How To Save A Losing Game, Part 1

How To Save A Losing Game, Part 1

30 | Strategy

This article is the first in a series that will illustrate what a player needs to do and how he needs to think when facing a losing position or one that appears to be going from bad to worse.  The first step is to realise that we all throw in a few clunkers now and then and get ourselves in a mess.  Beating yourself up, telling yourself how stupid you are, lashing out with desperate, crazy moves is not the answer.  What you want to do are the following:

1) Put on a poker face.  That is, don't let your expression show that you are upset or even that you know you have made an error.  Sometimes your opponent doesn't even look for your error unless you tip him off with a sad face.  Or they see the error, but don't know if it was a mistake or a trap, since you look so calm.

2) Evaluate your position to see exactly how bad it really is.  Sometimes when things don't go your way, or when your opponent plays an unexpected strong move, you get depressed, which leads you to believe that your position is now hopeless, when, in reality, there is just one problem that can be dealt with, or you have counterplay that you may not have noticed right away.  Let initial panic be replaced with calm analysis.

3) Solve the biggest problem first.  If your opponent is threatening mate in one, you have to deal with that immediately.  If he is only threatening to double your pawns, you have more options. 

4) Look at the unique features of your position.  Continuing with the doubled pawns, you could prevent the doubling or perhaps put a rook on the soon to be opened file.  Or ignore it altogether and make a move that promotes your counterplay.  Think about exactly what would happen if your pawns got doubled.  Maybe you are just thinking about standard chess advice like "Doubled pawns are bad" instead of looking to see if they are bad IN THIS EXACT POSITION.  There are often unusual configurations of pieces in a position that make standard chess advice irrelevant.  Look for those unique counter chances.

5) Never underestimate the role of overconfidence.  How many times have you been way ahead in a game only to get lazy and miss a shot from your opponent that turns everything around?  So why can't you be the one delivering the shot this time?  Maybe he'll be the one to get lazy or overconfident or hallucinate and blunder.  You need to stay in a good, alert state of mind to see such game-changers.

6) Fighting back often upsets your opponent.  You made a mistake and lost material and, objectively, he has a won game.  You know it, he knows it, the onlookers know it, your computer knows it.  So you will play a few more moves and give up, right?  No.  Make him show you that he knows how to convert his advantage into a win.  He's not a GM or a computer.  If you can make a mistake, so can he.  Of course, losing a whole queen for nothing is just about impossible to come back from, but losing a pawn or the exchange is not the end of the game.  Some people get nervous when they are winning because they keep thinking about not messing up instead of winning.  Or they trade down so much material, that they make the win harder instead of easier.  Sometimes the only way to cash in an advantage is to attack and some players are no good at that.  Or the only win is in an endgame, and they are bad at endgames.  Make him show you he knows what he is doing.  Don't help him out by resigning out of anger or playing dumb moves.

In the following game, Black gets too many ideas in his head and plays all of them at the same time, which invariably leads to trouble.  At one point, he realises that he is getting in trouble, analyzes the position, decides exactly what is wrong, deals with it, finds some counter chances, then White panics and ends up losing a rook.  Then White finds counter chances, but Black is able to find a shot that takes the full point.

So the lesson here is to A) Realise you are in trouble, B) Stay calm, C) Solve real problems, and D) Look for counterplay.  Sometimes a good attitude is worth more than a good move.

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