Analyzing your own Games

The material below is from an excellent chess blog…

After reading this blog, I started to realize just what a casual player I really am. I don’t know if I’ll ever have the motivation to analyze my own games the way the writer of this blog does. But it’s nice to read about how it might be done by a player who takes the game more seriously than I do.

When you think about analysing your own games, it becomes clear how logical it is that this is the most important and natural way of training. You are personally involved, you have a deep understanding of the position as you have played the game yourself...This gives depth, but also an insight in to the process of thinking during the playing situation. That insight is impossible to obtain when you study games by other players. I therefore recommend that you try to describe, with words, how you thought during the game, mixed with more objective analysis. Then it will be easier to see what you misjudged during the game. This is a perfect ground for your training as all aspects of chess are included, even your weaknesses. With the games as a starting point, you can plan your training and add the knowledge that you lack.

Chess Training for Budding Champions,
Jesper Hall

From a conceptual standpoint, I think the main points to get out of analyzing a game are:

• How did the opening work for me? Did I understand its basic strategy and the needs of the specific position I obtained?

• What were the critical moments in the game? Was my initial middlegame plan appropriate and effective? At what point should I have changed my plans? What key tactics were in play and what was overlooked?

• Why did I make critical errors? Have I made the same types of mistakes before? If so, what is the key idea to avoid this in the future?

The key point in all of this is that you are the one who has to make all the decisions at the chessboard from move one. You have to put it all together and understand what is in front of you. The best guide to how you will play in the future is therefore how you have played in the past. For improving players, it comes down to the simple fact that if you can't fix your own mistakes or recognize important gaps in your knowledge, you will not get any better. No one can be perfect, but recognizing the truth about our own play, however painful it may be, is the first step on the road to improvement.

Perhaps the most important realization I have had as part of the game analysis process is that I had failed to use a coherent thinking process in my tournament games.

Analyzing your own games offers a near-infinite number of ways to improve your chess.

With a database program (free or otherwise), you can explore and analyze how other
games in your chosen openings have turned out, focusing on key variations and decision points, and identify model master-level games for further study.

With a chessplaying program, you can take key middlegame and endgame positions that you've identified in your analysis and play them out. If you've determined that you lack some specific knowledge that is holding you back from better results, you can find books, videos or other tools to address that. Naturally, this is where chess trainers can come into the picture as well; good ones will look to use your own games as a guide for your training. In any event, let your own games be the practical guide to what you need to accomplish most.

Game Analysis for Improvement in Play

An earlier post described my general conception of how game analysis can be used as a method of improving play. Essentially, the focus is put on one's own games and the lessons drawn from them can then be followed up on most effectively.

So far, while I've certainly benefited by re-examining the openings, tactics and strategies on display in each game, the most significant impact for me, interestingly, has been on the thinking side. I am being repeatedly exposed to alternative moves that I either could not find or did not originally evaluate properly. Since I know my own thinking process, this type of analysis has had a direct consequence regarding how I now consider each position in front of me, opening up more possibilities and not limiting me to my self-identified "playing style" or "natural" inclinations. While I do believe that the concept of a playing style is valid and observable, I am more inclined to reject it as an excuse for choosing obviously inferior moves that do not take advantage of the position.

More specifically, here is a description of the method I've been using for analysis of past games:

• They were all initially analyzed, shortly after being played, as a complete game by Fritz on a reasonable time setting (usually 60s/move). This process catches all of the major tactical ideas and offers some insight into alternative moves beyond simply checking for blunders.

• The setting for changes in position evaluation (the "threshold" option under complete game analysis) was usually set to 20 centipawns (in other words +/- 0.2 in a numerical positional evaluation). This is enough of a swing in the position to be worth flagging, while cutting out a lot of what for humans would be meaningless differences.

• The game is loaded into a database program, with Houdini running as the analysis engine. I also bring up my current personal openings book database so I can compare it to the game.

• I review the game move-by-move. In the opening phase, I look at the choices made, the implications of alternative choices to the main lines (especially moves by my opponent that are not in my openings book), and evaluate the positional characteristics arising from them. (This is a fancy way of saying whether I like the position or not.) The engine is used only infrequently in this part of the game analysis. This phase helps reinforce and refine my opening knowledge and exposes me to new ideas and areas to explore.
• The main part of the game (i.e. when it no longer follows a database game) is devoted to looking at the ideas contained in game positions and investigating alternative moves. These alternative moves are considered based on the original Fritz and current Houdini analysis functions. I have Houdini set to display its current top three alternatives in a position, which offers a good amount of variety. Alternatives are looked at critically and in order to understand their tactical and strategic ideas, rather than attempting to always find the "best move" and slavishly following engine recommendations.

• The game score is annotated with more detailed commentary on individual move alternatives and key variations, while thoughts on the overall course of the game and its significant lessons are then captured, in this case in an introductory blog post.

This analysis process takes roughly two hours per game for me. I consider this a reasonable amount of time to spend, especially since the focus is on improving my play, rather than achieving a mastery of deep annotations.

As a final note, there has been a fair amount written publicly on the use of computer analysis by players looking to improve their level of play, a good portion of it negative. My experience has been that computer-assisted analysis is quite valuable and productive, with a great deal of return on the time invested. One still has to do one's own thinking; that said, having engines point out alternatives, which can then be analyzed and understood, has for me resulted in an improved thinking process.


If you can't read you should not show your lack of patience publicly. In this case to a outstanding post in content to a chess forum.

I analyze every game I play, but I still forget things and will most probably make the same mistakes all over again
many times until it sticks in my head.
The problem is more severe in blitz - you don't even have the time to try to remember what you should do at some point that you know is a critical point you already failed before.

#1 Great post. Thanks for sharing. I particularly like the ability to set the "threshold" and I use it. I wish that Lichess analysis had this as an option. It does take a long time to do such analysis of a game. I also find it takes about 2 hours.

Another thing I've found useful is to reanalyzed a game I analyzed years ago. Besides seeing how I've improved in my understanding, I can see the kind of mistakes I was making so that I can try not to fall back into old habits.

"I also find it takes about 2 hours."
Analysis should take about the same time as the game itself.

"I particularly like the ability to set the "threshold" and I use it."
A threshold of 0.2 seems too low. 0.5 seems more appropriate.