Whenever I face a higher-rated opponent, I am going into the game ready to beat him. No passivity or trying to hold a draw. I want to play my own game, take command and win from a position of strength.
Rather than being scared of my opponent, I trust my intuition. Rather than playing passively and hoping for the lucky punch, I play actively and try to force mistakes.
If you need advice on how to play against lower-rated opponents, then this post is for you.
I’m not going to lie to you. This approach can cost you some points short term. But you will massively benefit from it later on.
To improve, you must face difficult challenges.
Losses are part of your process. There is no way you can avoid them altogether.
Let’s say you are 1500-rated and play a 1600-rated opponent. If you always just play passively and try to draw, you will never learn how to beat 1600-rated players from a position of strength.
The moment your rating will be 1600+ you will not know how on earth to beat 1600, because you have never done it before. This means you might get stuck on this level, just because you focused on some fast and easy rating gains earlier on.
If you choose to try to play for a win, you will maybe lose 1 or 2 games more. But whenever it is time to, you are ready to beat the 1600-rated opponents one after another. Because you tried and you did that before.
My Own Experiences
One of my most painful tournaments was without a doubt the GM Tournament in Biel 2017. It was my strongest tournament up to this date. 7 out of 9 opponents had a rating over 2650. With a mere 2493, I was one of the two biggest outsiders in this tournament.
Instead of trying to hold a draw, or play as safely as possible, I decided to go for complications in every game. Why?
Because every game against a stronger opponent is a free possibility to learn something.
You can compare yourself to somebody you look up to and feel what you lack to get to that level yourself. It is like a free private masterclass. Don’t miss out on this!
As you see, the result was a total disaster. Towards the end of the tournament, it was hard to stay true to my approach. Even though I was very frustrated with the outcome, I fought till the end. No short draws, no playing passive or safe.
I had two totally winning positions and many more much better ones. I failed to convert but showed myself that I am ready to suffer short-term losses to improve faster and get stronger in the long term.
At the moment it was especially hard because my countryman GM Georgiadis played fantastically well and scored 5/9. He chose another approach and went for the maximum of points. This did pay off and all the talk was about him.
Consequently, the disastrous result cost me the invitation to the GM Tournament 2018, where Nico had the chance to face off against Carlsen, Mamedyarov, and Co.
I felt like an idiot.
But something inside me knew the risk would pay off at some point.
And indeed it still does! I feel more than ever that I can basically beat anybody with any color on a good day. I proved this many times.
The biggest success was in 2019, when I beat GM Harikrishna, then rated 2749 and in the Top 20 of the world, with the black pieces.
After an early mistake of his, I avoided move repetition on move 22 and never looked back.
Note that I played the French Winawer Variation, one of the most complex in chess theory. Far away from playing it safe.
When I got back to the GM Tournament in Biel 2020 I had the same approach. Play for a win in every game. This time my classical result of 2/7 still was disappointing, but there were big improvements.
Additionally, to beating GM Anton Guijarro in convincing style, I had 3 winning positions with black. I scored only 0.5/3 out of them, but I felt I was extremely close to scoring a heavy plus score against superb opposition.
I did actually score heavily in later tournaments:
- Cattolica Open 2020 8/9 (after 7/7!)
- Accentus Young Masters 2020 7/10 (against GMs only)
- Swiss Championship 2019 7.5/9
These results are in no way possible if you go the easy way.
After those results I got many messages, also from strong GMs, asking me how it is possible to win so many games against strong opposition.
The answer is simple: I have been training for it for many years. Now is the time to get the rewards.
It Is Your Turn
I doubt it can be much worse than being humiliated with 1/9 on home soil. And yet I survived. So, try it out. Be ready to invest short term in order to win big in the long term.
Next time you face a higher-rated opponent:
- Follow your intuition.
- Don’t fall into passivity.
- Go for the attack.
- Take the initiative.
- Don’t repeat moves if you feel you are better.
- NEVER offer draw if your position is superior.
If you follow this advice, maybe one day you can use it against the author of those lines. Full circle. I’m waiting for you. Ready for a fight.
P.S.: if you liked this article, then you will certainly also like my FREE guide to organize your chess training. Get it HERE.
Noel, thank you again for another outstanding article. I treated myself to a Christmas gift and I just ordered your Chess Planner from Amazon. It will arrive on Monday and I’ll begin using immediately. Please keep up your great writing, teaching, and guidance that you provide for chess players like me – burned-out adult learners. Lol!!!
Thomas in Manhattan!
Very kind of you Thomas, thank you so much! Hope you will have a great time using the Planner. Don’t hesitate to share any feedback or learnings with me. Happy to hear how the Planner treats you 🙂
Merry Christmas to one of the most beautiful cities in the World!
That is, once again, a very interesting topic Noel. You do choose excellently. Still, I expected
some conclusions considering the Carlsen- Nepo fight. Did I miss those ones or are they yet to come?
Thanks, Thomas! I decided not to write anything, as there has been written already so much about that Match. There are yet so many uncovered or badly covered areas in Chess I would like to focus on first :-). Hope you understand that.
Thanks for that insight Noel!
It was interesting to compare your advices with the ones we give the youngsters considering how to play against opponents that are not only stronger, but much stronger.
We tell them that everyone is not only playing against the opponent, but also against his own shadow. And the shadow of a stronger player is bigger… So when you attack him, his shadow is attacking as well. “Go for the wild against the stronger but for the boring against the weaker opponent” Or like Werner Hug, who always likes to make advices that are concrete and practical: “Do not change queens. This increases the aspect of control and technique. And here the stronger player can make better use of his higher standards” And “attacking the stronger but just controlling the weaker” is counterintuitive. That makes this recipe especially valuable.
Your advice is going a bit in this direction, just on a more moderate level, no?
My advice is more based on the mindset, not specific decisions. The key is to try to play your best chess and go with your gut, also against much stronger opponents. Certainly, you should also pose a threat to them and not only try to hang on to a draw. But if changing queens seem to be the best option for you, then you should definitely go for it. But it should not be because you think by changing queens you are closer to a draw. This is where most players go wrong 🙂
This blog helped me to beat a GM! Thanks so much!
Wow Amazing! Shows the method works!
Love this article! Appreciate the way you share your personal experience. The last part is lit!! ahah
Sharing is caring 😉
Thanks for writing a blog in the area which is most ignored all the time and also is one of the most important, if Not the most important.
I hope we”ll get to see more such amazing blogs!
Thanks! Any specific areas you would like me to write about?
Yeah, I had some areas which troubled me (I mean to say for 2400, IM level)
1. While choosing the Openings should one prepare/divide the Opening work according to his Opponent’s strength? (eg. to Play KID against lower rated players and play his main weapon like Vienna against higher rated?… as in 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 dc4 5.e3!? it’s really very drawish)
2. and I have often heard different Opinions on how many Openings One should have against 1.e4 or 1.d4 (eg 2 Openings are enough, 3 is good etc.) and I have finally decided that it depends on the player, but I am still not sure about it!
It will be great if you can talk about these areas in any of your Upcoming Articles..
Opening work will definitely be covered in some upcoming articles. Thanks for your input!