Today I’d like to say a few words about being a practical chess player.  I go through my students’ tournament games and so often they fall short of how I’d like them to play by being distracted from the main goal of winning their game.

For instance one student loves openings and studies heaps of opening theory, so of course when his opponent plays a move that he is not prepared for he “panics” and doesn’t know what to do …. frightened that he might end up making a “non-book” move.  “So what?” is my usual retort to him … “just play good moves based on your understanding of what you are trying to do in that opening.”  “Book moves” are only moves that people have played before, and, to quote Alekhine when a spectator suggested he had played a “non-book” move, Alekhine replied, “Sir, I am the book!”

Players who love opening theory often end up spending too much time on that part of the game and end up in time trouble – a poor strategy for a practical player.  Who cares if you have played the opening perfectly if you end up blundering on move 39 because of time trouble?  My philosophy was similar to Karpov’s – just play a good move quickly and get on with it, rather than spending heaps of time looking for a “great” move in every position.

Another common failing is players agreeing to a draw when either they have a winning/better position, or a position where they can hardly lose but the opponent has chances to go wrong.  Fighting spirit!  That’s what we need more of.  To be a strong player you need the confidence to play on in even positions and to learn how to grind out wins against lesser opponents.

Another failing of my students is that they don’t always take the surest/safest way to victory.  A classic example is today’s puzzle. My student, playing Black, has a winning attack and has been chasing White’s King around the board trying to checkmate it.  In the diagrammed position he in fact has a very nice way to win the game, but there are a number of promising moves and he ends up making a tactical mistake and choosing a line that does not win.   A few moves earlier he could have just played a simple move that won material, left White’s King out in the open and left White with no counter-play.  Instead he went for the line that looked like it should win but contained more variations and hence gave him a chance to go wrong in pursuing the attack.

So my advice to all my students is “don’t play for perfection, be a practical player and play safe, simple chess that minimises your chances of going wrong.”

Let’s see if you can do better than Black in the position below.  So far none of my students have found the winning line, so I hope that you can do better and solve the puzzle.

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