A hardcore guide to analyze your chess games

FM CharlyAZ

This article was originally published here


I knew this would not be short, but what can I say - this will be useful for the rest of your chess career … Or maybe you will decide to end it right now after reading this! :D So before you start, go to the bathroom, then grab yourself a snack and a soda and start reading like you have all the time in the world...


Why should we analyze our games?

A- We can compare our decisions against concrete evidence.
B- We can look deep inside our thought processes.
C- If done correctly, we will learn about the openings we play, the structures presented in those openings, and the endgames that we never had a chance to practice. If the analysis is completed new ideas will appear and you will know a little more about yourself when started.
D- When you analyze your games properly, all your mistakes come to the surface (knowledge, mental processes, recurring errors, etc.), and you will be one step further towards correcting them. The sweat you spend analyzing is worth its weight in gold.

The guidelines for analyzing your chess games:

To analyze your game, it takes certain steps. The first and the second take place during the game.
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
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.
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.
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? Each deviation of the game that you wanted 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 ..
5 - (IMPORTANT!) 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 purely chess related as well as stuff inside your head.
“But,” you ask, “What are the critical moments of the game? How do I identify them?” Easy: every change, whether done or not (i.e. 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 here is your thought process. Did the move surprise you? What plan did you implement after the novelty? 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:
Stage transitions:
  • From opening to Middlegame
  • Middlegame to the Endgame.

State Transitions:

  • A quiet game into a tactic storm (or vice versa), or a drawish 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
  • And last but not least, situations where you find yourself “lost” in the position: that is, you were unable to find a plan or you had to make a new one because the last one was useless, or you overlooked a continuation, tactical or not.

Sure, it’s a lot of information to collect, but the more you collect, the better for you. Therefore it is advisable to do so after almost immediately after finishing your game (“almost immediately” because first you should analyze the game with your opponent).

Another way to do it is in the same game … how come? I hear you say, “I will spend more time writing than thinking about the game!” No, I am not suggesting you to write a novel, I am suggesting you come up with a couple of codes (something like “*” for the end of the opening, or “+” 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. Surely it will be difficult the first times, but then the process will become easier, and you won’t spend more than a second or two doing so.
Soviet master Nikolai Riumin

                        This is an interesting anecdote told by Kotov in his novel-autobiography "Notes of a Chess Player". I don’t remember it precisely so I have to recreate it: Nikolai Ryumin (or perhaps another Russian master, I’m not 100% sure), a master from Soviet times, used to record everything that was going through his head in a little notebook during his games. And when I say everything, I mean everything. Once, a rival wanted to take advantage of the “bad habit” of the master Ryumin, making his move and getting behind him, to read what he was writing. It was a complicated game, and at first Ryumin tried to keep the player behind him from reading what he was writing down, but then he gave up … or he seemed so. The game acquired a bloody character and at one point Ryumin wrote in his notebook “I fear the sacrifice on g6.” It was an idea that was around long ago in the minds of both players, and now with the Ryumin’s confirmation, the opposing player calculated a couple of moves, the he sacrificed his knight on the g6-square and with evident pleasure, he went to stand behind his rival. Ryumin, the wrote down in the little notebook: “I was afraid of the sacrifice, but it is wrong one” and then gobbled  up the knight, winning the game afterwards Laughing

So you know what you can do with some curious opponents ;)


6 - After establishing the critical points, you can begin to analyze them.

Put the most effort into this, no need to use aid such as other player or a program like Rybka or Fritz. Always 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.
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 move 12, the analysis of the opening and the transition to the middlegame start right there.)

Some think this is easy: they go to the computer, open some database, look for the novelty, and then they insert the best games of the opening line played, and they’re done. The next time they “know” they should move “b” instead of “a.”

Actually, the real work is a bit more difficult: it is not only locating your mistake, it’s  knowing why it was wrong. It’s challenging yourself on whether you know (or knew) the main plans in the system chosen, and the kind of middlegames 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. Soon (probably the next article) I will share with you how you should study and investigate the openings.


8- Positional patterns searching.

This is an intermediate step from which you can learn EXTRAORDINARILY and your game can make a qualitative leap by doing this consistently. Pay attention:

I guess that you, like many, have reached certain positions in your games in which you were unable to find a correct plan because you could never fathom the principles of the position. Even when you are analyzing it you have not been able to extract some concrete knowledge out of this. If this has happened to you and you could not even decipher it with your opponent in the analysis post mortem, this is the moment when the giant databases can help unravel the mystery.

Pay attention mainly to the pawn structure and the remaining pieces, and perform a search query in Chessbase. Don’t forget to select the games from the highest rated  players through the rating selection because if you don’t do that you will get thousands of useless and unproductive positions from lower rated players who were unable to find the right path. 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 always you can find different ideas and learn something new.

For those who do not understand what I’m talking about, stay tuned because I will soon post a video series about Chessbase and how to use it to its full potential.  For example, the correct way to do the kind of searches I was just describing.


9- Analyze the game by yourself (and when to use programs like Fritz and Rybka.)

This is important because if you get used to this “system” you will never learn anything. 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 move is bad, and so on.

When to use software? Well, besides checking the openings theory and the other advice described in Step Eight, you should use the computer only when you have done your analysis already (by writing down all the 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.


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, and compiling it into a full diagnostic report of your major weaknesses so that you may seek a remedy for each one.


11- Publish your analysis.

There are different ways to do this: In a forum, with a study group, 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?”, you ask me, “if I did so thoroughly with 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. Sometimes it is, but sometimes we overlook a mate in two, to give an extreme example, or assess a position as good when it is not.*

A dictionary joke:

Recursion: see Recursion. Laughing

WARNING: If you post in forums, you must also take into account the existence of trolls. Do not take part in useless verbal battles with those who just want attention. Any comment that you believe destructive (like “such a bad move”, “who said you can play chess?” “If I were you, I renounce to play chess” etc.), just ignore them. They do not deserve your time. 
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. Try to describe it from the practical point of view, like “in this opening variation, I’m better to trade the X bishop”, or “in this kind of a middlegame with this pawn structure the open line is useless and I should seek to open another one”, or “in this endgame it’s important to keep this piece”… You get the idea. This kind of knowledge is as infinite as chess, but at least some of it will be yours forever.
Difficult? Nobody said it was easy. But I assure you 100% that by applying these tips for analyzing your games, you will experience a breakthrough in your game.
Too much work …? Sure it is. That’s why of the millions of chess players in the world, far less than one percent reach mastery. Analyzing your games correctly is one of the things that separate the amateurs from the masters.

I hope this article will be beneficial to you, and if you think so, then help me spread the word. This is a copy of my original article in my website, and it will be great if you just click on the Facebook or Twitter "Like" buttons. You can also hover the mouse over where it says "Share" and look for your favorite social network or send a link to a friend via the email tool. Thanks!

And as always: Ad Majorem Caissa Gloriam! :)


Esta es una versión imperfecta en inglés de mi artículo orginal en español, el cual lo puedes encontrar aquí.