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How to

Beat a GM
What Every Amateur Should
Know About Playing a
Higher-Rated Opponent

By Chris Seck

How to Beat a GM
What Every Amateur Should Know About
Playing a Higher-Rated Opponent
By Chris Seck
2007, All Rights Reserved

Table of Contents

Introduction
Chapter 1 Why GMs Usually Beat Amateurs
Chapter 2 The Power of Belief
Chapter 3 Win by Losing
Chapter 4 Learn to Tolerate Difficult Positions
Chapter 5 Pick an Amateur-Friendly Opening
Chapter 6 Make Simultaneous Games Work for You
Chapter 7 Exploit the Peculiarities of Internet Chess
Chapter 8 Study Your Opponents Games
Chapter 9 Sometimes, You Get Underestimated
Chapter 10 How to Beat Your Computer
Epilogue

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Introduction
When I was 12 and a Class D player, I played in a simultaneous exhibition against the
legendary ex-world champion Anatoly Karpov. Although the odds were heavily stacked against me,
Ive always felt that the game ended embarrassingly early:

GM Anatoly Karpov - Chris Seck


Singapore, 1997
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 O-O 8.Bc4 Nc6 9.Qd2
Bd7 10.O-O-O Rc8 11.Bb3 Ne5 12.h4 Nc4 13.Bxc4 Rxc4 14.h5 Re8 15.hxg6 fxg6 16.e5
dxe5 17.Ne6 Qc8 18.Nxg7 Kxg7 19.Bg5 1-0

Years passed. As a student, I worked hard at my chess. I read a lot of chess books and my
playing strength slowly improved until my rating hit a plateau: USCF 1800. From that point
onwards, I would occasionally manage to accidentally beat an expert, or even a low-level master.
But against GMs, I lost 100% of my games, without even a single draw. Heres one of my more
notable masterpiecesfrom the GMs perspective, that is.

GM Saidali Iuldachev - Chris Seck


Singapore, 2001
1.e4 e6 2.d3 d5 3.Nd2 c5 4.Ngf3 Bd6 5.g3 Ne7 6.Bg2 Nbc6 7.O-O O-O 8.Nh4 b6 9.f4
dxe4 10.dxe4 Ba6 11.Re1 Rc8 12.c3 e5 13.f5 c4 14.f6 gxf6 15.Bh3 Bc5+ 16.Kh1 Rc7
17.Rf1 Bc8 18.Bxc8 Qxc8 19.Rxf6 b5 20.Qh5 Ng6 21.Ndf3 Qh3 22.Ng5 1-0
To be sure, at the scholastic level, being an 1800 player was enough to win a couple of
minor school tournaments. I was elected president of my high school chess club, and my scholastic
achievements eventually helped me get into Stanford University.
But I remained dissatisfied. My rating remained stuck at the 1800-1900 plateau, and I knew
no way to improve further. Moreover, my lifelong ambition remained unfulfilled: I wanted to beat a
GM. Sure, its good to beat other amateurs, but wouldnt it be nice to beat a GMsomeone who is
really good at the game?
So, I read more chess books. But while the existing chess literature featured plenty of GM
vs. GM games, they rarely showed GM vs. amateur games. None of them offered practical advice
on how a weaker player can hope to prevail against a stronger one. Moreover, the few published
GM vs. amateur games tended to be one-sided matches where the amateur would voluntarily make
a couple of beginners mistakes and concede the game after a token positional struggle. Quite
simply, it wasnt the stuff that I was looking for.
Therefore, I decided to design my own personal program to beat GMs. I visited open
tournaments and watched first round matches between top-seeded GMs and untitled players. I
talked to class players and experts who had beaten GMs before, and they shared their games with
me. I compiled a collection of hundreds of GM vs. amateur games and studied them in detail. I
observed the ways in which GM vs. GM games were different from GM vs. amateur games. In the
end, I came up with three general observations:

Insight 1: GMs usually dictate the pace of the games


Regardless of the result of the game, I found that it was almost always the GM who played
aggressive moves early and more often. Inevitably, due to his superior opening knowledge and
tactical skills, the GM would often have forced the amateur on the defensive within the first 20
moves of the game.
On the occasions that the amateurs managed to win or draw, it was usually because the GM
made a mistake that allowed unnecessary complications. Most amateur wins were due to tactical
shots in the middlegame, rather than through positional play or in the endgame.
Dont get me wrongpositional and endgame skills are important. Its just that when youre
facing tough GM opponents, they usually arent enough by themselves to win.

Insight 2: Shorter time controls favor amateurs.


I found that percentage-wise, amateurs score far better in blitz and rapid games than in
longer time controls. The shorter the game, the greater the chances of an upset.
Contrary to popular perception, the true advantage of playing blitz is not that the GM is
significantly more likely to blunder (the Dutch psychologist Adrian de Groot refuted that claim in a
study), but that the subjective element of time (and the importance of moving quickly) becomes a
larger factor. An amateur may lack the GMs knowledge, but he can easily acquire a quick handa
very useful skill in blitz.
Moreover, although GMs are often good at playing chess at faster time controls, their
comparative advantage lies in their ability to play games that last 4-5 hours because thats how they
became GMs in the first place. But for amateurs, who usually practice by playing blitz, the opposite
is true since they tend to be comparatively better at faster time controls.

Insight 3: Amateur-GM games rarely feature the absolute main lines.


At top-level tournaments such as Linares and Corus, GMs overwhelmingly play the main
lines against each otherthe Najdorf Sicilian, the Semi-Slav Meran, etc. Some of those lines are
analyzed 20 moves deep, and most require enormous home preparation.
Against amateurs, however, GMs almost never play the main lines because they dont want
to waste their best opening ideas on amateurs. Usually, a GM would play uncommon lines to get his
opponent out of the book and think for himself. As a result, amateurs almost always face
complex, unfamiliar positions against GMs.

I dont consider my games to be of high qualityeven my best wins against GMs are
riddled with my inaccuracies and blunders. I prefer to think my anti-GM tactics as a sort of guerilla
warfarewhere the weaker side employs unconventional tactics to fight a much larger, bettertrained opponent.

It took a long time for me to figure out all the things that youre about to learn. But Im glad
I did, because although my last published USCF rating was in the 1800s, I can now log on to the
Internet Chess Club, confident of beating at least one IM or GM during almost every session.
But on the other hand, I know for a fact that I probably never will become a GM myself. It
takes more to become a GM than to beat one, and my chess ambitions are pretty much limited to the
latter.
Against GMs, I still lose most of the time since Im technically the weaker player, but I take
the losses in my stride. As an amateur, I have the freedom to lose as many times as need be,
confident in the knowledge that it only takes one victory to make my day. For GMs, the opposite is
truethey win almost all the time, but it usually only takes one bad loss or draw to spoil their day.
GMs beat amateurs because of their superior playing strength. That does not mean amateurs
have no chance. Because each player plays by the same rules and has only his brain as a guide, it is
often possible for an amateur to find enough right moves, or for a GM to make enough errors, to
create an upset.
The FIDE handbook states that a 500-point difference between an amateur and a GM
translates into a mere 4% chance of the amateur winning. But there are various factors that allow
determined amateur players to considerably increase their immediate odds. This book is about
recognizing that any amateur versus GM match is an asymmetrical fightand using the available
imbalances to increase your chances.
Now, lets have some fun!

