How to Win

How to Win

| 16 | Middlegame

Dear Thamizhan,

I am a d4 player, rated 1300-1400 and I enjoy playing the Samisch Variation against the King's Indian.

a) What are the factors or principles that I must use in order to win a game whenever I am in a good position?

b) Since that I love the Samisch Variation position, is it safe to transpose my oppenings in to the Samisch Variation whenever I play against any Indian opening or against black?

c) I am struggling to find another opening except the Tarrasch that will lead me in to the samisch variation position whenever I play against d4 as black, what would you suggest?


Dear Machete-Oratilwe,

It is nice to have a favorite opening, it tends to give one a hint about their chess playing style.

a) A very good question indeed. There are certain important things you can do to convert good positions into wins. Here is one of our previous articles in which Grandmaster Arun Prasad explains the important factors that help you go that last mile.

I am going to be building on top of the previous article with some more examples and pointers. As you can see from the previous article, losing focus is one of the main reasons why someone will not be able to win from a winning position. And why would someone lose focus? It is because until you reached that winning position you did no have anything to lose, but given that you are winning now, your expectations have increased and that tends to put undue pressure in your mind. Once you feel the pressure to win, then everything else follows. We all know the saying “when it rains, it pours!”. Before you know it you are thinking about rating, championship, qualification and on and on...

A perfect example would be the US Open Semi-Finals this year between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovich. After playing their hearts out in the first 4 sets, the scores were tied with two sets each. In the fifth, Federer had a chance to jump on some errors of Novak and was eventually serving for the match with the score board reading 5-3 in the fifth. Serving at 40-15 Federer had two match points on his serve and he managed not to convert either. Kudos to Novak who played a brilliant service return to switch the momentum back to his side. If you did not see this point, you missed something.

An amazing shift in momentum that lead to Federer losing the next 4 games in a row to lose the match. So what really happened in there? Is Roger Federer asking the same question that you have asked today? I believe the answer to that question is yes. Every single sportsperson, even the greats face practical problems. What makes them different is the way they handle it. In this case Federer obviously did not handle the pressure well, but it is hard to blame him given that he lost to the same guy, the same way exactly a year ago. It is obviously much easier to talk about right and wrong being a spectator, but the fact nevertheless is that Federer lost a winning position most likely because he succumbed to the building pressure. Finally another important thing to note from Novak's return is how he went after Federer's serve on that critical point. This is exactly what is explained by Arun in the previous article: when you keep pushing someone to a corner they are going to try and break open with all their might. The more pressure you put on him, the more dangerously he is going to react and we should be prepared to face that kind of aggression.

Coming back to our chess scenario, the most important thing to do is to tell yourself to be calm. An agitated mind will tell you to do irrational things, things that you would not normally do. Talk yourself into calmness and that will help you quite a bit in avoiding mistakes that will throw away the win. Try to involve yourself in the pool of chess move calculation and that will save you from your thoughts of the external factors such as winning, rating or championship etc.

Another important point to think about in this context is identifying the difference between advantage and initiative. Often players get confused between the two and as a result let go their chance to succeed. Remember in chess it often takes more than one mistake to lose a game, which means that being ahead does not always mean you can win. Hence it is important that you extract that last losing mistake from your opponent. To be able to suck that last ounce of blood you will need a lot patience.

The real problem is however in knowing when to wait and when to act. An advantage implies that you have something lasting, it will not change over time unless you make a mistake. For example, your opponent has an isolated doubled pawn that is a permanent damage to his pawn formation, and it will not change unless you trade a piece close enough to the pawn enabling him to untangle his doubled pawns. An initiative is something you will lose over time. For example out of the opening you have your pieces all developed faster than your opponent, then you have a small initiative. If you act immediately you can try to use that initiative to your advantage, but if you wait long enough, your opponent will develop his pieces and your initiative will vanish even without you making any mistake.

Here is an example of converting a tiny advantage from one of my recent games.





Here is one where I failed to understand my initiative and overstretched my limits.


These two games should tell you a little about what to do in a better position. Obviously you will have to study several positions like these to understand things better and master the technique of winning winning positions. I would also encourage the readers to analyze the final rook and pawn endgame as it offers tons of analytical possibilities.

b) It is one thing to be fond of one opening, it is another to try and convert all your games into that opening. The first part is good, but the second part is quite impossible. You cannot forcefully take your opponent into one particular opening, there are always options for your opponent. The Samisch variation is played both against the King's Indian Defense and the Nimzo Indian Defense. Do not try to convert all other openings into the same one because each opening has a unique plan and strategy associated with it. You should not try to apply a plan that is suited for an open position in a closed position, it will simply not work. So here is what I would suggest as far as the openings go, you can transpose any possible openings into the Samisch, but they might be only a few. You should be ready to play against other openings without depending on the Samisch and if in fact it becomes a Samisch over the board, it would just be a bonus.

C) I am not sure about your question here, but from what I think, I already answered it in answer B. Try to study and be aware of different openings that satisfy your opening reportaire needs, being dependent on just one opening would put you in some trouble eventually.

Hopefully this gave a satisfying answer to your questions.

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