Why do I play better against stronger players?

This is a question that keeps many club chess players awake at night – especially if they are graded, like yours truly, between 120-140 ECF.

This is something we have all experienced at some stage of our chess odyssey.

The circumstances when these thoughts appear are often the same. They usually occur after securing a heroic draw against a 180-rated opponent when you had the best of the game. This is then followed by a horrible and deserved loss or draw to a sub-120 graded player in your next match.

How can I play so well and soar so high, then sink so low?

This is the joy of competitive club chess. It allows you to dream and then cruelly dishes out a dose of reality.

This has happened many times to me in my lowly chess career and hence the need to address this question in a public forum.

After sufficient navel-gazing time I have come to the conclusion that the same factors are involved in both games. Obviously you may say, but please let me explain why.

To use an excellent analogy, I will call it the “Leicester City Chess Rules” (LCCR).

Nobody gave Leicester City a chance to escape relegation last season or to win the Premier League this season. Indeed, the odds at the start of this season of them winning the league were 5000-1!

Will LCCR help you outfox your opponents?
Will LCCR help you outfox your opponents?

The rules are not exhaustive and can be expanded:

  • Your frame of mind.  I am playing a 180 – he/she should crush me – so a loss is no disgrace. I play without pressure. Nobody expects me to win, or even draw.
  • Your opponent’s frame of mind.  All the pressure is on them. They have the high grade – they should crush me. I am sawdust compared to their stardust. This can induce a false sense of security and lead to risk-taking. Something they would never entertain against a peer.
  • The time factor.  I have found that the liberating effect of no expectation translates into excellent clock management. You play sensible and logical moves – avoiding at all costs a tactical melee. This means you are often well up on the clock. Time pressure is your high-grade opponent’s problem, not yours.
  • As the game progresses – the effect that a loss or draw has on their grade increasingly comes in to play.
  • The pressure that comes from the results on other boards. This is something that can affect your opponent as other results come in.

These are the five critical factors that influence the course of the game. Unfortunately, they also apply equally – but not so favourably – to your game with sub-120 graded opponents.

  • Your frame of mind.  I should win; I out grade them by 20 points – the win is in the bag. So wrong in every way – Caissa has many ways to dish out a dose of humble pie!
  • Your opponents frame of mind.  They play without fear – they do not know about your 180-graded heroics. I am just another opponent.
  • The time factor.  My clock management is far worse. I spend too much time striving for an advantage – when simple moves would be better. I must and will win. This thought process inevitably results in defeat.
  • As the game progresses, the realisation that you may actually lose increasingly weighs on you. This is compounded by the thought of lost grading points.
  • The match situation.  Your team needs a win – you need a win – this ups the ante and again clouds your thought process and logic.

What conclusions can we draw from this? These are my personal LCCR’s:

  • Play the game not the opponent
  • Every game of chess is the same. There are only three possible outcomes
  • Use a bit of Lasker logic – make pragmatic moves when the position is unclear, not so-called “strong” moves
  • Do not waste loads of time on obvious moves. Avoid time trouble
  • Your grade will take care of itself. The game on the board should be your focus.
  • Finally, play your game, not the match. This may be a Boycott approach but chess is about your game not your teammates. This may be selfish but it will help focus your mind on what you can actually influence. Of course, supporting your team once your game has finished is essential.

Adoption of the LCCR may not make you a better player, but it will give you peace of mind. Playing without pressure means you will play better.

So, do you play better against stronger players?

My answer on balance is probably yes, but the flip-side is that your results against peers tend to remain the same for the reasons outlined above. If you can translate that form against the very strong players to your usual graded opponents then you may be one step nearer to unlocking the mystery of that board game called Chess.

By our London League 4 Captain, John White.

Last Updated: Mar 25, 2016 @ 12:51 pm

Training Day – Part Deux

A reminder – Monday 29th sees our second evening of theory training at the club. It’s another free & open session – non-members are welcome to come along and join in.

Our Chairman, Bajrush (Rated ECF 208 for rapid play!) will be taking us through the following topics:

  • Endgame revision with practical sessions
  • Middle game basics
  • Basic openings & opening theory

Promises to be another valuable session – hope to see you there!

