Can my chess "thinking" (positional, tactical, strategic thinking, etc.) improve by watching grandmasters' games regularly? Of course, this is in addition to regular games/tactics solving etc.

As an example, when learning any foreign language, it's a good practice to watch movies and listen to language as much as possible.

I'm interested in pattern matching, as my brain is very good at it. I think that by constantly watching high-quality games one can develop knowledge of the best moves/strategies/tactics.

Has anyone applied this technique or has an opinion on this? Cheers

  • 1
    Yes, watching blitz games by strong players improves calculation ability.
    – limits
    Jan 4, 2016 at 22:42
  • 1
    Tactics mostly occur in threats, they are like ghosts for someone who didn't calculate it. And you don't have time to think about them and calculate in a blitz game of strong players.
    – ferit
    Jan 6, 2016 at 3:31

6 Answers 6


To get the most from other people's games, it makes sense to look at games that were played well. However, what a beginner needs to see is not perfection, but what happens if one player makes a mistake, and how the other player punishes it. This means either looking at games where only one of the players is a master, or at games played by two masters that were annotated by a master to show what would have happened if certain bad moves had been played.

There are quite a few good ways to do this. The most economical use of time is not to watch a live game, because this involves long delays, interruptions, and incomplete and erratic delivery of any offered analysis.

Instead, the most economical use of study time on master games is to replay a game that has annotations, ideally accompanied by explanations in English (or some other language comprehensible to the reader). Perhaps the best idea is to find classic games by one of the masters in the Romantic Age of chess that are comprehensively annotated, but almost any master's game should yield benefits.

A word about annotations: Many games are annotated by masters for masters. Examples are those analyses that are published in Sahovksi Informator ("Chess Informant"). These contain no words; all games are annotated with only variations and glyphs representing chess concepts, ideas and evaluation results. They would be incomprehensible to a beginner. What I'm referring to are games like those annotated in USCF's Chess Life, or the collected games of a master such as:

  • "My 60 Memorable Games", Bobby Fischer
  • "Fire on Board", Alexei Shirov
  • "The Sorcerer's Apprentice", David Bronstein
  • "I Play Against the Pieces", Svetozar Gligoric
  • "The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal", Mikhail Tal
  • "Alekhine's Best Games: 1908-1923", Alexander Alekhine
  • "Alekhine's Best Games: 1924-1937", Alexander Alekhine
  • "100 Selected Games", Mikhail Botvinnik
  • "My Best Games of Chess", Valeri Smyslov
  • "Capablanca's 100 Best Games of Chess", Harry Golombek

Another source is Everyman Publishing's "Move by Move Series". I would recommend the books in this series on Paul Morphy, Victor Korchnoi, Raul Capablanca, Mikhail Tal, or William Steinitz. They have the advantage of being published in e-book format.

"The Amateur's Mind", by Jeremy Silman, approached this technique differently with the (relatively) novel idea of looking at amateur games, pointing out their flaws, why they were flaws, and what would have worked better.

The other disadvantage of this book is that you won't see an illustration of how to play well, you will only see some illustrations of how to play badly.

That said, since the mistakes made by the players involved are common among amateurs, you may realize that you are also making them, and be able to fix them. Another benefit is that the book tries to delve into why these amateurs made these particular mistakes; the author tries (though a bit unsystematically) to get to the root cause. This may be very illuminating for other amateurs out there.

One final note on Silman's book: Not everyone likes Silman's writing style, which some find abrasive at times, so I recommend that you look over samples of the content in a bookstore, or at your library or chess club. (Somewhat mysteriously, Amazon doesn't seem to offer a preview of this book, as they do with many others...).


Chess "thinking" is first and foremost a skill. As such it has to be practiced actively. Passively acquired knowledge will only flesh out what you already can do, it will not improve your chess all that much.

Of course if you try to follow all the variations of the commentators and constantly come up with variations on your own, you will benefit from watching games, thought the level of these games probably doesn't have much of an influence on the training effect.

Generally improvement happens outside your comfort zone. If it doesn't feel like you put something into it, you probably wont get anything out of it.


Depends on your strength.

If you are able to understand what's going on in the game, then yes. But if you feel like watching a mystery thriller, then no. To learn and improve yourself, first you should understand what's going on.

For example, I would advice 1800+ FIDE players to watch and analyze GM games. And I would advice 1600- players to not to lose time with it.

  • 1
    I think 1200 players are able to understand the moves with commentary.
    – limits
    Jan 5, 2016 at 4:58
  • I disagree. There is no commentary with enough detail to make a total beginner understand.
    – ferit
    Jan 5, 2016 at 5:18
  • 2
    1200 players generally aren't total beginners. Jan 5, 2016 at 15:00
  • Most 1200s have significant chess knowledge but aren't experienced enough to have consistent good results in competitions.
    – limits
    Jan 5, 2016 at 17:14
  • 1
    So you really believe a 1200 player can understand GM game?
    – ferit
    Jan 5, 2016 at 19:24

Well, keeping abreast of current games in current tourneys and trying to play/understand them all is not so useful. Many GM games fizzle out into a draw, because they are based on 20 moves of theory not worth remembering.

There are a lot of chess channels that show a game a day, or a game a week, and they can pick out the most exciting and instructive ones, the ones that help most with the basics. I also like the randomness and not knowing what comes next, as often I'm exposed to an opening I blew off, but I can see its dynamic potential.

I also like to visit chessgames.com for the game of the day, as well as play the daily tactics. The comments there help me see "what if X/then Y" and so forth, which is at least as important as a list of moves, or a GM's analysis. People of a variety of strengths comment, so you get to see a bunch of ideas beyond "oh he got this right" or "oh he messed this up."


Definitely. I played over every game from the 1953 Candidates tournament that had 16 top GMs vying to qualify for the world championship that would find a new champ as the old one had died.

The biggest value was in the openings as I learned every variation of the nimzo as it was one of the most popular openings that year.

But having played thorough every note and variation as well as every game I am sure that I picked up a lot more by osmosis that helped my play.

While there were some interesting tactics, it would help to play over collections of tactics by THEME on a web site. Playing over many of the same theme will fix that pattern into your brain to more easily recognize if it shows up in your games.

Likewise while endings were interesting you really need to devour a good end game book like BCE or whatever else is newer now that might be better.

Fischer and other top grandmasters regularly play over every game in tournament collections to see what they can learn and also for weaknesses they can exploit when they play other people in a tournament.

Based on my experience and what GMs do I have to say that if you play over grandmaster games it has to benefit your play.


Definitely. In my experience, I've had several "aha" moments watching GMs play. At times watching their games, but also hearing them comment and articulate the thought process, allowed me to gain insights that I would never have attained on my own.

One recent example: watching a Nakamura Youtube video when he said in the opening: "What kind of structure do I want to play?" triggered an avalanche of thoughts in my head that amounted to a realization that determining the pawn structure early on is, firstly, in your hands, and secondly, paramount to the rest of the game.

Great question, I definitely agree that getting into the mind of the genius is a great part of the joy of chess.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.