Any of the principles you’ve learned through this series of articles can be, and should be, used to analyze games. I’ve gone over these concepts in terms of applying them to your own games. However, learning to play better chess also includes studying the game of stronger players, figuring out what worked and what didn’t! This week, and over the next few weeks, we’ll look at a game between to strong players and take what we’ve learned, and use it for basic game analysis. It takes a while to get good at analysis, so be patient and think of analysis as a long term goal.
No matter what game you choose to analyze, the winner will be the player who applies the games principles better than their opponent. To prove this point, I have randomly selected a short game from a database of 11,000 short games. We’ll start at the beginning and work our way through the middle-game, stopping at the transition point into the endgame. I highly recommend that you study as many games as possible, employing what you’ve learned thus far because it will commit your new found knowledge to memory.
Playing White is Srdjan Panzalovi (rating 2447) and playing Black, Jacek Dawidow (rating 2357). The first thing to note is that both players are skilled, based on their ratings. I mention this because their play should reflect a solid knowledge of game principles. I’m going to ask you to try and figure out why certain moves were made. Some of these moves will involve advanced ideas you haven’t studied yet. Don’t worry, you can still roughly figure them out based on what you know thus far. Set up a board and pieces and start playing through the game (there is no substitute for a three dimensional board for analysis):
The game starts with 1. e4…c5, denoting the Sicilian opening (for Black). Black’s pawn on c4 attacks the d4 square, the same square a Black pawn on e5 would attack, had Black opened with 1…e5. Both players are following opening principle number one, control the board’s center with a pawn (or two). White follows up with 2. Nf3 and Black with 2…e6. Black’s second move confuses beginners who have started to apply the opening principles to their game. The beginner knows that you need to control the boards center with a pawn and then develop your minor pieces, Knights and Bishops, towards the center. Blacks second move seems to defy the principles. Black’s second move denotes the open Sicilian. One mistake you want to avoid is countering a seemingly strange move with an equally strange move (not that this move is strange – we’ll talk about Blacks second move towards the end of this game analysis). Thus, White plays 3. d4, attacking the center immediately, attempting to prevent Black the chance to gain a central foothold. Beginners should keep playing for the center!
Black responds with 3…cxd4 followed by 4. Nxd4. Whites forth move bends a principle slightly. One principle to keep in mind is not moving the same piece twice (or more) during the opening phase of the game, unless you have to. White makes a good case for moving the Knight from f3 to d4 because leaving a Black pawn on d4 makes it impossible for White to quickly develop the b1 Knight to c3. Therefore, White captures Blacks pawn on d4. After 4. Nxd4, Black plays 4…a6. Here, we see a move that doesn’t fit in the scope of principled opening play. What move would you consider for Black rather than 4…a6? Developing a minor piece would be a good choice! We will look at 4…a6 next week as well as some alternative moves for Black.
White plays 5. Bd3, centralizing his King-side Bishop and preparing for castling. White’s play is very straight forward. Nothing fancy, just follow the principles and get your pieces into the game. Black follows with 5…Nc6. Before Black made this move, he considered Whites follow up move, such as trading Knights, which is what White does with 6. Nxc6. Black now has a choice regarding capturing Whites Knight. Black can capture back with either the b or d pawn. Which one should he choose? A general principle regarding pawn captures is to capture towards the center. While there are times when you would capture away from the center, this is not one of them. Why capture towards the center in this position? Because it will help centralize Blacks pawns. By playing 6…bxc6, Black connects his pawns on the c, d, and e files. This helps Black control the boards center with pawns. Always consider your pawn structure throughout the game!
I’m having you play through the opening because what occurs during this game phase dictates the type of middle-game you end up with. Remember, the opening creates a foundation for the middle-game and the middle-game creates a foundation for the endgame. White plays 7. 0-0, castling his King to safety while Black plays 7…d5, striking at Whites center. Blacks last move demonstrates why it was important to capture towards the center with the b pawn on move six. Had Black captured away from the center of move six, 7…d5 wouldn’t work. Now White has to make a decision about the d5 pawn. Does White capture or not?
This is where we leave off until next week. I want you to look at both players moves thus far and note whether any of those moves left either player with weaknesses. Learning to spot potential weaknesses in your own position before making a move can be the difference between winning and losing. While you may not find much in the way of weaknesses for either player, there may be some minor issues. Have a look. Get into the habit of checking for weaknesses from the game’s start and you’ll be less likely to find yourself in a dreadful defensive position.
Remember, the more time you put into game analysis, the better a player you’ll become. When you first start analyzing games, it will be a slow process. However, the more games you analyze, the faster the process will be, and the better you’ll play! Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!