One of the biggest problems we face as chess players is playing against lower-rated opponents. As a favorite, already a draw seems like a big disappointment. And there lies the problem: it is not in your control to force a win.
So what is the best way to approach a game against a lower-rated opponent?
In this article, I will examine the problem with the most used approach. Then I will provide you with what I think is the way to go about things.
In a nutshell:
Focus on one move at a time, forget about the result.
Process, not results.
“Force A Win”
Are you scared of a lower-rated opponent overperforming just against you? I bet you are! I was too. Instead of focusing on your play, you start to focus on “having to win that game”.
“What if he finds every move till the draw? What if he suddenly knows all the theory in the world and just holds me to a draw?”Every Chess Player
Because Main Lines seem to be all too drawish, suddenly the best chance to avoid a draw seems to play some rubbish opening.
‘Bring the opponent out of his comfort zone’, you think.
Or you stick to your opening but play some dubious move to avoid a queen trade. Without queens it is too drawish, I hear all too often.
The core problem of this approach is that you focus on things that are out of control. You focus on the result and your opponent. This leads to emotional, risky, and sometimes even total irrational decisions.
A friend once told me he wanted to avoid a draw so badly, that instead of going for a move repetition, he moved his king into a mate in 2.
What an idiot you might think…
That friend is a strong GM. It happens to the best.
By playing moves you would not play against other opponents you take unnecessary risks.
Not only does your position deteriorate, but you also make life easier for your opponent. If you force him to, he might find that one small sequence to win a piece or forced move repetition.
It is much harder for him to have lots of choices for 60 or more moves and always find the right one. The longer you keep the game going, the higher your chances are to win the game.
Focus On Your Own Chess, Play Good Moves
In my experience, what works best is to focus on yourself and play your normal chess.
A rating difference simply means that if both players play their standard game, the better rated will usually win.
You do NOT have to do something special to win. The only thing you should do is play your A-game and focus on your next move.
If your opponent is in very good shape that day and finds all the right moves, then fair enough, it is a draw.
Stick with your favorite opening. Lower rated usually means also worse prepared. Don’t be afraid of him knowing “everything”. If he would, he would not be lower rated than you!
The queen trade is the best option in the position? Then do it! It is very likely you will be the better endgame player. Take your decision based on your own understanding of chess. Play as many good moves as possible.
Additionally, to having better results, this approach also makes you learn more.
Instead of playing some moves you know are not good, you play your best chess. Even in the very unlikely case that he outplays or out-prepares you, you learned a lot.
And that is what it ultimately is about: giving your best. Then either you win or you learn!
I hope this approach will help you to avoid sleepless nights and big frustrations. If you liked this post, make sure to check out how to beat higher-rated opponents!
Have fun! Sincerely,