Today, I’m going to show you how to defend a lost position.
Let’s face it, we all get into lost positions from time to time. It is great to avoid them in the first place, but defending them the right way will also make a huge difference to your results.
Lost positions usually aren’t fun to play. You only have bad-looking moves and that’s why many crack immediately in those circumstances.
With the right mindset & some tricks up your sleeve, defending lost positions can actually be fun!
The thing is: if you defend tenaciously, your opponents will feel all the pressure and have less fun. They will despair at your defending attempts, get frustrated, and most likely make mistakes.
So how do you defend lost positions with a smile on your face?
By setting mini-challenges.
Once you manage to focus on smaller challenges, playing the lost position can become fun and challenging. The longer you keep those challenges going, the higher the chances are your opponent will slip up and give you another chance.
Here is a step-by-step process you can use whenever you end up in a lost position:
Step 1: Accept The Loss of the Game
This might sound counter-intuitive but it helped me a lot in my own games. The first step to defending lost positions well is accepting that most likely you will lose the game.
If you have a lost position, the result of the game doesn’t fully depend on you anymore. If your opponent finds all the good moves it is game over.
So it helps to get past the pain of losing this game as quickly as possible. This way, the pressure on the result goes away and you can fully focus on the mini-challenges lying ahead.
In a way, this gives you an unfair advantage. While your opponent is thinking about ‘not messing up’ and thus the result, you can use 100% of your energy on the mini-challenges, and thus also your next moves.
Attention: Accepting the possibility of defeat doesn’t mean you are over with this game and want to leave as quickly as possible. It simply means you are realistic, but still try your best to not lose this game!
Step 2: Set the first mini-challenge
I remember when I first set such a mini-challenge during a game. I had an utterly lost position but was very upset about my opponent. They had offended the touch-piece rule. As nobody was there to prove it, they got away with it and had a totally winning position.
I told myself: I’m going to play until the very end!
Being a full piece down without compensation I set my first mini-challenge: don’t lose any more material in the next 5 moves.
This helped me get into the spirit of finding decent moves in an utterly lost position. After 5 decent moves that didn’t change anything in the evaluation, it was time for the next mini-challenge.
Step 3: Increase the difficulty of the Mini-challenges
Step by step I then increased the difficulty of these little challenges. I went from not losing any material to making my opponent think for 5+ minutes for a move and then to winning back one pawn.
You can either think about some motivating mini-challenges right now or come up with them during the game. The key is: don’t obsess about the “right” mini-challenge. The main point is that you manage to stay focused & motivated this way.
Step 4: Help your Opponents to Make a Mistake
For the last part of the game I kept one challenge for more than 5 moves: create the possibility of blundering for my opponent. That meant seemingly running into a fork which actually would backfire for them. Or, when I was only left with very little material, it meant looking for stalemate opportunities.
So on move 52, after a long tedious defending effort, I played 52…Qb2 reaching the following position:
My opponent, thinking there are no dangerous checks, played d5-d6 and I couldn’t stop smiling. “Karma,” I thought and smashed out Qxf2+!! (I was 12 at the time, emotional control was far away back then…) which leads to a forced stalemate. After 54.Kh3 I played Qxg3+ forcing White to take my Queen and stalemate me.
If you want to make defending lost positions more fun, set yourself mini-challenges. These will help you focus on decent moves and not despair at the possibility of defeat.
Worst case you have a little fun and anyway lose the game. Best case, you will turn the game around.
Or as I like to say often: “Either you learn or you win”.
PS: If you want to know how to save a lost position from a chess point of view, make sure to check out the great video course recorded by GM Avetik Grigoryan called ‘Save Lost Positions‘.
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