Kiss, Keep It Simple....

Kiss, Keep It Simple....

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David writes:

Hi, I've been playing chess online for 5 months and my rating is almost 1000. I've heard some people say that you should "simplify when ahead." What does that mean? Am I supposed to play very differently when I'm ahead or behind? Thanks!


Thanks for bringing this hypothetical question, it is surprising to me that this question is a hypothetical one! With all the questions that are pouring in, I would tend to believe that something like this would have showed up a long time ago.

Unfortunately, the answer to this question is not very straight-forward, it is be part yes and part no. Let me begin by explaining the yes part of the answer first. Chess, just like life, demands a person to be adaptable to the conditions. It is important that your playing style reflects your situation. For example it depends on your tournament rank, your mental and physical condition, etc. If you decide to play a long tiring and grinding defensive game on a day when you do not feel physically strong, you are most likely going to go down fighting in the last hour of the battle. Are you supposed to play different types of moves in different situations in a game? The best way to explain this would be a recent example that cost me a couple of thousand dollars!

I would like to explain the tournament situation first before we go on with the game. I was leading the pack with 8.5 points out of 10 rounds and there were 3 players trailing behind with 8 points. I needed half a point to win the championship playing black against a strong Grandmaster Aleksej Aleksandrov from Belarus.



As George Costanza (Seinfeld) would put it, I am looking at this position and I began to perceive this impending hormonal (luckily not intestinal!) requirement to satisfy my huge ego which was urging me to finish off in style, with a bang! As I started to visualize all the garlands of praise pouring in for my brave act of fighting chess and how I single-handedly brought chess to life from the dull era filled with boring grandmaster draws, I realized that these needs were going to surpass by great lengths anything in the practical and sensible realm! The idea of not playing passively and the possible ego burst pushed me into making a real bad practical decision here.



Obviously I was in great form throughout the tournament to be able to lead the tournament all the way. Going into the last game, I told myself all I had to do was continue playing the way I had played throughout. I just did not want to do anything different for the last game. Unfortunately for me, my thought process back-fired as I started being unnecessarily aggressive. I still would like to take some credit for going after my natural instinct and not holding back. It was just too bad that I missed a move and my position collapsed. Taking on f2 was obviously a bad decision. Needing half a point in a very comfortable position, I should have just opted for the safe way. But for some reason, the need to be offensive and the fear of being defensive made me go over-board and play this not-so-sound sacrifice.

Now, you might think I am taking off on a different tangent and I am not really answering the question, but I would like to explain my point clearly. The idea of playing differently according to a situation is what in my opinion would be the bigger picture and that is something I want the readers to understand clearly first.

Let us come to our specific question now, is it important to simplify a position when you are ahead? Yes! Denying your opponent the one thing that he/she really wants is as efficient as achieving your own goal. When you are ahead in material what do you think your opponent would want? From my experience, the answer to this question is “counter play”. You should do everything within your capacity to deny that counter play since that is like the desperate air that your opponent seeks to breathe and survive.

To explain this, I am going to ask you to imagine a war with two Kings. King X with one hundred men and King Y with ninety five men. At this point everyone would probably consider King X to be the favorite, but by no means is the war decided. There is certainly a possibility that King Y has stronger men or will have some clever strategem to make better use of them, which makes the whole war unpredictable. Now if the number of soldiers are reduced to ten for King X and five for King Y, then obviously King X is a much bigger favorite to win the battle. If we simplify further at some point King X would have five men to King Y's zero and the war would be over!

This is exactly what we are taught to do in chess. When you are ahead, things are still not clear, but as you start simplifying more and more pieces suddenly you see that you are the only one with the extra material and it makes it extremely easy for you to wrap up the game. And most importantly after every trade you are taking away a chance for a counter play from your opponent. A hypothetical question demands a few hypothetical position to explain, so here is an imaginative position to explain the above concept clearly.





So when would the answer be 'no' to our question? The main argument here would be that if you try to alter too much from your natural path, then you might just get clogged up, stop thinking normally, make too many concessions. Here is an example of a situation when you would not want to simplify even when you are ahead.



Hopefully this helped!

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