Winning battles versus winning the war

| 3 | For Beginners

For many players the desire to improve their play pits them in a life and death struggle to win each game.  Many players agonize over lost games and fluctuations in their ratings.  Rather than carefully reviewing their games (and reliving painful losses) they simply press on - convincing themselves that they'll do better next time.  

If your goal is to improve (i.e. win the war) then it's important to learn from your individual battles.  If you simply hate losing then perhaps you'll need to begin by first learning to deal with defeat.  After all, the real loser is the person who quits. I'm certain that some percentage of chess drop-outs include individuals who have difficulty coping with defeat.  You're going to lose - perhaps often - just get use to it for at least a while.  Don't beat yourself up over it.  Losing is part of winning... it's a ying-yang sort of thing.

In your chess play you're going to make a great deal of mistakes.  We all do! Again, a key to improving is in understanding how you lost your games or how you may have won them sooner.  Over time the insight you'll gain will help improve your decision making abilities.

So how do we specifically go about learning from our games?  Here are a few suggestions.  You mileage may vary so don't be afraid to try a combination of the following:

  1. Put your pride aside and simply ask your opponents where they felt you went wrong in your games.  Sure, at times you'll be ignored. You may even be insulted or dismissed with less than useful feedback.  But you'll find that when you do get a positive response it will more than make up for the times when your inquiries were ignored.
  2. Make friends online and ask them to play practice (non-rated) games with you and to point out mistakes you make along the way.
  3. Use the Computer Analysis feature on this site to have computers review your games.  Depending on your membership level you may have limited use of this feature.  So what I really recommend is learning to use a chess program which is able to review your games.  For my own post analysis I use Arena, a freely available chess program interface.
  4. Keep track of positions where you might have played differently.  You may find it helpful to create flashcards which highlight important lessons or better yet, track them using your favorite chess program.  The key is to review them periodically to ensure that you remember the lessons you've learned from past games.
  5. A great way to learn is to learn from the mistakes of others. provides open access to a wealth of online games.  Don't just review your own games - review the games of others.  Again, if you make friends online try reviewing their games and asking them why they did or didn't make certain moves.  The answers may surprise and enlighten you.
  6. If you're in it for the long haul then remember to keep your eyes on the prize! The prize for many is to someday reach master level play.  For others the prize may simply be to lose less games.  Keeping your eyes on the prize will remind you why you're reviewing your games!

OK, it's time for a pop quiz. How does a plane fly from Los Angeles to Honolulu? Answer: by making small course corrections.  To win the war you need to focus on incremental and constant improvements.

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