When I was training jiu-jitsu in Kansas, one of my mentors encouraged me to record myself as I rolled (what jiu-jitsu practitioners call sparring) and then go over it later. You can discover small adjustments that can vastly improve the game. Likewise in chess. If we want to get over an improvement plateau, we should record our games. Obviously, the act of recording by itself isn’t going to help. We need to go over it later.
A way I get better is to use the free Stockfish engine on the analysis board provided by lichess.org/analysis. Take last Wednesday, for example. I played a game in which I offered a draw that was accepted after the 31st move. I was white.
Analyzing a Game
I like to quickly play out the first several moves and then begin thinking about any move that may have been slightly better and then toggle the engine on/off to see what move was better. Moves that don’t move the advantage by 3 or more points I shrug off at our level of play. If I were a national master or something, I may pay more heed to 1 point swings. Here was how the game started.
1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 c5 4. Nf3 Nf6 5. Bg5 Be7 6. dxc5 Bxc5 7. exd5 exd5
It was at this point I made my first blunder by taking the d5 pawn with my knight. In my mind, I was thinking how he wouldn’t take it with his knight because he would lose his queen. Why I didn’t consider that he would just take my knight with his queen was the blunder.
8. Nxd5?? Qxd5
The game went from white having about a 2.5 pawn advantage to black having a 4.5 pawn advantage here. So, what was the better move to maintain the advantage. In hindsight, it is easy to see that I needed to remove the defending knight with 8. Bxf6 first. Whether black followed with 8 … gxf6 or Qxf6, we could then safely take the pawn with 9. Nxd5 and be a pawn up in material with about a 3 pawn advantage (according to Stockfish). The game continues:
9. Qe2+ Qe6 10. Bxf6 gxf6 11. Qxe6 fxe6 12. g3 Nc6 13. Bh3 Nd4 14. Nxd4 Bxd4 15. c3 Bb6 16. 0-0 Bd7 17. Rfe1 f5
I want to pause here because it was at this point, I thought I found a clever move after the f5 pawn push. The point of black’s f5 move was to provide a layer of protection on his g6 pawn, as white had both the rook and bishop attacking with only his bishop defending. With the g6 pawn pinned, I played 18. Bxf5. It turns out that this was not that great of a move. Black needed to respond with18 …Rf8 with the idea of 19… Bxf2 to follow. Instead, black has a small blunder with a queenside castle 18. …0-0-0. After 19. Bxe6 Bxe6 20. Rxe6 I (white) found myself coming back.
Black’s best move here to stay on top is 20… Rd2 with a double attack on that f2 pawn along with an attack on the b2 pawn. White will definitely be losing a pawn with whatever move would follow. Instead, black decides on the next small blunder 20…Rhe8 allowing white to get to an even game.
For some reason, I did not see that it was best to exchange the rook right away, which would have been in my best interests. Instead, I opted for the 21. Rae1. The game continued
21… Kd7 22. Rxe8 Rxe8 23. Rxe8 Kxe8 and the game was even.
We played this even game until I offered a draw. It turns out, however, that my last move was terrible and black should not have accepted! Take a look at the position after the accepted draw and see if you can find out why.
24. h4 Ke7 25. Kg2 Kf6 26. g4 Kg6 27. f4 h5 28. f5+ Kh6 29. g5+ Kg7 30. Kf3 Bc7 31. b4?? b5.
By opting for b5 instead of something like a5, I establish my left side pawns on the dark squares! The bishop has attacking opportunities on the weak pawns on the third rank. With whatever I decide on my next move, black can begin attacking either the c3 pawn or the h4 pawn or threaten to attack both, and white’s king would be overloaded.