Saturday, June 8

The Lost Art of Playing Down

The vast Playing Hall at SuperNationals.
Let me begin this column with a confession.  Like other coaches, I routinely encourage students to sign up for higher rated sections at tournaments.  The underlying philosophy asserts the importance of playing stronger opponents, and subsequently learning from the inevitable defeats Alas, good intentions appear to have gone too far over the years.

The father of one former student emphasized the instructional value of facing equal or lower rated opponents.  Do not enter a higher section before demonstrating consistency at beating those lower rated.  An improving junior should not match wits with A players until he proved proficient at beating B players.  You don't necessarily need a perfect score, but enough to gain rating points (e.g. 80% against those 100-200 points lower).

Indeed, the skills required to consistently win playing down differ from playing up.
  1. Avoid unnecessary risks and allow the opponent chances to go astray.  
  2. Learn to identify and take advantage of mistakes big and small.  
  3. Rely on your greater experience (e.g. in endgame) to win an objectively equal game.  
  4. Keep fighting when in trouble, by maximizing counterplay.  
  5. Maintain your focus and confidence throughout the game.
Some young players achieve noteworthy results against strong opponents, but cannot defeat their peers.  They may end up being overrated, subsequently dropping points and doubting their ability.  Further progress depends on patching the deficiencies in chess development.  The ultimate test would be beating a rapidly improving yet still lower rated junior.  Those fortunate enough to earn the master title have repeatedly passed this test.

Postscript:  At many Bay Area events, juniors must play up simply to face their rating peers.  I regret this paradoxical trend.  Why have an A section when most entries come from B players?

No comments: