During last several years I’ve played CC almost exclusively and most of the games have been against players in the range of 1900-2300. So I’ve had very little experience against lower rated players in recent years but lately I’ve been experimenting with playing a lot of 10-15 minutes games on various sites and my challenges have often been accepted by players in the 1200-1400 range.
I don’t mind playing what usually ends up being a series of 2-4 games in a row against such players because I’m not really concerned about taking a hit on the (meaningless) rating points or developing bad habits or any other reason that higher rated players give for avoiding playing people whose ability they feel is beneath them. Sometimes there is a challenge in just finding the tactics; there’s always ample opportunity because most of the time they end up with positions so bad sacrifices just come naturally. See the last post where I played an unnecessary sac and still won.
Anyway that’s not what this post is about. It’s about some common traits I’ve noticed with players in the 1200-1400 range, or in many cases even up to 1600. Sidebar: it seems like 1200-1400’s play a lot better than they used to!
In many cases they play very good, even to the point of establishing superior positions, but then something happens…they fall apart! Very often they seem to know the correct general strategy as happened in a recent K-Indian-Samisch where I was White. My 1250ish opponent knew he was supposed to seek play on the Q-side and made a couple of moves directed to that end. But when I had what looked to be threats on the K-side, he abandoned any idea of seeking counterplay on the Q-side and started reacting to my moves on the K-side. My position looked aggressive but in truth the game was quite even as his defensive resources were adequate. Even when I got a better position as a result of his passive play I had no clear win. That’s when all ideas of Q-side play and even the thought of playing defensive moves went out the window. He lashed out, of all places, on the K-side. I don’t know. Maybe he thought all the P moves had weakened my King's position, but he clearly was not aware of the fact that it was a bad idea to open up the position on the side where your opponent has all his pieces…especially when half of his own were sitting on the other side of the board. The result was a quick tactical blunder that resulted in his getting mated. So, yes, the game was decided by tactics but only because he did not understand the strategy that the position demanded he play.
I know what was going through his head because the last time I played an IM, I did the same thing. At the first sign of a threat I assumed that as a 2500 he was seeing a lot more than I was and so began to imagine all kinds of nonexistent threats. The result was a series of weak defensive moves culminating in a game-losing blunder. I admit it; I was afraid of booger men.
NM Dan Heisman describes what is happening perfectly when he calls it 'Hope Chess.'
The more I read what Heisman has to say, the more convinced I become that for anyone in this rating bracket who wants to improve, they should NOT buy any books on chess. It may take some time and a few dollars worth or paper and printer ink, but I would just go to Heisman’s site and start printing out every one of his articles and study them. It’s really good stuff and the price is right…it’s free.