Don't Lose Trying Too Hard to Win

  • GM DanielNaroditsky
  • | Jul 11, 2014

In my article on chess technique, I wholeheartedly agreed with Frank J. Marshall's affirmation that "the hardest thing in chess is to win a won game." Indeed, tenacious defense is now the norm rather than the exception.

Fifty years ago, the first rounds of an open tournament resembled a chess vacation for grandmasters, who almost invariably vanquished weaker opponents in a one-sided battle. But times have changed!

At times, it is understandably difficult to accept that you have let your opponent off the hook. It is tempting to keep pressing on in the naive hope that your opponent (who has defended persistently for many moves) will suddenly lose his cool and commit a fatal error.

More than anything, this article is a word of warning against stubbornness: it is often far more prudent to take the draw than to overpress and lose the game. As we'll see in a moment, even super GMs have lost ostensibly unlosable positions by overpressing.

Emily Loses! by Aaron Brown | CC

First, let us revisit one of the most incredible moments in recent super-tournament history. In a pivotal game against GM Sergey Karjakin in the 2014 Norway Chess Tournament, GM Anish Giri had his opponent on the ropes for more than 100 moves.

With plenty of time remaining on his clock, Giri had an agonizing decision to make: should he acquiesce and take the draw, or should he sacrifice a pawn and go for it all?

A truly heartbreaking loss, and one that was brought on by the aftermath of 116. g4 rather than by the move itself. When you engage in a risky winning attempt only to find that it has given your opponent chances, it becomes easy to panic and lose control of the game entirely -- which is exactly what happened to Giri.

In the following game, which is remarkably similar to Giri-Karjakin in a variety of ways, Irina Krush experiences the same psychological breakdown.

Of course, I am not suggesting that you should immediately agree to a draw if your opponent has constructed a fortress, but you should never let your emotions interfere with the decision-making process. In fact, if your opponent senses your frustration, he will merely redouble his defensive efforts, especially if you go for a dubious winning attempt after many moves of futile maneuvering. I myself have fallen prey to this "trap" on more than one occasion.

Here is one particularly memorable (and tragic) episode:

Once again, I am not trying to preach cowardice, but there exists a fine line between bravery and a headstrong reluctance to make a prudent decision. Crossing this line, as I was hopefully able to demonstrate, can have potentially fatal consequences.

As the Russians say, you should avoid "over-bending the stick" (my ineloquent translation) at all costs! 



  • 2 years ago



  • 2 years ago


    Started to reflect on the same phylosophie about my game , great start , terrible endings.

  • 2 years ago

    NM praveenb2002

    If Giri drew that game against Karjakin, Karjakin might not have won the Norway Chess Tournament.

  • 2 years ago


    Factual error: "With plenty of time remaining on his clock, Giri had an agonizing decision to make..."

    I saw the game live and if my recollection is correct, Giri's clock was well down to some 5 minutes, quite possibly even less. It was certainly not "plenty" which I would consider to be at least 15 minutes, just to throw a figure.

    Also I'm fairly certain that Giri was not in contention to win the tournament, so he had nothing to lose but a great opportunity to learn. So in my mind he did the absolutely correct thing and went for it. The gamble was the short time on his clock - and of course Karjakin's admittedly outstanding technique in defending the position (whose clock was also way down if memory serves). Giri made the final mistake with only some 90 seconds on the clock. I would be very surprised if Giri had any bad feelings about this loss. In fact he should be very proud of himself.

  • 2 years ago


    Nice Article

  • 2 years ago



    Thanks. It has been fixed. 

  • 2 years ago


    Nice article, Daniel.  It reminds me of the patient and persistent way that you won the US Junior Championship last year.   No "junior chess" from you, as GM Ben Finegold puts it, pushing harder than is realistic for the position.  GM Kayden Troff did essentially the same thing this year, following in your footsteps.  His only loss was a result of over-pressing with 19. Bf3?

  • 2 years ago


    I lost a game like these, once and after some thought realized what happened. You win the exchange early in the game before enough lines have opened up for you to use the rook effectively. Your opponent then tries to stop lines being opened up for the rook, and you expend your mental energies in this phase of the game. Your opponent succeeds, and you find yourself in a nearly to completely blockaded position, mentally tired and short on time. Instead of going down this path you should accept that you may have to give back the exchange or sac a pawn to open lines, and in the early phase just go for a big space advantage as lines get closed. Then you will have mental energy and time on the clock when you get to the types of positions shown here. So, I almost prefer to win a pawn or keep a positional advantage before any lines have opened rather than dissipate everything for an exchange.

  • 2 years ago


    Wish i were GM like him as i have all capabilities It's true.

  • 2 years ago


    Thanks for writing your enjoyable articles for  I have a question.  Wouldn’t it better for GMs to push as hard as possible most of the time to win?  In the long run their scores would not differ much if everyone pushed, assuming they were approximately equal strength.  Decisive games are highly valued by chess fans and chess organizers.  In general, two decisive games means more to them than two draws (sometimes even if the latter are hard-fought).  As you pointed out in the games analyzed in your column, for the most part the players who were being pressed by an optimistic opponent made mistakes that could have been decisive.  Of course, if a player only needs a draw in the final round of a tournament to secure an appreciable prize, then being practical might win out over being overly ambitious.

  • 2 years ago


    Great article.

  • 2 years ago


    It is indeed heartbreaking to lose a game because you were trying too hard to force a win. But I find it almost as heartbreaking to draw a game from a position where I have material advantage but no way through my opponent's fortress.

    Fortunately I'm low-ranked enough that in such theoretically drawn positions my opponent normally blunders and I win.

  • 2 years ago


    I believe overpressing is a positive mentality in chess. Ofcourse some bad moments are expected like in the game examples but blame it on the technique rather than perseverance.

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  • 2 years ago



    Move 62.

    But why does it matter, everyone makes mistakes.

  • 2 years ago


    Rather amateur mistake for Irina to have made...

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  • 2 years ago


    "over-bending the stick" <-- made me smile

  • 2 years ago


    Yeah I agree.

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