Game Analysis in Chess – Everything You Should Know

Game Analysis - In-depth guide on Chess game analysis

“Do you analyze your own games?”

-asked Botvinnik in his typical manner.

“What for?”

-Ljubo asked in genuine surprise.

“Here I realized nothing worthwhile would come of him”

-the 6th World Champion concluded.

(Source: Garry Kasparov: “On My Great Predecessors”, Part Two, p. 187)

“Let bygones be bygones.”

If you are a sports person of any kind, you know that this saying does not go well with you. Of course, in any situation, whether you win or lose, analyzing what went right, what didn’t, and what were your mistakes is something that comes naturally to good players.

Game Analysis in Chess

Sometimes, a win is the direct result of your efforts, and some other times, you are plain lucky where your mistakes were either ignored by your opponent, or they were too busy making their own mistakes or rectifying them. Your wins and losses must always be understood in the right perspective and should be mindfully dissected once the event is over and done with. This mindful analysis of your games is called game analysis.

How can I improve in Chess?

Game Analysis is one of the main ways to improve your chess. During this, you could either analyze the game right after it has been played, maybe even before the next round. This is called Preliminary analysis. Or you could analyze your games after the end of the tournament, referred to as Deep Analysis. Game analysis helps you pinpoint your typical mistakes, weaknesses, and strengths.

What are the various ways of analyzing my chess games?

The two types of game analyses that you can do:

Preliminary Analysis

When you are done playing the game, it is often helpful to discuss it with the opponent. Many players tend to ignore this suggestion because they feel they don’t need to discuss or care what their opponent thinks. They can go home and have the engine show them the right options. This type of passive approach makes learning from a game impossible.

If you understand why your playing partner made a good/bad move, it will help you much more than if you just take a look at the solution suggested by your engine. Also, computers often don’t give practical advice, and neither can they help you peek into the opponent’s thought process at the time.

The post-mortem discussions are critical as they help you create a groundwork for deep analysis.

Deep Analysis

Often, while playing in a demanding tournament, it is impossible to discuss games with your opponent. Ideally, you should have a coach/second/friend/mentor/playing partner or a chess engine to discuss the game.

You may skip the preliminary analysis, but this second round of deep analysis is extremely crucial. Don’t get too carried away, though, at this stage; your aim should be to fix some critical mistakes – ( like lousy time management, forgotten opening lines, poor tactics vision, etc.) to avoid them in the rounds that follow.

How to do game analysis in Chess?

Move-by-move analysis of your game at LiChess.org
Move-by-move analysis of your game at LiChess.org

Leran the basics of analyzing your own games on Lichess.

You have put in hours of training, calculations, strategy exercises, and practice in your chess game, but somehow, you still have butterflies in the stomach when it all comes together.

Why?

Look closely at what happened on the board.

What worked in your favor in the last game? Did you win or lose? And more importantly, how you won or why you lost? Was it just because the other player was better than you, or your strategies failed? Could you have done better?

These are just some of the questions that would help you create your own game analysis structure. Here are some ideas on how to do game analysis in a precise manner. You can implement all or some of them and create your own plan.

Step by step procedure to analyze your Chess games

  • Step 1 – Write down your emotions and plans
  • Step 2 – Make time to develop your understanding
  • Step 3 – Be honest and dispassionate
  • Step 4 – Bring the chess engine in
  • Step 5 – Memorize what you learned

1. Write it down

There are many options.

Some players write down their emotions and plans that they had in mind during the game in their journals. Others simply jot down the main lines they had been calculating.

Here is a quick tip:

Start with something straightforward: “I believe if I opened this way, I could have had a better pawn structure”

There is no need to get the chess engine out yet. If you have a coach or playing partner, you may discuss it with them. Otherwise, just stay in the moment and write it all down to be worked on later.

Trust the process here, and avoid using computer assistant at this juncture.

2. Make time for it

How you analyze a game depends on your working style and understanding of the game. It also depends on the free time you have in between two games. If you are not in the right frame of mind, the game analysis often gets clouded by your emotions and biases. Take the learning back home and with the help of your notes, give it some time to process and develop your understanding.

3. Be brutally honest and dispassionate

To deeply analyze your own chess games to develop your play, you need to be a keen observer of your own experience. A dispassionate look at everything you did or didn’t do will make you realize your mistakes even when you won and take the necessary measures to avoid repeating them.

4. Bring the chess engine in

You can now think of bringing the chess engine in and understanding and evaluating if what you thought was also the optimal way to do it. Compare, analyze and pick what works for you. One thing about chess engines is, your opponent is doing the same right about now, possibly on the same software as you, and probably have more understanding of your game!

Don’t give in to everything that the chess engine suggests.

5. Memorize what you learned

As you go ahead with your chess analysis, turn to memorize what principles you just learned from your game. Maybe you should have held the light-squared rook back a little longer to give support to the queen. Or the opening that we started the game with could have been used to develop the pieces and controlling the center differently.

