If you have been following my blog, you've probably seen this entry:
In it, I try to give some tips on how to try to swindle your way out of horrible positions. Today, however, I am going to sit at the other side of the board and try to give you some tips on how to safely convert your advantage to a win. Let me share a personal story related to this topic first..
In Lithuania, the national champion is determined in the National Championship Final, which is usually a 10 or 12 player round-robin tournament with norm opportunities. Some of the players are invited by the federation, but the main gateway for qualifying is via the National Championship semifinal, which is an Open tournament with, usually, 6 places qualifying for the final.
I've dreamed of playing in the final since I was a boy. I tried my luck in the semifinal many times, I was close on multiple occasions, but I was unsuccesful. And that hurt. I REALLY wanted to get in, at least once! In 2012, I've got another chance..
The situation was really simple - I needed a win in the last round in order to qualify. I was playing Black versus a lower rated, but still a very dangerous player, so I was extremely nervous. Somewhat surprisingly, I managed to play extremely well and had a winning position (diagram below).
I am three pawns up and have very little to worry about in this position. At this point I was absolutely elated. I just could not control myself. My life-long dream of getting in to the final was within reach! Instead of focusing and bringing home the point easily, I was not sitting at the board, was walking around the hall, talking to people, smiling, joking around. I get angry at myself even remembering this! A couple of moves later, my entire world came crashing down..
Because I've spent about 5 seconds before playing Bc1, I missed this simple retreat with the King. Now White is threatening both the mate and the rook and the rook is lost. It is very hard to describe my feeling at the moment when my opponent played Kf2. It seemed that, again, my dream has eluded me. I was 22 years old at the time, but I was on a verge of tears. I could not believe my stupidity! I was sitting at the board for quite some time, not moving, just full of anger at myself and self-pity. King-frickin-f2. I will remember that moment for my entire life.
Fortunately for me, the story does not end there. Kind of like in a Hollywood movie, the main hero does not die and the movie has a happy ending. Due to the awful placement of my opponent's c6 knight, I realized that I still have some chances due to my three connected passers on the kingside. Here is how it went:
I felt like I was born again. The dream finally came true! I could not have been happier.. and yet I will never forget the feeling of utter despair after Kf2. It has taught me a lesson for life! To add the icing on the cake, from the Final I managed to qualify for the National Team for the Chess Olympiad in Istambul. Before the Olympiad we had a training camp of both the men's and woman's team. During that camp, a relationship with an amazing woman begun and we are about to get married. And King-fricking-f2 almost stole all of that away from me. Do you now see how important it is to stay concentrated during the game? :)
So, how can one avoid situations like this? I believe that it is almost entirely psychological. It is only natural that we all tend to ease up a little bit when we have a winning position. It seems like our work is almost done, right? There is no need to try as hard anymore, everything will take care of itself, right? WRONG. Sadly, in chess you do not get points for having a good position. Your entire body of work in order to get a winning position is going to mean absolutely nothing if you are unable to convert.
Let me ask you this - when you are cooking meat, do you ease up after putting the oil in to the pan, because part of the job is done? Or do you ease up after carefully preparing the meat with spices and what not? Or do you ease up after putting it in the pan and say "well, my job is done, it will now cook itself"? I assume that you do not. You only ease up after the meat is ready and is in the plate, right? And that is exactly how it should be. Only after the job is done can you allow yourself to relax. So why don't we always apply this knowledge in chess? Why is it that in chess, Lasker's "the hardest game to win is a won game" is pretty much a universal truth? I believe that it has to do with our egos.
I truly believe that the loss of concentration when one gets a winning position is a result of our subconscious want/need to show off. You get a winning position against another human being - it means you are better than him (at least in this game, at least today), right? Your ego is happy! But ego is very greedy.. it is not enough for it to simply win the game. Your ego makes you show your opponent that you can win this game even when utterly disinterested.. borderline bored, even. This is when the ego is truly flourishing. You start taking pride in making your moves as quickly as possible, with a bored look on your face, as if saying "hey, buddy, please stop wasting my time - we both know I am better than you". And quite often, this is when the lighting strikes and all we are left to do is to pick our shattered ego from the ground and limp away from the scene.
Of course, your opponent can also be a large obstacle on a road to victory. But if you have a winning position and you are able to keep your ego in check, the opponent can usually do very little. Only when your ego takes the reigns and you become weak can your opponents succesfully spring traps and lure you in to them.
So if someone tells you that your biggest weakness is an inability to win a won game, do not blame your chess skills - they have little to do with it. Instead, blame your ego and do everything in your power to control it. If you do, the chess part will take care of itself!
I hope you will find this entry helpful. If you have any further questions on the topic, feel free to ask in the comments, or better yet, visit this entry: http://www.chess.com/blog/TVEDAS/the-well-tvedas
where you can ask me pretty much anything you want.
Best of luck at the boards!
TVEDAS is out.