How to beat a weaker opponent? This was the question I asked myself during my career very often. This was the drawback of being too strong. I played a lot of Open tournaments for living in US and I had to face this problem quite often. When you have the two game match to win the task might look much easier. Still not every time the rating favorite wins.
In chess when the favorite is losing it makes people happy. Usually we picture a situation when the old master is losing to the young talent. The younger generation is taking over. There is no shame for the older player, life must go on. I played with Anand first time back in 1988 in Reggio-Emilia when he was only 19 years old. I won the game in 25 moves. Today if someone plays like Anand in that game we cannot predict him very bright future in chess. At least today’s champion do not have this kind of games in his collection. Still Anand became World Champion. He still plays chess today and in several occasions refuted the rumors about his retirement.
In Tbilisi he lost the match already on the second leg against the scandalous Anton Kovalyov. Anand relies always to his intuition and is famous of his speed when the pure calculation is important. He was already 46 years old during the Tbilisi competition and even he must pay tribute to his age. There is always a deeper reason when player who is much stronger is losing a game against lower rated opponent.
When playing against patzer there are few recommendations the stronger player should follow. First recommendation is to dictate the course of the game. Create the situation when only you have the choices to play safe or complicate matters. The classical game how to play against this strategy from the weaker side is the battle between very young future World Champion Boriss Spassky and Mikhail Botvinnik.
In our game Anand was probably taken aback with not so good move h7-h5 which created a new kind of position which was not thoroughly analyzed by Anand’s team. Now he started to create some kind of plan. This even despite the fact that he managed to get a better positions was a mistake. Against MLV it might be a good strategy, but it is obvious that the full time student Kovalyov did not analyze the move h7-h5 for weeks. Most probably he picked it up just for one game.
The strategy against a weaker opponent is not to play the very precise chess, but just to follow one good idea or plan. In short just pick one good looking line against weaker opponent there is no need to be very creative. Simple standard moves plans are usually good options. In our game Anand instead of following the standard plan tried to play very deep chess and finally sacrificed a Knight which was a terrible blunder. There was nothing wrong to continue the game without any strong commitment. Now his opponent was forced to find only one good move Kf5! which decided the game and the match.
Situation which we want to avoid in any cost when facing a weaker opponent. We like to force our opponent to find and make a series of good moves, not just one. Statistically weaker opponents make more mistakes and to keep the game dry and long only increases the chances for a stronger player.
I always wonder what they so called elite coaches trainers are telling to their elite students. I am sure they do not discuss the strategy how to beat the underdog, but they should.