Playing higher rated opponents

| 7 | Strategy

Often when a player is paired with someone ranked much higher, he doesn't follow his usual routine. A player who usually uses the Morra gambit against the sicilian suddenly goes for a quieter line. Others will try to trade off as much material as possible to get closer to a draw. Again others try to play as many forcing lines as possible.

I think all three of these options are pretty bad. Not playing your favorite gambit line against a 'better' opponent is more or less an admission that you think it isn't completely sound. Trading off as much material as possible isn't bad in itself, but playing too much for it often leaves you in a bad endgame, and even if the endgame is your forte, it won't be fun defending. Forcing play isn't bad in itself either, but it is not nearly always necessary - again, your opponent will probably get the better position if you take all the tension out of the game.

In the past year I have often profited from having a higher rating than my opponent in OTB chess. There were players who avoided complicated lines that would definitely have been better for them, probably 'trusting' that I had seen the variation would be good for me. There was a player who the year before had a much higher rating than me, but a year later played unambitiously in 2 games with me and in both games he was happy with a draw.

My advice is to focus on playing the board, not the player. Regardless of who is sitting across of you, try playing what you think are the best moves, follow your routines, play your normal openings - this will give you the greatest chance of beating the other. I am not saying you should completely ignore who is sitting in front of you - if you know what opening he/she plays it might be a good idea to prepare something for that, and if you know that he/she is a tactical monster it's probably better to steer the game into quieter waters. But that your opponent is 1300-rated instead of 1900 doesn't suddenly make it less relevant that an aggressive move of yours allows him a complicated combination that wins a piece.

I'm now going to show a game of mine of nearly a year ago. It was in the last round of a tournament and my opponent was rated about 350 points higher than me at the time. Neither of us had any chance anymore for a prize, and I had already scored 5 out of 8 (and would have been happy with a total score of 5/9) so there wasn't anything at stake for me. Obviously there was some pressure for him though, to prove he was the clearly better player.








My advice: play the way you do against any other player - this will give you the best chance.