How to win a won game?
Some of the most common searches online are for how to win a chess game in X moves or how to win quickly. We will dedicate some time to those topics in other articles but let's focus on how to win from a position that's winning!
Firstly, we should clarify there is a strong warning here: a theoretically winning position and a simple winning position are two very different things!
Secondly, even the very best players have fallen under the pressure: Nakamura - Carlsen, Zurich 2014
In the position below, white is winning easily, he has a devastating attack on the h file and a simple move can win the game:
Before we reveal the solution, let's appreciate just how other factors could have influenced Hikaru Nakamura here - let's face it, he's pretty good and unlikely to not convert a position like this normally!
- He's playing Magnus Carlsen - the modern day "Fischer Fear" - he knows if he slips up, Magnus will pounce (and he did!)
- It's a high profile event, the world was watching live
- The position is sharp - as is shown, one inaccuracy and the tables can turn fast
So what should Nakamura have done?
White has great spatial control and dominance of the first 5 ranks of the board. His pawn centre prevents any counter-play.
Black has some LPDO (loose pieces (ready to) drop off) - the Knight on c4 is undefended.
Thinking about ideal squares, the knight is where it should be and if he could put a rook on h6, black is in big trouble.
What can we learn from this?Following this game we can see complexity plays a huge factor and Carlsen did superbly in converting a lost position into a win.
The defender should always create complications to unsettle the ship - an easy ride to victory playing through a well-rehearsed ending is unlikely to go wrong - having a niggle and some doubt is enough to unsettle even the very best!
Therefore we need a plan to handle complexity and it's simple - stick to chess basics:
- Develop your pieces to their best squares - a lot of positions can be broken down into which pieces belong where and what's the best order to get them there!
- Great positional moves often work tactically - Qf1 is a good positional move but looks dubious as g5 could drop...or can it? Rg2 as a follow up is very convincing!
- Exploit weaknesses further - forcing your opponent to make further concessions in his defence will only kill off any counter-attack
- Basic Housekeeping - a piece in the corner won't be effective - get it involved and for goodness sake, make your king safe - it is worth the investment of one move, especially when you're winning!
What else can go wrong?As well as complexity, which we expect, the most common reason for losing an advantage is time pressure. Without the need for extensive examples (Kasparov missed a Karpov tactic in their World Championship match due to time for one), many players have played the game of their lives only to be undone by a mediocre set of moves with seconds on the clock.
How can we avoid this?
Critical aspects of time managementSome top tips to help you avoid and manage time trouble:
- Become an endgame expert - despite millions and billions of chess positions, standard endings come up regularly. If you know how to win them routinely and quickly, you'll gain valuable seconds. We have lots of good endgame articles to help you here!
- TOP TIP - Don't get into time trouble! This sounds almost illogical but you start the game with a set time and you should manage it well, as an integral part of the game. Being down on time with seconds to go is worse than material deficit
- Don't spend too long on obvious (e.g. forced moves) but do commit good and valuable time to understand complex positions - investing the time upfront to get familiar with what is truly going on will help you work through the complications