11 August 2017

Critical Moments

How do you analyze a chess game?

I do several things, but the first step--whether my own game or one played by others--is identifying the critical moments in the game. When did the loser reach a technically lost position?

Today was the last day of my tenth annual youth chess camp. The students spent the week--fifteen hours--solving exercises in a workbook (available on Amazon), playing tournament games, discussing games and parts of games with me and with each other. Throughout the week, I stressed a learning process that extends well beyond the week of camp: work on endgames, then tactics and planning, then openings, then study whole games. When they arrived this morning, I had two positions on the two demo boards. We talked about the endgame first. Then we talked about the middlegame.

Black to move

With two legal moves, Black chose the one that loses.

White to move

White turned an advantage into a lost game by moving the queen to the wrong square.

The whole game with annotations at the critical moments is offered below.

Stripes,J. (1911) -- Internet Opponent (1892) [A43]
Chess.com, 10.08.2017

1.d4 e6 2.c4 c5 3.Nf3 cxd4 4.Nxd4 a6 5.g3 Qc7 6.Qc2 b6 7.Bg2 Bb7 8.e4 Nc6 9.Be3 Nxd4 10.Bxd4 Nf6 11.0–0 Bc5 12.Bxc5 bxc5 13.Nc3 h5 14.Rad1 h4 15.Qe2 hxg3 16.fxg3 Ke7 17.e5 Nh5 18.Ne4 Bxe4 19.Qxe4 Rag8 20.Rd6 f5 21.Qh4+ [21.Qd3] 21...g5 22.Qh3 Nf4 23.Qxh8 Ne2+ 24.Kf2 Rxh8 25.Kxe2 Rxh2 26.Kf2 g4 27.Rfd1 a5 28.Kg1 Rh8 29.b3 Rd8 30.Bc6 dxc6 31.Rxd8 Qxd8 32.Rxd8 Kxd8 33.Kf2 [33.a4 Ke7 34.Kf2 Kf7 35.Ke2 Kg6 36.Kd3 Kg5 37.Ke3 f4+ 38.gxf4+ Kf5 39.Kf2] 33...Kc7 34.Ke3 Kb6 35.Kf4 a4 36.Ke3 Ka5 37.bxa4 Kxa4 38.Kf4 Ka3 39.Kg5 Kb4 40.Kf6 Kxc4 [40...f4 41.gxf4 g3] 41.Kxe6 Kd4 42.Kxf5 c4 43.e6 c3 44.e7 c2 45.e8Q c1Q 46.Qd7+ [46.Qe4+ Kc5] 46...Ke3 47.Qe6+ Kf3 48.Qe4+ Kxg3 [48...Kf2 49.Qf4+ Qxf4+ 50.Kxf4 c5] 49.Qxg4+ Kf2 50.Qf4+ Qxf4+ 51.Kxf4 Ke2 52.Ke4 Kd2 53.a4 Kc3 54.a5 Kb4 55.a6 c5 56.a7 c4 57.a8Q c3 58.Kd3 c2 59.Kxc2 1–0

After these two positions, we looked at Fischer -- Stein 1967, which they have in their book. Following that presentation, the students worked in groups studying other great games. Then, they played the last round of their tournament. During the last fifteen minutes, we went through the whole game from which I had extracted the two positions that we began with nearly three hours earlier.


  1. So practically speaking you mean for the steps of this learning process to take place within a short window of time (like one or two practice sessions)? In the past when I've heard people say 'study endgames' it sounds like you do just that for, say, weeks or months, and that's what I thought you meant when you've mentioned your learning process before. However this interleaving/cyclic approach makes more sense to me from a learning science point of view.

    1. Yes, the process I advocate is cyclic. Ideally, I do some endgame work every week, some work on middlegames, and some on openings. My life does not always conform to the pattern.

  2. Critical moments are really about the power structure and ever changing pieces relations on the board. When this structure is about to change big time to tip the balance significantly in favor of one side or the other, we face a critical moment. It's not about time, it's about relations! Check it out here http://bit.ly/2wb6S5Q