I’m sure these suggestions for chess game analysis have been mentioned elsewhere before, but let me share an effective way I studied my games when I was serious about improvement.
Better game analysis can help in climbing this chart.
Make a database in ChessBase containing your tournament games. I call mine “My Games.”
Play your tournament game. Really, you should have 60 minutes or longer of thinking time where you can give your best. Definitely use this method for multi-day events!
Optional but highly recommended: Analyze the game with your opponent. Discuss the play with words and variations. This is the Quadruple Game Analysis variant.
Enter the game into ChessBase and write detailed notes about it. Variations you saw and did not see, fears, emotions, internal distractions, general time usage by both players…everything you experienced during the game. At the end, enter a few paragraphs of summary: what you learned, things to improve, etc. If you did a post-mortem analysis with your opponent, include their comments and variations (noting the material that came from your opponent).
Next, run your favorite chess analysis engine. Note that we do this after entering our own comments, to avoid computer worship! Don’t “correct” the previous analysis: you’re looking for resources missed in the previous analysis that radically change the assessment of a position (winning to drawing, drawing to losing, or winning to losing). Enter relevant comments into your notes. For example: “24…Rc7! 25.Ke3 Kf5 26.Be4+ Kg5 wins — Stockfish 11“
Email the whole thing to your coach and ask for their comments. They can enter notes into the game directly or type a detailed email summary. Alternatively, you can incorporate their comments during your discussion of the game during the next lesson.
What to expect from this kind of chess game analysis
A single chess game analysis using this method takes hours. It will bear fruit though, especially if you play fairly regularly and stick to the same openings (refining them over time). Commit to this method for 6 months or a year: your play will improve a lot, and you will move one or two tiers higher as a result.
According to the MegaBase, the first chess game Castellvi — Vinoles was played in Valencia, Spain in 1475. By “first chess game,” I mean the first recorded game played under rules similar to those used today. Earlier versions of chess did not have queens and bishops, for example.
The Chess Game. Sofonisba Anguissola, 1555
Being the first chess game, Castellvi — Vinoles was not very well-played, but that doesn’t matter much. I drift off and try to imagine what life was like over 500 years ago, during the Late Middle Ages and the Renaissance! As a former history major, thoughts like this fascinate me.
I’m not sure castling was allowed in 1475, because the players had opportunities to aim for this most desirable move but did not! I’m almost certain en passant wasn’t in the rules yet; keep that in mind as you play through the game.
At least, they are essential for advanced players and for coaches. If you’re already familiar with ChessBase and MegaBase and understand their value, feel free to skip this post. Otherwise, you need to keep reading.
What is ChessBase?
ChessBase: makers of ChessBase and MegaBase
ChessBase GmbH is a chess publishing company founded in 1985 and based in Hamburg, Germany. The company’s flagship product is also called ChessBase: a database program that can organize chess information in myriad ways. The current version is ChessBase 15.
The primary information ChessBase manages is chess games, which we’ll discuss below. The program can also play chess videos, organize opening “books,” and utilize endgame knowledge contained in “tablebases.”
What is the MegaBase?
MegaBase is a collection of annotated chess games played from the year 1475 to the given year. Pulished annually, the current MegaBase 2020 contains more than eight million games! You will find plenty of games with commentary by grandmasters and world champions including Garry Kasparov, Viswanathan Anand, etc.
The information available to you with ChessBase and its databases is staggering.
A cheaper alternative is the Big Database, which contains the same eight million games as MegaBase, but few have commentary. It’s much better than nothing, but I highly recommend MegaBase.
For working seriously on chess, ChessBase will save you a huge amount of time and effort. Search games in a database and study them on your screen without combing through books or using a chess set.
You can search databases for opening positions, distributions of endgame material, brilliancy prize games, games with commentary by a certain player — the possibilities are extensive. In addition, you can also create your own database files that contain games in a certain opening, or study material for a particular student. Which brings me to my next point.
ChessBase and MegaBase: the most important resources for coaches
I would cry if I couldn’t use ChessBase to prepare lessons and manage my students’ material.
