Keeping Your Advantage
This post is about "keeping your advantages." I will not be giving concrete examples, but I'll explain. What I am referring to is not even about small advantages, which is normally what teachers refer to with the phrase. This is understandable, but it is also important to keep large advantages. If a player is up a piece and a pawn, then in most cases it can be an asset that helps them to win the game. Of course one can be down a queen and two rooks and still win, so that is a helpful point as well. So here are some thoughts I am trying to share here.
1. Do not think having more material, is equal to winning.
The other day I had a horrible game, I was down at least two pieces and two pawns, I clearly should have lost, but my opponent was so focused on his offensive domination, that he missed that I had set up a bishop-Queen battery to his King, and he got mated. The diagram I included does not show this, but I am getting there.
In the position shown, I am up a piece and a pawn, I "should" win. I am sure any grandmaster would win in this position, but the point of my post is about "making the best moves." I cannot count the number of times that I have been up a piece and a pawn and "relaxed", and then suddenly I am no longer up a pawn, but down two pawns. Sure I may be a piece up, but suddenly the comfort of an "easy win" has been made more complicated by sloppy play because I just "assumed" I could coast, now that I have a material advantage.
2. As said before, Do not "coast" when you have a material or even positional advantage.
3. If you have the advantage, keep "all" your advantages.
If I am up a piece and a pawn, a position might allow for mate in 20 or through laziness-- mate in 40. My appeal to us in this blog entry, is to strive for the variation which pursues the "best line." Sure, there are times when you can accept certain trade offs if it means a quicker pawn promotion or quicker mate, but even if I am up a piece, it does not mean I want to "go down the exchange". I am certain in many games a player might be up a bishop, then through carelessness he blocks in his own bishop and it in effect becomes almost useless. Who knows, maybe he still wins despite the self-inflicted bishop barrier, but he might have won in 20 moves instead of 40. So keep "all" your advantages, both materially and positonally.
4. Every position can give insightful points of analysis, even if you are totally ahead.
The diagram I posted above can still lend itself to "practice" analysis. So, I want to analyze the pawn structure for him and for me. I have three pawn islands, so does he. Yet he has two isolated pawns, I have none. I have two center pawns, he has none. My center pawns might hinder my bishop scope, but yet they may also hinder his knight manuevers. Which pawns are most vulnerable for me, which pawns are most vulnerable for him. Is this a time to just go gang up on his isolated pawns and win the game by pushing my pawns, or should I just try to double rooks on the seventh. Like I said, many players in blitz can get careless and allow white to double rooks on the seventh, and get in a bind even with the piece advantage. Other observations like, my bishop is light-squared, so where do I want my pawns. Can I create an outpost for my knight or bishop. Obviously my knight is in a safe position here, but "here" is not the point, the point is "whatever game you are in" and you have an advantage, to still analyze can points of insight. Will my future moves help my King get to the center before his King, will my pawn structure develop to maintain the flow of my pieces, etc, etc. Is he going to trick me with a tricky Knight fork somewhere and win an exchange or win a rook outright.
5. Were my advantages accidental, or by design, and how can I replicate them?
The pawn on c5 was by design, I wanted to give him two isolated pawns, and he allowed me to, by moving a bishop to c5 protected by the b4 pawn, I intentionally took his dark squared-bishop with my bishop, and gave him two isolated pawns. I figured that had to help me in the long run. In your games, when you find yourself with advantages, do just say "oh I should win", say, "now how did I get this advantage in the first place, and how can I keep it, and how can I replicate these gains in other games."
In position posted, it is easy to say, "well I am sure you will figure out something." True, but if I do not analyze what is going on I will most likely pick the most complicated continuation, rather than making things easier for me. Another relevant factor is below.
6. Analyzing your advantages can also help avoid future time pressure.
Remember that common knowledge fact. "You might win in 20 moves instead of 40." Well, what if you are playing G75 and your clock is down to 40 minutes, you can have 1 minute per move, and get somewhat stressed in the last 10 minutes and blunder; or you can have 2 minutes per move, and in the last 10 moves have a very deliberate continuation to win with full control. Too often blitz chess creates this attitude of "I am going to win, and I am going to win with even more time on the clock." So I am saying, "What a dumb goal." No, it is not fun to be in time pressure. But if you mate someone in a G75 and you only have 2 minutes on the clock, it doesn't matter if your opponent has 30 minutes on the clock. What will be nice is to show your friends, "you know the last 30 moves I was in complete control of the position, I kept my piece and pawn advantage, I did not get lazy and coast, I still analyzed the position, the pawns, the goals, the potential weaknesss that I had, and found "the best" continuation; sure I was down to two minutes, but I had no worries, no weaknesses, and did not "give back" an inch of opportunity.
Well, there is more I want to say, but this is enough for now.