By National Master Evan Rabin
Several years ago I spoke with a 1700-rated player who just drew 1200- rated player at the US Amateur Team East. She explained to me how
solid her opponent played and how she had no winning chances. As I did not believe her that a 1200 could play so solidly, I asked her to show me the game and she had several instances in which she could have easily got a winning advantage. Years later, I often find myself struggling to win against players around my level or slightly below, when they play relatively solid openings.
Some opening, such as the Slav Exchange Variation, French Exchange Variation and London System, are relatively harmless. In these openings, while black can usually fairly easily equalize, it can be hard for him to fight for an advantage, if white does not make any mistakes. However, all players will mistakes, even our silicon friends. In the World Chess Championship 2023 between Ding Lien and Ian Nepomniachtchi, the black player won 4/7 of the decisive games, despite white’s theoretical first move advantage. At any level, while white theoretically does have better chances, the black player should be able to be confident about the possibility of winning.
In 2014, I lost a tough game against International Master Marc Esserman at the National Chess Congress in Philadelphia. Marc suggested that I consider playing 1.e4. e5 as black. I told him how I didn’t want to as if white plays either the Giuoco Piano or the Four Knights Game, it has the potential to lead to a boring, equal position, where I would have to outplay my opponent win a long struggle if I wanted to win. Marc responded “That is the whole point of chess, where the better player should make better moves and outplay his opponent.”
Whether your opponent is a beginner or a grandmaster, you should treat him like he is 50 points rated higher you (learn why in this blog post). In the event you cannot find either a tactic or a winning plan in a position, improve your worst piece. Player “A” does not usually beat Player “B” because Player “B” blundered but rather because Player A” consistently made better moves than Player “B” throughout the game. As my coach Grandmaster Leonid Yudasin, frequently shared with me, most tactics occur because of positional reasons. Unless you are playing Stockfish,your opponent is not that solid. While you will draw some games of course, you should be able to outplay any opponent and win.