GM Alex Yermolinsky wrote: “David Bronstein wrote a great book about the 1953 Zurich Candidates Tournament. What makes it great is absolute disregard to theorizing. He takes all the games from a super-strong tournament – uses no selection criteria, so no bias towards the author’s agenda is there – and just invites you to watch ‘em play. If I had to name one single book that helped me with my problems, not once but many times throughout my chess career, I’d know which one it is…Fischer and Larsen wrote two of the greatest books of the late 1960s – the collection of their best games. These two books gave me a picture of true greatness when I was struggling with my chess in the mid-1970s, trying to establish my identity as a chess-player for many years to come.” Note that Yermo said… not once but many times throughout my chess career.IM Jeremy Silman advised studying master games and somebody who took his advice commented, “I followed your advice…and I already can see that my planning and transition from opening to middle game is much better now, and I can actually understand the reasons behind the opening moves I had previously played just by memorization.”
When Walter Browne was 14 years old, he would play over all the games in the monthly chess bulletin from Russia. He played the games at one minute per game. Playing over many games this way allows you to see more patterns and variations per hour than when playing or studying at a slower speed. Of course with the help of a chess program and good database this is even easier nowadays than in the past. I first read of this advice from US Senior Master Kenneth Smith who offered it back in the 1960s.
When it comes what games to play over, games featuring just the opening you play, games by your favorite player or everything, Silman advised that no matter how you do it, it’s good. He did add that one reason why you don’t want to stick with games that only feature your openings is that you’ll miss out on ideas and structures that usually don’t occur in your chosen systems, thus limiting your ultimate growth.
Silman advised that the best way to go over a game is to play over it on an actual board and try to understand the plan behind the moves, but he also said that others may prefer to do it differently. Silman’s preferred method, if he wanted to absorb as much information as possible, as quickly as possible, was that from a large number of games he would use a computer and zip through a game in 5 to 20 seconds.
When IM John Donaldson wants to do some opening research, he picks out key games from a database and then does an in-depth analysis on a board with his laptop running next to it. Some players (usually younger ones) prefer to use only the computer only though.
If you wish to improve your powers of calculation Silman advises that you go over a game (with no notes showing) and do your best to figure out what’s going on. Write down your thoughts for each move and also write down any variations that come to mind. Afterwards, look at an annotated version of that game and see how close your own impressions were to reality. This same advice was offered by another great teacher, CJS Purdy, as far back as the 1930s
There are many reasons to go over master games, ranging from the assimilation of patterns to opening study to various forms of instruction to pure enjoyment.
When it comes to deciding which games to play over Silman says it depends on what you are trying to accomplish. If you are trying to absorb patterns, then go large numbers of games with no notes. If you are doing a deep exploration into a specific player’s games then you will want to look at games annotated by that player so you can see what he was thinking.
OK, so these guys are titled players. What about if you are not rated that high? Again, it depends on what you are trying to accomplish. If you are researching openings, games by players who are below 2300 aren’t going to be very valuable. If you are looking at games for enjoyment, or games that are theoretically interesting, then GM games or games by past greats are the way to go.
That said, games by lower rated players are often far more instructive than games by GMs because the mistakes weak players make are typical of, well, the mistakes weak players make. So, there is something to be learned from games played by non-masters. Chess Master vs. Chess Amateur by Euwe and Meiden was an early attempt at such a book and it’s still valuable even today. Books by Silman, and others, on this idea are also available today. Of course, let's not forget another reason for going over master games: simply for enjoyment – going over a favorite player’s game is relaxing, fun, and will continue to benefit pattern absorption.