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The most important factor in chess improvement is playing games. Coming in second, and complimenting gameplay is game analysis. Analyzing one’s own games is very important, but it’s also beneficial to analyze master games. Forming good habits as a novice player is important and the best way to do this is to analyze master games with annotations. Finding new strategic ideas is important for experienced players and the best way to do this is to analyze master games with annotations. Yes, that’s right, it’s important at all levels.
Finding Master Games
Master games are typically found in books, videos, and game databases. The quality of the games, and having annotations are important. Games with text or audio annotations are easier to learn from than just pure moves.
The easiest source to find high-quality master games. We’ll highlight a few favorites separated by difficulty.
Novice And Beginner Players
The Novice Premium Study Plan and Novice Free Study Plan recommend studying Logical Chess: Move By Move. This classic contains move explanations for every move and is our top recommendation. In contrast to the short explanations in Logical Chess: Move By Move, Yasser Seirawan’s Winning Chess Brilliancies goes much deeper into the ideas behind each move. This book, in addition to the whole Winning Chess series, is a good resource for beginners.
Intermediate And Advanced Players
There is a plethora of great books for intermediate and advanced players.
- How To Reassess Your Chess by Jeremy Silman. This is a strategy book that teaches how to recognize imbalances and use them to dictate your course of action. Even though it is not a pure game review book, it has to be mentioned here as it can double as strategy training.
- My 60 Memorable Games by Bobby Fischer. Annotated games from one of the best players of all-time. Bobby Fischer has an exciting style, and his games are easier to learn from than some of the current Super-Grandmaster games.
- Everyman Chess Move By Move series. These books are fantastic for game review, with plenty of notes, questions for the reader and key points highlighted.
- Zurich 1953 is the most famous chess tournament book ever written. Follow along throughout the tournament as you follow top players of that era battle for the Zurich title. This book is a bit older, but has some notes and is a very enjoyable read.
Advanced And Expert Players
Grandmaster and former world chess champion, Garry Kasparov, has the best series to analyze master games for advanced players and up. These books are mentioned in our post on the 10 Most Popular Chess Books. Here are the five books in the series with the world champions that are covered in each:
- Part One: 1886-1946
- Wilhelm Steinitz (1886-1894)
- Emanuel Lasker (1894-1921)
- Jose Capablanca (1921-1927)
- Alexander Alekhine (1927-1946)
- Part Two: 1935-1961
- Max Euwe (1935-1937)
- Mikhail Botvinnik (1946-1963)
- Vassily Smyslov (1957-1958)
- Mikhail Tal (1960-1961)
- Part Three 1963-1972
- Tigran Petrosian (1963-1969)
- Boris Spassky (1969-1972)
- Part Four: Bobby Fischer (1972-1975)
- Part Five: 1975-1985
- Anatoly Karpov (1975-1985)
- Viktor Korchnoi
Using videos to analyze master games is even more popular than books in the ChessGoals survey. The two things to keep in mind with using videos are:
- Look for high-quality games with annotations.
- Think for yourself during the games. It’s not just a passive activity.
As part of a chess.com diamond membership, you are able to watch their library of chess videos. The series on amazing games is the place to start for game analysis. If you are unsure about purchasing a diamond membership, please check out our post on if a chess.com premium membership is worth it.
A free option (with ads) that is extremely popular among ChessGoals survey respondents is chess YouTube channels. Here are some good channels that analyze master games.
- agadmator’s Chess Channel – Antonio almost exclusively reviews master chess games on his channel. Most videos are easily digestible in 10-15 minute segments, highlighting some of the most interesting games. Pause his videos and ask yourself what you’d do next as he goes through games. Recommended for novice and beginner players.
- John Bartholomew – John Bartholomew mostly analyzes his own games and is one of the best chess teachers when it comes to explaining his own thought process. John is a positional player and one of my favorite chess teachers. His series on climbing the rating ladder walks you through the different mistakes that occur at each rating level. Recommended for beginners through advanced players.
- ChessNetwork – Jerry from ChessNetwork has videos that analyze master games as well as his own games (he’s a National Master himself). Similar to John, he has a very clear style of explaining concepts and he’s also a popular YouTube personality in the ChessGoals survey. Recommended for beginners through advanced players.
- For intermediate players and higher who enjoy focusing on game analysis, we recommend PowerPlayChess, ChessBase India, and Kingscrusher.
Databases can be a good source to analyze master games, but often times they do not include annotations.
Chess.com games database is the most popular database in the ChessGoals survey. It’s searchable by player name, rating, opening, year, FEN, and more. Most of these games do not have annotations.
Chessgames.com is another large source of games, and it’s searchable for free. They also have a premium membership that allows for Guess The Move and some other features. I find myself going to chessgames.com quite a bit when looking for a quick game between two players via Google search.
For ambitious advanced players and expert players, we recommend a combination of ChessBase and using a large database with annotated games included. The ChessBase shop has a few different options for databases for players to decide what best fits their needs and budget.
How To Analyze Master Games
Level 1 – Passive
It’s important to keep chess fun, and so many aspects of a well-designed chess study plan are hard work. There’s nothing wrong with sometimes passively enjoying your time while you analyze master games. Reading a book and soaking in the information as you go, perhaps highlighting a few key notes. Watching a YouTube video and perhaps only pausing to re-watch a portion that you didn’t quite grasp the first time. These are all perfectly acceptable. It’s impossible to put a number on exactly what % of the benefits you will receive by putting in the extra work to focus at the next two levels.
Level 2 – Solitaire Chess
Grandmaster Gregory Kaidanov recommends the best way to improve your chess is to analyze your own games. He says the next best thing is to analyze grandmaster games with a technique he calls solitaire chess. I have attended some classes with GM Kaidanov and he is one of the most respected chess trainers in the world. Here are the steps for solitaire chess:
- Play through the opening, don’t need to guess these
- Pick one side to play, white or black
- Try hard to imagine you are playing one side of the board. You may even set up a physical board, clock, and notation pad if you are training for OTB chess.
- Spend 40-45 minutes per game, with a range of 30-120 minutes
- Think about possible candidate moves and plans for both sides
- Use the chess engine to compare your move to the master’s move
Level 3 – Analyze With A Partner
The most advanced level is hard to replicate on your own. Analyzing master games with a partner. Typically it helps if your partner is close to your level or stronger. Having a coach is probably the most efficient option because they will have experience in highlighting critical moments and asking the right questions of you. The next best would be to work with a player your level or stronger, bouncing ideas back and forth and playing out variations. This in-depth analysis will put you in a state of flow and you won’t even realize you are working on chess. This was a big part of my own study plan while working to progress to National Master in my late 20’s.
Don’t have someone around you level to study with, or do you prefer to work solo on your game analysis? There is still an option for you! Analyzing with a chess engine can be just as good as analyzing with a human. As you get experience analyzing with an engine you can find a balance of bouncing ideas around, still challenging yourself, and then finding out which ideas work by playing through engine lines and refutations.
Analyzing master games is a useful tool for chess improvement. Make sure to analyze your own games first though, because those are the most critical to finding improvements that are most applicable to your future games. It doesn’t matter if you choose books, databases, or videos. Game analysis can be rewarding and fruitful at the same time.
If you want to improve your overall chess, try out our 12-week study plans and improve with our data-driven (and master-approved) plans.