Fixing Your Weaknesses

Fixing Your Weaknesses

| 48 | Strategy

This week, we’ll take a look at a young Indian player, Sakshi1234567. She had this to say:

“I am 13 years old. My father taught me chess when I was 10. I’ve been taking the game seriously from October 2015. I want to become a grandmaster…I can become a grandmaster. I know it! I love chess very much. I recently read your 'How to Reassess Your Chess,' and it helped me improve my game. Because of it, I was selected to play in the national championship!

“My problem is that sometimes when I play in tournaments with very high-rated players, I forget all the things I’ve learned, or if I use them, I get a good position but often lose those games with a single blunder (even though I have plenty of time on the clock). Kindly tell me how could I solve this problem.”

I asked Sakshi to send me some good games, and some bad. I also asked her to share some notes with the readers in each game.

Crushing Victory


A Hard-Fought Draw

Sakshi: “This is the first time I ever played with a titled player in a tournament.”

Unnecessary Defeat


“I suddenly made a blunder, and I just don’t know why I do it. I was winning in this game, I was confident in this game that I am winning, but suddenly with a stupid blunder, I lose it all. I was very sad after that.

“I usually make these types of mistakes whenever I got a good position or when I am up in material. I want to avoid it as much as possible, but I can’t succeed in it. In any tournament, it has now become a habit, to lose a good game with a single blunder. How can I eliminate this problem?”

Sakshi's Weaknesses And How To Cure Them

Attacking Everything That Moves

Many inexperienced players have a habit of attacking an enemy piece or pawn if possible. It gives the attacker a sense of power and control. Unfortunately, it’s often the wrong thing to do! In many cases, an attack against an enemy piece forces the opponent to move the attacked piece to a better square. Thus, the attack actually helps the opponent.

Eventually players who wish to reach the master-level learn that you should only attack something if there’s a positional, strategic, or tactical reason for doing so. When you want to attack an enemy unit, make sure you take into account your opponent’s best reply.

Sakshi made random attacks in game one (versus Suraj Dhaiya) with 8.h3 and a few times in game three.

Fear Of Higher-Rated Opponents

Fear of a higher-rated opponent is very common. The 1200-player fears the 1400-player, the 2200-player fears the 2300-player, the 2400-player fears the international masters, and the international masters often fear the grandmasters. Unfortunately, this “rating fear” has to be tossed out of the window or you’ll always be trapped in your endless doubts, and that trap will stop you from achieving your goals.

Don't be nervous! If you're not losing, you're not learning!

This fear is so debilitating that serious players must end this disease once and for all. To do this, you have to accept that you will lose lots of games. The world champion loses games, and you will too. It’s unavoidable. Since you know you’ll win some and lose some, train yourself to be a warrior. Play every game to win, even if your opponent is 500 rating points higher than you.

Again, do NOT play to draw against anyone! ALWAYS play to win; only accept a draw if the position is completely drawn, boring, and a waste of time to continue. When you enter a game with that mentality, you’ll find that your opponents are the ones that are frightened of you!

In game two versus Tanisha Kotia, Sakshi feared her opponent (a very normal thing!), which led to her fighting for a draw from move one. In the end, she got her draw (an excellent result against a strong opponent!), but next time she plays Tanisha Kotia or some other very strong player, she should enter, I’m-going-to-wipe-you-out mode. That doesn’t mean she should go bonkers and attack for no reason. A nice, long, positional win; deep strategy; or a blazing tactic are equally valid methods — a win is a win. However, the first step to being the boss of the board is to toss fear out the window.

Opening Theory

It’s nice to know a bunch of opening moves, but it’s useless if you don’t fully understand the ideas behind them. Since your opponents will usually leave theory quite early, understanding the ins and outs of your openings’ pawn structures, strategies, and tactics will take you to a whole new level.

Anyone can memorize moves; learn the ideas behind the moves to truly excel.

In game two against Tanisha Kotia, Sakshi went into mainstream theory and showed that she actually knows quite a bit about the Berlin Defense. However, she still needs to get a better handle on the ideas behind that opening. The same goes for all of the other openings she plays.


We are all taught to bring our pieces out and make our king safe by castling. Yet, many, many players ignore this excellent advice. Sakshi fell victim to this "a few pieces out is enough" mentality, and, though she was winning in game three, life could have been much easier if she used ALL of her pieces. Her refusal to follow this advice can be seen on several moves: 6.Qc2, 9.Ne5, 13.Be5, and 17.Nd6+.

Fear Of Ghosts

Sakshi made one of the most common errors in chess: stopping an enemy move that shouldn’t be stopped. In game three, 15.a3 stopped a move that wasn’t really a threat; thus Sakshi lost a move. If she wants to improve, she has to laugh in the face of ghosts. Only stop an enemy threat if you are absolutely certain it IS a threat. On the other hand, if you have a positional lock and your opponent is helpless, then (in the style of the great Tigran Petrosian) it’s fine to stop any and every bit of enemy activity.

Always Know The Opponent’s Goals

Every and any kind of enemy goal needs to be clear to you. Many amateurs only think about their own goals; that usually leads to unfortunate results. Knowing your goals AND your opponent's goals will elevate you to a whole new vista of chess understanding.

No need for a crystal ball! Just be attentive, and you can foresee your opponent's carefully conceived plans!

In game three, Sakshi should have understood that her opponent’s only hope to survive was to break through on the kingside. With that in mind, she should have paid special attention to Black’s efforts after 24...Nd5 with 25.Bd3 instead of the inferior 25.Bf3. She was still winning, but if you don’t fully understand your opponent’s goals, nasty things will happen to you in many of your games.

Blunders In Winning Positions

Sakshi says that she often blunders in winning positions. She’s certainly not alone. Every player of every rating has experienced the pain of blundering away a dead-won game. When you know you are winning, do the following:

  1. Don’t think the game will win itself. If you dither about, the game can easily turn on you; don’t take your foot off the opponent’s throat.
  2. Don’t relax! You can relax when the game is over. Chess is a painful game since your opponent can make one mistake after another leading to you dominating your foe and winning material. Then you start thinking about the movie you want to see in the evening, and that one little loss of concentration can turn an easy win into agonizing defeat.
  3. If you have lots of time on your clock, use it! Look for all the things that might hurt you. Don’t move until you are completely confident you are safe.
  4. NEVER move quickly! Many do, hoping to quickly end the “easily winning” game. That sets you up for an agonizing fall. Instead, enjoy your opponent’s misery. Enjoy the wonders of your position. And enjoy the deconstruction of your enemy’s hopes and dreams. When you mix this with patience and complete understanding of the position and your opponent’s potential tricks, you’ll win every time.

Final Words

Sakshi, everyone starts from a base of ignorance (no knowledge). For someone so young who has only started serious chess in 2015, you are doing incredibly well. You have the desire, and you clearly have talent. Now it’s time for you to play as often as you can, study master games, learn the secrets of as many pawn structures as possible, improve your tactical and positional IQ, and (in general) pick up as many patterns as possible. Who said getting good at chess was easy? It’s hard, and only those who dedicate themselves to the game will reach the highest levels.

That's right: You've got to study, but the rewards are better results and greater fun!

Part of the learning process is losing, getting up from a painful defeat, and losing again. Still you must leap back into battle until you fix all the little things you didn’t know. Losing isn’t fun, but grandmasters have all lost many games to get where they are now. As I’ve often said, “I (when I was your age) would lose to players stronger than me over and over; often I was laughed at. Those players didn’t realize that I was slowly, but surely, stealing their knowledge.”

You need more knowledge and experience, so study hard and never give up!

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