Analyze This

Mikhail Botvinnik, legendary world champion and a pioneer of computer chess, once said “chess is the art of analysis.” Indeed, anyone who plays the game long enough will see that it is a sempiternal exercise in examination and re-examination. By examining one’s own games and those of other players and masters, you can begin to see patterns or discover better moves. Quality analysis and the ability to analyze are essential for any player to grow and become a strong competitor. And now with incredible advancements in technology and the seemingly endless amount of options and platforms to find digital chess analysis, there is an unprecedented amount of information available. So, considering all the information above, where do you start?

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If you are newer to the game, the best analysis would be a one on one with a coach or an experienced player. While having a computer program analyze your game has many advantages, it is a bit too much information for someone new to the game and will not help you develop the same way a human can. Much like a soccer coach watching video after a game and going over it with their team, a trained and experienced eye can spot mistakes or opportunities you may otherwise overlook. For instance, when I first started playing my coach noted that I was very inconsistent with developing my minor pieces early in the game. By doing this I was giving away tempi and crippling my attack. This observation would not be noted if I simply used a computer to show blunders and best moves. The best way I can put it is that a human can give you a unique perspective and develop you into a well-rounded player, a computer will build upon this foundation and present other opportunities.
Another way that a coach can help your development is by analyzing well-known games or educational ones with you. My coach recommended analyzing some of Jose Capablanca’s games, games that exemplified what topic or idea he was trying to share with me at that time. I analyzed these games on my own, playing them out on a board then on a computer with and without an analysis engine running. Lastly, my coach and I went over a game together. This comprehensive, well-rounded analysis not only improved my understanding of some core concepts my coach was trying to teach through the game, but also helped my board memory, gave me some new ideas in certain situations, and boosted my confidence in my ability to analyze games. This exercise helped establish a foundation I still use today and will continue to use throughout my career.
Once you have learned how to analyze a game, you could and really should analyze any games you find interesting whether they be yours or someone else’s. First, play through the game a few times on your own to see the flow. Look for any ideas that jump out at you or anything you find noteworthy. This part of the game is a bit of homework, so you really must keep a notebook handy. A fun exercise is to guess the move then compare your decision to that of the other player. When you do this, ask “why was that move picked?” “why that move instead of this one?” “how would I respond to that move?”. This type of methodical and deliberate examination and study will develop your awareness and your understanding even further.
A very popular and tremendously productive way to analyze your play is with an engine. From top level players like Vishy Anand to club players, this is a common practice and in today’s competitive environment, an absolute necessity. The number of engines out there and the millions of games recorded is staggering. Do you want to see what your favorite player’s most successful opening is? It’s there. What percentage of games with the c4 “English” opening, on average, end with a win for white? That information is there too. Computer analysis can be a double-edged sword for the inexperienced or unguided, however. Without a sound understanding of the games fundamentals and mechanics, you can easily fall down a rabbit hole and be quickly misdirected. Personally, I suggest holding off on computer analysis until it is recommended to you by your coach or a trusted, experienced player. Used in conjunction with coaching and guidance, this technology is indeed a very powerful analytical tool that will certainly bring your play to the next level.
So where should you begin? To get started, pick a game, any game. This game can be one of your own or just one your find interesting. I strongly recommend you play through it a few times on a board, preferably one with algebraic coordinates to make following or adjusting notation easier. The reason I recommend a board is the distinct view and feel you gain. You can walk around the board or view it from angles that you cannot from a static 2d board. It may sound silly, but I gain much perspective this way and find it notably more productive than just playing on my laptop. If available, walk through the match a few times with another player or a coach. This can bring up some dialogue or showcase ideas you may not have reached on your own. For as much time as we spend buried in our phones, books, or computers, chess is after all a social game and one that generates conversation.

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Once you have played through the match a few times from both sides of the board, either create or load up a PGN of the game.

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I use chess.com and its powerful Stockfish engine to analyze games. This one tool offers so much information it is without equal on many levels. 1. You can see what advantage is to whom with a basic black and white bar, essentially a tug of war. 2. You can see what moves are most commonly played and what their outcomes are. You can explore other options for certain situations or identify blunders. In the example below, I have highlighted these features on move 7 of a recent game. I am playing as black here. You can see I have a 1.64 advantage (shows as -1.64 when you are playing as black). You can also see a few moves and what advantage they would gain or leave.

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I hope you now see the options available to you and feel inspired to dive in and analyze this beautiful game. There has truly never been a better time to be a chess player with all the resources and powerful tools available, many for free. A great option I truly cannot recommend enough is a high-quality analysis right here on Chess^Summit. Our dedicated and skilled team will give you an expert analysis to help you develop absolutely free.

https://chesssummit.com/category/free-game-analysis/

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Tempo, Tempo, Tempo

A critical component of success in chess is not just a solid understanding and awareness of tempo, but the capability to influence and control it. Strong players seem to have an innate ability to make one seemingly brilliant move and turn the tide of the battle, much to their opponents despair. These players understand controlling the tempo of the match and making the opponent play the game on someone else’s terms will allow them to take the victory more often than not. Once you can recognize tempo as an almost tangible force in the game and better yet impact it, you will certainly see a noticeable improvement in your match results and be able to better command the game.