I make a new database file for every student I teach privately. This allows me to keep a running track of what we have worked on together; I just keep adding to their database. I can import games from MegaBase and the internet, recreate instructive positions from physical books, enter my own commentary, and much more.
Preparing for lessons can be a very time-consuming process, but ChessBase cuts that time down tremendously. When I’ve finished preparing my lesson, I print out the material and go to my student’s home to teach the material.
“Mainline chess openings require lots of study time, which I could use to work on other parts of chess. I’ll choose sidelines instead.”
The craziest opening in all of chess? Starting position of the Botvinnik Variation of the Semi-Slav in ChessBase.
It’s a common argument, but a misconception. There’s a difference betwen mainline and cutting-edge. Mainlines are commonly played by grandmasters but can be strategic in nature and not rely on “crazy” lines. Cutting-edge theory on the other hand can be very sharp and is often based on engine preparation by Stockfish and others.
True, there’s rarely one mainline per opening. Take the popular Najdorf Sicilian (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6):
The moves 6.Be3(6.f3 is similar), 6.Bg5, 6.Be2, and 6.Bc4 are definitely mainlines, all of which have different branches. One could argue that 6.h3 and 6.g3 are nearly mainlines as well. Then of course moves like 6.f4,6.Nb3 and even 6.h4 are not to be ignored. Surely only professionals should wade into these waters?
I’m far from a professional, and I used to play the Najdorf with success. Even this, one of the most infamous mainline chess openings, is very concept-based. That’s because there are only two main structures for black. The d6-e6 center:
And the d6-e5 center:
In these, black’s piece placements don’t change that much. Not only that, a Najdorf player can completely avoid the second structure based on the variations they choose.
At first, you’ll have to memorize variations and play through a bunch of games to understand what’s going on. Yes, more than you would if playing a sideline. But after a little while, there are few surprises. Even enemy “preparation” can’t neutralize your understanding; at best it can give you specific tactical questions to answer.
Which brings me to my next point. If you play something wild in the Najdorf like the Poisoned Pawn Variation (6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 and now 7…Qb6)
Expect fireworks and nasty home-cooked surprises!
But as far as I know, the old line beginning with 7…Nbd7 8.Qf3 Qc7 9.0-0-0 b5 is still playable
In my opinion this is the Najdorf line where you need to remember the most specifics, and it’s not so bad. Of course, there’s no requirement to play the Najdorf Variation, or any Sicilian, but I wanted to show an extreme example.
Remember: there’s a difference between mainline and cutting-edge. Just avoid the latter if you don’t have the necessary time, memory, or study habits!
Okay, what’s the alternative?
Players who aim for sidelines in most or all of their games understand that they can expect less out of the opening. On the other hand, their opening repertoires are lower-maintenance.
But are they making their lives more difficult in the middlegame? I say yes.
Let’s take one of the most popular sidelines today, the London System, which traditionally begins 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Bf4:
White usually follows up with, in some order, c3, e3, Nbd2, Bd3, and 0-0.
It’s a trap!
White can almost close his or her eyes and play these moves, but what can black do? Actually, a lot. For example:
The light-squared bishop can go to f5 or g4 on the kingside, or to b7 or a6 on the queenside.
The dark-squared bishop can go to d6, e7, or g7.
The Nb8 can go to c6 or d7.
The Nf6 can stay where it is, go to h5 to attack white’s Bf4, jump to e4, or even d7 if black aims for an …e5-advance.
The queen can go to a5, b6, c7 if safe, d6 after a bishop trade there, or e7. Did I forget any?
The b-pawn can stay on b7 or go to b6 for …Bb7 or …Ba6.
The c-pawn can go to c6 or c5.
The e-pawn can stay on e7, go to e6, and maybe even go to e5.
The g-pawn can stay on g7 or go to g6 for a fianchetto.
And plenty of these options can be combined!
This seems like a lot more study to me! If you don’t want to study at home, you’ll have to study at the board! My advice: play mainline chess openings!