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Tips for beating a player of unknown strength?

  • #1

    Hi all,

    I want to first say that this post does not concern my own problems (astounding right?), but rather one of my younger brothers. He is initially getting into chess, and is really enjoying himself. He's been playing on and off for about half a year and has learned some tactics and some basic openings. For instance, he has a ChessTempo rating of roughly 1550. 

    Apparently he has somewhat of an intellectual rivalry with one of his classmates (we all had someone like that) and being confident in his own chess ability, he rashly challenged said rival to a chess game. It turns out that the rival happens to have been somewhat of a child prodigy, not Carlsen level certainly, but good enough to win some of the middle school tournaments he played. Now I know winning middle school tournaments is indicative of basically nothing, but my brother is getting psyched out. I suspect that this kid merely showed an ability to pick up on his opponent's mistakes and isn't formally trained in chess. I know that he is marginally knowledgeable, mostly because he said "I bet I will scholar's mate you!". My brother wisely said "What's that?" (the element of surprise is often very powerful ;))

    Today he asked me for some tips on how to beat this rival. As someone only a litle bit better than him, I didnt see myself as giving useful advice.

    So here is my question to all of you more knowledgable chess players: Should he enter a more tactical position (ie sicilian) where hopefully his practice in tactics will prevail, or should he try to keep the game a little more positional, where hopefully his knowledge of basic endgames and concepts of the middle game will win?

  • #2

    Well, since we seem to be talking about Scholar's Mates and such, my advice would be:  look around for whatever pieces happen to be hanging and grab em. Wink

  • #3

    I do not think I am knowledgable to advise, but one thing I know for sure when playing live, if someone throws a less common opening at me (and knows it well) I am at a loss, so at the level u are talking this may be a tack he could opt for --- maybe :-)

  • #4

    At this level, "tactical vs positional chess" is a meaningless discussion.  They lose because they drop pieces and pawns and overlook mate threats. 

    No player who cannot get through most of his games without overlooking a simple one or two move threat to his pieces or King has no business whatever trying to play the Sicilian or any other "opening variation."  He should try to follow the basic principles and pay attention to his pieces and the other guy's, as Andy recommends.

  • #5

    It's an interesting question though... how do you play someone whose strength you don't know.  I set up a chessboard on campus a number of times for a chance to play whoever wanted a game.  I played as if they were a class or two above me until I'd seen enough inaccuracies / errors to know what I could get away with.

    So do any of us really only play the board?  In my opinion never completely.  I think we play up or down to the level of our opponent.

    Anyway to answer your question, sounds like the kids have played before so how good does your brother think his opponent is?  Standard type advice, when you want to win, play what you know... but as Andy said if we're talking pretty new here (I don't know what 1500 chesstempo is) may just go learn some cheap gambit stuff and hope the guy falls for traps Tongue Out

  • #6

    It sounds like he should prep for facing the Scholar's Mate, though he should expect other possible openings too.

  • #7

    I'd advise him to play "his" game and not worry about what his opponent may or may not be comfortable with. :)

  • #8

    Thanks for the advice all. Estragon I would tend to agree with you. I have advised him to play simply 1...e5 and play his regular chess. He seems a little disappointed, probably expecting some knockout opening I could give him, but with his limited time and experience I figure just keeping track of basic threats is the way to go, like you all suggested. I do feel like some of you are maybe underestimating him, because his opponent was joking regarding the scholar's mate and so was he when he said "What's that?". He has beaten me in many an endgame (maybe not much to brag about).

    He can keep track of his pieces relatively efficiently, and can stop up to 2 move tactics, which is probably better than many people just getting into chess. I have suggested he just get a feel for his opponent's ability to start out, and if he feels comfortable with his position and relative ability, go ahead and open the position up.

  • #9

    Generally best to just stick to the best move you can find in any given position regardless of your opponent. If you're looking for a particular stylistic strategy, steering the game to a style that suits your strengths rather than worrying about what your opponent's strengths or weaknesses might be seems to me a good strategy.

  • #10
    Tjornan wrote:

    I have advised him to play simply 1...e5 and play his regular chess. He seems a little disappointed, probably expecting some knockout opening I could give him....I do feel like some of you are maybe underestimating him, because his opponent was joking regarding the scholar's mate and so was he when he said "What's that?"