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The Balkan Bootcamp!

We held our first training session of the year tonight – and it was a cracking evening to get us started for the year. Our Balkan wizard at the board – chairman Bajrush Kelmendi – led the session with aplomb, taking a good sized group through the following topics:

  • Basic endgame theory
  • King & pawn endings
  • Pawn on pawn formations
  • Rook and Bishop theory, including the tricky task of mating with a bishop pair

It didn’t end there – that was followed by a practical session on applying some of these themes in a couple of previous games of his.

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Bajrush was aided by our League 4 Captain John White at the demo board. We also had the benefit of a large television & computer for running through the games.

There were plenty of questions and challenges from the crowd, and a couple of moments of levity, mostly involving missing pieces from the demo board which John had managed to squirrel away in his pockets! True magnetism.

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It was a great session – hats off to Bajrush for arranging, and also to John for helping sort out on the night.

Further tips and tactics for endgames can be found here.

Looking forward to the next session – Monday 29th Feb, 7.30pm start. Save the date & do come along!!

Training Day

We are today excited to announce some upcoming training sessions to be hosted at our club venue (directions here) in West London.

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Denzel was looking forward to learning about the French Defense (Classical Variation)

Two of the strongest players at our club, Bajrush Kelmendi and Carsten Pedersen, aided by our training group, will be providing a number of sessions over the next few months to help all players sharpen their tactics and improve their game. These sessions will be open to members and non-members alike (at no cost). Details as follows:

  • Monday 22nd Feb, from 7.30pm – a session focused on Endgames for beginner and intermediate levels. Though even the seasoned pro’s might learn a thing or two!
  • Monday 29th Feb, from 7.30pm – an open session for members to submit topics of their own suggestion. Please contact Bajrush with your ideas for topics and we will finalise details closer to the time.
  • Monday 14th March, from 7.30pm – a session jointly hosted by Carsten and Bajrush in which we will analyse three of the games from the Simultaneous against Chris Ward.
  • Later this Spring, Carsten will host a session on Pawn endings at the club. Details to be confirmed, but we’ll keep you posted!

As mentioned, we’d be pleased to welcome any non-members to the club for these sessions. If you think this may be of interest to you, please let us know your details below and we’ll be in touch:

Name:
E-mail:
Sessions (tick all that apply):

We look forward to hearing from you!

Oh Captain! My Captain!

By our London League 4 Captain, David Lambert

I’ve only been playing competitive chess for a few years – one season for Denton whilst in Manchester before joining Hammersmith in early 2012. Back then I wasn’t thinking about captaining a team. I was happy to just turn up and play.

I remember having a conversation with my captain one day in the usual post-match post-mortem – I think he may have slipped to a disappointing draw. “Captaining a team takes 10 points off your grade” he chuckled to himself.  How could that be? It didn’t seem that hard – you just send an e-mail a few days before the match asking who wants to play? Then you toss a coin as the match kicks-off to decide colours. Easy…

OhCaptain
Oh David!

I’ve been a captain now for approaching two full-seasons so thought it might be interesting to double-back on that throwaway comment and see if it carries any weight.

I finished the 2014 season on a grade of 127, and at that time took on the mantle of captaining our team in London League Division 4.  It’d be a challenge: our team was likely to be graded in the 140-80 range and yet we’d regularly come up against teams with a 120-130 on bottom-board; a 175 on Top Board wasn’t altogether surprising either. Still, it was about getting games and ensuring that we were able to follow-through on providing league chess for our newer members.

The season was a difficult one – even factoring-in the other matches outside the league, I ended the season on 34%. My Jan’15 grade was 117 and my final-year grade was 121 – a total of 6 points lost like-for-like. But fast-forward a few months and I was back up to 126. All things considered, I’m not sure there’s much in it. The more cynical amongst you may argue I didn’t have that many grading points to lose in the first place!

