Masters are our heroes. Grandmasters are our super-heroes. We honour them and study their games. We respect their strengths, their superior skills.
How can a much lower-rated player, a David, manage to last long against a Goliath, we wonder?
In David vs Goliath Chess, Andrew Soltis takes you through 50 annotated games where the weaker players have scored stunning upsets while giving tips on how to beat a stronger player. Here are his four top tips for the Davids of chess.
1. Play actively
Too many would-be Davids begin a game defensively. They are already thinking about losing. When they realize their position is inferior, they hunker down. They look for defensive moves, passive moves.
Goliaths thrive on exploiting that. “A strong player’s sense of weakness is kind of like a dog’s,” GM Larry Christiansen said before giving a simultaneous exhibition in 2016. “If you play like ‘Mr. Passive,’ we welcome that.”
Davids should be looking for aggressive moves. Nothing is more likely to disorient a Goliath than threats. By the time he has built up a big edge, the idea of losing has been banished from his mind. He may be vulnerable to even a desperation tactic.
2. Encourage chaos
John Grefe, who co-won a US Championship, was vulnerable to Davids. In open tournaments, he was occasionally beaten by players rated more than 500 points below him. “I can’t play against them,” he complained. “They don’t know what they’re doing.”
What they were doing was creating the kind of double-edged position, even at positional cost, that Grefe hated to play. They sought chaotic middlegames and double-edged endgames.
One of Simon Webb’s mantras in his classic book Chess for Tigers was that weaker players should try to “randomize.” As he put it, “The basic principle is to head for a complicated or unclear position such that neither of you has much idea of what to do, and hope that he makes a serious mistake before you do.”
This sounds like terrible advice: After all, won’t a Goliath be able to calculate a chaotic position, a random position much better than you?
Well, if the position is one given to calculation, the answer is yes. But Goliaths aren’t computers. There are severe limits to human evaluation.
Just as bad as facing an unpredictable position is playing an unpredictable opponent. Less experienced players “don’t know what to be afraid of,” as Magnus Carlsen put it. “So they play without fear, without prejudice, and that’s sometimes difficult to face,” the world champion said.
3. Be yourself
A David may think to himself, “Grandmaster Goliath knows my favorite openings much better than me. I should try something new.”
Wrong. As GM Alex Yermolinsky said, “Nothing makes a GM happier than when his less experienced opponent gets ‘creative’ from the very first moves.”
“If you think your openings are good, play them against anyone, especially grandmasters!” he advised.
4. Bend, don’t break
The longer that a lower-rated player can put up significant resistance, the greater the chance that his opponent will err. Goliaths get tired just like anyone else.
This doesn’t mean you should play on a rook down. It means you should make it as difficult to win as possible for as long as possible.
Extracted from David vs Goliath Chess by Andrew Soltis, available to buy now.