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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Waiting for a Mistake

     Anand, commenting on game 5 of his match with Carlsen, said, “…there were small mistakes, here and there. I didn’t lose the game in one move. I lost it over several and it’s exactly what I had hoped not to do but it was exactly what I did.” This is the way we lose games sometimes after we have played well. Not one blunder, but the game just slips away.
     I remember one game from my tournament days back in the 1970’s. I was paired against 2300+ Soviet master and we played until adjournment. I kept wondering why he would not offer me a draw because the position was clearly drawn, or so I thought. When adjournment came I grabbed a quick lunch then set up the position on a picnic table outside the venue and after about a half hour came to the conclusion that I was dead lost so resigned without resuming play. What had happened? I never made any obvious mistakes. Later analysis revealed that he just waited me out. I was the lower rated opponent and he knew that if he just waited, sooner or later I would either blunder or let the game slip away.
     I have played titled players and they never take things lightly. They play the same openings, no off the wall, weird stuff trying to catch me in some trap, that they play against their peers. No hasty or risky tactical tricks thinking, “He won’t see it.” Why should they risk anything? They know that sooner or later I will mess up. Look at the following position from one of my recent online games.

     My opponent (White) was rated nearly 1700 and he had me on the ropes for a long time. In fact, Houdini 2 gives white a nearly two Pawn advantage here…enough to win. So what happened? I have just played 47…Ng4-e6 and he apparently had his next move already in mind because he instantly played 48.Nc7 and then had to resign when I took the N. It was a narrow escape, but I had been hoping that sooner or later he would blunder and he did.
     Someone on a forum recently claimed Carlsen has a boring style because he plays a waiting game. That’s not true. Carlsen does not sit around waiting for things to happen. He often ventures into unclear waters, but he also presses when he is in a slightly better position and if he sees a line, he consider his opponent will see it, too. But Carlsen does not like draws so in nearly equal positions, he will maneuver, giving the impression he isn’t doing anything. What he’s really doing is looking for ways to pressure his opponent and many times this approach works. It’s a killer instinct, but one that requires patience while stalking an opponent. This is in contrast to a lot of top players today; they accept early draws and go for the win only if the position warrants it.

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