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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you play the French often enough, you have probably seen the …f6 break as a common theme to equalize space. One common example comes from the 3. Nd2 Tarrasch main line:
Here, Black can eliminate the cramping e5-pawn with 8…f6 with good piece play and open f-file, at the cost of a somewhat bad bishop and backward e-pawn.
However, there are many different variations and subvariations in which one can consider an …f6 break (in non-Tarrasch lines as well), and suffice to say that not all of them are good. Admittedly, I’m not an expert in the French, and I’m not sure how much studying one would have to do to cover all of these scenarios. My personal advice is to not break out …f6 when in doubt, since it does create weaknesses and in many cases can be delayed with few major consequences.
It’s easy to take the …f6 break for granted in lines like the above, but it does weaken Black’s center (two hanging pawns) and king. It (more or less) works for Black in the above Tarrasch because White’s pieces are not well-developed enough to take advantage of the weaknesses too soon and Black is positioned well to defend and even counter-attack due to the open lines created by …f6.
On the other hand, consider this position I recently happened upon from a Pittsburgh weekend tournament game between two experts:
Black played 7…f6 here. At first it doesn’t look too bad because the center is relatively closed and White hasn’t castled. But White’s pieces are much more developed here than in the first example, so attacking the d5/e6-pawns is a lot easier. Note that White hasn’t committed the light-squared bishop and still has the option of g3/Bh3.
That wasn’t Black’s only mistake, but it quickly made things more difficult for Black. After the natural 8. Qd2 a6 9. exf6 Qxf6 10. O-O-O Bd6 11. g3! b5?? (not what Black needs to be focusing on!) 12. dxc5 Bxc5 13. Bh3 Black’s position is virtually beyond repair. Although it doesn’t immediately work out tactically, White is already entertaining the idea of Nxd5 (as happened a few moves later).
Unfortunately, the rest of the game was not particularly hard to predict. White soon won both the e6 and d5 pawns, and still managed to attack Black’s weak kingside. This goes to show how seemingly insignificant differences can completely change the positional assessment of an …f6 break!
Today’s Free Game Analysis submission comes from Michael Chiflikyan, an up-and-coming Illinois native who has almost doubled his rating from 700 at the beginning of this year. Although he lost this game against a player much higher rated than him, Michael was able to cross 1400 for the first time after this tournament, so congratulations to him on the milestone!
This game starts off with a Queen’s Gambit Declined through a transposition, a fairly popular line among players of all strengths. Michael, who has the black pieces, played fairly solidly throughout the opening and middlegame, but a few inaccuracies in the endgame was all it took for his higher-rated opponent to pounce at the end. Let’s take a look for ourselves.
I was pleasantly surprised when I received this game from Isaac for today’s article, as Michael’s opponent was someone that I had played in a tournament game a few years ago! As aforementioned, this game starts with a Queen’s Gambit declined, which I have some experience playing with the black side, but probably not as much as others on Chess^Summit. So, I will attempt to analyze the opening to the best of my ability, but from the middlegame onwards it should be smooth sailing. You can use the game player provided (from the game title) to follow along or use the text and boards in the article itself.
d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 d5
Completing the transposition to the 1. … d5 line that has been played maybe a billion times by now. The Nimzo, with 3. … Bb4, is more popular in this specific position, but the sole explanation for that is because this move order is one of only two realistic move orders to reach the Nimzo, while the QGD position can be reached in many different ways and thus the games are spread out over the database.
The exchange variation, which leads to one of the most popular and recognizable positions among QGD players from both sides. White gets a simple setup with a queen-bishop battery and aims his pieces towards Black’s kingside, while Black will attempt to counter in the center with a c5 push at some point.
… exd5 5. Bg5 c6 6. Qc2
White will indeed go for this setup.
This move, along with Be7, is interchangeable, as they will all eventually end up on these squares. However, an interesting idea that has been tried more than a few times is the move Na6 in this position, which aims to swing the knight over to e6 via c7 and gain a tempo on the bishop.
e3 Be7 8. Bd3 h6
This bishop kick can be helpful, but in my opinion, it’s probably too early for this. The move isn’t running away, as White won’t move his dark-squared bishop unless he has to. Notice that White’s g1-knight still has to be developed before White can castle kingside. It would be better to castle and let White make the decision as to where he wants to go with his last undeveloped minor piece before committing to a move like h6, which can never be taken back. The reasoning is that when White’s knight is on f3, the move h6 takes away the crucial g5 square from the knight; but, when White develops his knight to e2, this move permanently weakens the g6 square for black, which can become a problem when white plays an eventual move like Ne2-f4. It also inhibits Black’s ability to clog the b1-h7 diagonal with a move like Ng6.
