Baby-Sized Advantages Require Baby-Sized Steps to Win

Raise your hand if you have ever had a small advantage and failed to capitalize on it. I'll raise both hands and both feet for that one! We so often, either through skillful play on our own or through our opponents' mistakes, find ourselves in an advantageous position; but if that is the case why do we not win those positions more often? The answer often lies around the area of the game we call "technical". When you hear grand masters talking about technically won positions, or technically inferior ones, they are referring to the fact that if one plays correct positional chess, technical chess, then one side will win or be better after some moves. Now. what is the secret to playing technical chess? 

Technical chess is way too deep to cover in one or two lessons, way too deep to cover in one or two months of daily lessons, but rather it is a vast ocean of chess understanding that one must master in order to become a technical genius. Do not quit just because the previous sounds too difficult to master. Every player can learn how to significantly improve their technical chess through a small bit of study and memorization. You CAN become a better player, and it won't take years!

In the following, I hope to expound a bit on how to play technically winning chess through the broader chess topic some call "easier". Easier is composed of taking baby-steps to ensure your baby-sized advantage wins the game. Let us learn how to make our games "easier".  


The KISS Formula: Keep it Simple Stupid

 AFTER 21...Qb4

AFTER 21...Qb4

The following selection is from a recent game of mine where my opponent blundered a pawn and then tried to draw the endgame. The first thing you should notice from the diagram to the side is that after forking his "b" and "e" pawns, he should play Qd7 to make my life...less easy. As soon as my opponent decides to bring his queen into the attack, my game becomes more complicated to hold. I have to worry about his checks and forks, his attacking with the combined help of the knight and bishop, and the sacrifices he might pull out to open my king up to perpetual check. 

All of this combined could do any number of things to me: I might eat more of my clock calculating all his threats and all the tactics, because of the complexity I am going to more often miss some small tactic, and or I could allow my fears to take hold of me and I could retreat out of my winning position for a "safer" one. Avoiding complications when you have the advantage will make your position easier to play. 


 After 24...Nd4!

After 24...Nd4!

22.Qd3!? Qxb2 23.Qb3? Qxb3! 24.cxb3 Nd4!

Another important principle to keep in mind when you are ahead: keep improving your pieces! How often is this simple, constant fact of chess overlooked when we see the finish line ahead! Instead of trying to force a pawn home to queendom, focus instead on acting as if you had a chess teacher standing over your shoulder. It doesn't matter if you are better or even winning; play everything according to the book: improve pieces, only push pawns when they are weakness-free, keep the king safe until the endgame. I am focusing on taking baby-steps, I am not trying to win right now. The ONLY difference you should see in your play between when you are winning and when you are not, would be how willing you would be in trading pieces. To avoid complications am allowing a trade of pieces. The fewer pieces I have to worry about, the easier the game will be.


25.Nc3 Kf8 26.Nd2 Ke7 27.f3 b5!

 After 27...b5!

After 27...b5!

I chose to avoid trading my knight off in exchange for increased king activity. As you know that kings can be active warriors in the endgame, you know to activate them when a significant number of pieces have been traded. Again, baby-steps, there is no need to rush (and no need to trade off my beautiful steed) My king now has a clear path into his game through the dark squares of d6, c5, b4, and c3. My awe-inspiring knight on the dominant outpost of d4 (if they avoid trading; better pieces=easier game) will never allow him to play a3 to block my king because of the weakness on b3. If he were to play for a3 and b4, I would then finally activate my bishop to h6, force the knight to move to b1, and then proceed to win the a3 pawn (or b4 if it pushes) with Nc2 and Bc1. With b5 I deprive his knight of the square c4 to attack my e5 pawn and block my king out by covering d6. One more point: what if he could defend his queenside? These type questions creep into our minds way too often. Trust your advantage. If you play according to the principles you are learning, more times than not you will win. 


 After 33...Kc5

After 33...Kc5

28.Kf2 Kd6 29.Ke3 Nc2+ 30.Kd3? Ne1+ 31.Ke2 Nxg2 32.Kf2 Nf4 33.Kg3 Kc5

Now that my knight has taken care of his kingside play, there is now only to invade with my king on the queenside, snap off a couple pawns, and promote some of my little guys to win the game. Notice in a comical sense how my bishop has not been doing anything this entire endgame. I have totally taken away my opponent's play (KISS [keep it simple stupid]=easier game) and my bishop is just enjoying a cup of lemonade on a hot summer's day while my king and knight do the dirty work. The rest of the game is trivial as he cannot stop my king from advancing once I trade a pair of knights (now that his king is out of play on the king-side).

The game finished:

34.Ncb1 Kd4 35.h4 Ne2+ 36.Kf2 Nc3 37.a4 Nxb1 38.Nxb1 Kd3 29.Na3 a6! 30.axb5 axb5 31.b4 Kc3 32.Nb1 Kc2 0-1


Conclusion:

For all those times when you were better or winning when you failed to finish your rival off, you probably rushed the results. As babies cannot run, so too baby-sized advantages should not be ran with either. When you have that advantage, look for the best way to make life easier on yourself. First, minimize your opponent's counterplay. Take away all of his chances, and you will have much less opportunity to throw your advantage away.  Second, activate your pieces. Only when your pieces are in their prime places should you attempt to go for the knock-out blow. Walk slowly, stay vigilant, and more times than not you will bring home the bacon. I hope to hear good things from y'all soon!

For the Chess.com version of this game, click HERE.