Recently I’ve pretty growing more and more frustrated by chessplayers who are quite low rated (let’s say 1200-1400) and who instead of studying chess the right way (absorbing the games of past masters, learning tactics, etc) just give every position a quick “scan” with the engine, see an evaluation of say +0.54+= and blurt out “Stockfish says white is winning!!!” 🙄
I guarantee you that in 17 years of chess study, I have never seen a low rated player like this become a strong player. NEVER.
And I have seen hundreds of these guys TRY to become strong.
What is the explanation for their failures?
In my opinion it is mental sloth.
Its so easy to just see the evaluation of a 3400 rated engine and pretend to know why it has a certain opinion.
This is much easier than studying a games collection annotated by Alekhine (the best annotator ever), or studying “How to Reassess Your Chess” (the best chess book for novices ever) by Silman and actually improving your chess understanding.
This is also why I ban my students from using engines until they pass 1800 strength.
So that they learn how to analyze independently first.
Take the position above for example.
Stockfish says the position is slightly better for white (+0.51 is not a big deal, especially in a game between two humans). The novice player might pretend to understand, saying “Stockfish says white is better because you have doubled pawns.”
Look buddy, you have no idea why Stockfish says white is better (its probably more related to king safety and the mobility of the black bishops).
This might sound harsh, but it’s because these people are DAMAGING their OWN chess with these bad habits.
I believe the Soviet school of chess also has a very strong emphasis on the need for students to analyze their own games systematically and objectively without computers or helpers of any kind.
They just use a chess board and a notebook (the paper kind).
When I was a teenager learning chess (before the computer chess explosion), I had several notebooks and used to record every game I ever played (even offhand games against non-serious friends).
Later I’d sit down with chessboard, notebook and pen and proceed to annotate the games, writing all of my thoughts from during the game, as well as new analysis and ideas I’d come up with during the session.
I had several notebooks full of my own analysis of my own games.
I also went from 0-1700 (at least) strength in my first year of chess.
So perhaps that says something for this practice of self-analysis?
Annotating your own chess games is also cool because as you improve (quickly), you can look back at old notes/thoughts you recorded and be like “Wow I sucked back then!“.
It really is an interesting and instructive experience.
Anyway, I’m going to suggest something for every one of you guys who wants to truly be a strong chessplayer in the future.
Tools You’ll Need (ChessPad and CutePDF):
- ChessPad (chess software for annotating games with variations, text and diagrams)
- CutePDF (allows you to seamlessly convert your chess analysis into a nice PDF document)
- Your most recent games (on hand, or downloadable from chess.com etc)
Here’s What You’re Gonna Do:
- Stop playing blitz (and especially bullet) online until you are around 1800 or so. Stick to long games instead. Fast games for the inexperienced just lead to bad habits and superficial decision making.
- If your slow games were played online, get the .pgn files and open it in ChessPad. If your games were played over the board, enter them into ChessPad manually (there’s a video on how to do this below.)
- Annotate them in as much detail as possible. The greatest annotators add anecdotes about the tournament situation of the game plus their thoughts, emotions, and even their opponent’s body language to the normal stuff like alternate variations and diagrams.
- AFTER you’ve fully annotated your game, you can check it with a weaker engine (not 3000+ ELO) which has a human style such as the ones I review on this blog. The moves they suggest will make sense, be logical yet still strong. Choose one of these engines here.
- Get hold of a games collection annotated by Alekhine to study in your spare time! (Like this one. You’ll thank me later).
If you REALLY take the effort to analyze (and annotate) your own games, you will quickly develop the objective and critical thinking required to be a strong player.
You’ll also learn to annotate games beautifully like this.
To get started on your journey, watch the video below.