Is It Worth Studying Your Own Games From Thirty Years Ago?

I am firmly convinced that the single best thing one can to do improve one’s chess is to analyze one’s actual games. For this reason, I make game analysis the cornerstone of my work with a student; from going over his games, and asking him why he played certain moves or what thoughts he was having, and how he evaluated certain positions, we get a lot of data to use in targeted improvement of endgame, middlegame, and opening understanding, as well as tactical themes.

But I didn’t quite take my own advice

So it is ironic that I never fully analyzed the games of chess that I played in my first five years in tournaments, from 1980-1985, ages 10-15! Several years ago, upon returning to chess after an absence of twenty years, I decided I might as well enter into a database all the tournament games I have ever played in my life, starting from my very first games as a child 34 years ago now in 1980. I had kept all my old scoresheets (except for one stray tournament I played while in high school; I seem to have misplaced my scoresheets from that Michigan high school tournament).

But I never actually went back to analyze any of those old games, except for a handful that came to mind because of important positions that had stuck in my mind. I basically came back to chess tournament play in 2005 with a clean slate, as though I had never played before. I had in twenty years completely forgotten any opening theory I had ever known (which was very little, actually), and therefore rebuilt my game from scratch. I didn’t feel that it was worth studying my old games from my childhood.

The reasons I did very little analysis of my games (other than sometimes a post mortem with some stronger players) during my tournament life in my youth:

  • My lack of access to computer engines in the early 1980s.
  • Not having a chess coach.

I have, of course, analyzed all of my games during my adult return to chess in 2005.

But the question remains: is it worth analyzing my ancient games from more than thirty years ago?

A bit about the past

Recently, out of curiosity, I decided to look at all the games in my first tournament I ever played, which was the 1980 Michigan Open, when I was 10 years old. This was the first tournament for my father also: we simultaneously entered the tournament world only weeks after he discovered a local chess club and took me there. They had said, hey, there’s an organization for official tournaments you should join, the United States Chess Federation, then you can play rated games, so we joined, we learned how to use chess clocks, and we both entered the Reserve (under-1800) Section of the Michigan Open.

Both my father and I did well in our first tournament in 1980. He won the First place Unrated trophy, and I won the Second place Unrated trophy, both of which he still has at home. I scored 3.5/7.0 points and my first provisional rating was 1546. Not bad for a 10-year-old who had only begun playing with people other than his father for a couple of weeks, and neither of us had ever had lessons, but just studied the game ourselves from old library books. My father achieved a provisional rating a bit higher, around 1574, I believe. He was still stronger than me; I would not surpass him until age 11, when he peaked at 17xx but I passed him, and also beat him at home for the first time ever.

The seeds of one’s personality and strengths and weaknesses?

To my surprise, examining the first seven tournament games I ever played, I felt some kind of recognition. Obviously, my tactical and positional understanding were much poorer than they would become later, but certain oddities or weaknesses of how I still play today seem present in those early games, and they contain some elements I am still proud of as well.

In addition, looking at more early games, I found a lot of material that I think may be useful for teaching purposes, because I actually remember what kind of mindset, even specific thoughts, led me to play in certain ways. Since my rating surpassed 2000 by 1985, sometimes it’s hard for me to remember specifically what it was like to play at a strength between 1500 and 2000. But it’s necessary to know that, in order to better teach and explain things for players of that range of strength.

Therefore, both for my own benefit and for others’ benefit, I may start selecting interesting games of mine from the 1980s for analysis.

As a basis, let’s start with my first tournament game in my life. In future posts, I will show how I improved my play after this first game. I did end up scoring 3.5/7.0 in this tournament!

My first game

I still remember my first tournament game. I was ten years old, I didn’t know what to expect, and I was on my own, as my father was also playing in his first tournament game. My opponent did not show up for something like twenty minutes. I sat there as my clock ticked.

I played pretty badly in my first game. My annotations show my memories of what I was thinking during the game.

Franklin Chen

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About Franklin Chen

Franklin Chen is a United States Chess Federation National Master. Outside his work as a software developer, he also teaches chess and is a member of the Pittsburgh Chess Club in Pennsylvania, USA. He began playing in chess tournaments at age 10 when his father started playing in them himself but retired after five years, taking two decades off until returning to chess as an adult at age 35 in order to continue improving where he left off. He won his first adult chess tournaments including the 2006 PA State Game/29 and Action Chess Championships, and finally achieved the US National Master title at age 45. He is dedicated to the process of continual improvement, and is fascinated by the practical psychology and philosophy of human competition and personal self-mastery. Franklin has a blog about software development, The Conscientious Programmer and a personal blog where he writes about everything else, including his recent journey as an adult improver in playing music.