It seems that almost every chess master, teacher, and coach has at least one piece of advice that never changes: analyze your games. But is this really necessary and worth the time you have to put into it? Well, this is my story:
In the early days of my more-serious chess playing (which began only about 2 years ago), I was very amateurish, both in play and in study. On the board (figuratively speaking, because I play almost exclusively online), I played mainly based on what I hoped my opponent would do and attacked hard with little regard to my opponent's threats. Off the board, I never so much as looked at a finished game. Losses were attributed to my opponent being "too good," and likewise wins were signs of my own increasing intellectual prowess. But I never even considered reviewing to see exactly what happened in either case.
As I became more involved here on chess.com, I started for the first time to see people advocating the importance of analysis. I was skeptical at first—daunted by all the analyses that seemed to have every single possible line expounded in detail. That would take so much time! Eventually I discovered I could run computer analyses of my own games, so I decided I would give that a try. That might have set me back somewhat, because I was utterly confused by the first few analyses I got. "These lines make no sense!" "How could that have been a mistake?" I ended up with more questions than I did answers. Quickly abandoning the idea of analysis, I instead focused intensely on Tactics Trainer. My skill level did improve somewhat from that, but I soon was stuck in the 1200 rating bracket in correspondence chess.
I bought a gold membership, giving me access to even more Tactics Trainer! But no matter how much time I spent on that, and no matter how many games I played, I was stuck, for several months, which was very frustrating for this budding player. I wondered if I was really any good at chess after all... All the while I was still seeing analyses with many players saying how important they were.
I decided that maybe I should give it another try. After all, nothing else was helping, and it didn't seem like it could do any harm! My first analyses were really just mental reviews, mostly "I wanted this to happen, but I didn't see that my opponent could do this..." and things of that nature. I simply replayed the games and didn't write anything down. But superficial though they were, they laid a foundation... And my rating began to climb.
In as many months as I was a 1200, I became a 1400. At the time I did not attribute this to my game reviews—I really had no idea what was going on! But looking back, I'm certain they were the main cause. I began seeing the game differently. I started predicting my opponent's moves, balancing attack with defense, and stopped falling prey to so many of the tactics I myself had been drilling with. And it was about this time that I started doing written analysis.
I didn't do very many written analyses for a while, but the ones I did brought me into a whole new world. I was able to write out mid-game and post-game thoughts next to the moves. By playing around with alternate move sequences, I could see for myself what was a good move, what was a lucky move, and ultimately what was a bad move, for the players on both sides of the board. It taught me to think very critically about my own moves—to not just assume that what sounds like a good idea really is a good idea.
I have always and still do primarily play correspondence chess, which affords the opportunity to think about a move for long periods of time. At this point in my journey, I naturally began taking longer to choose my moves. Where before I might think for under 5 minutes before moving, I would now spend much longer to think about the consequences of the move, contemplating what positions might arise in the next 5-10 moves and looking for any possible refutations to my own strategies. In about 2 months or so I got to 1500.
For another month or two I fluctuated within this range, going up and dropping down, wondering when my next breakthrough would come. I finally realized that the analyses were tied to my overall improvement! I started to do more. And to help not allow myself to be superficial (and with a little push from some friends), I decided to begin blogging. This is how my blog was born.
In the three months since I began blogging in earnest, I have analyzed in depth 1 or 2 games a week. I personally review all my games, but I don't have time to do full analyses for all of them (I do have a life outside of chess after all!). But that has been enough. I think the analysis is starting to rewrite the portions of my brain I dedicated to tactics. Tactics used to be my main focus, but recently I have been seeing myself balancing that with positional play. I attribute this to all the time I've spent analyzing positions from my finished games! As a result, I am now (one year after rating 1200) over 1600 in correspondence. And what's more, my blitz and even bullet ratings are beginning to follow suit, skyrocketing in the last weeks and months.
My initial worries about analyses also appear to have been groundless. A full analysis of a long game generally takes me about half an hour to complete, give or take. That's not really a big chunk of my week! And with regards to computer analyses, I am beginning to see their place. I still tend to rely much more heavily on human analysis, because computers (in my experience) play very differently than people. But I now sometimes supplement my own analysis with a computer, which lays a good groundwork for me, pointing out mistakes I might have overlooked and providing suggestions for better moves. These give me a springboard from which I can take over the analyzing myself, resulting in better, more complete, analyses.
But why has analyzing helped me improve so drastically? I believe it simply boils down to this: analysis off the board teaches you analysis on the board. Self-analysis teaches you to see the difference between what you hoped would happen, what might have happened, and what did happen. This allows you to think ahead, planning for the worst and playing off that, so that you won't be surprised when your opponent makes the right move! Additionally, you learn to analyze your own position—so that you know what to improve and what strengths to avoid compromising—and your opponent's position—so that you see weaknesses you can capitalize on.
I can now tell you from experience, self-analysis helps improve your play. The things you will learn are exponentially more valuable than the ultimately-small amount of time you will put into it. Don't be embarrassed if it starts out superficial—you don't have to show it to anyone!—because as it helps you improve, the analyses will get better, which will in turn help you to improve more. If you need to, you can start simple with just a mental review!
So if you haven't already, start analyzing! New player or old, it's never too early or too late to get started. I hope it helps you as much as it has helped—and continues to help—me.
If you liked this article, please feel free to comment below, and please follow my blog! I publish a new game analysis every week, and if you feel you need some help getting started analyzing, I would be happy to analyze one of your games as well!