Chapter 1: Why GMs Usually Beat Amateurs


Before you sit down to play GMs, it pays to consider the reasons why they are higher-rated
than you. As Sun Tzu said, Know thy enemy, know thyself; a thousand battles, a thousand
victories." It is only by recognizing your opponents strengths that you, as an amateur may find
ways, to ameliorate themthereby maximizing your chances.
Of course, specific information on your GM opponent is useful. But generally speaking, if
you dont know the GM personally, chances are that he possesses the following 7 advantages,
which the average amateur lacks:

Advantage 1
Advantage 2
Advantage 3
Advantage 4
Advantage 5
Advantage 6
Advantage 7

A professional stake in the games outcome


Years of sophisticated training techniques
Superior tactical sight and knowledge of patterns
Well-worked out opening repertoire
Vast knowledge of typical middlegame themes
Superior endgame technique
Previous experience with vast majority of positions

A serious amateur who wants to play a GM would do well to think about how to reduce the
impact of these factors. Let us take a look at them.

Advantage 1: A professional stake in the games outcome


GMs have reputations to protect. The vast majority of them are Professional players who
make their livelihood from chesswhether it is prize money, coaching students, or writing books
and articles. Their economic well-being depends heavily on their ability to win tournaments and
maintain high ratings.
In contrast, most amateurs play chess for recreation; they see chess as a small part of a big
life that includes commitments to work, school, and relationships.
When an amateur loses a game to a GM, nothing bad happens. But when a GM loses (or
concedes a draw) to an amateurparticularly a young onethe aftermath can be particularly
traumatic: The happy amateur would replay the game endless times to his friends. The spectators
watching the game break out in applause for the amateurs achievement. Sometimes, newspapers
and TV media even publicize the sensational upset.
During the first round of a blitz tournament in the 1999 London Mind Sports Olympiad, the
famous GM John Nunn played against an 8-year old boy named David Howell. Had Nunn won, the
game would have long been forgotten as a routine firstround victory.
Unfortunately, the opposite happened. Little David Howell scored a sensational upset and
the media frenzy was enormous. Even in faraway Singaporehalfway across the globethe local
newspaper gave generous coverage of the little boys victory (and his illustrious opponents
embarrassment). Nobody reported that GM Nunn went on to win his next five games while Howell
lost his next two. To the outside world, all that mattered was that a GM had been beaten by a little
boy.

While GMs may dislike losing to other GMs, they view losing to amateurs with utmost hate,
disgust, revulsion, and abhorrenceand will do anything within their chessplaying powers to avoid
conceding losses or draws.
As such, whenever a GM faces an amateur, it is clear that he has greater motivation to win
his reputation and livelihood depend on it. Therefore, the GM puts more effort into choosing better
moves, which is why he usually wins.
Advantage 2: Years of sophisticated training techniques
Regardless of nationality, any GM would have spent thousands of hours being coached and
playing practice games. Many GMs have teams of personal trainers to analyze their games to weed
out mistakes. Some GMs have received special training ever since they were young.
There is plenty of literature surrounding the legendary Soviet School of Chess and its secret
training methods. But few Westerners know that even Asian countries like India, China, and
Vietnam also have serious chess schools.
Take China for example. In his book, The Chinese School of Chess, Chinas national coach
IM Liu Wenzhe outlined the training methods used to prepare 20-year-old Xie Jun (then rated about
2450) for the 1991 Womens World Championship. They included:
190 days worth of chess training, including 480 hours worth of training games.
Three GMs preparing Xie Juns openings for herincluding the black sides of the Ruy
Lopez, the Scotch Game, the Kings Indian, the Reti Opening, and the English.
3. A detailed training timetable where Xie Jun would wake up at 6:30am, train the whole
day, and sleep at 10:15pm. The training included not just opening study and practice games,
but also vigorous physical exercise and psychological conditioning.
At the GM level, such training and preparation is common.
Amateurs, on the other hand, tend to train using far simpler methods (and for far fewer
hours). Compared to GMs, many of whom have lived and breathed chess for many years, the vast
majority of amateurs see chess as a mere hobby that must be balanced against other priorities like
work and family. Moreover, amateurs generally lack the time or inclination to study chess for 190
straight dayslet alone for many years at a stretch.
Advantage 3: Superior tactical sight and knowledge of patterns
Much of the gap in playing strength between GMs and amateurs can be attributed to tactical
sight. As author Michael De La Maza writes in Rapid Chess Improvement, an amateurs strength is
limited first and foremost by a lack of tactical ability.
The GM invariably exploits almost every tactical blunder the amateur makes, even while
making virtually none himself. His familiarity with tactical patterns checkmates, forks, pins,
skewers, double attacks, or any combination of the aboveis, as a rule, far superior to the
amateurs.
The late Dutch chess master Adriaan de Groot once theorized that a chess players skill was
correlated with his ability to readily recognize pattern chunks on the chessboard. De Groot
8

suggested that grandmasters know tens of thousands of such chunks, which allows them to
recognize the functional relationships between the pieces patterns that amateurs are often
unfamiliar with.
I once learnt about a common pattern chunk the hard way:

GM Dmitry Gurevich - Chris Seck


Simultaneous Exhibition
Whitewater, 1998

After surviving a difficult middlegame, I had achieved a drawn position as Black. To draw,
all I needed to do was to shuffle my king between h7 and g7. Even if the White King could make it
to b6, the position would still be drawn because it would have no pawn cover from my rook checks.
After a long think, I decided to bring my king to the center to win the White a-pawn.
45. Kf7??
And a smiling Gurevich instantly responded:
46. Rh8! Black resigns
Black loses the rook after 46Rxa7 47.Rh7+, and any other move allows the a-pawn to
queen.
But the most revealing moment came after the game, when I told my opponent:
That was a cool trick.
To which he replied, It was a typical tactical pattern. You learn it with experience.
Gurevich, like all other GMs, had seen this pattern countless times, which was why he was
able to play the winning move on pure instinct. As an amateur, I was much less familiar with the
pattern and therefore played a bad move, even though I spent much more time pondering over it.
Often, GMs win precisely because their familiarity with such tactical patternsaccumulated
over years of chess playingis so much greater than that of the amateurs.

Advantage 4: Well-worked out opening repertoire


Although GMs commonly say that the opening is about understanding ideas and schemes rather
than memorizing variations, they often say this because they already possess a lot of pre-existing
opening knowledge. All openings require some degree of memorization, especially the sharper
ones.
GMs study their openings in great detail. As my former coach IM Jovan Petronic once told
me: Memorizing this book [ECO] is good enough to reach IM level. But to become a GM, you
need to not just read this stuff, but also to come up with some new ideas of your own.
In contrast, most amateurs have wide gaps in their opening repertoires, particularly as Black.
As a result, GMs often get advantages in the opening, and sometimes win games straight out of it.
As an example, one of my shortest losses was the following game, played against the late
GM Alex Wojtkiewicz. It is a good illustration of how easily a GM can beat an amateur who is
unfamiliar with the opening.

