How to beat a stronger opponent


Andrew Soltis

It is Wednesday night and you are sat at the chess board nervously fingering your pieces.   Opposite you sits the club champion a rather smug expression on his face, already visualizing the full point that will appear against his name on the scoretable after your game has finished.  You  shake hands and then, as you reach out to make the first move, you suddenly recall the book that you are studying - "David vs Goliath".  What is it that Andrew Soltis says about such encounters? :
1. Goliaths fear draws:  A Goliath won't be content with a draw against a much lower rated opponent and consequaently might try to get more out of a position than he deserves.  A mistake that could cost him the game.

2.Goliaths are overconfident.  Their success fosters complacency.  Complacency breeds carelessness. Carelessness costs.

3.  Goliaths want to win effortlessly.  They make blunders when paired way up.

4. Some Goliaths want to win quickly.  They don't want to just beat weaker opponents.  They want to crush them.

All this adds up to a weakness.  A weakness the lesser rated opponent may be able to exploit.

With these thoughts in mind you start to play with some confidence and look for any of these weaknesses to surface in your game.

Such was the experience of 16-year-old Cindy Tsai as in 2002 she sat down to play in the first round of the US Championship.  Opposite her sat one of the giants in the chess world at that time - Walter Browne, six times US Champion who had beaten grandmasters around the world.  Take a look HERE and see how that game went.

Browne mentions this occurrence in his block-busting auto-biography "The Stress of Chess and its Finesse."  This is what he says,

"Before round one I made the mistake of arriving on the same day, and despite gaining a superior position with black in a King's Indian I blundered against the youngster Cindy Tsai, which of course made her front page news for a few days."

Once again Andrew Soltis sets about expanding his thoughts on this subject.  Using fifty games, fully annotated, the possibilities of such upsets begins to emerge.  Of course you cannot force your opponent to react in such a manner, it is purely his own reaction to playing a weaker opponent that brings these events to the chess board.  However, if you are the weaker of the players you can look for signs that alert you to any happenings of this nature and, if possible, play to make the most of your opponent's failings.  Human nature is such that most expert players are susceptible to these reactions to a lesser or greater degree.  So Soltis' book is not just an aid to weaker players, it is also a warning to our stronger brethren against complacency.  

It is almost impossible to claim with absolute certainty that a strong player has lost to a weaker opponent because of the failings that Soltis points out.  Browne's loss to Cindy Tsai came about because of a blunder on one move, the cause for which is not obvious.  Browne claims that this came about because he denied himself the time necessary to mentally adjust to playing the game, but there may have been other causes.  Perhaps Browne himself is unable to explain the reason and uses his late arrival to the event as the only possible cause.  To clearly demonstate a loss on the grounds of a "laisser faire" attitude adopted by a strong player - albeit sub-consciously in some cases - opposing a weaker player is vitually impossible.  However, to the trained eye of such an analyst as Soltis appraissing the faults in the moves played can come very close to appreciating the real causes.  He makes a very good case with the notes to the 50 games he examines in this book. 

Andrew Soltis must be the most prolific author of chess books there has ever been. It would seem that every other book on the shelves lining my study have him as the author.  Despite this his writing is still as fresh and lively as it has always been.  Also he is still able to find a good subject to demonstrate this expertise.  

Over the last few years, Batsford has been his sole publisher and in fact the only author used by Batsford to maintain their output of chess books.  At one time Batsford were the prime publisher of chess books, but new publishers have entered the ring and seized a share of the market to Batsford's detriment.  Is it time for Batsford to freshen the format of their publications to match the more modern output of their competitors?   They are still using the the same format that has served them well for such a long time but I feel some changes may well be of benifit and once again bring their name to the forefront.  

Despite this comment, the standard of this publication is such to recommend it to discerning readers.  The Christmas season is fast approaching and if you are seeking an apt present for a member of the family, a relative or friend who is interested in chess, then I can thoroughly recommend "David vs Goliath".  

The passing years have gradually eaten into my chess playing ability to such an extent that this publication has brought to me an understanding that I feel will help to stem the rising tide of losses.  But don't misunderstand me, this book is not only of use to players facing up to the remorseless effect of anno domini it can help all players, young, old, strong and weak.  Thank you Andrew and Batsford! 

Bill Frost

December 2016