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How to Beat Higher-Rated Opponents

User Rating: / 25
Written by Administrator   
Wednesday, 14 August 2013

By GM Lars Bo Hansen, PhD, MBA

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One of the key questions for competitive chess players is how to approach games against significantly higher rated opponents.

In the first round of the World Cup this was the situation in a number of matches in which the rating difference between opponents was 200 points or more.

One of my favorite chess books as a teenager was Simon Webbs insightful (and in some places provocative) Chess for Tigers. Webb discusses this situation under the heading How to trap Heffalumps. A natural reaction is to play cautiously and safe, hoping to cling to a draw. But Webb argues and I tend to agree with him based on my own experience from both sides of this situation that this approach is dangerous because one of the strengths of really strong players is excellent technique and accuracy in simple positions. In simple positions, strong players rarely lose control and basically get a free shot at the goal with no risk.

The games Akash-Caruana (456 rating points difference), Karjakin-Ali (401 points difference) or Leko-Johannesen (225 points difference) show the dangers; in these games the higher rated player eventually was able to grind out a win from a rather equal, but simple position. Webb suggests that the lower rated player should play as sharply as possible, even if this approach may not be the best in a pure chess sense. The idea is to create a mess where the Heffalump may lose control. The more chaotic the position on the board, the better for the lower rated player. Of course, chances are that the stronger player will still prevail, but the odds of surprises increase with the rate of chaos on the board.

View the games

Probably the biggest upset of game 1 at the World Cup was former World No. 2 Alexander Morozevich loss against Bator Sambuev, in which Morozevich held a 215 rating points advantage. This game followed Webbs script exactly. Already on move 12, Sambuev showed his aggressive intentions with the sharp novelty 12 h4!?, initiating a direct attack on Blacks king.


This was followed by other sharp moves like 20 g4!?, and Whites aggressive strategy peaked with the speculative exchange sacrifice 26. Rxg7!? While this sacrifice was probably not justified in a chess sense, it created a mess which was difficult to control even for a 2739 player.



Morozevich played a few inaccurate moves (34Qh5 or 34Bh3 both seem to consolidate Blacks advantage) and eventually blundered the game away on move 40 with 40Qxf3?? when 40Bxe4 would still be better for Black.



If you like the article, you can learn more about GM Lars Bo Hansen & his books at

Related materials:
Rook and pawn vs. rook
Thinking in schemes
Does the "Draw with Black, Win with White" approach work anymore?
Boris Gelfand & maintaining a strong center
How to react to a chess novelty
A lesson from the Ukrainian Chess Champion
Carlsen-Anand @ Tal Memorial
Strategy of Restriction

Comments (1)
1. Written by O_x on 10:28 14 2013 .
...thank you for blessing us with nice articles 

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 14 August 2013 )
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