When playing over a published game in order to learn from it, it can be difficult to discern the players' long-term strategies or to realize how the result of the game might have been largely due to a move that was made in the opening or early middlegame.

To make these things easier, I propose the following:

  1. Play through the game fairly quickly, in part to decide whether it's worth examining in detail.

  2. If the game seems worth examining in detail, play over it again in order to record the position and the pawn structure whenever the latter has just been altered, whether by a pawn move, a capture by a pawn, or the capture of a pawn. (If your interest in the game starts at a position from late in the opening, for example, you might opt not to record the positions and pawn structures reached earlier.)

  3. Examine the first recorded pawn-structure/position pair of interest, and try to figure out how at least one player might favorably alter the pawn structure, and what piece placement could make that possible. Then look at subsequent pawn-structure/position pairs to see whether the pawn structure was altered in that way, and how pieces were repositioned in anticipation of that alteration in pawn structure. To do this might also entail playing through some moves that aren't represented by any of the recorded pawn-structure/position pairs.

    Then examine the second recorded pawn-structure/position pair of interest, for how it might be favorably altered, etc. Repeat this for subsequent pawn-structure/position pairs of interest.

  4. Replay the game or portions of it as desired.

Here's a demonstration.

Smyslov–Denker (USSR vs. USA, 1946): 1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. g3 g6 4. Bg2 Bg7 5. d3 e6 6. Be3 Nd4 7. Nce2 d6 8. c3 Nc6 9. d4 cxd4 10. Nxd4 Nxd4 11. Bxd4 e5 12. Be3 Ne7 13. Ne2 O-O 14. O-O Be6 15. Qd2 Qc7 16. Rfc1 f5 17. c4 fxe4 18. Nc3 Nf5 19. Nxe4 Nxe3 20. Qxe3 h6 21. Rd1 Rfd8 22. Rac1 Rac8 23. b3 b6 24. Nc3 Qe7 25. Bd5 Kh7 26. Bxe6 Qxe6 27. Rd3 Rc7 28. Rcd1 Rf7 29. Ne4 Bf8 30. Rd5 Qg4 31. R1d3 Be7 32. Nxd6 Bxd6 33. Rxd6 Rdf8 34. Qxe5 Rxf2 35. Rd7+ R2f7 36. Rxf7+ Rxf7 37. Rd8 Rg7 38. Qe8 g5 39. Qh8+ Kg6 40. Rd6+ Kf7 41. Qxh6 Qf5 42. Rd1 Qc5+ 43. Kg2 Qe7 44. Rf1+ Kg8 45. Qf6 Qe8 46. Qf5 g4 47. Rf2 Qe7 48. Qd3 Rg5 49. Re2 Qf8 50. Qe4 Rg7 51. Qd5+ Qf7 52. Re6 1-0

This game translates to the following pawn-structure/position pairs.

1. e4

1...c5

2. Nc3 Nc6 3. g3

3...g6

4. Bg2 Bg7 5. d3

5...e6

6. Be3 Nd4 7. Nce2 d6

8. c3

8...Nc6 9. d4

9...cxd4

10. Nxd4

10...Nxd4 11. Bxd4 e5

12. Be3 Ne7 13. Ne2 O-O 14. O-O Be6 15. Qd2 Qc7 16. Rfc1 f5

17. c4

17...fxe4

18. Nc3 Nf5 19. Nxe4

19...Nxe3 20. Qxe3 h6

21. Rd1 Rfd8 22. Rac1 Rac8 23. b3

23...b6

24. Nc3 Qe7 25. Bd5 Kh7 26. Bxe6 Qxe6 27. Rd3 Rc7 28. Rcd1 Rf7 29. Ne4 Bf8 30. Rd5 Qg4 31. R1d3 Be7 32. Nxd6

32...Bxd6 33. Rxd6 Rdf8 34. Qxe5

34...Rxf2

35. Rd7+ R2f7 36. Rxf7+ Rxf7 37. Rd8 Rg7 38. Qe8 g5

39. Qh8+ Kg6 40. Rd6+ Kf7 41. Qxh6

41...Qf5 42. Rd1 Qc5+ 43. Kg2 Qe7 44. Rf1+ Kg8 45. Qf6 Qe8 46. Qf5 g4

47. Rf2 Qe7 48. Qd3 Rg5 49. Re2 Qf8 50. Qe4 Rg7 51. Qd5+ Qf7 52. Re6 1-0

Step 3 would now be carried out. For guidance on how to formulate a plan by examining the pawn structure, see some of the other articles under this website's Instruction menu, some of my books and e-books, or other authors' works on pawn structure.

Step 4 would entail whatever analytical techniques you like to apply when studying a published game.

Although recording a game's pawn-structure/position pairs can be time-consuming, I believe that this would be more than offset by the insight gained from studying them. I'd be interested to hear from readers who try it.