Analyzing Your Winning Games

Analyzing Your Winning Games


Years ago, I was part of a "teaching ladder" where players of different ratings classes would analyze games of players who were lower rated than them. I think I was rated around 1600 USCF when I was a member of this and so I would get games to analyze of players who were less than say 1300 USCF. We were fortunate to have several 2000+ players who participated and occasionally my game would get analyzed by a FIDE master. 

I wanted to take advantage of the situation, so I often sent games where I struggled - often losses, but basically games where I didn't understand something so I could learn and improve. However, the games I would often receive to analyze would be one-sided victories where their opponent blundered several times horribly. They would often write something like, "Smooth win for me, but I'm sure I made a ton of mistakes." 

It was kind of humorous, because when I did find errors in their analysis or a way they could have won much more efficiently they would respond something like, "Yes, but I won so I doesn't matter." Well, I thought we were here to learn!

In any case, my reminiscing aside, I think you should analyze as many games as you have time for and although I think you will get the most bang for your buck from analyzing your losses (or games in general where you struggled), you can also profit chess-wise from analyzing your victories. Here are a few things I try to do when I analyze my wins.

Find the Critical Moment

This is perhaps the most important difference between analyzing your wins versus your losses - in this case, you're trying to find where your opponent went wrong and find the best move for them. You'll see where I do this in my game below. You're trying to look for a few things here - I would encourage you (as I often do) to do this without the chess engine first, and then check your work after.

First, did you anticipate the move or moves that could and should have been played? Did your calculations account for your opponent best play? If not, this is important information for you and perhaps a skill you want to practice in your games and when doing problems solving.

Second, do you know why this is the critical position? Again, using my game as an example, it took me some analysis and moving the pieces around to understand the error as it wasn't a straightforward tactical blunder like dropping a piece or getting your major pieces forked. Knowing this will help you understand the position better and assuming that you play similar positions often using your opening repertoire, can only help enrich your knowledge for future games.

Third, how does the "correct" move or plan change what you did? Of course, when your opponent makes a mistake, taking advantage of it is your first priority, but if they didn't play the mistake what would you have done? 

Don't Worry about +5 versus +10

One of the risks of using the chess engine is that one can often get caught up quibbling about little nuances that don't really matter. For example, when your line of play gives your a computer evaluation of +5 but you could have played a move that gave you +10. It doesn't really matter...they're both totally winning!

The key here is to observe whether or not you were in full control of the game, and that you understood it. Whether or not you got the very best move at that point isn't really that big a deal. By the way, it is a big deal, if it changes your evaluation. For example, going from +1 to say +4 is kind of a big deal, because with a +1 evaluation, you're essentially a pawn up but your opponent might be able to resist much more than if you have a +4 evaluation. Enough computer evaluations! Basically, if you're really winning, it's okay not to be really really winning.

The key here is to notice when you felt in full control. Full control basically means, that you know what your winning plan is through the conversion of the win and no matter what your opponent does, you feel confident that you could take home the point. Study the games of Botvinnik - once he had "the grip" on you, it was pretty much just a matter of him squeezing you until you ran out of breath - or he promoted a pawn.

Opening Considerations

If you play a fairly consistent repertoire, your winning games might give you insight into what you are trying to accomplish in the opening. For example, if your opponent needed to play a specific pawn lever to prevent you from gaining too much space, but fails to do so and you end up crushing your opponent do to that, it is insightful, and something you should keep in mind for future similar situations.

Is there a pawn structure that was really bad for your opponent that he or she could have avoided at the appropriate moment? Again, note this and try to steer towards these types of positions when you next play the same variation.

In my game below, and in conjunction with conversations with my coach, this game despite being a victory convinced me to at least heavily consider avoiding the endgame variation of the Berlin Defense. It didn't show up in this game, but I remember a distinct uneasiness in entering the variation. 

This last point I suppose is not specific to analyzing winning games, but it is a fairly important one to note when analyzing one's games.

Explain It to a Beginner

One thing I've been trying to do in general, but I think is perhaps more appropriate in your wins, is to annotate your plans as if you're teaching it to a beginner. I think your wins are a great time to do this, because you probably understand why you did things better than when you lost - or at least when you lose you are spending more time on figuring out what you should have done. 

What do you gain by this? You can test whether you really understand the strategy and nuances of your moves and your game. I remember when my wife and I were purchasing a car. The salesman was fairly new but kept touting this new feature and how it was great. My wife asked, "what's so great about it?" and I could feel the salesman's embarrassment when he fumbled through a few technical words that we were pretty confident he didn't understand. Don't be that guy with your chess.

Below is the game that inspired this post. Enjoy!

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