Decisive Games

Decisive Games

| 31 | Scholastics

Chess players often find themselves in a situation when they need to win at all costs, or at least draw. Most of the time it happens during last rounds, but there are exceptions. Knowing how to handle such moments is an essential skill for any strong player. Just remember how often the World Championship matches have been decided in the last encounter.

There are lots of recommendations concerning decisive games. I will share with you some tips based either on my own or on my colleagues’ experience. We will be considering two issues: psychology and chess.


The following situations may occur:

1)      Both partners need a win;

2)      One needs a win, the other is content with a draw;

3)      One of them has a goal (win, draw), the opponent doesn’t care much about the result

4)      Both are happy with a draw (a rare case)

The tensest cases are #1 and #2. Here both players are under psychological pressure. When preparing for such a game, don’t dwell too much on the fact that you need a win (or a draw). Simply tell yourself you are going to play well. Don’t waste mental energy on doubts and fears, stay calm and focused.

Another classic approach is to imagine beforehand what would happen if you don’t succeed. Usually the stakes are not too high. Ok, you won’t get a norm, a prize, etc., but life doesn’t end here, right? This helps shake off the fear of losing and boosts one’s morale before the game.

There are more complicated situations. For example, a win gives you the 1st place, while a draw – the 3rd. If you lose you are out of contention for the prizes. In such situations one should decide before the game what the worst acceptable result is. Otherwise you won’t have a strategy for the game and will start wasting nerves and time pondering if you can go for a drawish continuation or not.


During decisive games a chess player sometimes has to make decisions in a slightly different way than usual. For example, if you need a win, you will probably be avoiding a simple drawish endgame (unless you have no real choice). If you need a draw, don’t rush to study an opening variation which is considered drawish. Instead play your normal game, aim for a win, but keep in mind that you have the luxury of giving a perpetual or simplifying into a drawn endgame if needed.

Another typical mistake is going all-in with crazy gambits and “give-aways” when playing for a win. Instead, opt for a complicated position with as many pieces on the board as possible. Avoid trading unless it offers you some advantage. Spend your time wisely.

To sum it all up: when playing a decisive game, you should stay calm and focused. Think about the desired result only during critical moments of the game, when making serious decisions. Let go of your fears. Try to avoid getting into time trouble.  

Now let’s talk about a recent example from my tournament experience. Before the last round of the Russian Superfinal-2010 Galliamova, Kosintseva T and Paikidze were at 6.5/10, and I had 6/10. It was clear that the only way for me to clinch one of the medals was to win the game. Alisa Galliamova was tired and nervous about the outcome, so she offered Tatiana a quick draw (which was taken). Then Nazi couldn’t handle her nerves (just imagine – in the case of a win with White she would have become Russian champion!) and self-destructed in some 20 moves. Now I understood that a win guaranteed me a tie for first (in fact, my tie-break score turned out to be the best of all three afterwards). All I needed was to beat WGM Tatiana Shadrina with Black…

I couldn’t quite concentrate on the game. Thoughts about the result kept haunting me, and this affected my decisions at some points. My play was far from perfect. Nonetheless, I managed to overcome the resistance of my opponent and clinch a win after nearly 6 hours of hard work.

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