Learning from Alekhine

Studying the games of great players is frequent advice given to improving chess players. Good advice that presumes the answers to a couple of important questions?

  • At what level should we begin to study the games of great players?
  • How should we study those games?

I might be dead wrong on this point . . . I don’t believe that novices below ELO 1000 will benefit much from studying the games of great players. I don’t think it will do any harm. But for players who are just learning the basics of pins and forks and why the center of the board is critical, studying the games of great players is productive how?! Most books for novices contain fragments rather than complete games to focus in on essential material to understand right from the start when beginning chess.

I believe that studying the games of great players becomes especially productive for improving players and proceeds right through to masters and experts. What changes is how we go about studying those games.

I’ve read advice, mostly on chess sites and not in print, that improvers should cull a hundred or so games from a database and just play through them rapidly. Spending no more than thirty seconds to one minute per move. This sounds to me rather like learning chess by osmosis. I appreciate the idea of pattern recognition, but I’ve always felt that was best done for tactics by working with puzzle books and programs like CT-ART. Speeding through complete games doesn’t teach me patterns. That could just be a learning deficit on my part. 😉

Over the last year, a number of the published works of Alekhine have been released for the Amazon Kindle. I find the Kindle convenient for working through the games of chess greats like Alekhine. Books are fine, but I can lay the Kindle down and make a move. I don’t have to flip the book over or mark my page. I can carry every Kindle chess book I own to the coffee shop, set up my board, and study.

One reason that I chose Alekhine is because of the quality of his annotations. Another is the range of published games. Not only are his collected games available but also the tournament books he annotated for several famous tournaments. My Kindle collection for Alekhine includes the following:

  • Alexander Alekhine’s Best Games
  • My Best Games of Chess, 1908-1937
  • New York, 1924
  • New York, 1927
  • Nottingham, 1936

At my level, squarely an improver and not an expert or master, I find it best to work through the games with a board and pieces and go through Alekhine’s analysis. Not too fast, but instead savoring it.

The advice that I’ve read for experts and masters is to go through the games and play solitaire chess. You focus on guessing the moves for one side. Go through the game move-by-move. Do your own analysis first. Choose your move. Then compare your move and your analysis with that of the grandmaster. See just how well you do, compared with a great, such as Alekhine.

I’ll close with the PGN for two games that Alekhine considered his very best: Bogoljubow v Alekhine (Hastings, 1922) and Réti v. Alekhine (Baden-Baden, 1925).

Glenn Mitchell