GM Alex Wojtkiewicz - Chris Seck


Simultaneous Exhibiton
Whitewater, 1999

1.Nf3 c5 2.e4 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Bg5 Bg7 7.Bb5+!?

Although I had played the Dragon many times, I had never seen the Bb5+ variation before.
Most of my amateur opponents would play the more popular Yugoslav Attack with f3, Be3, and
Qd2 against me. With little idea on how to deal with this unfamiliar opening variation, I tried
playing some natural-looking moves.

7. ... Bd7 8. Qe2 Nc6 9. Bxc6 bxc6 10. O-O-O

10

10. ... O-O??


But this normal-looking move, which leaves the Black queen in the path of the d1-rook, is a
serious mistake. I was not alert to the hidden threat behind my opponents last move. Either
10Qa5 or 10Qc7 was necessary.
Why then did I castle? It appeared to be a normal-looking move. And in an unfamiliar
opening position, normal-looking moves are sometimes bad.
11. e5!
With threats developing on the d-file, I realized that 11dxe5 12.Nxc6 followed by the
capture of the e5 pawn would give White a material advantage. Nevertheless, the move I played
was far worse because it lost a piece.
11. ... Qa5?? 12. Nb3!
Black resigns
If 12Qxe5, then 13.Qxe5 dxe5 14.Bxf6 Bh6+ 15.Kb1! wins a piece.

Advantage 5: Vast knowledge of typical middlegame themes


In his classic book Think like a Grandmaster, GM Alexander Kotov wrote that GMs know
where to place their pieces in typical middlegame positions. As Chinese GM Wu Shaobin once
told me, Anybody can memorize a bunch of variations. But few players understand what to do
with the middlegame positions that result once the opening is over.
As an example, I would like to borrow a game that GM Alex Yermolinsky showed the
Stanford chess club:
GM Alex Yermolinsky - FM John Bartholomew
Las Vegas, 2003
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.Nc3 b6 4.e4 d6 5.d4 cxd4 6.Nxd4 Bb7 7.f3 e6 8.Be3 Be7 9.Be2 O-O
10.O-O Nbd7 11.Qd2 a6 12.Rfd1 Rc8 13.Rac1 Qc7 14.a3 Qb8 15.Kh1
11

GM Yermolinsky wrote of this typical middlegame position: It has been known for two
decades that Black must transfer the bishop to c7. In the resulting position, Black has the potential
threat of d6-d5, unleashing the c7-bishops power on the long c7-h2 diagonal.
In response, White usually defends his h2 pawn by playing Bg1. Then, Black could play
Kh8 and Rg8, with the idea of an eventual g7-g5.
15. ... Rfd8?
This natural-looking move is inaccurate. Black, a very promising junior at that time, was not
experienced with this type of position.
In response, GM Yermolinsky slowly improves his position, while Black cannot find an
active plan.
16. Bf1 Bf8 17. b4 Qa8 18. Nb3 Bc6 19. Qf2 Rb8 20. Bf4

Facing increasing pressure in a difficult position, Black panicked and made an anti-positional move:
12

20. e5?
Better was 20... Ne8, which would have kept everything defended. But Black didnt want to make
such a passive-looking move.
21. Be3 Rdc8 22. a4
And despite determined resistance, White went on to win a lengthy 63-move game.

Advantage 6: Superior endgame technique


Generally speaking, the endgame is where the knowledge gap between GMs and amateurs is
the greatest. As British chess author Tim Harding writes in Why You Lose at Chess: It is in the
ending that young players and computers, in particular, are at their weakest. There is less scope for
inspired guessing in the endgame.
Once therere few pieces left on the board, the creative possibilities of the position tend to
diminish. As a result, endgames tend to be won by the player who has greater experience and
theoretical knowledge. This tends to favor the GM, because most amateurs are poor endgame
players and do not study them enough.
In the November 1998 issue of Chess Life, GM Pal Benko writes: Frequently I observe
lower-rated players in open tournaments handling the openings quite well. But after reaching decent
endgames, they miss relatively simple moves and get into trouble.
As an example, Benko cites the following game:

GM Arnold Denker - Elina Groberman


Orlando, 1997

White has just moved his rook to e4. According to Benko, Black can enter a drawn pawn
endgame by exchanging rooks: 76Rxe4 77.Kxe4 Ke6!
76. Ra5 (?) 77. Kf4 Rb5

13

Benko mentions that Black could again reach a drawn position with 77g5+ 78.hxg5 Kg6!

A few moves later, the game reached the following position:

Here, Benko writes that Black can easily draw by keeping her rook on the e-file.
89. Ra7??
And Black resigned after
90.Rd8+ Kf7
because of 91.Rd7+ with a lost pawn endgame.

Advantage 7: Previous experience with vast majority of positions


By the time they become GMs, most professional players would have played at least 500
games at classical time controlsnot including countless private training matches and rapid games.
Over the board, the GM would have analyzed, evaluated, and calculated tens of thousands of lines
and would be familiar with most situations on the chessboard. The GMs well-developed thinking
habits often enable him to play fasterand score quick wins or draws as needed.
An example of this would be Game 7 of the 2000 World Chess Championship between
Garry Kasparov and Vladimir Kramnik. Kasparov, who was one point behind and needed to win,
was edged into one of the shortest draws of his career:

GM Garry Kasparov - GM Vladimir Kramnik


London, 2000
1.c4 c5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 a6 5.Nc3 e6 6.g3 Qc7 7.Qd3 Nc6 8.Nxc6 dxc6
9.g2 e5 10.O-O Be6 11.Na4 -
14

Final position after 11.Na4


According to The New York Times, Kasparov had spent almost 38 minutes to get to this
position, while Kramnik spent only 9. The chess world was shocked. How did Kramnik draw so
easily against the world champion?
It turned out that Kramnik had already seen many similar positions in previous play. In
particular, he recognized the position to be similar to a game he played when he was just twelve:

GM Boris Alterman - Vladimir Kramnik


Druskininkai, 1987
1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 c5 3.c4 e6 4.Nc3 cxd4 5.Nxd4 a6 6.g3 Qc7 7.Qd3 Nc6 8.Nxc6 dxc6 9.g2
Be7 10.O-O O-O 11.h3 e5

12.Be3 Be6 13.b3 Nd7 14.Ne4 h6 15.g4 Rad8 16 Qc3 Rfe8 17.Rad1 Nf8 18.Nc5 Bc8
19.Na4 Rxd1 20.Rxd1 Ng6 21.Bb6 Qb8 22.e3 Be6 23.Qd3 Qc8 24.Nc5 Bxc5 25.Bxc5
15

Nh4 26.Be4 h5 27.f3 g6 28.Kf2 f5 29.gxf5 gxf5 30.Rg1+ Kf7 31.Qc3 Ng6 32.Bc2 Qd8
33.Qe1 Qh4+ 34.Rg3 Rg8 35.Kg2 f4 0-1
Amateurs, in contrast, often lack that same previous experience with positions. Therefore,
they spend more time than GMs, but make worse moves.

