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Learning to Analyze Your Games

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One of the key components to improving your chess is the analysis of your own games. By spending at least as much time analyzing your chess as you do playing it, you’ll ensure that you learn the lessons that each game teaches while also reducing the chance that you’ll make the same mistake twice. It’s also helpful to go over your games to improve your opening book, as well as getting a better feel for the kinds of positions that you commonly arise from those openings.

That said, analyzing your games can seem like a tough task. It’s easy to say you’ll look over your game, but if you just do so mindlessly, you probably won’t get very much out of the experience. Instead, you need to know what you’re looking for before you start.

The following tips are ones I’ve used with children I’ve given lessons to when I felt that were ready to start analyzing their own play. Of course, it’s always helpful to have a stronger player help you analyze your play. But if you find yourself in a situation where you first want to look over a game on your own, here are a few tips to get you started.

1. Make Sure You Can Record Properly

If you’re playing a tournament game, make sure you can accurately (and legibly!) record the moves of your game. This is a basic step, but without being able to write down your moves, you won’t be able to effectively do any analysis. I suppose it’s possible you could memorize the entirety of your games instead, but I’ve yet to meet a player who learned to do that before recording, so understanding algebraic notation is probably the way to go.

2. Find the Losing Move

The first task I’ve given to my students in terms of analysis is to identify the losing move of the game (presuming there is a winner and a loser; obviously, this can’t be done in a drawn game). This is a good exercise, as it forces you to find a critical error – one that certainly had an impact on the game. Even if the move you find isn’t actually the losing move, you’ll be identifying a point at which you or your opponent might have saved the game.

Along with finding the losing move, I also suggest that the student finds a move they would suggest as an improvement – one that wouldn’t lose the game. A hint: if you can’t find a better move, then the game was likely already lost, and you’ll have to look earlier in order to find the move that actually lost the game.

3. Identify Where the Opening Ended

The next task I give to a student is to analyze where the opening ended in their game. What’s interesting about this step is that there’s technically no single correct answer: what we’re really looking for is the point at which the player left their opening book. That can be either on a move they made or a move from their opponent; either way, we want to know when the player has exhausted what moves they know they should (or want to) make, and are now in the area of having to calculate and analyze in order to come up with moves.

This step can be a great boon towards learning the openings you play. Every time you do this, you should also consult a guide to the opening you are playing and note what move you should have made next. If you happened to follow along with the book for a move (or a few) longer, keep going with the book line until you’ve diverged from the recommended moves and see what the appropriate move was instead. By doing this, you should slowly grow your opening book, making you more confident in the opening phase of the game.

4. Additional Analysis

Now that we’ve taken care of the opening and the ending of the game, it’s time to deal with everything in between. The goal here is to start small and slowly build to being able to analyzing an entire game by yourself. With that in mind, start by trying to find perhaps one or two moves (besides the losing move) for each side that you think could have been improved upon, and suggest an improvement.

As time goes on and you start to find this process a little easier to work through, you’ll want to get to the point where you’re checking every move and suggesting alternatives whenever you think reasonable deviations exist. You might even want to take notes as you do this, as many players find they learn better when they write their thoughts as they do analysis. Point out particularly good moves, too, and be sure to note why they’re so good. At some point, getting a serious computer chess engine to aid in your analysis is also a great idea.

Beyond the basics, everyone will have a different process for analyzing their games. What you choose to focus on and how exactly you go through the process of understanding the good and bad from each of your games is up to you, but doing the work is a big part of improving as a player. The above steps are a great start for new and improving players who want to find the key moments on which their games hinged, and how they might have played better if they get into those (or similar) positions again.

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