One of the hardest things to do in chess is to actually beat a higher ranked player.  I can look back to the early 1970s when I was playing against Max Fuller, Australia’s highest rated player.   I would get a drawn position and often lose.  I would get a winning position and only draw.

One of the problems involves psychology.  At the start of the game the pressure is on the higher rated player to beat you … but say he blunders and you are now winning.  Suddenly the roles are reversed.  You are expected to win.  The pressure is now on you.  Maybe you get a bit tentative or take a bit too long thinking.  The higher rated player switches to “swindle mode” and keeps setting traps for you.  Most times he will manage to swindle you.  If not you have passed the test and are on the way to becoming a stronger player.

This was the dilemma facing Aussie junior Justin Tan, already an IM and now taking a year off his studies in the quest for the grandmaster title.  In the last round of the Isle of Man Open last week Justin was paired against British GM Keith Arknell and after some good opening play found himself a clear pawn ahead in a position that he couldn’t lose … but could he win it?  The grandmaster had been just sitting tight on his position and placing his pieces on good squares.  The pressure was on Justin to find a way to crack Black’s defence.  Should he take a risk or play safe and probably only draw?   Have a look at the position below.  Black has just played Re2 threatening to regain his pawn deficit.  See if you come up with the same decision as Justin.

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