This may seem like a strange place to focus at the beginning of this series, but I feel that my win percentage improved noticeably when I truly internalised how important it is to fight for every game, and how common swindles really are.
A swindle in chess is defined as a game where you were losing, but ultimately won by complicating the situation, and usually playing some second best moves. I tend to think of it in a broader manner in terms of just fighting for a position, and keep fighting even when you are worse off. I used to resign too soon, and for anyone who does that you are doing yourself no favors.
Why are swindles important for your results?
I think swindles are important for two reasons – a mathematical one, and a psychological one.
The mathematical reason first.
I think that any game of chess that results in a win or loss can be classified as follows:
- You were ahead throughout the game, and you won.
- You were behind throughout the game and you lost.
- You were ahead at some point but you lost. (You couldn’t win a won game.)
- You were behind in the beginning, but you won. (Swindled the game).
Our minds think of numbers 1 and 2 as a natural result, and 3 and 4 cause a lot more grief or joy than 1 and 2, so to me they are a little bit more unnatural than the first two.
You will never be able to win all of your won games. This is one of the hardest things to do in chess, and you’ll always end up blundering pieces or walking into checkmates in completely winning positions. When two players of equal caliber play it is inevitable that these things happen.
This was somewhat unclear to me when I started to improve because I used to see a lot of Youtube channels, and watch people like John Bartholomew or the Ginger GM destroying their opponents online. It seemed to me that that this the correct way to win in chess, and also the pure way to win in chess.
My notion was only broken when I started reading books and saw games from world champions and saw that even their games swung and they swindled at times! Even at the highest level – swindles happen, so it is important to understand their importance in order to increase your win ratio.
If you don’t fight for every game, and play fighting chess then you will only win games that you were ahead in right from the start. You’ll lose some winning games, and your ratio is going to be much lower than if you fought for your lost games also.
Mathematically, you can see that now you are going to win all games in the first category, most games in the second category, and some games in the third category. Whereas if you don’t fight at all – you will lose all games in the third category, and your win ratio will be much worse.
Now, the psychological reason. Playing lost positions helps you improve your game. When you swindle – you learn from your opponent’s mistakes. You learn where they went wrong, and you can then use that to improve your own game. Because these sort of games make a deeper impression than other games — you tend to internalise these lessons faster than other games, and are more likely to remember them in the future.
This game below is probably my most embarrassing swindle. In fact, I apologized to my opponent after winning the game because I had no chances, and she just made one error that cost her the game while being ahead the entire game. I have the black pieces, and have made a lot of questionable choices, and you can see that white is a good player, but just couldn’t convert it.
This was a very instructive game for me and my personal takeaway from this game was that white never used her king side pawns in the attack and tried to pry open the position. From a planning perspective this seems the most logical thing to do. Black wasn’t allowing any breaks and the material was not enough, so bring in your pawns. This was what I was most afraid of during the game, and she never did that.
There is a lot to learn from your opponent’s technique when you lose, and see how they converted a won position.
As an example – this is a very impressive win by my opponent who was several hundred rating points below me but played with very impressive calm, and technique and was in control of the game from the very beginning.
As you can see black never had any chances, and she’s done a fantastic job of clamping me down, and grinding me out, and winning the game in a very convincing manner. My biggest takeaway from this game was to make mini plans and slowly improve my position like she did. I was very impressed by how she planted the knight on d6, and then replaced that with the bishop, and just never let up. This is an area of the game where I need to improve a lot myself, so it was specially impressive to be on the receiving end. The computer evaluation shows white to be ahead 2.5 on move 15 itself, but the game lasted another 30 moves or so. It was tough playing this game because there were no chances, but I kept fighting, and while the result was not favorable – the instruction was vastly helpful for my own game.
I put this post in the beginning of the series because I believe this is a very important thing to do in order to improve your win ratio. If you don’t get in the habit of fighting lost positions, you won’t make much progress in your improvement.
- How to improve as an adult chess player – Par 1: Introduction
- How to improve as an adult chess player – Part 2: Swindles
- How to improve as an adult chess player – Part 3: Openings
- How to improve as an adult chess player – Part 4: Middlegames