Tuesday, December 3, 2013

How to win from a stronger player?

During the game, a player has to make judgments often based on very little information. It makes that an uncertainty is created on the quality and eventually also the result. The elo-system takes into account this uncertainty as it makes a prognosis for each game based on an extensive statistical research depending on the difference in playing-strength between the 2 players. In 2011 there was a competition to develop a rating-system which provides a more precise prognosis, see the deloitte fide chess rating challenge. A lot of teams succeeded in presenting a clearly better performing mechanism as you can notice on the leaderboard. Still an adaption of the existing elo-system didn't happen by fide. I was not involved in the internal discussions but I can imagine some good reasons: 
  • The better performing mechanisms are based on complex formulas which have to rely heavily on computers.
  • To replace the current rating-system by a new one signifies extra costs. 
  • The rating-system has as primary function to define the playing-strength of a player. To prepare a prognosis for a single game is of minor interest. It is why the current rating-system is sufficient.

The disadvantage of defining a prognosis is that they can often be intimidating for the lower rated player. If you have 200 points less than your opponent that the expectancy score is only 24%. Intimidation is not a good adviser. Often you see players playing passively against stronger players to avoid big errors while it is exactly this policy that makes them lose without a chance. As there is little mentioned in literature about maximizing your chances as underdog, I thought it would be interesting to write an article about it.

First i have to admit that as lower rated player that you can't do much if the difference is 300 points or more. The opponent is then so much stronger on every domain that each of your plans will be sabotaged long before you even thought about it. An example of such scenario can be found in my blog-article met een kanon op een mug schieten. If the difference is smaller than 200 points then there are more chances to create resistance as weaker player. The strategy mentioned e.g. on the blog of the Ukrainian grandmaster Igor Smirnov is probably the best known one. If you play against a stronger player then play as bold as possible and complicate even if it costs material. The principle is based on the earlier mentioned uncertainties which pop up during a game. If we would have a game of 100% uncertainties then we can assume that the result will be random so the prognosis will be 50%. The bigger the complexity, the more uncertainties, the more interesting for the lower rated player as his expectancy score will improve. Somebody you don't need to tell him twice to complicate, is my clubpresident and teamcaptain Robert Schuermans. In 2006 Robert made a sensational exploit by beating with black in a sharp game the Ukrainian grandmaster Stanislav Savchenko.

The game is a nice example of how a grandmaster completely lost control over the game and eventually made the first big error. Despite that I see clear rewards on this chaos-strategy, I also have some critics if this method is really the best for everybody. Exists there no risk that you as weaker player won't create complications which mainly will backfire so leading to just extra mistakes solely for yourself? In my blogarticle tactic I wrote that I don't like to take risks so I doubt playing against your own style is the most clever strategy. Therefore I don't find it redundant to look if other strategies exist which can improve your chances as the weaker player.

I remember last year that the Dutch expert Danny De Ruiter defeated in 2 weeks time, the well-known grandmasters Ivan Sokolov and Jan Timman.  This article explains how Danny spent 3 weeks to prepare different variations for his game against Sokolov and in the end was fully rewarded for it. The game-preparation is an important weapon for the lower rated player. As described in my blog-article de sterktelijst the available materials for studying your opponent increase seriously with his rating. Myself I remember 1 victory on the Bulgarian grandmaster Ventzislav Inkiov based on a successful game-preparation.

Now it is a delusion to think that it is always that easy to get an advantage out of the opening against a grandmaster. I believe my Bulgarian opponent likely never suspected that I could prepare myself sufficiently in 1 hour( time between announcing the pairings and the start of the game) on a system which I had little to no experience (I had no games in the database) with. As described in another blogarticle of Igor Smirnov most grandmasters will deviate from their standard repertoire from the moment they sense some danger. A fast playing opponent in a for him unfamiliar opening is surely a warning signal which the professional won't ignore.

An approach which I like a lot, is to find positions which maybe don't guarantee an advantage but are easily playable. Besides studying openings also psychology plays herein a role. The higher rated player will feel obliged to play for the win but the type of positions will require disproportional risks. Already in the first round of the new Belgian interclubseason I showed the merits of this approach.

My teammate Daniel Sadkowski summarized well afterwards by stating that I chose the easier playing side of the board. Loyal readers will surely still remember my blog-article green moves in which I discussed the usage of openingbooks for engines. Well if you would check the opening with a recent openingbook then you would quickly discover that I regularly didn't follow the most popular/ critical continuation but instead chose the best scoring in practice continuation. We all know that statistics have their limitations but concerning practical chances for a boardgame they are pretty useful.

Purely playing the man without taking into account your own strong points, seems to me wrong. Above examples show that we can create optimal chances by starting from our own strengths: chaos for the sharp tactical player, opening-knowledge for the player willing to spend lots of time in the preparation and study, positional play for the more positional player,... Therefore I recommend to choose a strategy against stronger players based on self-confidence and your own trumps instead of fear (to lose).


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