How to Win Equal Positions
Through the years, I've heard quite a few players claim that having an equal position against a stronger player is pure torture. Even though you might be playing for a win, once a desirable result is close at hand, it becomes tempting to overestimate the potency of your opponent's moves and subconsciously play it safe.
In this article, I would like to elucidate the method by which strong players are able to outplay their opponents in apparently innocuous, balanced positions.
Generally speaking, the best way to confront your opponent with unexpected problems is to unbalance the position. This is usually done in one of three ways:
1. Physically, by altering the pawn structure or introducing a material imbalance.
2. Tactically, by forcing your opponent to deal with sudden threats or by sharpening the position.
3. Positionally, by confronting your opponent with strategic dilemmas.
It is important to note that none of these methods are intended to induce an immediate blunder. Furthermore, all of them involve a certain element of risk, but you cannot hope to vanquish a competent player in an equal position without burning some bridges. As usual, we will examine each technique separately.
1. The Physical Method.
Why is altering pawn structure or creating a material imbalance effective? Humans (and chess players) are inherently attracted to familiarity, and it is not always easy to adapt to an unexpected turn of events.
In the following game, even one of the strongest Russian grandmasters of all time was not up to the task.
Once again, notice that Boleslavsky did not make any egregious errors. Caught unawares by the sudden change in material balance (21.Nxa6) and in pawn structure (22.Qc5), he gradually lost the thread of the game.
2. The Tactical Method.
In principle, your opponent might have nothing against a sharp position, but it is the sudden transition from quiet to tactical that unsettles many players. The following game is a case in point.
As in the last game, Black's demise was not triggered by one particuar move. Rather, by "tactifying" the position, I forced my opponent to calculate and defend, two tasks that he was hoping to avoid by achieving an extremely solid position.
3. The Positional Method.
Solving tough positional dilemmas can be a torturous experience.
Which pawn do I take with? Which rook do I put on d8? Is the queen trade good or bad?
It comes as no surprise, then, that confronting your opponent with as many strategic challenges as possible will lead to imprudent decisions and positional errors on his part. In my most recent tournament, I was able to do just that.
As you could see, all it took was two or three positional inaccuracies -- in fewer than 10 moves, my opponent's once-solid position was in ruins.
I cannot emphasize enough that risk is an inevitable part of playing for a win an equal position. Sometimes, it is indeed more prudent to play it safe and take a draw, especially if you are in time pressure. But Caissa has a tendency to reward players for ambition and bravery.
RELATED STUDY MATERIAL
- Check out GM Daniel Naroditsky's previous article: Brilliant Endgames, Shirov Style.
- Watch GM Roman Dzindzichashvili's greatest chess minds video on Bronstein.
- Learn how to go from ashes to equality in the Chess Mentor.
- Winning equal positions requires sharp tactics. Practice in the Tactics Trainer.
- Looking for articles with deeper analysis? Try our magazine: The Master's Bulletin.