I credit IM Jesper Hall's Chess Training for Budding Champions (Gambit, 2001) for bringing this idea to my attention in a focused, meaningful way. After a short introductory chapter, the book's second chapter - "I Am Lucky to Have Made So Many Mistakes" - makes the point (based on a short anecdote about a visit to IM Johan Hellsten) that "in your own games, you have all that you need to train with." The author's reformulation of this is in the first section, entitled "In Your Own Games, There is Everything You Need to Improve." Why is that?
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.In the same vein, here's a relevant quote from GM Alex Yermolinsky's The Road To Chess Improvement (Gambit 1999), an excellent book which I think I should read again, now that my own chess philosophy and practice has changed considerably.
The problem I had to acknowledge was the stagnation of my development. I was simply going nowhere. It's not that I lacked experience - I was 28 years old then, and I had been playing chess for some 20 years up to that point - it was a rather sad realization that my game was not improving. In search for inspiration I decided to follow the most common advice one can find in the works of Alekhine (my favorite player) and Botvinnik (one of my least favorite ones) which can be put into simple words - study your games. Ever since, every game I played has been extensively annotated.Did I follow this excellent advice after first reading these books? I did not. Like many chessplayers, I preferred to look for easier ways to improve my chess knowledge than working through my games, many of which were painful losses. Also, it seemed to me that analyzing my own games would be highly inferior to looking at master-level games, or following master-level advice.
This idea - that your games are of low quality and not worth studying - is one of the main objections or criticisms of the self-analysis process. However, it ignores the one thing in common for all improving players: you have to do the work and you will be the one sitting down at the chessboard your next game - not someone else. There are a number of implications to this.
- In the opening, your understanding of its key positional features - including tactical possibilities - is what will get you to a good middlegame position, regardless of whether your opponent follows your "book" lines.
- In the middlegame, your thinking process and ability to evaluate different candidate moves, along with spotting opportunities and threats, is what will determine your quality of play.
- In different types of endgames, recognition of the relevant strategic concepts and positional evaluations will allow you to win (or avoid losing).
- How did the opening work for me? Did I understand its basic strategy and the needs of the specific position I obtained? (Example: Annotated Game #76 Strategic blunders in the English)
- 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? (Example: Annotated Game #65 Mercy Killing in the English Four Knights)
- 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? (Example: Annotated Game #63 Third Time's the Charm)
Analyzing your own games also 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.
Below are some resources (some of which have been cited above) for those looking for methods or examples of how analyzing your games can be beneficial. If anyone has had particularly good (or bad) experiences with other resources, comments are welcome.
- IM Jesper Hall Chess Training for Budding Champions (Gambit, 2001)
- GM Alex Yermolinsky The Road To Chess Improvement (Gambit, 1999)
- Game Analysis for Improvement in Play
- What makes an annotated game useful?
- A word on chess analysis and annotations
- Computer Resources (July 2012 update)
- Pitfalls of Computer Analysis
- Study Your Games by GM Nigel Davies at chessville.com
- 10 Tips for Analysing Your Chess Games at roman-chess
- Professional players may offer services that involve analyzing and reviewing your games. Ones I have run across references to include GM Nigel Davies and IM Yelena Dembo, although there are many others out there.
- Over at chess.com there's a new series of videos being made by IM David Pruess on "How to Analyze Your Own Games" - so far it's up to an intermediate-level introduction. It's behind the paywall, though, so you will need to be a subscriber to watch more than the first two minutes.