With all these advantages that GMs possess, what chance remains for the amateur? Is the
fight destined to be one-sided? Fortunately, the answer is no. Amateurs can take a number of steps
to increase their chances dramatically. The next chapters will show you what they are.

16

Chapter 2: The Power of Belief


Maggie: She's tough. [] I can't get close enough to hit her.
Frankie: You know why that is?
Maggie: Why?
Frankie: Cause she's a better fighter than you are, that's why. She's younger, she's
stronger, and she's more experienced. Now, what are you gonna do about it?
-Hilary Swank and Clint Eastwood in Million Dollar Baby

As an amateur, your chess skills are bound to be far inferior to the GMs in almost every
way. Your tactical skills, opening knowledge, endgame technique, and virtually everything else
are weaker than the GMs. But if you are to even stand even the slightest chance of surviving
against a GM, you must first believe in yourself. If you enter the game with a losers mindset
hoping to play defensively and somehow not get thrashedyou will almost certainly lose the game.
You must have faith that your calculations are good enough to guide your moves, no matter
how high your opponents rating. You must believe that with enough inteligent guessing in
unfamiliar positions, you can find enough good moves to hold your GM opponent to a drawor
beat him.
There is a limit to how far self-belief alone can take youit is not a substitute for creativity,
imagination, or technique. Even with your best efforts, your play will never be perfectyou will
make a lot of mistakes, even in the games that you do manage to win or draw. In my games against
GMs, I have never played a single blunder-free gamenot even in the games that I eventually won.
But GMs are only humans, not machines. And sometimes, despite all the mistakes that you
will make as an amateur, you might still get lucky and surviveeven against a world-class player.
After all, anything can happen in a blitz game.

GM Dmitry Jakovenko - Chris Seck


Internet Chess Club, 2007
1.g4 d5 2.Bg2 c6 3.g5 Bf5 4.d3 e6 5.c4 Bb4+ 6.Bd2 Qxg5 7.Kf1 Bxd2 8.Nxd2 Nd7
9.Ngf3 Qe7 10.Qb3 Nc5 11.Qa3 Nf6 12.Rc1 Na6 13.Qb3 O-O 14.h4 h6 15.Ne5 Ng4
16.Nxg4 Bxg4 17.Bf3 Bxf3 18.Nxf3 Qb4 19.Qc2 dxc4 20.dxc4 Rad8 21.Rg1 Kh8 22.a3
Qc5 23.b4 Qf5 24.Qc3 f6 25.Qe3 c5 26.b5 Nc7 27.Rg3 e5 28.Qxc5 Ne6 29.Qxa7 Qf4
30.Qe3 Qxe3 31.fxe3 Ra8 32.Rc3 Nc5 33.Rg4 Ra4 34.h5 Rfa8 35.Nh4 Rxa3 36.Rxa3
Rxa3 37.Nf5 Ne6 38.Kf2 Rc3 39.Nd6 b6 40.Rg1 Ng5 41.Ra1 Nh3+ 42.Kf3 Ng5+ 43.Kf2
Nh3+ 44.Kf1 Rxe3 45.Ra8+ Kh7 46.Ra7 Kg8 47.Nf5 Rc3 48.Rxg7+ Kf8 49.Rc7 Rc2
50.Nxh6 Nf4 51.Nf5 Nxh5 52.Rc6 Rc1+ 53.Kf2 Nf4 54.Rxf6+ Ke8 55.Rxb6 Kd7 56.Rc6
Rc2 57.Rd6+ Kc7 58.Rc6+ Kb7 59.Rf6 Rxe2+ 60.Kf3 Rc2 61.Rf7+ Kb6 62.Nd6 Kc5
63.Ne4+ Kb4 64. b6 Kb3 65.b7 Kb2 66.b8=Q+ Kc1 67.Qb3 Nd3 68.Qxc2+ Kxc2 69.Ke3
Kd1 70.Rf5 Kc2 71.Rxe5 Kb1 72.Rd5 Kb2 -
(White ran out of time and Black has no material to mate)
17

I concede that the final position is objectively lost for me after I missed the best moves in
the endgamewe were both in time trouble. But still, it is not often that an 1800-rated amateur can
survive a difficult 72-move game against a 2700-rated Russian GM ranked 10th in the world.
My point in sharing this game is not to blow my own horn, but to suggest that once in a
while, a determined amateur can hold his own against a vastly superior opponent.
In the following simul game, Black faced the former Hungarian champion and chess author
IM Tibor Karolyi, who was also a trainer to world-class players such as Judit Polgar and Peter
Leko. Rather than allow his respect for his renowned opponent to inhibit his play, Black played his
bestand wound up winning.

IM Tibor Karolyi - Luke Leong


Singapore, 2002

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. f3 c5 5. d5 d6 6. e4 e5!?

The normal move is 60-0. But seeing little harm in closing the position early, Black
decides to do so. Closing the position is sometimes a good strategy during simultaneous games
because they tend to prolong the length of the game, sometimes by several dozen moves
representing several dozen extra rounds for the IM to walk.
At the same time, Black also quotes another master who suggests that it might be a better
idea to play 6Bxc3+ first to wreck Whites pawn structure and then 7e5.
7. Nge2 Qe7 8. g4 Na6 9. a3 Bxc3+ 10. Nxc3 Nd7
The position is starting to look somewhat uncomfortable for the IM. Black writes: This
knight is heading for g6 via f8, where it will exert its influence over the f4 and h4 squares (should
White push 11. h4 and Black reply 11. h5 with 12.g5 Ng6 to follow). Black simultaneously
threatens 11.Qh4+, harassing the White king.
11. Be3 h5 12. g5 h4 13. Rg1
18

Possibly a wasted move, because the threat of g6 is easily parried (Leong). A simple move
like 13.Nb5, tying down the Black knight to a6, would have been better. IM Karolyi could then
prepare to play b2-b4, with a comfortable game.
13. ... Nf8 14. b4 b6

15. Bd3?!
IM Karolyi could have caused far more disturbance with 15.Qa4+, where 15Qd7 16.Nb5!
threatens to win the d6 pawn (Leong). Black would then have to move his king, after which White
plays 17.f4, where 17exf4 18.Bxf4 leads to an unpleasant position for Black. In response to
15.Qa4+, Blacks best response is probably 15Kd8. But in all variations, he still loses the right to
castle, and it would take a while to fortify his position.
15. ... Ng6 16. Ne2
Black writes: The queen check is not so effective now, with the f4 square under Black's control
and Black's king free to castle - 16.Qa4+?! Qd7 17.Nb5 0-0 and 18.f4 undermining Black's e5-d6c5 pawn chain is not possible.
16. ... Bd7 17. Rb1 O-O
In a closed position, Black prepares to play an eventual f5. Its not easy for an IM to deal with
complex strategic considerations like these when he has to play 25 people at once.
18. Kd2 Rab8 19. b5 Nc7 20. a4?
This move doesnt seem to have a purpose.

