“The unexamined life is not worth living”
is a typically profound quote from Socrates. And exactly the same logic can be applied to chess. Quite simply you must analyse your own games if you want to improve. Only that way will you be able to identify where you have been going wrong, what mistakes you have been making and what to do about them.
In this article I will be looking at my own mistakes but I would like the readers to send me a sample of their own games. I will then hopefully analyse these in a future article. This they can send to the website or preferably to my own email: email@example.com.
If they are not too embarrassed to have their play dissected in public, I think that to have your play “pscyho-analysed” by another player might be a useful tool to improve. Let’s kick off anyway by looking at a game I played against Tiviakov:
The interesting thing about the Tiviakov game is that I had lost in a similar way to him in a tournament in Ireland. He’d got a huge d-pawn, my pieces had got tied up and my resistance was easily broken. The reason I had lost this game and the one before is a matter of understanding.
Watching the chess 24 commentary from the world championship with the ever excellent Peter Svidler, it struck me that Svidler simply knew much more about chess than I did, he understood far more positions and what exactly to do in certain situations. It wasn’t just that he calculated better.
How can I improve that understanding? The realization of your own mistakes is important only if you understand why you are making mistakes and what to do about them in future. For example if I’m underestimating a passed d-pawn, then I could look at some games of Vladimir Kramnik, who has a whole wealth of games where he’s won with a passed d-pawn.
The inspiration for this article came about when I was booking up for this TV audition. I got out an old quiz book and attempted to answer some questions. When I went to check my scores, I was rather preturbed to find that I was basically getting the same questions right and wrong that I had done before. There was no real change, the ones I had got wrong hadn’t really sunk in.
I was then watching Eggheads later and the challenging team gets the question “Who directed the film The Great Escape”. As the team taking on the eggheads didn’t really have a clue, Jeremy Vine threw the question over to the Eggheads. Quick as a flash Kevin Ashman comes back with the correct answer: “John Sturges”. It occured to me that the other Eggheads had probably seen this answer before, but simply hadn’t remembered it as well as Kevin had.
I guess what I’m saying here in a roundabout way is that mistakes are INHERENTLY PREDICTABLE and a lot of it is down to memory. That’s why the most successful chess players are the ones who assimilate information the best. The ones with the most powerful, computer like minds rise quickly to the top. Mistakes happen for a number of reasons, not just a lack of understanding. Poor calculation is another very popular reason, and also a lack of patience:
Mistakes are often a direct result of the psychological state of the player at the time. And very often, a mistake will come about because of the stubborn nature of the opponents resistance, or the fact that the player has squandered an earlier advantage, and their ego compells them forward to disaster.
Which is exactly the situation when I faced Gawain Jones in the following game from the British Championships:
As we can see from the Gawain Jones game, gross mistakes in calculation often come about because of the psychological state that a player is in at a particular time.
Our ego tells us to make an expectation about a game. If we are the one making the running, enjoying the advantage, we tend to assume that some sort of positive occurrence is going to take place, and we then shape the variations that we calculate around this happy result. Variations that might question this rosy outcome are then routinely dismissed - they don’t suit the storyline. A subsequent lack of objectivity then takes place, leading to almost inevitable disaster.
The only way to avoid this state of affairs is to question everything - try to find variations that undermine your assumptions.
To sum up, not every game is lost because of a crude mistake of blunder. Over the course of my chess career, I’ve often been outplayed, which is a natural course of events when you are playing clever players like Rowson, McShane, Harikrishna and so on. However, if you can identify why you are making serious mistakes and cut those out, clearly your results will improve markedly.
In my case, serious mistakes tended to be played because:
Probably there are a number of other reasons why I made mistakes that I haven’t mentioned here.
Nevertheless, mistakes in chess are rather like solving a murder mystery. You identify the victim (the player) and then the culprit (the blunder or mistake) and then try to establish the motive (the reason why we make the mistake.) Once you have established these factors, you can then work on ways to remove these common blunders. Like, for example, working on your pyschology if you are getting too nervous, or working on your judgement if you fail to understand certain positions.
Danny Gormally is a talented English Grandmaster. He lives in the bustling market town of Alnwick, somewhere near Scotland.