More on the Study of Master Games

Silman
IM Silman
Feb 1, 2010, 12:00 AM |
14 | Other

More on the Study of Master Games

Ali Khoshechin asked:

I followed your advice about studying master games and I already can see that my planning and transition from opening to middle game is much better now, and I can actually understand the reasons behind the opening moves I had previously played just by memorization. May I ask a few more questions about the study of master games?

1) Should I only study master games in the openings I usually play, or should I study other games too?

2) What’s the best way to go over a game? I usually play the game on an actual board and try to understand the plan behind the moves, but I’ve seen others doing different things, like trying to guess the next move, or annotating the games, etc.

3) Which games do you think are the best to study? Those that are annotated move-by-move (like Neil Mcdonald’s Art of Logical Thinking) or just important moves annotated (like normal games found in Magazines) or not annotated at all?

4) I’ve got ChessBase Mega Database 2007, and it contains many 2200 - 2300 games along with 2700-2800 games. Considering that I’m a 1700 player, should I study those lower rated games or should I only study the super grandmasters’ games?

 

Dear Mr. Khoshechin,

Good questions! Actually, there’s no correct way to go over master games. Looking at (and thus absorbing) patterns is instructive no matter how you look at the moves. However, lets discuss your queries in the order they were given:


1) “Should I only study master games in the openings I usually play, or should I study other games too?”

 

When I was starting out, I would go over master games that featured my favorite openings if I was doing a study of a specific opening(s). On other occasions, I would look at all the games of a favorite player, or look at all the games from a specific tournament (which would feature all sorts of openings), or just start on page one of Chess Informant and go through everything in the book. In other words, no matter how you do it, it’s good.

One reason that you don’t want to stick with games that only feature your openings is that you’ll miss out on ideas and structures that usually don’t occur in your chosen systems, thus limiting your ultimate growth. On the other hand, if you are making a detailed study of some opening (let’s say the Caro-Kann), then looking at 1,000 games that featured 1.e4 c6 is extremely useful since you’ll see all the best setups, setups that don’t work, correct middlegame plans, typical tactics, and also typical endgames.


2) “What’s the best way to go over a game? I usually play the game on an actual board and try to understand the plan behind the moves, but I’ve seen others doing different things, like trying to guess the next move, or annotating the games, etc.”

 

If I want to absorb as much information as possible, as quickly as possible, from a large number of games (like the 1,000 games I mentioned in my answer to question one), I’ll use a computer board in ChessBase so I can zip through a game in 5 to 20 seconds. 5 seconds if I realize it’s complete rubbish, and 20 seconds if I decide that it’s worth going over every move. If I find a game that I deem worthy of serious study (a new plan or move), I’ll stick it in a special database reserved for games that need independent analysis.

On the other hand, when IM John Donaldson drops by for a couple days to do some opening research, he’s already picked out the key games from ChessBase. That leaves us free to do in-depth independent analysis, which we do on a nice board and set (with Fritz and/or Rybka humming away on a laptop next to us).

Many younger players will only use a computer screen, but I prefer a real board and a high quality wood set. It’s strictly a matter of taste.

If you wish to improve your powers of calculation (or see how positionally adept you are), then you should go over a game (with no notes showing) and do your best to figure out what’s going on. Write down your thoughts for each move and also write down any variations that come to mind. Afterwards, look at an annotated version of that game and see how close your own impressions were to reality.

There are many reasons to go over master games, ranging from the assimilation of patterns to opening study to various forms of instruction to pure enjoyment. Each is valuable in its own way.


3) “Which games do you think are the best to study? Those that are annotated move-by-move (like Neil Mcdonald’s Art of Logical Thinking) or just important moves annotated (like normal games found in Magazines) or not annotated at all?”

 

It depends! If I’m simply trying to absorb patterns, I go with huge numbers of games with no notes. If I’m doing a deep exploration into a specific player’s games, I much prefer to look at games annotated by that player (the more prose the better) so I can see what he was thinking about during each phase of the game.

By the way, Neil’s The Art of Logical Thinking is an excellent book!


4) “I’ve got ChessBase Mega Database 2007, and it contains many 2200 - 2300 games along with 2700-2800 games. Considering that I’m a 1700 player, should I study those lower rated games or should I only study the super grandmasters’ games?”

 

When researching openings, I don’t consider games by players who are below 2300 (FIDE) to be very valuable. And if I’m looking at games for enjoyment, or games that are theoretically interesting, I’ll only go over grandmaster games or games by past greats (from 1800 to the present). However, when writing a book, I absolutely love using extremely old games, games played by beginners, on-line blitz games, and anything else that contains instructive content. In fact, games by lower rated players are often far more instructive than games by grandmasters. Why? Because the mistakes weak players make are the same mistakes my students (and most amateurs) make. Thus, these become a mirror into the student’s soul, and the games and their lessons are simply more personal than any grandmaster game.

In my upcoming How to Reassess Your Chess, 4th Edition (due out in April, 2010), I use lots of games from the 17th century to the present. And I also use copious amounts of games by players from 1100 on up. In my book, it’s not unusual to see one example showing a battle between two 1400 players, the next a 400 year old struggle, and the next example a war between two 2700s played in 2009. If two earthworms played an instructive chess game, I’d make use of it! My goal is to teach, not to stick my nose in the air and proclaim that my upper-crust brain can only be fed moves blessed by grandmasters.

Sadly, many players make the huge mistake of thinking that only top grandmaster games can teach them anything. While I agree that going over lower rated games in ChessBase is a waste of time, these same games (between low rated players) can turn into gold if a caring author deconstructs them into their highly instructive components. And let’s be honest: though you might stare in wonder at a 20 move long grandmaster maneuver that leads to some obscure winning endgame, you won’t really understand it because it’s simply too advanced. But a 1200 player that misses a big chance to turn his Knight into a world-beater? That’s something that you can understand, and it’s something that will help make you a far stronger player.

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