Since returning home from the Philadelphia Open in April, I've drawn 50% of my OTB games. That comes out to 4 wins, 5 losses, and 9 draws. In previous years of play I virtually never drew games. Heck, I barely knew how to draw a game, much less actually play for one if I was behind.
One question I had to ask myself was, why am I drawing? What is the pattern? Looking at the games, 2 of those were draws where I was behind (2 pawns behind in one case). I successfully played for draws in those games. In another 2 games, the position was equal in the late middlegame and neither of us really had ideas on how to progess without over reaching. Fair enough.
But by far the most draws, 5, were in games where I was ahead! Either I had a moderate positional advantage or I was up some material but my opponent successfully outplayed me and robbed me of the win. Or, I had a slight advantage but didn't know how to win it and finally agreed to a draw in order not to blunder away at least a half point. In either case, I failed to take advantage of the hard work I had put in to the earlier stages of the game.
Here is an example where I could have had a queen and pawn for two rooks. The game would not have been trivial to win but I accepted my opponent's draw offer because of indecision on how to continue successfully.
So what is going on? After talking with some chess friends and my coach and some reflection, I think I am suffering from my own success. Almost a year ago when I started my new training program, one of my biggest goals was to play more careful chess moves. To consider all, "Checks, captures, and threats," as NM Dan Heisman advises. I also came up with a simple but thorough 6 step thought process that I've tried hard to execute on every move. All of these changes have helped my rating increase from 1311 to as high as 1583 USCF. Of course, I still have mental oversights. Sometimes I forget to look all the checks, captures, and threats on a move and suffer the consequences. But, I am much better at it and my rating has improved well over 200 points in the past year.
Now, I need to not only be safe and careful on every move. That is not enough to consistently beat the 1600 and 1700 level players that I am now playing. I need to learn to push my advantages. I need to learn to convert those advantages into wins and, importantly, prevent my opponent from saving a half point when he is behind.
My coach came up with an exercise a few weeks ago that he wants me to spend 20% of my training time doing. The exercise is to take a position with a winning advantage, at least a +1 point evaluation, and play out the winning side against the computer set to an 1800-2000 ELO--the rating range that I am trying to achieve.
The positions, when possible, should come from my own lost or drawn games. But they can also come from books and articles.
I've been doing this for a few weeks and it has been interesting. It is often hard to convert a win against the computer even when up 2 points! (I've set the computer to a 2000 ELO just to make it a bit more difficult...) It often takes me 2-3 tries to win. If I still can't figure it out, I switch sides and watch how the computer beats me with the winning position.
In this way, I am hopefully learning winning technique and will eventually catch the express train out of Drawville.