How to Steal a Chess Game

How to Steal a Chess Game

| 26 | Tactics

All chess players, whether they're GMs or novices, have bad days. However, chess is not a cumulative game — one blunder, one moment of premature relaxation —  can instantly nullify hours of hard work.

few months ago, I wrote an article on desperado defense, the ability to turn a lost position around by confronting your opponent with unexpected tactical difficulties. But what is there to do when you are on the verge of defeat and desperado defense is — for one reason or another — impossible?

It is the mark of an experienced player to make his opponent work until the very last moment, and in this article I would like to examine how grandmasters are able to swindle their opponents even in ostensibly hopeless positions. 

First, I should clarify the difference between desperado defense and swindling. The former is a process by which you alter the course of the game and essentially outplay your opponent from a bad position, while swindling is the art of inducing a tactical blunder in an apparently resignable situation.

Swindles are often misperceived as cheap traps that are primarily seen in online bullet games. This is far from true: as we are about to see, even the strongest players in the world have been devilishly swindled. 


Magnus Carlsen has had Hikaru Nakamura's number ever since they first played in 2005 (+ 11 = 15 -0!), but at the 2014 Zurich Chess Challenge, Hikaru completely outplayed Magnus in a positional tour de force. Fans and commentators alike were expecting resignation on every move. But then, the unimaginable took place. 

A jaw-dropping turnaround! Notice how astutely Carlsen utilized Nakamura's time trouble: instead of setting a cheap, transparent trap, he goaded Nakamura into making a seemingly natural — but disastrously superficial —pawn advance (37.d6). See IM Rensch and GM Ipatov's live coverage of the Zurich International that day here.

Another common swindling technique is to confuse and unsettle your opponent with a last-ditch tactical shot. If he is able to keep his cool and find the refutation, hats off to him. But even strong grandmasters occasionally lose themselves in the sudden tactical complications. Russian GM Valery Neverov's total self-destruction in the following tragicomic game is a textbook example. 

As a popular saying goes, you should hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. You should not expect your opponent to self-immolate as soon as you muddy the waters. However, if you are able to camouflage your idea and make your opponent think that he is in full control of the situation, your chances of a succesful swindle will be far greater.

Keaton Kiewra via

Against my good friend and video columnist IM Keaton Kiewra, I was able to draw a hopeless ending by doing just that. 

As you can see, sly defensive resources can frequently be unearthed even with almost no pieces left on the board! 

And now, try your own luck at swindling a GM! I should warn you in advance that the first move is incredibly hard to find, partly because the position is so messy and complex. Nevertheless, reproducing the final tactical sequence is a rewarding and aesthetically pleasing experience. 

Stay swindle-thirsty, my friends! 


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