One of the most important parts of chess training is analyzing your own games, but as a chess trainer I notice that many players find it difficult to commit to this. They can easily spend several hours preparing for a game, but spending one hour analyzing a game is often too much to ask. That’s a pity and a missed opportunity. After all, there is no clearer way to work on your own game, than to see your mistakes and learn from them.
As game analysis is apparently difficult, I will give you in this article four simple steps to do so. Then there should no longer be an obstacle to analyzing your games.
Step 1: Enter your games and create a digital library of your games
You should keep all your games in one place. Most serious chess players use the Chessbase program for this, but you can also save your games in an online environment as lichess.
Enter your game soon after you play it. I almost always enter my games on the same day and at the same time I do step 2 of the analysis.
Step 2: Write down what you had been thinking during the game: lines and conclusions
What you were thinking during the game is the most important part of the game analysis. It indicates how well you understood the position, which lines you calculated and how deep your insight was: it shows how well you played. By writing all these things down, you can later see where you got it right and what you really need to imporve. It teaches you valuable lessons about your own game and how to improve your game.
I enter my games and immediately write down which lines I calculated. I also add how I assessed the various positions during the game. It is important to find a good balance between lines and words. If you only use words, you are too vague. Variations are important and many positions are about concrete moves. If you only give lines, you don’t know well enough how you thought about a position and therefore you can’t draw enough lessons from it. So make sure you have a good combination of the two.
Many players skip this step. They go straight to step 3. This is not smart at all. You only use external resources and not your own mind, which gives you fewer chances to learn.
Step 3: Check your thoughts with an engine and complement your notes
In step 3 you assess your thinking process during the game. Did you calculate the lines correctly? Did you assess the position correctly? What opportunities did you miss (and why)? This step is easy, because it is easy to find a good engine which tells you ’the truth’.
When I look at my games with the engine, I try to estimate how difficult the line is, which the computer gives. Sometimes the computer gives a line I just can’t calculate. In those cases I am not too hard on myself. Also, the computer sometimes thinks it sees a bad move – for example, the judgment goes from +6 to +1.5 – while the position after the ‘bad move’ is easier to handle and brings the point home in a clean way.
I want to know which important lines I missed and I would also like to find an explanation as to why I missed them. This is where the learning happens. I learn even more from the conclusions I give about the positons. It often turns out that I overestimate my position. In the game pictured below, I was very pleased with my bishop pair, but I was blind to the lack of development of my pieces. In my analysis I explicitly note what the computer indicates, so that later I can easily see the difference between what I thought myself and what the computer indicates.
Step 4: Write down what you have learned. Be as concrete as you can!
After every game I try to write down what went well during the game and what needs to be improved. ‘I need to prepare better’ is vague . ‘If I don’t see a concrete follow-up, I shouldn’t sacrifice material’ is a good lesson that I learned from my own games. I often sacrificed pawns for vague compensation, resulting in poor results. By writing down some of these lessons for yourself, you are improving your weaknesses and thus getting better. Another lesson I learned was about my time management.
In step 2 I gave a picture of the analysis of my match against Pedro Silva from the Guimaraes Open. My two lessons from this game are:
– When calculating, I underestimated my own chances by just thinking that black could defend himself, without considering concrete moves.
– Overestimating the opponent’s chances in calculations by thinking that my opponent would have a good discovery check without considering precise moves.
Both lessons are about calculating and not considering concrete moves. This is clearly something I need to work on.
You can learn a lot from your own games. Therefore, save the games in a digital library. In your annotations you should not only look at what the computer says, but you should first indicate what you were thinking during the game. In this way you compare yourself with the computer and you will learn from this. By drawing concrete lessons from your games, you make clear what your weaknesses are, and this makes for more effective training. In a next article we will look at how we follow up on this.