I commented to another player that I got nothing from studying master games. He replied: :Neither do I."

One gains a little if the annotation includes mini-lessons. But terse comments are akin to a mathematician's "its obvious that ...". There are many celebrated moves I could never have found in a local game.

My Elo recently peaked at 1300. What level does one need before studying master games and having it be worth the time? That other player & I are both retired. Perhaps our ages are a factor.

  • 7
    When you were "studying" the master games, were you trying to figure out WHY the players made these moves? Or were you simply going through the moves and saying, "yes a4 here seems strong"? Jul 26, 2020 at 17:09
  • 1
    How do you know you are not benefitting from it?
    – David
    Jul 27, 2020 at 7:00
  • 1
    additionally on age - I know person who learned to play chess only when retired - at age of 65(before he did not know even how pieces are moved) - within 1 year his rating was in range 1900-2000 - but he worked on his chess - he was reading books, studying games, solving puzzles, etc. Agree that it would be really tough to reach master level at that age, but 2000 is achievable and relatively easy task if you are ready to work.
    – Drako
    Jul 27, 2020 at 13:09
  • When you reach the level of the top engines you can say master level games don't help you. So, 3200+ Technically all top GM games are "master level games" since all of those players are masters.
    – Savage47
    Jul 29, 2020 at 5:40

5 Answers 5


What level does one need before studying master games is worth the time ?

You need to have got to the stage where you stop playing "hope chess". If you are not currently capable of working out the purpose of your opponent's moves as well as your own then you are not going to get much from trying to work out the purpose of the moves in a master game. Once you do reach that stage then studying master games is a good way of making further progress.


by "studying" you mean studying or just reading/watching? from studying you benefit at any level but from just reading/watching only at high levels - because then you do actual quick study in your head (that's starting from approximately ELO 2300).

at your level studying one master game could take starting from around 8h(simple) till 2 full weeks (very complicated) per game - I doubt you studied any master game even for 1h ever if You are still 1300 ... .

Study means - you go through the game move by move - do it on chess board, no engine! and understand for yourself why each move was made, play out variations you think of on the board yourself - try to find best moves, see what masters played - this way you will definitely improve.


You should not do anything that you do not enjoy. Probably at the level you are at, master games are just mystifying and frustrating. But there may nevertheless be some value in playing them through quickly and superficially. You may notice that masters usually bring their pieces out quickly and somehow manage to organize them in cooperation. You may notice that they do not hurry to make exchanges but leave options open. You may notice that their Kings are usually securely defended. You may notice that they often focus their activity on a particular sector of the board. Sometimes you might realize the beauty of an unexpected move. You might notice after a time that their games "look different" from yours. Then you should study some books of elementary instruction and see if they offer any explanations.

Imagine that you are learning to play the piano and have got as far as basic fingering exercises. You could still enjoy hearing a concert by a great pianist. You would be completely unable to imitate it, but it would remind you why you want to learn.

So play through (NOT study) master games as soon as you can enjoy it.


I must say, studying master games is good at every level. It is preferable to look through the game without annotations so that you can work out the main reasons for the moves yourself, apart form the extremely difficult ones.


Being older makes it harder and slower but everybody could learn from playing over tournament book games by GMs.

Fischer did it all the time to stay even with 'theory'. Other players do it all the time and improve. The lower your rating the more you can improve by seeing good moves and learning one opening by playing many games using that opening.

Now what 1300 may make a difference. Online ratings are grossly overstated so you may be having a harder time learning due to lack of experience.

Annotations add little. Just play the main games not variations.

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