Still, I wouldn’t say captaining a side is without its challenges. Even in my short tenure, I’ve had to deal with:

  • Team-mates not turning up / travelling to the wrong venue / pulling out with an hour’s notice
  • Team-mates arguing with each other / other teams
  • Opposition captains complaining about one of my players
  • Multiple wrangles with the league over player eligibility
  • Disputes over time controls / weird once-in-a-lifetime rules

Once I’m in the midst of a match, I tend to knuckle down and concentrate on my game – I’m not sure it’s much of a burden. The biggest stress I have is wondering whether my 8 players are going to turn up! That broad smile you see at 6:59pm in Golden Lane, when the last player rolls through the door, that’s a real one!!

Chris Ward vs. Carsten Pedersen (0-1): The Analysis

As the only victor in the recent Simultaneous against Chris Ward, Hammersmith’s Danish wizard Carsten Pedersen has generously provided us with his analysis of that game.

Carsten (top right, furthest board from the camera) mulls over his next move
Carsten (top right, furthest board from the camera) mulls over his next move

The insight is a real treat and makes for a fascinating read. As you might expect from two top players, some of the lines are tricky to follow, though Carsten has done really well in explaining the logic behind them. I’m pleased to say there is even the occasional (semi) blunder in there! A terrific read – hope you enjoy it.

Grandmaster Flashy! GM Ward triumphs in 15 board Simul

By Events Secretary, John White

Am delighted to report that members of Hammersmith Chess club took on the ex-British Champion Grandmaster Chris Ward in a simultaneous match over 15 boards last night – 2nd February 2016. The whole evening took three hours and was a brilliant display of competitive and fighting chess… well, maybe on four of the 15 boards!

The evening was great fun thanks to Chris who was very entertaining, very sporting and played some deadly chess.

Pride of place goes to Carsten Pedersen, our club’s strongest player who not only beat Chris, but did so after getting an inferior position in the opening – amazing performance!

A tense room shortly after proceedings started
A tense room shortly after proceedings started. Players watch on as Chris does his rounds across 15 boards

Just behind him were the three stalwarts of the Club – Mike Mackenzie, our Club Secretary, Bajrush Kelmendi, our Chairman, and David Lambert, one of our team captains. Although they lost, they each played magnificently.

Indeed Mike had a potentially won game but possibly over-excitement and with Chris posing him problems at every move, he ended up losing despite being ahead on material for much of the game.

David played solidly all the way and only a clever tactic from Chris downed him in the endgame.

Bajrush had an incredibly complicated game with Chris that was decided late into the evening when again, the expertise of Chris saw him secure the win.

Club Secretary Mike Mackenzie looking very pleased with his position early on
Fear the Benoni. Club Secretary Mike Mackenzie looking very pleased with his position early on.

The rest of us were dispatched in regulation fashion. The reality is that a player of Chris’s ability sees so much more at the board than us club hackers. Take your correspondent – I was strategically lost after 7 moves – a hasty move saw to my downfall.

A great night that will be repeated in future, and once again Hammersmith Chess Club must thank Chris for making it happen.

 

Simultaneous Match vs GM Chris Ward

In what should be a  truly captivating evening of Chess, Hammersmith Club players will be taking on Grandmaster (GM) Chris Ward in a 15 board simultaneous game at our Lytton Hall club venue (directions here) on Tuesday 2nd February from 6.30pm.

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GM Chris Ward teaching GM and current World Champion Magnus Carlsen (left) a thing or two

A former British Champion, Chris is currently ranked in the top 30 British players and has a wealth of published material on the game, including a number of books on the Sicilian Dragon and Queen’s Gambit openings.

Simultaneous (or Exhibition) games have a rich history amongst top ranked players, and have lead to some memorable exchanges with so-called lesser players. Bobby Fischer even included one game from an exhibition match (featuring the Evans Gambit), in his “60 Memorable Games” book. Hopefully one of the Hammersmith players can have a memorable evening!

This is a fantastic and rare chance to play against a master of the game and promises to be a highlight for the Club. The Fulham Gazette will be covering this occasion for the local press.

New website

Hammersmith Chess Club is pleased to announce our new website.

We’ve got a brand new layout and some exciting features which we hope you’ll like, including:

  • Integrated twitter feed – new tweets appear automatically on the website
  • Blog style updates – with Newsletter functionality to email all members & subscribers whenever a post is made
  • Updated contact details section with Google maps

We hope you like it 🙂