Game Analysis

Analyzing chess games at Better Chess.

Analyzing chess games at Better Chess is done by amateur players, mainly me (Paul) but others as well. We share our insights on what we saw during our games. We then compare that with the analysis of a chess playing engine like Stockfish or Komodo. The goal is to help lower-rated players (1200-1600 ELO) improve their game.

Engine analysis where it makes sense

We try to be careful about over-emphasizing computer engine analysis. Too much engine usage can be confusing and frustrating to lower-rated players. Less is more. Players rely too much on what their engines tell them. Sometimes computers find moves that humans would never see. Further, some of those lines are so narrow, it would require incredible understanding to find, let alone play the winning move sequence accurately. Computers allow us to answer questions like, “Did we miss anything obvious?” or “Are there stronger moves that we overlooked?”. Chess engines are tools and that’s how we treat them.

Themes and ideas first

At Better Chess, we try to focus on themes and ideas such as weak squares, seizing the bishop pair, occupying a key square and so on. Players have a tendency to think that their play should mirror that of a 3500 ELO chess engine. They shouldn’t. Analyzing chess games with a computer should be done sparingly. Mindlessly playing a series of moves given to you by a machine is not liable to increase your chess understanding. Instead, learning how to trade off a bad piece or sacrificing a pawn for the initiative are concepts that will stay with your throughout your chess playing days.

Multiple variations and lines

For amateur players, there is nothing more intimidating than reading through a chess book that is packed with multiple sub-variations for virtually every move. It is time consuming and slows down the learning process. This isn’t true for online chess though.

All the games posted on Better Chess use an embedded Javascript player. We have found the ChessBase embedded player is one of the best PGN players on the Internet. It has a rich feature set (engine analysis, graphic commentary etc.) and is compatible with most web browsers. It makes analyzing move variations as easy as a mouse click.

We try to be respectful to the reader by showing variations that make the most sense to highlight. Showing too many variations is waste of time and takes away from the learning experience. Therefore, we try to emphasize written annotations over variations where we can. This is not always possible though. There are some games where showing multiple lines is essential to convey an important concept to the reader.

Analyzing Chess Games – Our Approach

The way we analyze our own games is as follows:

  1. Play over the game without the use of an engine. Analyzing chess games takes time. Take notes on moves that you found difficult and ones where your opponent surprised you. Perceived threats and attacking ideas should also be noted.
  2. Explore alternate variations. Using ChessBase or another chess database, explore alternate lines. This is true for both colors. Play out ideas that you expected to see during the game. All lines can be annotated with informant symbols (+-, +=).
  3. Review with a chess engine. Go through the game, inputting any improvements that the engine finds. Sometimes the engine finds something obvious and sometimes it finds a move that no amateur player would ever think of. Whatever it finds, using text annotations is important. This helps explain the ideas you might have missed. Machine analysis will help prove or disprove the moves you played during the game. The annotations serve as a record to look back on so you can measure your progress over time.

Thanks and Happy Chess!

Game Analysis

–Paul (