Things You Can Learn from Watching Grandmaster Games
Pay attention to the opening lines
This is probably the single hardest thing to do for a club player. With the opening theory evolving very rapidly, Grandmasters dedicate most of their preparation time to the opening analyses. Hours and hours of their time is spent to understand the feasibility of one or another variation, and to search for the tiniest positional advantage. No wonder it is so hard to follow the theory during a live game.
However, there is a trick that can be used to help you to understand what's going on in the opening stage, as well as to learn something new for yourself.
You should pay specific attention to the opening lines of the Grandmaster’s whose opening repertoire is similar to your own. After the start of the Grandmaster's game you can input the first 10-15 or so moves into a chess database of previously played high level games, to search for ideas and to understand the opening line better. You can use the Online Game Database to do so and from the Eco Code in the Game you can make a search on website Master Chess Openings to find the main line with variances to understand the opening. For some openings you'll also find articles and videos here.
Try to understand the plan
After the end of the opening stage of the game, do a complete analysis of the position. You may ask, how do I know if the opening stage has ended? You have to judge by the development of the pieces, castling and so on. After all of these preliminary steps are completed, you may safely assume, it's a middle game. Often after move 10 or after one of the Recognized Chess Openings. Analyze the position thoroughly and try to come up with a most reasonable plan you're capable of, based on the positional elements of the position, tactical motifs, pawn structure, activity of the pieces, etc.
Next, you need to compare your plan with the Grandmaster's plan. If yours is completely different you may re-evaluate the position and change the plan.
You will be able to practice a plan in different middle game scenarios. That is a very useful skill for a chess player of any level.
Place yourself in Grandmaster’s shoes
If you smell tactics, try placing yourself in the Grandmaster's shoes. Doing calculations of lines that can occur after a pawn push, exchange or a sacrifice. Try to find the best possible defensive move for your opponent and evaluate if the tactics you found would still work.
Don't check the tactics with an engine when you watch the game if you want to learn something and train you own calculation ability!
You play white in this game. What would you do as black in this situation ?
If you don't get the calculations right you'll lose an officer - notice the treat of a back rank mate too.
Black didn't make the right calculations and lost an officer
1... Nxd4 2. Nxb6 axb6 3. Nxd4
Another great method that can be used to improve your own game while observing your favorite player is 'guess the move'. You take a piece of paper and write down the predicted moves (or better else series of moves) for the side you're playing on. Then compare your moves with what actually happened in the game.
Don't worry if you cannot guess the correct moves and combinations right away. If you practice often, your thinking process will adjust and you will be able to guess the correct moves more and more often.
Analyze the key positions over the board
If the game has approached a critical point it is a time for a deep evaluation of the position. You may judge if the position is critical or not by a few different factors:
There is a tactic, sacrifice or an Attack option
Nature of the position dramatically changed or is about to change
There is an important decision to be made that will affect how the game will progress
It may be a little difficult to analyze a complex position in your head if you’re at club player level. Feel free to setup your favorite board or Analysis Software (with the engine 'off' of course) and shuffle the lines and variations.
Observe the endgame technique
Endgame (check out our End Game Courses) is mathematically simplest part of the game, though can be very tricky to play in real games. Observe how Grandmasters play at this stage of the game, especially, the positions where they are a pawn up or a pawn down in Rook endgames, two Rooks vs. Queen Endgames, Knight vs. Bishop, or in other common chess endings.
If it comes to an endgame. First evaluate the position again and come up with a plan where the pieces, pawns, and the King should be located to achieve a desirable result. Then, see what your opponent can do to prevent it.
If you go through the games you observe on a regular basis using this approach you will definitely pick up plenty of ELO points in your own games.