19

20. ... f5! 21. Qc2


Capturing the pawn either way (gxf6 or exf5) saddles the IM with a backward pawn on f3
an unpleasant defensive task. In the meantime, Blacks next moves are geared towards isolating
Whites g5 pawn and reducing his avenues of counterplay.
21. ... f4 22. Bf2 a5 23. Nc3 Kf7 24. Rh1 h3
This move is fine. But Black could also have taken on g5 before playing h3: 24Qxg5
25.Rbg1 Qh5 26.Be2 h3.
Slowly, Black brings his rooks to the h-file, squeezes out the g5 pawn, and increases the
pressure.
25. Rbg1 Rh8 26. Qd1 Rh5 27. Qf1 Rbh8 28. Nd1 Ne8 29. Be1 Rxg5 30. Rxg5 Qxg5
31. Rg1 Qd8 32. Nf2 Nf6 33. Be2 Rh5 34. Kd3 Qh8 35. Ng4

20

35. ... Nh4!


A disciplined move. Black eschews the greedy 35Nxg4 36.fxg4, which allows White to
block the position with Bf3 on the next move. At that point, it would be unclear how Black would
break through.
36. Bxh4 Rxh4 37. Nxf6 Kxf6 38. Qd1 Rh6 39. Qf1 Qe8 40. Qd1 Qh5 41. Qe1 Qh4
42. Qf1
Trading queens fails because Black would prepare to advance his g-pawn to g4, trade it off,
and then plant his bishop on g4 with a won game.
42. ... Rg6 43. Rxg6+ Kxg6 44. Qg1+ Qg5?
This move allows White to trade queens, leading to a bishop vs. bishop endgame that is
almost impossible to win. Fritz 5 suggests the line 45Qg2! 46.Qh4 Qxh2 47.Qe7 Qg1! 48.Qxd7
Qe3+ 49.Kc2 Qxe2+ 50.Kc1 Qxf3 as a winning line for Black.
45. Qxg5+ Kxg5 46. Kd2 Kh4 47. Ke1 g5 48. Kf2 g4

49. fxg4??
After the game, IM Karolyi noted that by leaving his pawn structure intact and waiting with
his bishop White could have drawn: 49.Bd1 gxf3 50.Bc2!, and White has built an impenetrable
fortress. His bishop would simply shuffle between c2 and d3, and Black would have no way of
coming in.
The text leads to a lost pawn endgame.
49. ... Bxg4 50. Bf3 Bxf3 51. Kxf3 Kg5 52. Ke2 Kg4 53. Kf2 f3 54. Ke3 f2!
White resigns

21

Chapter 3: Win by Losing


During the Vietnam War, the well-trained U.S. Army, aided by sophisticated helicopters and
bombers, killed a million North Vietnamese guerillas while losing fewer than 60,000 mena ratio
of almost 17 to 1. Yet, the primitive and poorly-armed Vietnamese guerillas still managed to win
the war. Why? Because they were willing to tolerate enormous casualties to achieve eventual
victory.
The same logic applies to chess. No matter how often you lose to GMs, you will beat one
someday if you keep trying. The strongest player does not always win a chess game, just as the
strongest armies do not always win wars.
As amateurs, the fact is that we will lose to GMs most of the timeour playing skills are
simply inferior. An amateur who practices chess 2 hours a day cannot hope to be a stronger player
than a GM who practices 16 hours a day.
At the same time, if we think about the law of probabilities, it is almost impossible for an
amateur to play a hundred games against GMs without winning a single one. GMs are human, and
humans sometimes make mistakes. Therefore, the number one thing you can do to increase your
chances of beating a GM is by playing lots of them.

To use a simple example, let us assume that your rating is 2000, and you are playing a 2500strength GM. According to the FIDE handbook, a 500-point gap means that on average, you only
have a 4% chance of beating the GM in any particular game.
Yet, even if your per-game odds remain a meager 4%, you can still beat GMs as long as you
keep trying. If you adopt the simple strategy of continuing to play against GMs until you finally
beat one, you will realize that your cumulative chances of achieving an eventual victory increase
with the number of games you play. Mathematically, it is almost impossible to lose 100 games in a
row against GMs:
Number of games against GMs
1
2
3
4
5
10
20
50
100

Probability of eventual victory


4.0%
7.8%
11.5%
15.1%
18.5%
33.5%
55.8%
87.0%
98.3%

Even if you win only a tiny fraction of your games against GMs, you can still fill up a book
with lots of brilliant victories if you have played enough games against them. Moreover, because
you have the power to analyze your games to avoid repeating your mistakes, you will get stronger
with each game you play, meaning that your real chances are even higher than the above numbers
would suggest!

22


Where do you find opportunities to play GMs? An excellent place to play GMs is over the
Internet. On major servers such as ICC and Playchess, it is possible to find opportunities to play
GMs. On the Net, there are many amateurs who regularly beat GMs regularly (I know a guy who
once defeated Larry Christiansen). Their blitz ratings on the Internet Chess Club (ICC) often range
between 2400 and 2600, even though their real USCF and FIDE ratings would probably be at least
400 points lower. If you have a high enough Internet rating, you can usually play rated blitz games
against GMs for free. Or, if you are a lower-rated player, there are always plenty of GMs who will
be willing to play games for a small fee, sometimes for as little as US$3 a game.
Another place to find GMs is in open tournaments. Most of these events use the Swiss
system for pairings, and if you are lucky, you might get to play a few GMs over the course of the
event. For a reasonably strong expert or low-level master, this is often the case. However, if you are
a class A to D player, your chances of playing a GM after the first few rounds tend to be somewhat
more limited since the pairing system tends to match players with similar scores and GMs tend to
have higher scores than amateurs.
If you live in a large city, there will usually be plenty of famous GM visitors willing to play
simultaneous exhibitions for a fee. For the vast majority of amateurs, the simultaneous exhibition
represents the only way they will ever play elite GMs. One rarely finds Kasparov playing blitz
randomly on the ICC. Although there is often a hefty price for the privilege of playing in a
simultaneous exhibition, I believe that paying a few hundred dollars to play a world class player is
not a bad deal.
Finally, if you have the time and inclination, you could pay a GM to play a training match
with you. The match could last perhaps 4-8 games, and he could analyze the games with you as part
of a package deal. In this authors opinion, training matches represent an excellent way to improve,
and are especially encouraged if you have the money and energy to do so.

Type of game
Real-life
simultaneous
exhibition

Private
matches

Pros

Cons

Photo (and autograph) opportunities with Opportunities tend to be rare. Often requires
famous GMs. Increased chances of upset amateur to pay a lot of money to participate.
due to GM having to play many people Usually no postmortems.
at once.
training Opportunities for postmortem (and Requires initiative on the part of the
socializing) with GM opponents after amateur to arrange. Sometimes requires
game. Match often involves several amateur to pay a lot of money.
games that one can learn from.

