Learning from Mismatched Amateur Games

We’ve all read about the importance of studying the games of masters and grandmasters. By playing through their games, we learn to recognize important patterns, how strong players use their pieces effectively, and how they execute plans.

Less common advice is to study mismatched games between amateurs. While grandmasters can blunder, they rarely do. Their mistakes are likely to be more subtle and positional in nature and not at all obvious to us improvers. When novices and intermediate players make mistakes, the results can be immediate and catastrophic.

I haven’t spent a lot of my chess energy on learning specific openings.  I’ve focused more of it on general opening principles. I’m still learning how to punish my opponents’ mistakes. Studying games between amateurs when the difference is 100 or more points can be very helpful in that regard.

In the first game below, I was 250 stronger than my opponent. My opponent played much too fast, ending with more time on the clock than at the start. (We were playing 30m + 30s.)

The exchange sacrifice on move 15 was questionable. It was clear that my opponent was aiming for a kingside attack. To begin such an attack by sacrificing rook for knight gave me a couple of quick impressions. One, my opponent was impatient. Two, he intended to initiate an attack with insufficient strength. The fact that he made the move with only a few seconds of thought told me, this was a speculative sacrifice.

I didn’t do a lengthy calculation, but I did see far enough that I could bring more defenders than my opponent could bring attackers. Thus, I didn’t feel panicked.

Move 24 seemed like desperation. Had my opponent taken just a few minutes from his half hour remaining on the clock, he could have formulated a different plan instead of pressing ahead with a “do or die” attack that had no reasonable hope of success.

This led me to another conclusion. I didn’t yet need to press an attack. My opponent was making unforced errors and at my level, it’s my experience that opponents who make unforced errors will likely to continue to make them. I just needed to play solidly and let my opponent defeat himself. That took just another move!

The next game was against the same opponent. This time I had white.

My opponent violated just about every opening principle. Black didn’t fight for the initiative, abandoned the center, and didn’t develop. There are no brilliancy prizes for unrated Internet rapid games, so I didn’t look to win a miniature. I don’t know about the Pirc, so I didn’t expect to discover any opening tricks across the board. I decided to win through good, solid play. I’d just try to take advantage of my opponent’s mistakes.

Perhaps my opponent was feeling intimidated after our first game. Black certainly played passively from the first few moves. I pushed my pawn to f4 early, which is a bit aggressive. After, I just applied basic opening principles. I developed my pieces, controlled the center, opened the e file, used my heavy pieces to control the open file, and restricted my opponent.

Glenn Mitchell