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Game analysis is a core component of chess improvement. Playing games is important, analyzing games is helpful, and the combination of playing and analyzing your own games will boost your success! In this post, we will focus on analyzing one’s own games. For information on analyzing games of others, see How To Analyze Master Games.
Why Game Analysis?
Based on our survey data we analyzed on over 400 players, game analysis is the second most important factor in chess improvement. The most important factor is playing games, which should make sense.
At the novice level, we recommend players spend about 20% of their chess time analyzing games. This is extremely important to help form good initial habits and principles. During the beginner and intermediate stages, playing games is so important we back off the game analysis to around 5-10%. From advanced-level and upwards, players should slowly decrease the proportion of their chess time spent playing and fill that new time with game analysis. The combination of learning and applying should be a large portion of your chess study plan.
Game Analysis Efficiency
With the combination of all of the different chess activities we recommend in ChessGoals study plans, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. How do you have time to spend between 5-20% of your time analyzing games on top of playing, tactics, strategy, and so on? This is where we need to consider a couple of factors to balance our study plan’s efficiency with its effectiveness.
- Game Selection
- Process of Analyzing
Deciding which games to analyze, or more importantly how long to spend on each game, should be based on your goals. For the most part, the amount of time spent analyzing a game should be proportional to the time spent playing the game. Classical games receive the most attention, and bullet games should get little to no attention. Try not to fall into the trap of not analyzing games because you feel it was a one-off silly blunder. There is usually a reason behind the blunder, which we will get into later.
Process of Analyzing
The process of analyzing a game will be different based on your personal goals, rating, and time available. We will split the types of analysis into four levels. For novice and beginner players, focus most of your game analysis at level 2. Intermediate players should tend towards levels 2 and 3, utilizing level 3 especially if you have a chess coach or study partner. Advanced and expert players, start looking into incorporating levels 3 and 4 into your work. Advanced and expert players can also add some level 1 opening review since openings become more important at these ratings.
Game Analysis Example:
Game Analysis Levels
Level 1 – Opening Review
This level is recommended for bullet games and possibly 3+0 blitz games if your goal is to improve at classical time controls. After a game, only spend a few minutes reviewing the opening with the database explorer or whichever resources you use for your repertoire.
Check where one player deviated from the book. If your opponent first left book, did you react correctly or punish their move? This can be checked with the engine. If you first left the book, was your move still good or does it need to be improved? After spending those few minutes, you are done.
Level 2 – Key Moments
This is where I recommend spending the bulk of your time with game analysis if your goal is overall chess improvement. It strikes a nice balance between analyzing too quickly and spending so much time that game analysis takes away from your other chess activities.
Chess.com‘s Key Moments feature does this perfectly. Lichess also has its Learn From Your Mistakes feature that can work as a substitute. Chess.com premium members (Is Chess.com Premium Worth It?) receive unlimited game reports, and basic members can receive one per day to try out the features.
The software will identify the critical moments for you, and it’s up to you to find the improvement over what you played in the game. Spend an amount of time proportional to the amount of time spent playing the game on each move. If you are analyzing a 15+10 game, you can give each move 2-3 minutes, but if it’s a 3+0 game you can cap it at around a minute. For classical games, up to about 5 minutes should be ideal. Any more than that and you could be spending that time elsewhere.
After you select a move, the tool will tell you if you are correct or not, and show you the correct move. Now, this part is critical! Put a sentence to the mistake so you can remember it in the future. For example: Do not allow doubled pawns in front of my king when the opponent has pieces ready to attack me. After each game, you will have a few of these sentences to remember in the future. Chess.com also has a nice feature that will point out positive moves as well! Those are also worth noting with a sentence on why your move was so strong.
Level 3 – Full Human Analysis
We recommend this for for ambitious intermediate players, advanced and expert players. It is especially beneficial to players with a coach or study partner. Among these groups, level 2 is still beneficial for blitz games, but level 3 comes into play for both classical and rapid time controls.
There are a few software and web options for game analysis. I perform all of my personal analysis in Chessbase, which has a ton of powerful features for storing and analyzing games. This is recommended in the Free Expert Study Plan. Chess.com’s analysis boards and Lichess Studies are recommended for most players. Try out both sites and see which you prefer. For players looking to improve in classical over-the-board chess, analyze your classical games with a physical board. Let’s dive into how to perform the full analysis.
Step 1 – Find Critical Mistakes
Go back through the game, without an engine or much assistance. Your goal is to find key moments in the game. Look for any move that:
- Leaves the opening book (less than 10 games can be considered out of book) or your personal repertoire.
- Missed checkmate sequences or tactics.
- Changes in the imbalances in the position. These can include pawn structure, exchange sacrifices, development, king safety, and more.
- Positive moves (tactical or positional) that you made during the game. We don’t want to focus only on things to improve.
Write down or make a comment on where these moments occurred.
Step 2 – Check Critical Moments
Fire up your favorite chess engine or chess coach or study partner. Go through the game together and compare notes on critical moments. Steps 2-4 can be done for each move individually, or on the whole game. Meaning you can find alternatives and make a key takeaway for critical moment 1 before moving onto critical moment 2. The number of critical moments should probably be between one and five.
Step 3 – Find Alternative Moves
For any of the positive critical moments, you can skip this step and give yourself a pat on the back. Nice move! For the remaining critical moments, give yourself between one to five minutes per move looking for the best solution. After you have logged an answer, check it with your engine or study partner.
Step 4 – Key Takeaways
For each move, mentally jot down a key takeaway to help you remember it in the future. Keep these takeaways simple, usually one sentence is enough.
Level 4 – Extra Credit
We recommend this for advanced and expert players, or intermediates who are dedicating over 7 hours to chess per week.
Create a spreadsheet or use a journal to log one row per game. Here’s an example that I made during my short stint on a ChessGoals-inspired study plan:
I was using a mostly new set of openings. For most games, I made a note that I wanted to improve on my opening theory. One thing that I did not realize I was doing in my play was developing pieces too slowly in the opening.
Another error I tended to make was making too many trades to simplify the position. I have had a coach tell me this in the past as well.
Having these notes logged helped me actively think about them in future games. I documented my 120-point rating gain in this chess.com blog post. Credit for this idea comes from Axel Smith’s book Pump Up Your Rating. I think this book is geared towards masters, but can also be used by ambitious advanced and expert players.
Flashcards Of Mistakes
This is a time-consuming step, but it can be worthwhile. I have a friend who took a long break from chess. When he came back he was rated 1400. To improve quickly he created physical notecards with all of his critical moments printed on them. He shot up from the 1400s to almost 2000 level as an experienced adult player. This can definitely work.
As soon as a website offers a way to do this automatically, I’ll move this into our main recommendations. The biggest downside is time commitment. Below is an example that I used in early 2020 to log my chess.com game analysis links. With the help of my friend I used a formula to determine when I needed to review each game with spaced repetition.
Over time I was able to improve on all of these positions and I believe it helped correct mistakes in my intuition. Options to create your own system include:
- Print flashcards or use chessboard stamps and draw the pieces on (most time consuming)
- Paste FEN strings into Chessable, Chess.com, or Lichess
- Save out game links (probably the best option)
The combination of playing games and analyzing those games afterward is highly recommended by most chess coaches and strong players alike. Please take the time to check out our ChessGoals forum on chess.com to see other players’ study plans.