A tempo (plural tempi) can be in essence defined as a turn, but in the tug of war that is chess, having the tempo can mean gaining a preferable result on your turn, forcing your opponent to respond and thus giving you control and more options to sway the course of the match. Alekhine, Carlsen, and many other well known and studied attacking players exemplify this by making moves that force their opponent to reconsider their plans and fight with their backs against the ropes. These players are said to have gained the initiative, limiting their opponents options, exerting their will on the flow of the match, and forcing their opponents to play the game differently. While this may sound complicated or the culmination of tedious study of theory, it is really quite simple and can be accomplished by following a few simple rules:

Rule 1: Move with Purpose – Simply put, one must make every move count in order to dictate the flow of the game. If you are focused solely on attacking your opponent, they will evade and counter. Hollow attacks that can be countered or easily dodged offer no advantage and can ultimately be your downfall. Players who break the rule of bringing their Queen out too early are a great example of this principle in action. They may make some idle threats in the center or offer a weak check or two, but the tempo can be stolen very easily. This would give the defending player an opportunity to develop while their opponent evades to try and save their Queen. This leads to rule 2…

Rule 2: Develop Your Minor Pieces Early – While pawns are an important part of the game and gaining a favorable pawn structure creates a solid foundation to move around later in the match, the minor pieces are going to defend and attack at the same time when in the right place. Being ahead in development not only offers an advantage to tempo, but allows you to assure your King is protected by being able to castle sooner and allowing you to pressure your opponent efficiently and faster than they can pressure you. You will have more weapons at your disposal sooner, certainly an advantage in the battlefield .

Rule 3: Do Not Move the Same Piece Twice – Unless it is to gain a very good advantage or out of absolute necessity, do not move the same piece twice. If you were to move your e file pawn twice in a row for instance, you are allowing your opponent two turns to your one. My coach often says “put your pieces on their best squares and they will do the rest.” He is absolutely right and often I find if I can get the pieces where they are most effective and make smart, simple moves around them, I can gain and maintain the initiative much more effectively and often.

Rule 4: Checks Don’t Matter – This is a habit that took me a long time to break and still requires significant help from my coach to stay away from. Unless the check forces your opponent to follow a plan you have set up or creates a pin or fork, the check is not necessarily an indicator of your advantage. Caution must also be made as a check with a strong piece can create many countering opportunities for your opponent and can ultimately cause you to lose tempo or a piece. While a check may gain a psychological advantage of showing your opponent that you are clever or have keen situational awareness, this is fruitless and meaningless without a plan.

Rule 5: Look at The Situation From Both Sides of The Board – It happens to us all, tunnel vision. We focus so much on what we want to happen on the board that we may overlook the reality of what lies before us. When making a move, consider what move you would make if you were playing on the other side. Often when we focus solely on what plan we’ve created, we overlook opportunities we hand our opponents or better moves we could have and should have played.

Understanding tempo is simple, but harnessing its power and consistently possessing it, particularly amongst strong opponents, takes time and awareness. Like many other parts of the game, analysis after a match yields great results and “aha” moments. A positive habit I have picked up lately has been to say “tempo, tempo, tempo” before I make a move or when I am feeling pressured. I visualize the tempo of a game, I look at it like a level one might use when hanging a picture. Will this move send the bubble too far to one side, creating an imbalance? Once you can feel the tempo of a match and make these 5 rules of tempo part of your standard behavior, you will find you have much more control of your matches and have designed a stronger foundation to build a winning plan from.

Building a Strong Foundation

Like any other endeavor, success in chess begins with a solid understanding of its basics. There are many things to keep track of during a game such as weak squares, hanging pieces, or blocked minor pieces just to name a few. So how do we navigate this complex game and find success? My firm belief is we find more consistent victory and enjoyment by creating a strong understanding of the basics.

I was introduced to the game at the age of 5 or so by my father. Although I greatly enjoyed the game, there wasn’t much of a chess scene where I grew up around Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Like many other kids my age, I soon replaced chess with video games and less academic interests. It wasn’t until much later that I returned to the game and with a passion I had never had for any other venture. Now 20 plus years older than when I moved my first pawn, I have learned how to learn and have developed a more mature way of thinking (although my wife may disagree). Essentially relearning chess at an older age has given me a unique perspective on the game and way of teaching the basics, a way that I believe to be simple and effective.

My goal in writing for Chess^Summit is simple: to share concepts and examples that anyone can digest and learn from. There is some “common knowledge” in chess that may not be available to beginners if they never had a coach or formal training. Indeed until I started working with a coach there were many, many basic principles I just didn’t know. While my articles may seem primarily aimed at a novice to intermediate level, there is always something to be rediscovered in studying the fundamentals of the game. Truly, masters of any discipline need to revisit the basics from time to time.

As a resident author at Chess^Summit, I will be sharing biweekly articles with you. In an effort to make the material as accessible as possible, I will keep most things as basic without going into too much theory. I think one of the great joys of the game is finding a topic you’re interested in and doing your own research leading to your own unique conclusions, discoveries, and “aha!” moments. As I am more of a visual learner myself, I will also share easy to understand diagrams and examples to reinforce ideas. I’m excited to share on this platform and look forward to discussing the game we love with you.

You can follow me or chat with me on Twitter @danschultzchess