Analyzing Your Chess Games

Every player eventually must face an undeniable truth: do I want to put effort into improving at chess or do I want to stagnate? If you’re interested in improving, the crucial skill you must develop is analyzing your own games. There are different levels to this skill which I will share with you and I will like you to products along the way that will help you.

What is Game Analysis?
Game analysis is the act of going over games, usually your own, to look for ideas that will help you improve as a player. Here are some reasons to analyze games:

  1. To spot weaknesses in your game
  2. To learn openings
  3. To understand opening principles
  4. To learn middlegame plans and planning
  5. To find trends in how you or common opponents play

There are many other reasons to analyze games, but these are a basic few ideas worth remembering.

How do I analyze my games?
There are 3 main ways people analyze their games. Let’s look at each:

  1. Going over the game with a friend or their opponent
  2. Writing the game down in a notebook with notes
  3. Putting the game into a database program

After you finish a game, it is common to ask your opponent to go over the game with you. This is especially good to do if you lost and it is the main way you make friends in the chess community. However, there is generally not a lot of note taking happening during the post mortem (the term used for when people go over the game after the game is completed). But it will give you insight into how your opponent was thinking which can help you with your own game.

Designating a notebook specifically for game analysis is a good idea. It can be tricky to determine how you want to organize it. I recommend writing the game score across the top and analyzing specific move numbers below in chronological order. Regardless of what you do, this process is a bit lengthy. However, when you write things down, especially when you write down your own moves again, it helps your memory. When you first begin, you’ll find you analyze very little. As you improve, you’ll be able to write 20 pages (if you want).

Finally, if you use database programs like ChessBase then you will be able to incorporate computer analysis into your game. You will also be able to check your own analysis. I should note that you should always do your own analysis before ever turning on the computer. If you rely on the computer too often then you cheat yourself out of valuable thinking time. For example, if you had a tough decision during a game you should try to think on it some more when analyzing your games and write your thoughts down. Then, use the computer to check your thoughts. If you do it in this order, you will grow as a player. If you use the computer first, then you can no longer benefit from working hard on that game since the answer was given to you.

What can Help Me Analyze Games?
The most powerful way to analyze your games is by using software. Specifically, you can investigate ChessBase and Chess Assistant. There are other database programs which can be found here. These programs can keep track of every game you play, they have statistical analyses you can run, they have large game databases that can be used to research openings, and they often have (or are compatible with) tablebases which are used to calculate the proper moves for endgames. This software is powerful, highly recommended, and costly. If you use the software regularly then you will improve your game.

If you are a bit more strapped for cash, all hope is not lost. There are plenty of other lower cost products that can assist you in going over your games. But, before recommending specific books to you it is important that you have an analysis goal. Below are some pre-determined, and common, goals chess players have with some recommended materials:

  1. Popular Goal – Analyzing Openings
    If you are a new player or new to analyzing, I highly recommend the Starting Out These books give you the base ideas for a large array of openings. I recommend picking out 1 for white and 1 for black. Once you invest time in learning those openings and analyzing your games where you use those openings, you will have a basis to build on for learning new openings.I also recommend the Move by Move series. This series goes a bit more in depth on openings than the Starting Out series. So, when you are ready to learn something more in depth, this is a good series to begin with. Other openings books exist; however, stick to these two series to start and grow from there. You can also buy them as needed to fit your budget.
  2. Popular Goal – Learning Middle Game Planning
    When learning about middle games, you’re specifically looking for resources that talk about “strategy” and “planning.” Essentially, when there are no tactics or knockout punches, you must rely on a thinking strategy or plan. Most openings come equipped with their own set of plans; so, your openings books can help get you started. However, if your opening doesn’t go off as planned (pun intended), then you will need to learn what to do.I recommend Jeremy Silman’s Reassess Your Chess and the Reassess Your Chess Workbook. These books give you a fundamental view of the different types of plans you can make in chess. Essentially, every opening ever played can be analyzed using Silman’s thinking method. The workbook helps augment what you learn but it is not required. Silman also offers The Complete Book of Chess Strategy which gives you lots of chess lingo and ideas to work from.Another list of strategy and middle game books I’d recommend are as follows. For beginners, Yasser Seirawan’s Winning Chess Strategies book is good and Jeff Coakley’s Winning Chess Strategy for kids is also good. For experienced and improving players, I recommend My System by Aron Nimzovich (sometimes spelled Nimzowitsch), Ivan Sokolov’s Winning Chess Middlegames, and Ludek Pachman’s Modern Chess Strategy.
  3. Popular Goal – Endgame Improvement
    I personally believe Jeremy Silman’s Complete Endgame Course is a one of the best endgame books ever written for newer players. I also find endgame books published by Edmar Mendis (out of print – try eBay) to be very helpful. For players rated 1500+ who have already read Silman’s Endgame Course, or have had an equivalent of Endgame training, I recommend Fundamental Chess Endings by Lamprecht and Muller (go to Amazon or eBay for that one). Another book that is good is Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual.

The final thing you can do is analyze your own game for weaknesses.

Weaknesses are often more easily pointed out by others, usually a coach. If you wish to identify your own weaknesses, the statistical software offered by ChessBase, Chess Assistant, and/or LiChess.org are useful. But if you are not using statistical software, you can try to identify the reason why you lose a specific game. Reasons for losing can vary but often are due to a poor opening, you keep missing tactics, you choose a bad middlegame plan, or you overlook a subtlety in the endgame. The above books and software are helpful for you to improve and can help you self-assess many weaknesses.

A format for analyzing your own games that I would recommend is as follows:

  1. Write out all the moves either in a database program or in a notebook
  2. Look for errors, either tactical, positional, or strategic, and list them out
  3. Use a computer to check your analysis to see if you hit on the right areas of the game
  4. If you missed anything, review it and write any useful observations about why you missed those moments in the game as important
  5. Finish by writing no more than 3 things to take away from the game and write this summary after all the analysis is completed.