understanding. Thank you in advance:)

  • 6 years ago


    @Candypants Briefly: 1) one shouldn't memorize openings without understanding 2) studying grandmasters' games is very important, but even so is treating your own games right. That's like studying Forbes 100 over and over again hoping that you will somehow learn from it and become a member. May be a good idea, but you will have to do something about your own life too, not only appreciate what others have done.


    Very good point. I am doing research to get better, But the point you made here is priceless, thanksSmile

  • 6 years ago


    Great Tips...Thanks

  • 6 years ago


  • 6 years ago


    It's great!!!!!!!

  • 6 years ago


  • 6 years ago


    Endgame ws vry tough, i exhausted watch'n; how were U able2 play it!

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