Is consistency a good or bad thing? Well it depends on your field! If you run a hedge fund, for example, then it’s better to give your investors a good return without too much of a roller coaster ride, at least if you want to keep them as investors! Yet chess is a field in which inconsistency is generally rewarded; extremes of results will net higher prizes overall, not to mention title norms. On the other hand results which hardly vary will tend to miss out on both.
Are there some good examples of strong players who rarely won much? Well Richard Teichmann was known as ‘Richard the Fifth’ due to the frequency with which he took fifth place in tournaments. On the other hand Bent Larsen showed tremendous inconsistency during his career, oscillating between triumph and disaster. But as a result he won a lot of prize money.
So what are the characteristics of variable players? Is it a question of playing particular openings or something deeper? To my mind the primary driving force is a pugnacious attitude whereby a player tries hard to win games and is willing to take a lot of risks to do so. To some extent this may be reflected in opening choices, but the choice to take a risk can be made at almost any point in the game.
In the following game Larsen came badly unstuck, pushing hard for a win to the extent that he underestimated the danger. Sallying forth with his king with 59.Kf4? followed by 60.Kg5??, he completely missed the highly unpleasant 60…Qg3!. Suddenly White is threatened with 61…hxg4 and his queen must defend the e5 square because of a possible mate.