Over-the-board
(OTB) games in
open tournaments

Opportunities for postmortem (and Opportunities to play GMs often limited to


socializing) with GM opponents after one or two games per tournament
game. Potential prize money or even matchups often depend on random pairings.
media coverage of big upsets.
Cannot choose GM opponent.

Internet blitz games


and simuls

Extremely cheap, with unlimited


opportunities to play a wide range of
GMs, including famous ones.

23

Internet games are often not regarded as


highly as OTB games, especially if played
at fast time controls.

Chapter 4: Learn to Tolerate Difficult Positions


Take it from me: every game you play against a GM is going to be difficult. No GM will
ever give you a comfortable position if he can help it. Indeed, you will find that your position will
always be under some threat or anotherand may sometimes look almost losing. But the key to
victory lies in resilience, and for amateurs to win, they need plenty of forbearance and a little luck.
The following game was my first win against a GM.
Im not going to pretend that the win was well-deservedfew amateur victories are. But I
believe that it illustrates some of the principles that Im trying to make about amateur vs. GM
games.
First, a little background information. Before this game, I had played GM Barlov five
timesand lost all five games. In each of the games we played, he gave me enormous difficulties,
and our overall score reflects his vastly superior playing strength.
But my point is this: We amateurs will lose most of our games against GMs because they are
more sophisticated players than us. However, just because we lose most of the time does not mean
that we will lose all the time. Amateurs can beat GMs because it is statistically impossible to lose
infinitely.

GM Dragan Barlov - Chris Seck


Internet Chess Club, 2006

1. e4 e6 2. Nf3 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bd7


I try to transpose the game into the main line French Defense (Fort Knox variation), which
will normally be achieved after 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bd7, followed by Bc6.
Although theory considers that line to be slightly inferior for Black, I choose to that opening
because Im familiar with it.
5. Ne5
White refuses to transpose to the main line. Generally, GMs avoid the main lines to confuse
amateurs.
5. ... Be7?
Playing an offbeat line just paid off for my GM opponent. I should have played 5Nc6, after
which a likely continuation is 6.Nxd7 Qxd7, which is more or less equal after I castle queenside.
6. Qh5!
Threatening checkmate. Black is now on the defensive.

24

6. ... g6
The unsightly 6Nh6 would have been no better, because after 7.d4, Whites bishop would
take the h6-knight, leaving me with doubled isolated pawnsand a huge advantage for White.
It is interesting to note that although its been only 6 moves since the game started, I am
already facing a weird position that doesnt exist in most opening manuals. Thats the thing about
playing GMs: You must be psychologically prepared to deal with unusual positionsand deal
with the complexity as best as you can.
7. Qf3
Threatening checkmate again, with a hidden threat on the b7 pawn (which I didnt see).
7. ... Nf6??
I play a terrible blunder. Necessary was the ugly 7f5, which would have held on. One
possible sequence would be 8.Ng5 Bxg5 9.Qxb7 Bf6 10.Qxa8 Bxe5 11.Qxa7, with a complicated,
imbalanced position.
8. Ng5!
Renewing the threats on f7. My GM opponent continues to play punishing moves.
8. ... O-O??
I blunder away the b7 pawn and a8 rook. Only 8Qc8 would have minimized the bleeding.
Even then, the position after 9.Ngxf7 is the stuff of most amateur nightmares.
9. Qxb7

25

9. ... Nd5
This is not the best move, but I try to make the best of a bad deal by putting my knight on an
active square to create tactical counterchances. Amateurs should learn to keep positions
complicated-- they give the GM more chances of going wrong.
10. Qxa8
A minor inaccuracy. Psychologically, this was probably the turning point of the game. Here,
Whites best option is to take on f7: 10.Ngxf7 Rxf7 11.Nxf7 Kxf7 12.Qxa8. Black has no way of
trapping the White queen.
10. ... Bxg5 11. a3
Stopping tricky moves like Nb4.
11. ... Qf6

12. d4?
26

My GM opponent starts to lose his way. Best was 12.Nxd7, which would simplify the
position. Although White loses the right to castle after 12Nxd7 13.Qxa7 Qe5+ 14.Kd1, the White
king is perfectly safe and cannot be easily attacked.
12. ... Ba4?
I should have played 12Bxc1 13.Rxc1 Qf4 with counterplay. After White deals with the threat to
his rook, I could play Qe4+ and then Nc6, with a discovered attack on the White queen, followed by
the nasty Nxd4. Still, the position remains highly complicated, and my GM opponent plays another
second-best move.
13. c4
13.Qxa7 was better. Although he would get an isolated d-pawn after 13Bxc2 14.Bc4!, White
would be able to safely castle and consolidate his position.
13. ... Bxc1 14. Rxc1
The alternative 14.cxd5 fails to 14Qf4!, threatening mate on d2.
14. ... Qf4 15. Nd3 Qe4+

16. Be2??
Necessary was the counter-intuitive 16.Kd2, which leads to an unclear position because
Blacks pieces are very active, although he has no checks in the short term. But my GM opponent
was probably shaken by the sharp turn the game had taken.
16. ... Nc6! 17. Qb7
White would still be in deep trouble after 17.f3 Qe3, because the White queen is still under attack
and Nxd4 is coming up. The rest of the game was a mop-up.
17. ... Nxd4 18. O-O Nxe2+ 19. Kh1 Nxc1 20. Nxc1 Qxc4. White forfeits on time.

27

Chapter 5: Pick an Amateur-Friendly Opening


Against amateurs, most GMs play offbeat lines, creating weird positions to make their
opponents think for themselves. Therefore, it is difficult to prepare specific opening lines against
GMs. Yet, studying the openings is vital because no amateur wants to get whacked within the first
10 moves of the game. How do you deal with that problem?
I believe that against GMs, it is important to prepare openings in greater breadth rather than
depth. There is no point in preparing your favorite opening 20 moves deep if your GM opponent is
likely to play an unfamiliar sideline on move 4. This means that for most amateurs, playing the
most theoretical lines of the Sveshnikov Sicilian is impractical if you have no idea how to face
anti-Sicilians like the Grand Prix Attack. At the club level, some of us might do better by playing
an opening whose main lines are easier to reach, such as the Scandinavian Defense, where Black
enters his main lines almost immediately after 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5.
Although IMs and GMs may prefer to develop complex opening repertoires, I believe that at
the club level, it often pays to invest in simpler setups like the Kings Indian Attack, the Stonewall,
the Colle System, the London System, or even the Trompowsky. For amateurs, using reversed
openings can also be very useful. For example, I learnt to play the Dutch Defense (1.d4 f5) as
Black, and the Bird Opening (1.f4) as White, allowing me to use similar setups with both colors in
most of my games. Is it possible to beat GMs with openings like the Dutch and the Bird?
Absolutely! Ive beaten plenty of strong players with them.
Equally important, however, is the sort of positions that your opening usually leads to. To
me, the book value of the opening matters less than the fact that I get solid, playable positions with
it. For example, I have played the Fort Knox variation of the French Defense (1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3
dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bd7 5.Nf3 Bc6) and scored several wins against IMs and GMs with it even though the
book suggests it is inferior. On a practical level, most amateurs would do better to specialize in
simpler opening systems that they can understand, rather than complex openings that they cant
understand.
The following game, between a 2000-rated expert and a 2700-rated GM, demonstrates how
far an amateur can go if he recognizes his limits and learns to work within them:

28

GM Anatoly Karpov - James Long


Singapore, 1997
1. c4 e6 2. Nc3 d5 3. d4 Be7(!)

