Before we get to that question, let’s backtrack for a moment. After you’ve played some games (a tournament, casual games at the club, online games), don’t wait for weeks or months before you have your chess engine analyze them. You’ll learn more from the analysis of an individual game if the thoughts, plans, and ideas you had during the game are still fairly fresh in your mind.
But this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have Fritz, etc, analyze older games too. You can still learn from those analyses – the reasons will become more clear as we discuss this topic.
Analysis of an individual game can be really helpful when you’re still able to remember the thoughts you had while you were playing the game in question, since you’ll have an easy time comparing what Fritz is showing you with your own ideas. Remember that point at move 27 when you were torn between advancing the Rook or retreating the Knight, and you decided that discretion was the better part of valor? Maybe Fritz will show you that your first idea, advancing the Rook to launch an attack was the correct one. This kind of individual game analysis is the most beneficial when the game is still fresh in your mind.
But don’t think that there’s no benefit to analyzing your older games. Quite the contrary, looking at your games in aggregate will give you important information about the areas in which you should be concentrating your chess study. Over time, and after having Fritz analyze many of your games, you’ll be able to identify problem areas in your own game, the things you should be looking at in your limited study time.
But how does a screen of numbers and variations show you this? First of all, we’re not talking “screen” (singular) here; we’re talking many screens, because you’re going to be looking for tendencies, mistakes you make over and over again. One of my own is that I tend to overlook forced mating combinations. How did I discover this? By looking at many of my games and seeing this error as a recurring pattern.
Fritz isn’t going to just point this out to you with a lovely multi-paragraph printout deescribing your chess deficiencies in minute detail and in natural language. It would be nice if it could, but it can’t; computers aren’t capable of that sort of thing (yet). You’re going to have to meet Fritz half way, but this is a good thing because it’s going to require a little bit of thought and effort on your part.
Chess writers, masters, and pretty much everybody who’s ever blathered on about chess has divided various aspects of the game into convenient sections (primarily to facilitate said blathering); we, too, are going to use these convenient divisions to facilitate the process of understanding what Fritz is telling us.
Pretty much everybody recognizes these three divisions for a game of chess (even if the exact definitions are still argued). I’m going to list them, along with some definitions which should be good enough for our purposes:
1 – The opening (everything from the first move to the end of one’s store of memorized “standard” moves);
2 – The middlegame (everything from the end of the opening up to the start of the endgame);
3 – The endgame (the point at which both players have just one or two pieces and any number of pawns remaining).
There are also two other definitions which are crucial to the interpretation of the analysis process: strategy and tactics. Someone once said that tactics is what you do when there’s something to do, and strategy is what you do when there’s nothing to do. While intended as a joke, it’s really not a bad definition. The term tactics generally refers to combination play which results in the winning of material or in a mate; things like pins, forks, skewers, and deflections all qualify as “tactics”. Strategy generally refers to long-term concepts which aid in planning (or which lead to tactics, as Dr. Lasker famously said), concepts such as control of space, mobility, outposts, pawn structures, things which Steinitz called “the accumulation of small advantages”. Remember Steinitz’s definition – it’s important.
What you’ll be looking for when you study Fritz’s analysis over the course of many games is whether you’re losing the game tactically or strategically (also known as positionally). You’re also going to be looking for the phase of the game (opening, middlegame, endgame) in which your losses tend to occur.
Now it’s entirely possible that more than one phase of the game will apply, and it’s also possible that you’re losing games through a combination of tactical and strategic errors. But you can’t fix everything at once (that’s a common error which many of us make: we try to correct a whole passel of deficiencies all at the same time, instead of tackling them as individual problems one at a time). So you’ll need to isolate the problems and work on them individually in order to correct them.
We’ll be looking at some examples in the near future, but for today the important idea is for you to have Fritz (or any other chess engine) analyze many of your games and then for you to look at the analysis afterwards and think about what you’re seeing. If you have a chess engine analyze your games and you barely glance at the analysis afterward, you’re just wasting electricity.
When you look at your games, try to spot where you’re falling short (opening, middlegame, endgame) and how you’re losing (tactically, strategically, or a combination of the two). As I said, we’ll be looking at examples of this process of interpretation of chess engine analysis (to help you see how to do it) and, best of all, examining ways you can correct the problems you find.
Have fun! – Steve Lopez
Chessplayers who have purchased their ChessBase brand chess computer software from USCFSales can receive free technical support and advice on their purchases straight from me; just shoot me an e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org), but please remember to include the USCFSales order number from your ChessBase software purchase. – Steve
Copyright 2011, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.