While playing a good amount of chess is a must for any aspiring player, study is also important. Watching games falls into this category. Watching live can be almost like playing a game, as you try to guess moves and analyse positions. Invariably, you tend to take one side and try to defend their position, so it really is like playing. But more than this, watching games, just like playing through games from databases and books, builds our store of knowledge, assuming we're thinking while we are watching (so turn your computer engine off!).
Watching games live also allows us to see players in action, some of whom will be familiar to us, while some will be unknowns. It's then possible to find some lesser known players to follow, master strength of under who have a style we can enjoy and possibly emulate.Saying that, I tend to like watching complicated games while my style increasingly shies away from complications.
One player who I seem to have seen a few games from recently is the young Iranian IM Aryan Gholami. Chess is flourishing in Iran at the moment with a bunch of strong players. The Iranian Junior Championship is currently taking place, and so I watched a game by Gholami in the first round. Aryan was white and rated 200 points higher than his opponent, so a win would be expected, and in the end he won the game. But 2 positions caught my eye in the game for the same reason.
Black has just played 10..Bd7. This not only protects the knight on c6, but threatens 11..Nxe5. So it seems that 11.Bxc6 is the best move in the position, otherwise you are losing a pawn. But Gholami played 11.Nb3?! and his opponent duly took on e5 leaving the young master a pawn down.
Looking at all captures is something we try to instill into kids, but it is especially important to look at central pawns and when they can be taken.
The game then kind of continued with black not finding a way to develop his position and becoming stuck. White gained a big development lead as well as there being weaknesses around black's king.
Working on the basis of examining all captures, white played 22.Rxc5! The point is that black doesn't have time to recapture or white will infiltrate on the weak dark squares around black's king. eg 22..Qxd4 23.Qxe7 Qxc5 24.Qf6 when black will have to give up the queen to prevent mate on g7.
Anyway, after 22.Rxc5! black played 22..Nc8 and there followed 23.Rxc8! getting a least 2 pieces for the rook 23..Rfxc8 with the following position.
So continuing the theme of looking for all captures, white's knight is attacked and to deal with this Gholami created a bigger threat with 24.Qe7. Now the familiar theme of 24..Qxd4 25.Qf6 with 26.Bh6 is in the air, so black retreated and the game dragged on for another 30 moves with white finally winning. However, by looking at captures, white could have found 24.Nxe6!!
The knight can't be taken, it is forced mate. So black has to try 24..Rc6 when white has 25.Qd7!
Black's rook is pinned, so it can't take the knight, and 25..fxe6 still loses to 26.Bh6. Black's best here is 25..Rc4 when white has another nice move, 26.Qxd5, leaving the knight en prise again, abut hitting black's a8 rook.
At this point, black pretty much has to bail out with 26..Qc6, accepting an endgame where he is an exchange and a pawn down..
So I guess the moral of the story is watch games critically, and not just by the top players, but by anyone. Even at the local chess club it is possible to look at games as they are in play and try to work out what is happening. You can talk to the players after the game about the position that interested you, and don't get computer help, analyse the games in your head, as if you were playing them!