Why You Lose To Weaker Players

Why You Lose To Weaker Players

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Asmara the Cat wrote:

I have a problem and I hope you can help me. My problem is that I don’t know how to defeat bad players (well, I’m not so good, but players who play worse than me). In real life, I’ve earned a FIDE rating between 1500 and 1580 during the last several years. In chess tournaments, I can regularly beat players in the 1700-1800 range (I beat an 1822 FIDE yesterday), and my best draw was against a 2001 player. But on, my rating never exceeded 1400 in 10 minutes blitz. The fact is I lose against players who play very aggressively or who don’t know the “Capablanca fundamentals” style. Players who just attack without castling, who have very strange openings that don’t appear in any books. 

Of course, I play a lot on at moments when I should better go to bed, and I’m not so serious on the Internet, but in a real-life tournament, beginners with an “Internet style” can beat me easily (one of them beat me in the same tournament I defeated a 1822). I think I should beat them because I work on chess and read chess books (for example, one of my favourites is Simple Chess by Michael Stean. It gave me some good victories against high-rated chess players), but books only explain how to fight against good players, not against the ones who don’t play logical moves.

An old player (93 years old) told me once “a bad move becomes a good one when you don’t find the refutation.” Is the only solution to take more time to think about the position? Thinking, “Oh, it’s bad, I’ll beat him easily!” is certainly not the solution.

Since these low-rated players beat me, they clearly know something that I don’t know. But as I try to play what I learned from my chess studies, I imagine I should have better results against these players and do not understand why I can’t.

I sent a photo of me as Asmara the Cat.

JS: Asmara the Cat is a French lady who lives in Paris. Her real name is Sonia. Since I’m very much into cats (best creatures on Earth…far superior to humans), I’ll use her name most of the time.

Let’s leap into her games and see what in the world is going on!

Here’s what she wrote about her first game:

This one, against Chakir Amine, is the game that made me write to you. I felt rather okay because the White king had to stay in the center.

Even when I saw I was going to lose my knight I thought I had good compensation. But then I blundered and allowed his knight to win the game.

In the game Sonia played 7...Nh5, but why did she play this? If it was played so ...e7-e5 could follow (when the knight could leap to the f4-square), then fair enough. But after 7...Nh5 8.Bh2 she switched to 8...c5, which has absolutely nothing to do with 7...Nh5.

This makes me think that her 7...Nh5 was mainly played to attack the f4-bishop, but random attacks are often useless unless there are other reasons for the (obvious) attack.

Looking at her other games, I noticed that she made similar attacks. They didn’t really improve her position, she just kicked the enemy piece for reasons unknown. The joy of attacking enemy pieces is a common thing in amateur chess, but again — if it doesn’t have more to it than “I’m going to take your piece if you let me,” then what you’re doing is probably wrong. 

As it turns out, there was no need to play ...Nh5 if the goal was ...e7-e5 (which apparently it wasn’t):


  • Get excited if your king is castled while your opponent’s isn’t. Such situations often plead for dynamic retribution.
  • One-move attacks are common but often useless (or even cause damage).

A bit later in the game we got the following position:


  • Keep your king safe!
  • You always need to know what your opponent’s best move is. This doesn’t mean that you think he’ll play some blunder that gives you the game; that means you will know, as best you can, what your opponent should (but not necessarily) do. If she had followed this advice on move 19, she would have seen Nc4 and, quite likely, won the game.

Let’s take a time out and let Amara the Cat share her feelings about the three losses (the game against Shakir Amine being one of them) she gave me:

Here are three games I lost. The general impression I had was:

1) It should be easy; there’s no sense in my opponent’s position.

2) Oh, I had not seen that! But I still can find a way.

3) Oh my god, what’s happening, I can’t control anything, I’m lost!


  • When you play a move like ...Bg4, it’s clear that h2-h3 might be coming. Thus, if you have to retreat all the way home when h3 is played, don't play ...Bg4 (of course, there are always exceptions) in the first place!
  • If you are castled and your opponent is not, you can often take the initiative. However, doing so means that you play in a very dynamic manner.
  • If you are castled and your opponent is not, train yourself to look for dynamic or tactical possibilities. The opponent might castle at any time, so it’s often now or never if you wish to use the “I’m-castled-and-he’s-not” paradigm.
  • Anyone can beat you if you play passively. But a lot of your opponents will fall on their face in terror if you play in a dynamic fashion. 


  • One of the keys to tactical play is the “unprotected piece.” Everyone should train to notice enemy pieces that are not protected. You’ll win a lot of games if you do! In our last example, we saw two cases of the “unprotected piece.” The first unprotected piece was White’s knight on e5, and the second was Black’s undefended knight on b4.


  • If you think you’re doomed, you ARE doomed (since you won’t have the mindset to find various saving ideas). Perhaps you actually have a forced win, but if you have told yourself that your position is hopeless, then that’s what you’ll see — hopelessness.

Amara the Cat, I want to thank you for the games and the very enjoyable prose. It seems to me that your biggest weaknesses are: 

  • TACTICS: You need to look at as many tactical problems as possible. has tactical tools, and there are endless books on the subject.
  • DYNAMICS: Your play tends toward the passive. You need to fix that. Make a point of looking at the games of dynamic monsters like Alekhine, Tal, and other masters of dynamics. 

If you make serious improvements in these two areas you’ll find that the people that have beaten you in the past will be smashed in the face of your newfound tactical and dynamic skills.

Of course, all chess players should work on every part of their game, but if there’s one part of chess that drags you down more than any other you need to put as much energy into curing that “disease” as possible.

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