Bh4 0-0 10. Nge2
White chooses the correct square for the kingside knight.
A step in the wrong direction for Black. With immense pressure from both of White’s bishops, Black’s usual plan in this position is to stuff the b1-h7 diagonal while simultaneously trading pieces. This is achieved by playing 10. … Re8, which is followed by 11. 0-0 Ne4 when the discovery tactic on White’s dark-squared bishop helps Black. With a move like b6, Black commits to this path of development for the light-squared bishop, giving White time to build up a center.
0-0 Bb7 12. f3 c5 13. Bf2 Rc8 14. Rc1
Up until now, all of the positions in this game have appeared in the database. But after Black’s next move, the players officially go out of book.
… Re8 15. Ng3 Bf8 16. Rfd1
From an objective standpoint, I don’t really like this move for White. It’s unclear where the rook belongs right now, but it definitely doesn’t belong on the closed d-file, and it doesn’t seem like the file will be opened anytime soon, especially with Black’s queen still on it. I would have preferred a move like Qd2, which would move White’s queen off of the semi-open c-file and give more breathing room to the light-squared bishop. This would also keep the position flexible since it hasn’t become apparent where White should move his f1-rook.
… a6 17. Qd2 Nb8?!
Here, Black should have seriously considered the move c4, temporarily locking the center and going for pawn play on the queenside. Black can follow up with b5, b4, a5, and if White attempts to counterstrike in the center with e4, it would finally open the diagonal for Black’s light-squared bishop, which has thus far not seen any action. Instead, Black opts for a knight maneuver that, frankly, doesn’t harmonize with the rest of the position.
Black’s position is in a tangled mess, and White should have struck while the iron was hot with the immediate e4! which would create further disorder within Black’s camp. However, White fails to capitalize, leaving Black with an unattractive but surprisingly solid position.
Another somewhat puzzling move. Black’s knight is positioned fine for now on c6. It is, in fact, the f8-bishop that should be brought into the game at some point. The text move suffocates the bishop and creates disharmony within the position. A better plan would have been Bd6 followed by Qb8, taking control of the h2-b8 diagonal and eyeing the f4-square.
Missing his chance. White should have played the practical Qd3! which simultaneously attacks the undefended a6-pawn and threatens Nh5, a move that would create chaos on the kingside with sudden mate threats.
Let’s stop for a moment and take stock. In a flurry, the remaining major pieces dropped off the board, and we are left with an endgame where all of the minor pieces are still left on the board, which is very rare. The black knight has returned to c6, allowing the f8-bishop to finally see light again. The pawn structure is virtually identical for both sides, with each side having 3 pawn islands, one of them being an isolated queen pawn. If a couple pair of minor pieces were already off the board, this game would be very close to a draw already. Yet, this is not the case, so there is still a game left.
Nf4 Bd6 31. Nd3 Ne7
It shouldn’t make too much of a difference, but I do believe that it was important to prevent a piece from invading on e5. This knight maneuver voluntarily takes a defender off of the e5 square, and just like last time, it is unclear where exactly this knight is going from here.
Ne5 Bb5 33. Bc2 Nd7?!
It’s almost like a mirage about Black’s light-squared bishop. It seems so wide open and that it controls a lot of space, but in reality, it only has one “safe” square other than the one it is occupying right now, and that is e8. And, unfortunately, Black probably had to play a move like Be8 in order to safeguard the bishop. Black must have played Nd7 believing that White had to do something about the e5-knight right then and there, but White capitalizes on this error cleanly.
a4! Bc6 35. Nf5!
This is a funny looking position, not gonna lie. Discussing the geometry of it would be pretty cool, but at that point, we would be going off on a tangent. In all seriousness, Black is able to navigate the complications and find the best continuation, but White will emerge with the bishop pair in a positionally-superior position.
Another possible continuation would have been 35. … Nxe5 36. dxe5 Nxf5 37. exd6 Nxd6 38. Bxb6 where White is still slightly better.
White is positionally dominating this position. The bishops rake into Black’s position and there aren’t many useful squares for Black’s pieces. While this position isn’t completely lost for Black yet, he is certainly losing the thread on the position, as a single misstep will prove costly. It’s as if Black has to walk a tightrope for the rest of the game.
