Hi! :) Hopefully this isn't too vague a question...
I am a 2000-2100ish rated player and have been experiencing a horrible slump lately. Despite playing pretty excellently for my first 20-25 moves or so (including a winning pawn up endgame vs. one IM), I find myself blundering in winning positions quite regularly. I was wondering if you had any advice on how to convert winning positions against stronger players.
Thanks in advance for any help!
This is really a good question. To be more specific this was one of the questions that I had in mind before I became a Grandmaster. To me what was more irritating was I managed to get all 3 GM norms and my rating was 2492 and I had to get just 8 rating points to become a GM. In many of the crucial games where my rating would be somewhere around 2495 and a win would take me to a 2500 rating I would spoil the winning game and would keep trailing. It took four tournaments for me to gain those vital 8 rating points, but when I managed to win the winning positions I crossed the 2500 rating mark with a 32-rating point bound!
To begin with the problem with not winning winning positions arises out of several factors.
1) Loss of Focus: Some players tend to lose focus once they get an advantage. Imagine how attentive a player will be when he knows that he is on the verge of losing the game. In a winning position you are pushing your opponent into a corner; the more you push, the more desperate becomes. So it is very important to focus on the game and probably concentrate even harder once you get the advantage. "It ain't over till the fat lady sings."
2) Fear or Pressure: When this mistake keeps happening again and again you will lose confidence in yourself and even when you get into a good position you will be really scared. I faced this problem myself in one of the tournaments against a GM. I had in my mind that once I got the advantage my opponent is going to give stiff resistance and I was scared to play then. Thinking of these things during the game will definitely not help and will make things more complicated.
3) The ability to calculate well: In chess in most the positions, if you are able to calculate 3-4 moves without a mistake you will not lose the game unless the position is extremely complex. So try to improve your calculating skill. This will really help in finding the right moves and you can still outplay your opponent even if he is putting up stiff resistance.
4) Time management: This is one of the vital factors. In many of the games we will manage to get an advantage but we will not have enough time on the clock to convert it. So having enough time is also necessary to get a positive result.
5) Analyze top players' games regularly. Try to figure out the moves played by yourself and see how they are doing things differently than you do. Blunders can be avoided if you are much more alert during the game.
6) It will also be useful if you can talk verbally to yourself about the position. This is an important point told to me by my coach. Tell yourself the advantage you have and the problems your opponent has, how you can convert your advantage or pressurize your opponent further, etc. Remember this is not calculating moves but telling yourself verbally.
I would like to show a couple of my game where I missed my winning chances.
When I played this game my rating was 2499 (including the rating increase in other tournament not yet listed). If I won this game I was crossing 2500 and I would become a GM. This placed a lot of pressure on me in this game which obviously did not help. The mistake on my part was getting into time trouble when I was nearing the winning line. My calculating ability was so slow that I had problems in finding 38. Qxf5 followed by Nf6 39.Bh5 Ke7 40.Rg7 Kd8 41. Qxf6. and I played 38.Bh5?? and suddenly landed in a losing position.
The position I agreed a draw is winning for me. The reason is fear. The main problem was I was defending my king for so many moves and when it took longer than I thought I was not defending patiently. If I could calculate any furthwr moves I could have won. But I was not in the state of mind of play as I was scared witless!
I hope this is helpful! If you have further questions on this subject, let us know. We are here to answer your questions, after all!