Rather than playing a sharp opening like the Modern Benoni or the Kings Indian, Black
plays the solid Queens Gambit Declined. Moreover, he is familiar with this systemhe employs
the 3Be7 move-order instead of the 3Nf6 move-order to avoid the more popular Exchange
Variation (3Nf6 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Bg5), which often leads to difficult positions for Black. If you
think your openings are sound, play them against everybody, especially GMs.
4. cxd5 exd5 5. Bf4
Black has steered the opening into a solid line, most likely prepared at home. His next
moves are naturaland good. An amateur should prefer a solid opening where his best moves are
generally easy to find.
5. ... Nf6 6. e3 O-O 7. Bd3 c6 8. Qc2 Nbd7 9. Nf3 Re8 10. O-O Nf8

29

Blacks plan is to simply play a typical maneuver: Ne6, g6, Ng7, and an eventual Bf5. It is
important to know the typical middlegame plans that arise after the opening. In the meantime,
Karpov tries to arrange the traditional minority attack with b4-b5.
11. Bg3 Ne6 12. Ne5 g6 13. Rab1 a5
Black plays alertly. If Karpov is to carry out his plan of b4-b5, then, he must allow Black to
open the a-file for his rook.
14. a3 Ng7 15. b4 axb4 16. axb4 Bf5
Black trades off his bad light-squared bishop. The position is at least equal now.
17. b5

17. ... c5
Through this accurate pawn move, Black shows a strong understanding of this middlegame.
Although the d-pawn is soon isolated, it never becomes a major weakness, and Black succeeds in
keeping the position balanced enough to draw comfortably.
18.dxc5 Bxc5 19.Nf3 Qe7 20.Be5 Red8 21.Ne2 Rac8 22.Qb3 Be4 23.Ned4 Bxd4
24.Qxd4 Ne6 25.Ne5 Nxd4 26.exd4 Qd6 27.Rfe1 Rc7 28.f3 Bxd3 29.Qxd3 Qb6 30.Qe3
Kg7 31.h4 Ra8 32.Re2 Ra4 33.Rd2 h5 34.Kh2 Qd6 35.Kh1 Qa3 36.Qxa3 Rxa3 -

30

Final position after 36Rxa3


The final position even looks somewhat better for Black, since he has control of both open
files. By playing an amateur-friendly opening and staying alert, Black managed to play the best
game of his life.

31

Chapter 6: Make Simultaneous Games Work for You


In 1996, GM Garry Kasparov played a simultaneous exhibition in Jerusalem. On that day,
the playing conditions were terrible for Kasparov, who simply couldnt concentrate on playing good
chess. He later complained, Everybody was talking, everybody was walking around in the middle
of the circle, giving out coffee, or sodas, or television cameras.
On the flip side, however, what was bad for the GM was good for the amateurs: Kasparov
conceded four draws and lost three games, one of them to a 14-year old.
While I certainly dont suggest making life uncomfortable for your GM opponent, I do
believe that simultaneous exhibitions tend to favor amateur playersit can be quite tiring for a GM
to play against dozens of people at once.
Aside from the physical effort required (i.e. standing and walking for long periods of time),
simultaneous exhibitions favor amateurs in other important ways. In my mind, the largest
disadvantage of simultaneous exhibitions is this: GMs cant use their best opening theory.
Why? That is because GMs must reserve their best opening discoveries for bigmoney
matches against other GMs. They spend a lot of energy preparing their openings, and cannot afford
to waste their best opening secrets against amateurs in low-profile gamesonce an opening novelty
is used, it is no longer a secret.
But how should a smart amateur exploit the fact that his GM opponent cannot waste his
opening secrets in a simultaneous exhibition?
The following incident might prove interesting: In 2003, Kasparov played a simultaneous
exhibition in Chicago against 24 players. Believing that his opponents were weak class players, he
played complex side-lines against most of themand beat them easily because of their limited
opening knowledge.
But unknown to Kasparov, one of his opponents was a 2000-rated expert who had prepared
his openings very thoroughly. The game went something like this:

GM Garry Kasparov - Neil Kazaross


Chicago, 2003
1. e4 d5 2. exd5 Nf6
At the amateur level, the Scandinavian is a good opening to play. Kasparov was slightly
surprised when he saw this variation instead of the more common 2Qxd5. But thinking that his
opponent was a class A, B, or C player, Garry decided to play a slightly offbeat line of the
Scandinavianand wait for his opponent to go wrong.
3. Nf3 Nxd5 4. d4 g6 5. c4 Nb6 6. Nc3 Bg7 7. h3

32

Kasparov decides to deviate from the main line Scandinavian. The usual plan is 7.Be2,
followed by kingside castling. Perhaps Kasparov assumed that his amateur opponent did not know
the 7.h3 sideline and therefore decided to call his bluff.
In his book The Scandinavian, GM John Emms writes of 7.h3: Generally speaking h2-h3 is
quite desirable, since it cuts out any annoying Bg4 pins. A tempo is a tempo, though, and this grants
Black the opportunity to organize some serious counterplay involving an early e7-e5.
Unfortunately for Kasparov, his amateur opponent was familiar with the lineand
continued to play out the standard equalizing moves
7. ... O-O 8. Be3 Nc6 9. Qd2 e5 10. d5 Na5!

After Blacks accurate knight move, which harasses Whites c4-pawn, he threatens to follow
up with f7-f5 and e5-e4, with plenty of active play down the a1-h8 diagonal. The bishop on g7
would turn into a monster. White still has options, but playing out this position would require
Kasparov to dig deep into his secret opening knowledgeknowledge that he reserves for his fellow
GMs, not lowly amateurs!
33

Kazaross writes that at this point, Kasparov rather nervously asked me if I had a rating. I
replied 2084 and he, not looking very happy, asked why I didn't write it down in front of the board
next to my name. I replied that no one asked me to.
In response, Kasparov stated that if he had known I [Kazaross] was rated that highly he
would have played differently rather than getting into a very theoretical line.
In the end, both players cordially agreed to abort the game, and Kasparov, sensing the
humor of the situation, wrote his opponent a flattering autograph: To Neil Kazaross never be shy
of your chess strength. See you next time. G Kasparov
By exploiting the GMs reluctance to play main-line openings against amateurs, this amateur
enjoyed the once-in-a-lifetime distinction of making Kasparov blink. Is this not a satisfactory
outcome?

