Analyzing your own chess games is one of the best ways to improve your chess skills. In this article, I will show you several ways you can analyze your chess game using chess database software such as Chessbase. Personal game analysis is one of the main training methods used by chess masters, and it should be one of yours as well if you are serious about improving.
Study Your Opening
First, you should look at the opening phase of your game. If you are less experienced, look at the coordination of your pieces and that of your opponents. Did you develop smoothly? Did you make any big mistakes? Did you bring your king to safety?
In the opening phase, you have three primary objectives. First, you want to exert control on the center. Second, you want to develop your pieces. Finally, but very important, you want to ensure the safety of your king. As you improve, these three objectives should coordinate into structures that you are familiar with and lead you to plans for the rest of the game.
As you get better, you will begin creating your opening repertoire. After each game, you can use your reference material (such as books or videos) to look up the opening you played. You should look at where you strayed from the best moves. Besides looking up specific moves, try to understand why particular moves are made in the opening. This way, next time you face this particular opening, you will be more prepared.
With Chessbase, it is easy to add comments and variations for this opening study. Below is a screenshot of a game in Chessbase and some of comments in the opening part of the game. Also, there are some different moves played that I entered after studying a master game in this opening.
The main question you want to be able to answer when you finish this phase is:
If I were to see this same opening, what would I play differently?
Analyzing the Opening with Chessbase
Look for Tactical Mistakes
After studying the opening phase of the game, the next thing to look for are big mistakes you made in the game. For most beginning and intermediate players, this will involve tactical mistakes. Tactics are short-term moves made usually involving threats. In your games, you will look for tactical mistakes made and tactical opportunities missed.
Look at points in your game where there are many pieces that can capture each other on both sides. Analyze these positions and look for spots where you could have made better moves. I recommend doing this first without the assistance of computer engine software which can spot tactical mistakes very easily. Doing it on your own first will help you develop your tactical skill.
Using chess analysis engines in Chessbase will help you to check your work easily. It will help you quickly spot the mistakes you made and offer better moves. If you use this method, make sure you understand why the moves suggested are better than your moves. It is not enough to know the moves. You must understand why the computer suggests the move (since the computer will not be sitting next to you during your games).
Below is another screenshot showing how I use Chessbase to spot my tactical mistakes. You will see the chess engine analysis window in the lower right of the window. The engine suggests how my opponent should respond to my mistake. You can also see that (since I've analyzed this position already) I have put some analysis variations right into my game score. I can play over these whenever I want to review.
Look for Strategic Errors
After studying your tactical mistakes, you should look for your strategic errors. Strategy would include long term considerations that effect your game. There are many books that describe these elements, but some common ones include pawn structure, piece activity, open lines and digaonals, and of course king safety.
Try to see where you could have used a different plan in your game, or how your opponent reacted to your plans. This is a little more difficult to study than tactics because it is a more subtle subject. Chess engines can provide some help but unless you understand strategy in general it is difficult to interpret the results of the analysis.
If you haven't done so already, I would recommend reading Jeremy Silman's excellent books on strategy: The Amateur's Mind and How to Reassess Your Chess. After reading these books, you will know what to look for when studying the strategic content of your games.
Again, after you have found your errors (or places where you can improve), enter this analysis into your game score. Don't be afraid to experiment with your style of annotating your games. I like to wirte what I thought during the game including some variations of moves. Find what works for you.
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Catalog and Review Instructive Positions
After you have gone through your game, pick out the most instructive positions. These could be from the opening, middle, or end of the game. These positions could be a big tactical error you made, or perhaps even a good move your opponent made that surprised you. The key is catalog these positions and review them in the future.
There are several ways to do this. One way might be to print out the positions and put them into a binder. Chess master and instructor Dan Heisman recommends creating a "Hall of Shame" study book with your biggest mistakes.
You can also do this in Chessbase in an interesting way. In the screenshot below, I've created a training position for myself from a mistake I made in the game. When I review the game in the future, it pops up like a quiz, and I have to try to find the best move. This is very effective for future improvement, because it uses active recall instead of just passively reading through your comments. It's also a very enjoyable way to train.
Studying your game is a great way to improve your chess. It can also be very painful, as you have to focus on your mistakes. However, each time you do this, you are slowly replacing your mistakes with better knowledge and skills. Over time, you may also come to enjoy commenting on your games and seeing them come to life on your computer.
The next part is up to you. Analyze your games, have fun doing it, and best of luck improving in chess!