Learning from Chess Champions and World Chess Championships
Question from VM: I have a doubt regarding learning from Chess Champions and World Chess Championships. Reading all games from world champion is really time consuming process and also tough to understand without the help of annotations. Also many opening lines played before are dropped at high level due to suggested improvements by chess engines. Do you still recommend it? If so what is the order to read? Are there any sites that have world champions games annotated (or at least all world championship games games annotated). What learning process can we can follow (for 1800 player) – VM (Coach and player).
Answer: Whoa! That was a beautiful questionnaire raised by you VM! In fact if I understood you correctly, it has four questions embedded in it.
- Is it a recommended practice (even nowadays) to look at annotated games of World Chess Champions and Championship matches given the fact that many old points of analysis have taken a change with new lines overtaking the old ones?
- What is the order to read/look at World Chess Champions games?
- What learning process would one have to follow if he/she is around 1800 rated chess player?
- Are there any Websites that have these games with annotations?
Before I jump into my suggestions – keep in mind that more books have been written on Chess than all other sports and games combined!
And even though I have approximately 2000 to 3,000 chess books, some of my friends have far more than that! In fact, my collection is considered to be just average!
Okay… but why I am talking about this here?
Just to drive home a point that chess is not dogmatic and fixed – in parameters. There is so much diversity, that it is mind-boggling.
And since you asked from a 1800 rated player’s point of view I will suggest answers based on that point of view.
Question # 1: Is it a recommended practice (even nowadays) to look at annotated games of World Chess Champions and Championship matches given the fact that many old points of analysis have taken a change with new lines overtaking the old ones?
Answer: Depends on your objective. First off, a few basic facts so that you and I are on the same platform of understanding.
At at 1800 Fide Rating you will be pretty decent tactically and also have a decent idea of strategy in action as far as your repertoire is concerned. So if your interest in World Champions is merely for documentation purpose then by all means go through their games in chronological order – or – as per your favorite players list.
Opening lines may change but middlegame/endgame ideas and tactical themes will never change.
You said – “Reading all games from world champion is a really time consuming process and also tough to understand without the help of annotations”.
It’s crucial for all chess players to find something that they like, that they are passionate about, and that, they truly enjoy learning and playing Chess and try to become better at that, every single day.
That is how you attain your goals, and so when you choose to look at World Champions for inspiration it is a commendable decision. It may be difficult and time consuming. But it is worth every second when you see the results coming.
So, find your passion, set your goal and make good, healthy choices along the path like learning from Chess Champions and World Chess Championships, and you will find success following you like a shadow.
The way to learn from un-annotated game(s) will be outlined in a later article.
But if you have access to a good source of annotated games such as
then it is easy to understand the advanced strategy of these high level games.
You said – “Also many opening lines played before are dropped at high level due to suggested improvements by chess engines”.
Let’s worry about the high ground when we get there and let’s not worry about the Engines’ suggestions – that can happen when we are beyond 2300.
The Engines may be very strong tactically – they can find the best move in a messy position but they cannot explain why it is a good move!
If you were to blindly follow only the top theory then you will be deeply disappointed when you play against a club player. Because you will be at a loss on what to do in case your opponent deviates from the main lines which is what usually happens in the below 2200 rating ranges.
Coming to Engines suggesting improvements, those suggestions will work well for them not for us humans who cannot play like an engine every time.
So use the Engines with great deliberation – better still to avoid them studiously and leave that to the trainer.
If however your purpose is learning from Chess Champions and World Chess Championships and brush up your thinking abilities in Chess, then why study just just World Champions?
Why not learn from a 25oo rated Grandmaster’s games or a 2300 International Master?
In fact you will be motivated when you are able to solve positions or guess their moves since theoretically you are playing far above your level of understanding. And gain much needed confidence that is essential for chess players.
You will see that even Grandmasters are human and are liable to make mistakes.
So the answer to your first question is a broad yes, with a caveat. That means, to look at only champions’ game may actually deprive you of much needed practice which you strongly need as your opponents may not be GMs or IMs too.
So look for the learning wherever you find it. Don’t restrict yourself to just the cream. After all the GMs have all been there through that path and learnt it the hard way. So you may not be an exception. Of course I am not suggesting you look at games played by players lesser than 1800 or even 2000. I would suggest as a general rule of thumb to look from 2200 upwards.
You can learn from almost every game and everyone above your rating level. But that does not mean that greater the difference the more you can learn! There is a limit to everyone’s grasping power and you need to go step by step.
This way you will be pulling yourself up from a length of 400-500 elo and that will be your GYM Stretching exercise regimen for successful chess muscles.
Question # 2 – What is the order I would suggest to look at World Champion games?
Answer: Very simply put, in the exact chronological order that they were champions. Once more I would suggest looking at the bigger picture, by looking at the top 10 players of every WCC era. It will provide you will all the necessary fodder in your chess training regimen. Prepare a dossier of interesting positions or points of analysis and that will be your ready-reckoner before your next tournament.
For example if you start with Steinitz then also look at (not necessarily in the same order as below).
- Emanuel Lasker
- Mikhail Chigorin
- Harry Pillsbury
- Siegbert Tarrasch
- Wilhelm Steinitz
- Paul Morphy
- Joseph Blackburn
- Louis Paulsen
- Adolf Anderssen
- Johannes Zukertort
The reason I suggest looking at the same chronological sequence of champions is because you will then understand the evolution of Chess thinking, that actually simulates a chess player’s evolution from an amateur to a Master. In those days there was no technical help in the form of computers but trust me, when you look at their games you will wonder how deep they could play.
Question # 3 – What learning process would one have to follow if he/she is around 1800 rated chess player?
Answer: I would suggest that first of all any learning must be consistent. No huge gaps in the schedule and no jumping between books. You can read as many books at a time as you want, but remember to finish them. As far as the learning process is concerned the answer is huge so it warrants a separate article by itself.
Question #4 – Are there any Websites that have these games with annotations?
Answer: The immediate one that comes to my mind is www.pgnmentor.com. You have all the players games listed and you can use a firefox addon like Down them all or Flashgot which helps in downloading all the files from a page automatically.
However to get annotated games you may have to try www.chessgames.com
Bottomline: You can learn from almost every game and everyone. Play against people from all different levels at different time controls from all around the world. It’s when you go beyond the 2300 stratosphere that you will have to change the training schedule and syllabus.
Let me know if you have any further questions about learning from Chess Champions and World Chess Championships or any other points that are unclear! I will try my best to answer you in coming articles.
Some of the books I have enjoyed personally are listed below.
If you like some light reading then why not try – Roman’s series of books?