The art of annotation: the Lalić Challenge

Annotating your own and other players’ games is a crucial part of helping you develop your analytical skills

John Foley

At the end of last year, Peter Lalić – one of Kingston’s highest-rated players – embarked on a series of blitz chess tournaments which saw him play an intense sequence of 45 Elo-rated games in six days. He performed extremely well and won the blitz tournament at the London Chess Classic on Sunday 5 December with an impressive 9.5/11, half a point ahead of Harry Grieve and two points ahead of grandmaster Keith Arkell, who was the top-rated entrant (2398). His overall performance exceeded his prior rating. We would (perhaps self-regardingly) like to attribute this to the new disciplines imposed by Kingston Chess Club – regular opponents and very detailed game analyses.

Peter was so exhausted by his week of top-level blitz that he mooted the idea of someone else annotating his games, all of which remarkably he was able to reconstruct from memory, and the club offered this opportunity to the members as a challenge. Here are three of the annotations that resulted: by the verging-on-master Michael Healey; by me, a strong club player; and by the rather more engine-dependent Stephen Moss. With only five minutes for each player, one cannot expect deep analysis, but nevertheless each game brings out some lessons.

The other aspect which is relevant is that Peter is averse to online chess and hence has not got into any bad habits. The theory is that, by taking chess seriously, even blitz moves are of higher quality: the surfeit of online blitz may lead to a routinised form of play. Time spent studying is more useful than mindless play, and time spent analysing and annotating is always time well spent.

Annotating a game tells two stories: the what happened and the what might have been. The first story is about how one player outwits their opponent at a critical juncture. One should not be tempted to present the moves with the benefit of hindsight – all moves are played under pressure and even an obvious move may require careful scrutiny. The second story is getting beneath the surface to carry out a post-mortem (or should that be post-ludum?) where we explore what might have been if only we had played differently. Each story is important to how we perceive a game, as we balance the conscious with the unconscious.

Annotation by Mike Healey

Annotation by John Foley

I am acquainted with both players, having captained Matthew when he was a junior playing for my 4NCL team and having known Peter from when we played a memorable game in the Surrey League and subsequently since he joined Kingston Chess Club. Both are talented and even a blitz game between them is likely to be hard fought.

Annotation by Stephen Moss