    Still, if he was expecting you to be able to hand over to him a "knockout opening," it sounds like he still has a lot of learning to do. Wink

  • #11

    haha true true. Of course we all had those sorts of delusions when we started out. I still have remnants of these ideas, as evidenced by my play of Bg5 to pin and attempt of Nd5 before the opponent castles. I lost many a game to a monster rook on the g-file pointed at my king :(. 

    I plan to buy him Jeremy Silman's Reasses Your Chess book so that he may drop some of these misconceptions.

  • #12

    without the background given, i think its actually quite an interesting topic.

    Personally when I play someone or the first time I will use an opening in which contact between pieces or pawns is delayed. I they make book type moves I can assume they are a strong player. I think this is an effective way of finding their strength, however it is often difficult, as or some lines I only have 1 system that is very forcing, making it more difficult to guage their level of play.

  • #13

    This topic poses questions other than my brother's problems of course. If I don't know a person's strength, I tend to make silly little threats and see how they respond. This method is probably a good way to lose and no doubt I've lost countless games using this. I suppose the way Fear_Itself suggests is probably best, by delaying contact. Of course the only real way to judge someone's strength is to play them fully, as they may be stronger in endgames, a positional player, or any number of things that can't be gleaned from opening moves. 

  • #14

    True, often it is difficult to tell, but if they make moves such as h4 in the opening, we can assume they're weak. I have never met someone whos opening skill was on the level of a 6 year old but could pull themselves back together in the endgame with amazing skill.

    If however they make sensible moves then you can 'over estimate' them, give them the benefit of the doubt that theyre strong and play like you would against any other opponent equal or better than you.

  • #15

    There really is hardly any advice to give. People should be playing their game which shouldn't need to be stated. The only thing we had to go on is possibly the opponent might try the Scholar's Mate. Not knowing your bro's skill level, the obvious suggestion is to prepare for it, which is easy enough to do. I remember being about that age or maybe a little younger, and this kid looked like a good chess player because he played the Parham and people fell for the king/rook fork. That might still be true now.

    @Fear_Itself -Don't assume anything. h4 might be a weak move, but if you can't convert it to your advantage, then it's useless to you. Before i had a better understanding of chess, i had a blitz game where i thought i'd win because i went up the exchange. My opponent at some point played a pawn move like a4/a5 followed by Ra3/Ra6. I happily traded my bishop for the rook. My opponent proceeded to play a closed game, leaving my rook useless. I lost. Outplayed for the rest of the game since the trade.

  • #16

    I generally just play the best moves I can and assume that the opponent is at least as strong or stronger than I. After developing to control the center and castling, I then look to see if the hated enemy tips off his lack of sophistication with any common errors.

    For instance, playing f3 or c3 and blocking the key knight square is a biggie. So is an early rook pawn push with no good reason behind it. "Developing" a knight to h3 or a3 and allowing me to take it and double his pawns is a super tipoff. So is making several moves in a row with the same piece before developing others.

    If I notice that the opponent is making these kinds of errors, I usually start exchanging pieces--especially queens. Less sophisticated players are crippled without the queen. Then just watch the position like a hawk, looking for hanging pieces, forks, pins, and skewers.

    Of course, if none of those things happen, hold on to your hat; it's going to be a bumpy ride.

  • #17

    I'll give my view on two issues:

    (1) Advice for your younger brother: Make sure he opens with 1.e4, 2.Nf3, and develops his pieces and castles, as White. As Black, make sure he can understands how to deal with the various attempts at Scholars mate, and other crap like 1.e4 e5 2.Qh5. Then, he needs to remember to develop and castle, not give away pieces, and capture loose pieces.

    (2) For facing a player of unknown strength: I always take such opponents seriously, until they give me reason to not do so. I concentrate as much as I can, I play my strongest openings, etc.

  • #18
    waffllemaster wrote:

    I played as if they were a class or two above me until I'd seen enough inaccuracies / errors to know what I could get away with.

    That's a big problem when they are 3 classes above you. Laughing


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