In any case, memorizing ensures you can reproduce the plans when a similar situation arises in your mind.

FAQ during game analysis

Take a look at some examples of questions that pop up after a game. 

    1. Could you have saved the endgame?
    2. What if you played c5 instead of e5 in move 1?
    3. Is there a middlegame plan that could have helped me trick the opponent?

The goal here is not to get too invested in losses/missed opportunities. You can not undo the game, but you can certainly affect the future by learning from the past.

Should I use chess engines to analyze my game?

Yes and No. Game analysis is not for rookies or beginners. It’s also not a substitute for your own work. Here’s why. Analyzing your chess games using chess engines is like using a calculator for all your math problems. You may use them from time to time but in the end, it’s your own logical thinking and aptitude that comes into play.

As a beginner , a player may not be able to think more than 5-6 moves ahead, especially in complex positions.

So what is the advantage of sending an engine off 30 moves ahead of the game to determine the best move for them in that position?

Pushing game analysis too far ahead of your level of understanding doesn’t add any practical value and can be safely assumed to be a waste of time. Players with intermediate or advanced skills in chess may benefit from a structured game analysis. They should use more than one engine in a tricky position and compare them. They should also pull back the depth of analysis before comparing the results on the two engines.

For example, instead of checking the best 30 moves ahead , they should set it to say 10 moves ahead in both and then compare the results to see if the recommendations vary. Furthermore, always remember that it is not different from trying to read a high level book by a chess grandmaster. Analyze your games first on your own and then use computers, if you really want to develop your understanding and improve your chess skills.

Computer Analysis of the Chess game at liChess.org, using their Chess engine "Maia"
Computer Analysis of the Chess game at liChess.org, using their Chess engine "Maia"

Chess Analysis is one of the most efficient and effective ways of improving chess. I believe that you would agree that studying one’s mistakes is more crucial than dwelling on other people’s failures. The only problem that you need to address is how to do it.

The most tempting option is to turn to a chess engine right after the tournament and feed in all the moves while the computer tells you the best strategy and lays it out for you. The “30-seconds” approach, where the computer reviews each of your moves and offers recommendations, makes sure that your brain becomes incapable of doing evaluations by itself over time.

Deep analysis is recommended when the tournament is over, and a player is expected to start working on increasing chess mastery by correcting their weak spots. But when players rely on a chess engine, are too lazy, or are running short of time, analyzing with a chess engine right away or performing an automatic analysis is harmful.

Remember, it’s similar to relying too much on a calculator for complex math functions only to realize that calculators are not allowed during math exams. Your chess engine will not be at your fingertips during the tournament. You will have to make choices on your own, without the guidance of these 30-second assistants.

To enhance your own experience and knowledge and understand certain principles and game situations, you need to think like a human.

Why should I analyze my own games?

Advantages of game analysis

    1. Game analysis helps you find new ideas, the correct continuations, outright blunders, and hidden inaccuracies.
    2. The self-analysis or analysis with a partner ensures that you can develop a replay of the entire game- how the game proceeded, why it went the way it did, and what you could have done better. The objectivity and expertise of a coach are very helpful in these situations.
    3. Comparing your preliminary and deep analysis also helps evaluate your psychological responses, understand your instinctive behavior and create an optimal level of efficiency for your mental and physical well-being during any game. Chess is as much a game played on the chessboard as it is played in the players’ minds. Reaching late for a game or having a restless night could all affect the outcomes.

7 reasons why you should do game analysis

    1. Redo your calculations and assess the level of your tactical skills;
    2. Evaluate the quality of your positional knowledge and judgment;
    3. Understand the effectiveness of the game plan chosen during the game;
    4. Explore possibilities and moves that didn’t occur to you while you were facing your opponent;
    5. Determine the turning point of the game;
    6. Explore the reasons behind your mistakes;
    7. Analyze the opening in greater detail.
By strictly observing Botvinnik's rule regarding the thorough analysis of one's own games, with the years I have come to realize that this provides the foundation for the continuous development of chess mastery.

Garry Kasparov

Remember, you should review ALL the games, won, lost, or drawn. Some players wrongly presume that if they won quickly, there’s not much to look at. The players who lost often don’t want to go over their losses because it lowers their morale. A strong chess player can think in the third person and be ruthless towards oneself but in a constructive, non-self-blaming way.

The sole purpose of analyzing is to try and perform better next time.

Sources

The Road To Chess Improvement: Alex Yermolinsky

Excelling at Positional Chess: Jacob Aagard

How To Improve Your Chess-The 10 Mistakes That Hinder You From Evolving Your Game: Rafael Leitao

Training For The Tournament Player :Mark Dvoretsky, Artur Yusupov

Pump Up Your Rating: Axel Smith

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