Training: Never give up - how to come back from seemingly lost causes

Training: Never give up - how to come back from seemingly lost causes

IM IM_Kgwm
Dec 10, 2016, 6:59 AM |

This is an old article that was re-hashed from an article I wrote for the now defunct - Singapore Chess News. Hope you enjoy it!


We often heard this phrase from parents, coaches, chess players alike. One can easily imagine a parent asking his child to “Try your best!” or “Don’t give up!” but what do these phrases really mean in the context of our game? No, it certainly doesn’t mean playing on till checkmate even if you are in a heavy material deficit, incidentally a situation that I witnessed frequently in a recent National event. Neither does it mean to play on from a hopeless position and hope for your opponent to blunder or flounder in time trouble. Although there are exceptions, our opponents are generally not so cooperative – I’m sure our readers can attest to that.

In my opinion, the phrase “don’t give up” in chess means that a player should always strive to create as many practical problems as you can for your opponent, despite from an inferior position, and to have the ability to spot hidden, and most often unexpected resources that can turn the position in your favour. The following position perfectly exemplifies the final point in the previous sentence:


Take a look at the position and search for White’s best move for at least 10-15 minutes before scrolling for the solution. I assure you that the reward of finding the solution on your own is enormous. I remember my delight and the satisfaction I felt when I somehow stumbled onto the correct continuation.

As always, before you hunt for White’s best continuation, remember to first assess the position and consider the potentially desirable outcome that you may want to attain. Remember to mentally note down some key variations that may arise from your selection. 

A pretty combination indeed, and probably not the most difficult to solve with a “White to play and win” caption below the position but how would it feel like to have such a position during the game? I can easily understand the despair that White must have felt; the position looks completely hopeless and in order to spot the combination, White must have an incredible will to survive, plenty of optimism and an eye for tactics. These are the attributes that I will be emphasizing in this article.

You might probably be thinking “nah, this is a position taken from a training book. Things ain’t like this in real life.” Actually, these situations occur quite frequently (to my astonishment, I must admit) and I will be showing a few snippets of my own games. Some of these are painful losses where I gave up too quickly, something that is apparent in my game and that I am working on right now.

Again, I am only focusing on concrete situations where the inferior side has an unexpected resource at his disposal that may turn the position in his favour. A blunder from an opponent leading to an obvious and easy win can normally be attributed to pure luck and nothing else. This can happen to anyone, regardless of the amount of “will power” or “optimism” that one may have.

After I checked the game, I was devastated that I have resigned in a winning position but after some time, I realised that I lost the game not because I did not manage to find the simple 2-mover at the end but because I have given up hope completely and did not strive to maximise my chances at all times and putting up the most resistance possible. Chess however, is a sport and resilience and a win at all costs attitude are extremely important attributes that all athletes must possess.

I may appear to be contradicting myself – wasn’t there an element of luck when my opponent faltered and played the horrible 37...e5? Of course there is, but the mistake is not obvious to exploit and it requires White to find a resource under unfavourable conditions i.e. time trouble and the depressing feeling of having to defend a worse position almost throughout the whole game.

Here is one game where I managed to salvage something from a seemingly lost cause:

Trust me when I say I really do not enjoy showing my very worst games here even though it might not seem that way but here is another example where I gave up too early when I should have fought on.

It is difficult to understand why I made the decision to resign. With seconds to go, it is almost intuitive to simply grab the f7 pawn and wait for Black to prove the win. Since the moves are more or less forced, there is really nothing much to think about and it is easier to play on then to resign. In fact, I am pretty sure I would have seen 33.e5 if the situation arises.

The next game is yet another extremely similar scenario:

Sometimes, the position just does not provide one with ample resources to salvage something but there certainly is no harm in trying and giving your opponent the chance to go wrong.

After the game, Tu expressed his surprise at my 58th move. He explains that in any case, 58.Kxc2 is obviously lost whereas 58.Bxc2 at least forces Black to calculate something concrete. What he didn’t realise is that I was extremely disappointed with my blunder in the game excerpt and I did not have the energy or spirit left to make another grandiose comeback.

The point is clear: always be ready for the unexpected because that is what the game of chess is all about. And when presented with the chance, one has to grab it with open arms immediately and one can only do so when equipped with a certain degree of determination not to give up without a fight and the will to provide maximum resistance in every situation.

It is important to note that one has to consistently study some form of calculation and tactics in order to be ready to pounce. You can have all the fighting spirit and determination in the world but that will amount to nothing if you do not have any tactical sense or calculation abilities.