Sometimes we can get confused by complicated books with pages and pages of alternate lines in openings or end games. Have you tried looking at a database of games played by your favorite Grandmaster and still not picked up much useful information? Here are some tips that might help you gain knowledge from those high-level chess games.
Play “Guess the Move”
Simply scrolling through the chess moves of strong Grandmasters may net the retention of some knowledge, but it can always be better. Starting with the beginning of the game, pause at each move and try to guess what the Grandmaster did. Write down your score in percentage of moves guessed correctly. The goal for a strong club or tournament player should be between 50% and 80% correct guesses. Once that is accomplished, your own chess games will improve exponentially.
Choose Grandmasters that play openings you like
For instance, if you like to play the Queen’s Gambit opening, it is a great idea to study the chess games of Grandmasters who also prefer those positions. That way, common themes that recur in your games will be recognized in theirs, and mistakes can be corrected. Most software databases have provisions to filter certain positions, so you can isolate only your favorite lines played by the Grandmaster for study purposes.
Do I have to only study the greats, such as Alekhine or Kasparov?
No! The average Grandmaster’s FIDE rating is 2500 or so, which is quite a bit above most players. In fact, Grandmaster games are not the only ones we can gain knowledge from. Strong masters such as Emory Tate or Jeremy Silman have very instructive games, and they know what they are doing. The important thing is to choose a strong master who employs a similar style of play as yourself. If you are an attacker, study the games of attacking chess players. If you like positional or defensive play, study the chess games of a master who also enjoys that style.
Study the games using software that provides engine analysis
While of course it is beneficial to go through the chess games of Grandmasters, employing the use of a chess engine can be really helpful. It is fun to see if the masters of yesterday can find the moves that engines like Rybka or Shredder suggest. You can then compare the move you would make in the position to the move that the engine chooses, and see how they relate to the actual move made by the Grandmaster. Sometimes it is extremely hard (if not impossible) to find the reason a move was played by a strong master. The engine output lines will help to see what the Grandmaster saw when he or she played it. A few good programs that provide chess analysis are Fritz or Chessbase, ChessPartner, Arena (free) and SCID (also free).