Complicate or simplify against a weaker player?

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Paul Cooksey

Complicate or simplify against a weaker player?

Post by Paul Cooksey » Mon Aug 15, 2011 9:05 pm

Kramnik really rode his luck against Galkin today in the Russian Superfinal. Gawain Jones called the speculative piece sacrifice in the opening interesting. But looked like Black had got into real difficulties before 21. h4?. He also played a a risky tactical game against Meier at Dortmund too. So it looks like a deliberate decision to complicate at all costs against players with significantly lower ratings.

I understood conventional wisdom to be "play like Kramnik" to beat a weaker player. So I was doubly surprised to see Vladimir himself take a different approach. It made me wonder if the strategy of avoiding complications is a peculiarly English approach. I have seen the advice to play endgames against non-master players in lots of places. But not exactly the same thing. The only place I remmeber seeing the advice to avoid complications against weaker players is Chess for TIgers.

So, questions, friends:
1. Is the advice common and I am just forgetting where else it is?
2. Does anyone have the experience of other chess cultures to know if other countries have different ideas?
3. How do you handle the problem of beating players say 15-20 ECF weaker than yourself?

Personally, I find myself more willing to grab material and hang on. But I spend a lot of time suffering, so a better approach would be welcome :)



Here is the game for the higher IQ types with Chrome and the pgn reader :) :

Galkin, Alexander2598 - Kramnik, Vladimir 2781, 64th ch-RUS (7)
1. e4 d6 2. d4 Nf6 3. f3 c5 4. Ne2 e6 5. Be3 d5 6. dxc5 Nbd7 7. Nbc3 dxe4 8. b4
b6 9. c6 Bxb4 10. cxd7+ Bxd7 11. a3 Ba5 12. Qd4 Qe7 13. fxe4 e5 14. Qd3 O-O 15.
Bg5 Rac8 16. Bxf6 Qxf6 17. O-O-O Be6 18. Nd5 Bxd5 19. exd5 e4 20. Qd4 Qd6 21. h4
Qxa3+ 22. Qb2 Qc5 23. Rh3 e3 24. Rg3 Bd2+ 25. Kb1 g6 26. h5 Rfe8 27. hxg6 hxg6
28. Rh3 Re5 29. Nc1 Bc3 30. Qb3 Re4 31. Na2 Qa5 32. Ba6 Rb4 33. Bxc8 Rxb3+ 34.
cxb3 e2 35. Nxc3 Qxc3 0-1

Thomas Rendle
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Re: Complicate or simplify against a weaker player?

Post by Thomas Rendle » Mon Aug 15, 2011 9:18 pm

It does rather depend on the ratings of the players. It's hard for even Kramnik to beat a well-prepared 2590 in a Petroff. For a 2200 to beat a 2000 player however the 2200 can rely more on small mistakes being made consistently in even a relatively simple position. I expect Kramnik chooses the 'weak' player very carefully as well - I doubt he would play this way against say Simon Williams.

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Sebastian Stone
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Re: Complicate or simplify against a weaker player?

Post by Sebastian Stone » Mon Aug 15, 2011 9:43 pm

If you're 15-20ECF pts above them don't worry about complicating or simplifying the position.

You're supposed to better than them, prove it! Play better chess.

Play the chess that got you your rating in the first place.
AKA Scott Stone

"Give a man fire and he's warm for a day, set fire to him and he's warm for the rest of his life."

That's Mr Stone to you, f**kface.

Arshad Ali
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Re: Complicate or simplify against a weaker player?

Post by Arshad Ali » Mon Aug 15, 2011 10:17 pm

Paul Cooksey wrote:I understood conventional wisdom to be "play like Kramnik" to beat a weaker player. So I was doubly surprised to see Vladimir himself take a different approach. It made me wonder if the strategy of avoiding complications is a peculiarly English approach. I have seen the advice to play endgames against non-master players in lots of places. But not exactly the same thing. The only place I remmeber seeing the advice to avoid complications against weaker players is Chess for Tigers.
The assumption is the stronger player is equally at home in different kinds of positions. But Tal would play like Tal regardless of his opposition, and Smyslov would play like Smyslov regardless of his opposition. One has to play to one's strengths. If one is a strong player primarily because one is an attacking player and knows how to stir up complications, then aiming to beat a weaker player through superior technique might backfire. So Simon Webb's advice should be qualified by "other things equal."

Dan O'Dowd
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Re: Complicate or simplify against a weaker player?

Post by Dan O'Dowd » Mon Aug 15, 2011 10:23 pm

An interesting question, since we first have to remember that everyone has their own definition of 'weaker'.

When I start the season, I set myself various performance targets related to grade bands (which being in Cumbria are relatively stable season-on-season, since the pool of players is fewer). One of the targets I always set is 90% unbeaten against those graded below x Ecf, so that I remind myself that in general there is a gulf. I think my overall record against this bracket totals about 20odd wins, a few draws, and only a couple of losses in the last seven to eight years, excluding those who then had a huge leap up and were therefore performing way above said grade.

