Thursday, July 3, 2014

4-Steps to Analyzing Your Game for Improvement

I often hear and give the advice to analyze your games to improve your chess. This makes a lot of sense and many of the world champions including Alekhine, Botvinnik, and Kasparov have all been great proponents of this particular method of chess improvement. But how do we go about this work?

There are many people who have written about this as well. I heartily recommend GM Alex Yermolinsky's book The Road to Chess Improvement for a very full and personal account of Yermo's game analysis and methods (my copy is falling apart, because of his interesting and insightful instruction). Until you get that book, today I will give you a 4-step framework for analyzing your games.

I also developed a seven-question checklist to streamline the process if you are pressed for time. For your most important games, I recommend this process, but sometimes it is better to analyze your game a little than not at all.

Step 1: Self-Annotation

It is important to try to capture your thoughts that you had during the game. This information is very important because not only do you want to find out which moves you could have improved upon, but you also want to know why you made the suboptimal moves in the first place.

You would want to include the following information:
  • Your assessment of the position during the game
  • Any variations you calculated
  • Other candidate moves you considered
  • You general mood and energy levels
  • The time you took on each move (this is made somewhat easier in online play where the time is recorded such as on the Internet Chess Club).
This information will be very useful in the following steps.

Step 2: Identify Critical Positions

After you have done your self-annotations, you should go through the game and identify several key moments for deeper study. The general reasoning here is that you don't have the time to pick apart every single move you made. Instead you should focus on the 3-4 positions (or more if you have time) that will give you the most benefit in your chess improvement.

Here are examples of critical positions:
  • Positions where you were surprised by your opponent's move
  • Positions where you were confused or couldn't determine a plan
  • Transitions from one phase of the game to another (opening to middlegame, etc.)
  • Turing points in the game (where the game went from equal to winning or losing)
  • Complex positions where a lot of calculation is required or there are many forcing options
  • The position where you left your opening "knowledge"

Another way to find critical positions that I use sometimes is by turning on the chess engine. I don't look at the moves the computer generates, but I check out the evaluation. I look for positions where the change in evaluation is greatest (I'll have to make a video about this). These are turning points in the game usually (or blunders) and it is important to evaluate your thinking and performance in these positions.

Step 3: Research and Corrections

During this step, you will be analyzing and trying to find the "truth" to the critical positions you identified in the last step. There are many ways to do this, but the general idea is that you try to improve upon what you did during the game.

Here are some of the ways you can do this:
  • Analyzing on your own - I recommend you do this first as often your experience with the position during the game will help you find better answers than if you looked to an external resource first. Also, working on the problem on your own will give you insight into your own thought processes.
  • Working with friends/coaches - this is often helpful, but I would recommend you do some work on your own first.
  • Opening references/books - you should definitely do this for every game you play to improve your opening knowledge. Don't just look for particular moves, but what plans and ideas do the masters have in the types of position you are playing. Having a good endgame encyclopedia is good too to look up endgame types.
  • Chess engines - This should be a last step (except in the case of finding critical positions, as mentioned above). However, the chess engine can be particularly insightful in double-checking your analysis and pointing out tactics in a position. 

Step 4: Conclusions

In this step, you take all of the work that you did in the previous steps and come up with conclusions for your future chess study and review. This is an important step, because it can be prescriptive of what you need to do to improve, particularly after comparing conclusions from a group of games you played. Similarly, over time you need to refresh your memory with what you learned (check out my article on the 4-dimensions of learning to understand the importance of time in learning).

For example, you may come to certain conclusions such as:
  • Specific types of positions you need to study more (e.g. isolated queen's pawn positions, specific endgames, specific opening structures)
  • There may be certain aspects of your thought process that you want to improve.
  • You may realize you need to spend more time studying tactics.
To help you organize and collect these conclusions, you can use the following:
  • Chess database software (I use and recommend Chessbase)
  • Physical notebooks and binders (a little more work, but sometimes a tangible system is preferred by some)
  • Spreadsheets (to organize specific work you may want to do)
  • Journal - I write down my thoughts after my games and what I could have improved and look over this regularly.


I hope you found this post helpful. I will be breaking down specific steps within this with future tutorials. You can customize this process to make it more enjoyable for your preferences and learning style. Overall, any work you do to look at your games and learn from them will be beneficial.

As I mentioned earlier in the article, I sometimes also use this seven-question checklist when I don't have a few hours to analyze a game.

For those of you who enjoy watching videos or listening to the spoken word, here is a video I made on this topic:

Your Turn

Are there specific ways that you analyze your games for improvement? Share them with me and we can discuss them. I'm always trying to learn more and it may be helpful to others who read this article.


  1. When do you plan to publish the promised followups to your 4 steps outlined in this blog post and video? I'm really looking forward to see the detailed explanations to your 4 steps.

  2. Things have been crazy. However, I will follow up on this in the next month (November). I also have some interesting things I have been working on that I will be publishing in the coming weeks as well.