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I am starting to analyze master games more often because I never really do. But I play openings most masters don't and most games with these openings don't have many annotated games. So, how do you analyze master games without annotations?

I play at around 1500 USCF strength. I got good from just playing, but I have been really studying lately, endgames and tactics. I don't play into the mainline openings, but I have been slowly going into the mainlines like the Bird variation in the Ruy Lopez and the Traxler Counterattack. I want to study the master games now because everyone says that's one of the fastest ways to improve. I don't really want to study the games that play into the mainline until move 23 and the last 100 moves with 2,000 years of annotations. I just want either a brief explained game from a master or a non-annotated game since I don't have much time on my hands.

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How? Yourself :-)

This should not discourage you from getting the help of an engine - afterwards §. Also, to me it seems critical to what end you are analyzing master games. There are many answers to this question, almost as many as masters. You analyze a Morphy game? Great choice, learn how opening sins (especially underdevelopment) are punished mercylessly. You analyze a Tal game? Great choice, delve into the variant chaos and show this Rigan swashbuckler you can defend better than his lame-o opponent. :-) You analyze a Capablanca game? Great choice, learn to crush an opponent from an almost equal position without him understanding what hit him.

Generally, it's far easier to analyze with regards to tactics. When it comes to positional play, methinks without annotations you are lost as a beginner. I suggest to edit in your learning goals into the post. It never hurts to analyze GM games but it will make the answers more precise.

§ Dangers of meta-playing, especially when engines are present. From Haukes infinite surplus of chess stories. I played a training match with a kid and his trainer. We were post-morteming. The trainer (having an engine): White has a brilliant move here. I, not even thinking for a second: e5. The trainer is baffled (especially because I'm a strong and very original player who nuked many a GM, but never reached even IM strength). "How did you know?" (He knows I can't calculate even remotely.) "Easy, it's always e5 in the Sicilian!" (In the Bxf6 gxf6 Najdorf, for the experts.) "And since you gave away the fact that a move exists, it is good and I don't see any peculiar one, it must be e5." Don't let such habits sip into you, you don't have an engine when you are playing a tournament.

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You may be confusing the passive (but thoroughly enjoyable) pastime of playing through a game which has already been annotated (whether by a human or an engine) and the active one of doing the hard work of going through a game and trying to work out what is going on, what the best moves are.

There is an excellent YouTube video on the "Hanging Pawns" channel on How to Analyze Chess Games which gives a guide to analyzing games, both your own and GM games. He recommends treating the three different phases of the game slightly differently. Here is the outline he gives which he expands upon in the video:

  1. Opening - Understand every move: ideas, plans, tactical implications, common continuations, related moves (patterns). Use reference games
  2. Middlegame - Consider: pawn structure, pawn breaks, passed pawns, piece placement, piece exchanges, material imbalances, loose pieces, open files/diagonals, outposts and weak squares, targets, attacking possibilities, defensive resources, anticipate the endgame
  3. Endgame - Be exact! Consult endgame books (Dvoretsky), list and remember rules applicable to the position.

He recommends writing your own copious notes, your own annotations if you like, to capture what you think. This is hard work which he says could take a day, could take a week. On the other hand sitting down and playing through somebody else's annotations is more relaxing and could take anything between a few minutes and an hour.

Only once you have captured your analyses does it make sense to switch on the engine to check your working, as it were. This will often give you better feedback than human written analysis, particularly if the analysis was written by an active GM who may have secrets to hide, at least until the next big tournament. Some GMs are a lot more honest than others.

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