When playing someone ~15-20 below me, I tend to simply remember my strengths, and focus a little more on those when calculating. Often for this reason I will focus a little more on sequences of imprecision in an opening, on the assessment of potentially material imbalanced positions, so as to avoid letting someone off the hook, and on higher level tactics. If someone outplays me, it doesn't matter what their grade is :)

As Sebastian said; it's better not to say "Oh, (s)he's rated x below me; I'd best complicate" or "rated y above me, I'd best simplify", because in neither case are you therefore objectively looking for the best move. While planning etc is valid, nothing else should cloud this prime directive, to always play the best moves. It's similar to Hope Chess. You're complicating in the hope that your opponent, being nominally weaker, will go wrong. But what's to stop you missing something either? Or if you simplify, it might indeed help someone weaker, who then has less grunt work to do.

When I played an improving junior in our club in June, I realised that as Black, he tends to crumple quickly in an inferior position. I simply played my usual entirely accurate opening, and let things go from there. The right plan followed. If someone is actually weak, it won't matter how you win. I wonder if your real angst is coming from playing those who are improving, but where you have no foreknowledge of this. In THAT case, (and especially against juniors) it is probably a good idea to do something different in general in the game, but this refers to general strategy, rather than suddenly deciding at an arbitrary point: example might be to change opening.

Paul McKeown
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Re: Complicate or simplify against a weaker player?

Post by Paul McKeown » Mon Aug 15, 2011 10:37 pm

a) play your natural game to maximise your score in the here and now, or
b) stretch yourself at the risk of damaging your score in the short term, but with the hope of removing your weaknesses in the longer term

Otherwise, wot Tom R said:- he is an IM, deserves respect, closer to Kramnik, and is much more likely to be speaking sense about chess.

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Christopher Kreuzer
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Re: Complicate or simplify against a weaker player?

Post by Christopher Kreuzer » Mon Aug 15, 2011 11:06 pm

Dan O'Dowd wrote:When I start the season, I set myself various performance targets related to grade bands (which being in Cumbria are relatively stable season-on-season, since the pool of players is fewer). One of the targets I always set is 90% unbeaten against those graded below x Ecf, so that I remind myself that in general there is a gulf. I think my overall record against this bracket totals about 20odd wins, a few draws, and only a couple of losses in the last seven to eight years, excluding those who then had a huge leap up and were therefore performing way above said grade.
I've analysed my results over the past few years in exactly this way, looking at grading bands. I found that, like you, I tend to get some high percentage against those graded below a certain level, a slight plus against those graded around the same level as my current grade (159 ECF last year and 168 ECF this year), but I seem to hit a brick wall when playing people graded over 180 ECF. Either those players are genuinely stronger than me (quite likely) or I'm setting this up as a psychological barrier and turning it into a self-fulfilling prophecy. It didn't help that in the most recent tournament I played, there were two players graded over 180 ECF and I lost to them both... The real answer is probably that I need to not try so hard to win and accept that draws against higher rated players are also an acceptable result (pushing for a win is more likely to backfire against higher rated players).

As for "Complicate or simplify against a weaker player?" I would keep things simple, but complicate things if the position requires it, and have confidence that you will see further than your opponent in the complications. Though that only counts if the complications are not too complicated.

Peter Sharpe
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Re: Complicate or simplify against a weaker player?

Post by Peter Sharpe » Tue Aug 16, 2011 6:01 pm

I remember playing against a schoolboy in a rapidplay team tournament about 15 years ago. He played quite sharp and had the better of the opening. I then decided to play a positional sacrifice which would complicate things. My opponent gave a worried look and kept looking at me before getting my attention and offered a draw. I politely refused the offer. In the next few minutes I realised that he started to get uncomfortable before bursting into tears. I wasnt that sure if my positional sacrifice was sound enough and felt that my opponent had the upper hand. His teammates were telling him to calm down and the controller stopped the clocks and then talking to him for a few minutes. He came back still looking unsure if he was winning or not and then his confidence crumbled and made errors before resigning and got even more upset.

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Christopher Kreuzer
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Re: Complicate or simplify against a weaker player?

Post by Christopher Kreuzer » Tue Aug 16, 2011 6:03 pm

Peter Sharpe wrote:I remember playing against a schoolboy in a rapidplay team tournament about 15 years ago. He played quite sharp and had the better of the opening. I then decided to play a positional sacrifice which would complicate things. My opponent gave a worried look and kept looking at me before getting my attention and offered a draw. I politely refused the offer. In the next few minutes I realised that he started to get uncomfortable before bursting into tears. I wasnt that sure if my positional sacrifice was sound enough and felt that my opponent had the upper hand. His teammates were telling him to calm down and the controller stopped the clocks and then talking to him for a few minutes. He came back still looking unsure if he was winning or not and then his confidence crumbled and made errors before resigning and got even more upset.
Funniest thing I've read all day! :D

Nick Ivell
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Re: Complicate or simplify against a weaker player?

Post by Nick Ivell » Mon Sep 05, 2011 3:56 pm

Not quite on topic, but the concept of the positional sacrifice is very difficult for the younger player to understand. The first games I studied were from the Fischer - Spassky match in 1972. I vividly recall game 13, possibly my favourite game of all time. There was a temporary queen sac I found easy to understand, but what was this ....Rh8 in the ending? Surely a rook is worth more than a bishop? It took me many years before I understood that move, and I'm not sure I do even now. As a junior it left me bamboozled, that's for sure.

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