Taking Risks

Taking Risks‎

WGM Natalia_Pogonina
46 | Middlegame

Sometimes during a game we have to make a decision: to risk or not to risk? Let me explain. “Risking” means choosing a continuation which is not necessarily the strongest objectively, but may either make your position worse or, if the other player fails to react correctly, lead to success. Also, risk can be forced (i.e. there is nothing else to do) or unforced (when there is a choice). The former can also be divided into justified (when the position is prone to taking risks) and unjustified (when there are no real reasons for risk-taking).

Let’s talk about all these types of risking in detail:

1.    Forced risk. Connected with tournament situation. Sometimes one needs a win and a win only (e.g. in a knock-out event after a loss), and the game is likely to end in a draw. In this case one should take a risk. That doesn’t mean giving all your pieces away, starting to play like a madman, but choosing the continuation which requires your opponent to make a difficult decision. That could be a tricky sacrifice, deviating from exchanging pieces and simplifying the position, etc. The risk is that these actions may put you on the verge of losing. However, if you don't risk, a draw will happen, and that’s equal to a loss under some circumstances.
2.    Unforced risk. In some positions one doesn’t really have to risk, but he/she may want to opt for it for some reasons.
•    Justified risk. Sometimes your position is gradually getting worse, and if the trend continues, you are likely to lose. Here you have to make a decision: try to do your best to defend accurately and hope that your opponent will play inaccurately, or go all-in, change the course of the game, complicate the position. However, you should keep in mind that it is acceptable only if the defensive resources of the position are rather poor. Otherwise, you may want to try to save it without risking.
•    Unjustified risk. All of us catch the Morphy spirit from time to time and want to risk without any reasons. Objectively speaking, if your position is ok or just a bit worse, it doesn’t make sense to risk a lot. Please keep in mind that we are not talking about a brave and positionally justified attack, but about trying to artificially change the course of the game, spice things up.

When choosing whether to risk or not to risk, one should take into consideration lots of factors: the evaluation of the position, tournament situation, time, your opponent’s style, your own chess shape, etc. If there are more pros than cons, go ahead. Also, intuition is a good advisor (at least for me) in such situations. In time trouble, when the decision has to be made quickly, having the right hunch is critical. Don’t be afraid to take risks, but keep your head cool! Smile

Now let's get back to the games I played at the Mulhouse-2010-GM event and see how one should not take risks:


My decision to risk with 14…c4 was a lame one. There were more “cons” than “pros”, but I still talked myself into going for it. Actually, although my opponent offered me chances to save the game later on, this single move was the root of my loss. The risk was not justified.

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