Only move to avoid material loss.
Maybe not the best plan, as the king still can’t progress very far. Perhaps black could have thought about activating the king with g5 and Kg7, but it still doesn’t change much. What’s unfortunate for Black is that he can’t even kick White’s dark-squared bishop off the h2-b8 diagonal with a move like Nh5 since the bishop can hide with Bb8 and absolutely nothing can touch it.
This move loses a pawn, although it’s hard to criticize Black at this point. Moving the king right back to g8 would have saved material, but it doesn’t get Black anywhere. Even though this would have objectively been the better move, it’s no fun to sit around and wait for your opponent to walk his king over to the queenside and gobble up your pawns.
Bc7 Bb4 44. Bxc7 Ne8 45. Ke3 g5 46. Bc5+
White trades into a pure bishop v. knight endgame where he has the superior minor piece and a pawn to the good. Now, it is just a matter of technique.
Forcing open lines on the kingside and allowing the bishop to penetrate. With the d5 pawn on a light square and no way for black to protect the d5 pawn and simultaneously drive the White king away from d4 quickly enough, it is only a few moves until White will win more material.
An unfortunate but very instructive loss for Michael, who went on to play a very nice rest of the tournament and gain rating. There were definitely a few key points that we can take away from today’s game.
Endgames, endgames, endgames! It is perhaps the most important phase of the game, but it is also the least studied. Many games come down to the wire in the endgame, and one has to know as much as possible about the endgame in order to avoid making mistakes in textbook positions. We saw in this game how one mistake was all it took to take a potential draw into a loss.
Bishop pair – It has been said an innumerable number of times in the past, but the bishop pair has a lot of value to it. In a relatively open position with weaknesses, the two bishops can come to life and can even decide the game in some cases. We saw in today’s game how White’s two bishops together restricted both of Black’s minor pieces and even the king to an extent.
Middlegame plans/ideas – When playing an opening, it is important to know the specific ideas, maneuvers, and plans associated with the opening in the middlegame. In today’s game, we discussed how a common idea is to trade off at least a pair of minor pieces early with the Re8, Ne4 idea. Instead, Black went with a fianchetto of the c8-bishop, which led to a somewhat awkward position later in the middlegame.
Hopefully, the topics we covered today will help you in your future games! I wish Michael and everyone else good luck in their future games, and, as always, thanks for reading! I’ll see you next time.
Well guys we did it, we finished the 2017 Reykjavik Open AND kept our promise to do a detailed post-mortem after each round. I ended up scoring the best performance of my career, finishing with 7.5/10 — good for Top U2400 and T-6th overall. Isaac stumbled in Round 8 but finished with two wins to close out his trip. I have to say I loved working on this project, it really made for a very engaging tournament experience. Full report coming soon (eventually). For now, here are our recaps from Round 8-10. (warning: only watch if you’re interested in getting better at chess).
In Round 9, unbeknownst to me, I ended up winning the brilliancy prize for a sterling piece of preparation in the King’s Indian. Isaac won a game that he was kind of ashamed of, but still pretty interesting. See for yourself:
In Round 10 I played White against an aggressive opponent and seized my chance to turn the game in my favor. Really nice rook endgame technique from me in this one, should raise your rook endgame ELO by at least 20-30 points! Isaac *accidentally* played 1.e4 and won in style.
That’s all from me for now! Please look forward to a full recap of the event coming as soon as I come to grips to my performance. A lot of things went well for me in this tournament, I should probably figure out what they were so that I can repeat the performance!
Round 2 featured two wins by both Isaac and Kostya. First check out how Isaac dominates a Scotch opening while Kostya shows a masterclass on the f3-e4 structure in the Modern Benoni. Very instructive, you will learn about chess by watching this!
After our victories in Round 2, we were both humbled by our higher-rated opponents in Round 3. Isaac blew a promising position against IM Alina L’Ami, while Kostya gets ground down like a child by GM Joshua Friedel. Really instructive analysis on an important aspect of the game — the so-called ‘switch’!
In Round 4 we bounced back from the previous night’s disappointment to win both our games in style! Although, we both used different styles, as you’ll soon find out. Isaac had to outplay a draw-loving 1700 while Kostya had to retake the initiative after earning a lost position with White against a 2100. Enjoy!