34

Chapter 7: Exploit the Peculiarities of Internet Chess


I believe that amateurs should take playing conditions into account when deciding when and
where to play GMs. Every format of playopen tournaments, simultaneous exhibitions, internet
gameshave their unique peculiarities, and an amateur should take advantage of whatever
opportunities these formats offer.
In this chapter, I focus on internet blitz games because I believe that after simultaneous
exhibitions, internet chess is the second-most reliable format for beating GMs. There are several
important differences between internet chess and traditional over-the- board (OTB) games that can
profoundly improve the amateurs chances.
First, since you cannot see your opponent, it removes a lot of psychological pressure and
allows you to concentrate on making good moves.
Second, while traditional blitz requires a quick hand, internet blitz merely requires a fast
mouse. There is no knocking over of pieces and no nasty hand scrambleseverything just takes
place within a tidy-looking 2D board. This makes it easier for amateurs to concentrate on the
position without any distracting external movements.
Third, and most importantly, there are plenty of practical blitz techniques that dont work in
OTB games, but which are terrific for beating GMs in internet chess. GMs tend to rely so heavily
on their superior chess strength that they usually dont need internet blitz techniques to win. But for
amateurs, knowing such tactics can sometimes come in very handy.
The following game is a good example of how one can win in online chess using tactics that
would never work in an OTB game. To be honest, I won in a rather unattractive fashion, but the
game does demonstrate how playing conditions can make a difference.

Chris Seck - GM Leif Ogaard


Internet Chess Club, 2007
1. f4 Nf6 2. Nf3 d5 3. g3 g6 4. Bg2 Bg7 5. O-O O-O 6. d3 c6 7. c3 Bg4 8. Qc2 Nbd7
9. e4

35

The Bird Opening generally leads to simple middlegames that are never seen in top-level
GM games. But for an amateur playing an online game, simple setups work well because the right
moves come naturally.
9. ... dxe4 10. dxe4 Nc5
My GM opponent places his pieces on active squares, and prepares to connect his rooks.
11. Rd1 Qc7 12. e5 Nd5 13. h3 Bf5 14. Qe2 Rad8 15. Na3 Bd3
My GM opponent plays aggressively. I am forced to burn some thinking time to figure out
the safest square for the queen. In internet blitz, aggressive play usually pays off because it forces
the opponent to use up thinking time.
16. Qf2
16.Rxd3 is possible, but the position after 16Nxd3 17.Qxd3 Nxf4, leading to the isolation
of Whites e-pawn, is not to everybodys likingespecially in a 5-minute online game like this one.
16. ... Ne4?!
A dubious move. Objectively, the normal 16Qb6 or 16Qa5 is better.
17. Qe1
I didnt like the look of 17.Qxa7 Be2 18.Re1 Nxg3, wrecking my kingside pawn structure.
Black would then trade his bishop on f3 and retreat his knight to the f5 outpost. After my move,
however, Black begins to spend a lot of time trying to navigate the complications, and soon ends up
behind in time.
17. Qb6+?
This check is questionable because after my reply, Black loses material due to his hanging
pieces on d3 and e4. Preferable was the cold-blooded 17Be2, where 18.Qxe2 Ndxc3! is
interesting, while 18.Rxd5 cxd5 19.Qxe2 Nxg3 leads to a complicated position that, although
objectively better for White, is difficult to handle in online blitz games.
18. Kh2 Qa6
By this point, my GM opponent had 2 minutes left on his clock, while I had 3.
19. c4
I force the issue. Black must concede two pieces for the rook. Still, the resulting position
remains highly uncomfortable for me because my GM opponent gets to double his rooks on the dfile and place one of his rooks on d1freezing my queenside. In internet blitz, a small material
edge sometimes matters less than piece activity.
19. ... Nb6 20. Rxd3 Rxd3 21. Qxe4 Rd1 22. Qe2 Rfd8 23. Rb1 Na4

36

24. Nd2?
This move looks like itll trap the d1-rook, but its actually a bad idea. The natural 24.Be3
was far better, removing some of Blacks threats. At this point, I had 2" left while the GM had 1 ".
24. ... Nxb2!
On the flip side, my GM opponent took almost a minute to find this move, reducing his time
to about 25 seconds. Even though the position has grown some tactical opportunities for Black, I
now threaten to win on time.
25. Bxb2?
Given that I had more time, I should have thought a little more and played the cold
25.Rxb2!, where 25Rxc1 26.Nc2! leads to a superior position for White. Now, however, Black
gets a big counterattack and my position begins to look more difficult. However, his time shrinks to
12 seconds in the process. My time was still in excess of 60 seconds.
25. ... R1xd2 26. Qf3 R8d3 27. Qf1 Qa4

37

28. Kh1??(!)
Although Whites move is technically a blunder, the GM is unable to immediately capture
the g3 pawn because with only 12 seconds left, he has to make a pre-move, which wasnt
28Rxg3 because he didnt expect the 28.Kh1 blunder. He only sees it after making his pre-move.
In time trouble situations in internet blitz, your opponents information comes one move later
than usual. Learn to exploit it.
28. ... e6? (pre-move) 29. Bc1??(!)
Another unexpected move, albeit a technical blunder. Now, due to my opponents pre-move
29Rxg3, my opponent belatedly captures the g3-pawnsomething he should have played one
move earlier. But his rook is hanging.
29. ... Rxg3?? (pre-move)
29Rd1 would have won material. But it is hard to instantly spot these moves with five seconds
remaining on your clock.
30. Bxd2 Qxa3 31. Rb3
31.Kh2 would have done the trick, but this is a shocking interference move that stuns the
opponent and negates his ability to play pre-moves. It wins in this online chess situation since my
opponent had only 3 seconds left.
31. ... Rxb3 32. axb3
Black forfeits on time
A silly little game. Its not exactly how a Kasparov would win, but for an amateur playing
online blitz, it worked just fine. At any rate, the final position still looks better for White.

38

Chapter 8: Study Your Opponents Games


Generally, most class players, experts, and even low-level masters have precious few games
available on databases to be studied. Even if an amateurs games are represented on a database,
chances are that they will be too few in number to offer the GM any real clues on his opponents
openings or style.
As a rule, the GM usually knows very little about his amateur opponent sitting across the
board. Sometimes, the amateurs rating might not even be availableor accurate. 1
On the flip side, any GM would have hundreds (if not thousands) of games listed in
databases. This makes it easier for an amateur to prepare for his opponent. You can find out what
sort of openings he usually plays. This allows you to figure out during a game whether your GM
opponent is playing his favorite linesor merely experimenting with new ones.
The following game shows what an amateur can do with the information gap.

GM Anatoly Karpov - Yip Fong Ling


Singapore, 1997

1. e4 d5 2. exd5 Qxd5 3. Nc3 Qa5


According to the databases, Karpov had played almost 1,200 games as White from 1967 to
1997. However, of this number, he had played the White side of the Scandinavian Defense in only
six official tournament games. Moreover, of that number, only three featured the 3.Qa5 variation.
Sometimes, it pays to specialize in a sound, but unfashionable opening that the GM doesnt often
face.
Black came well-prepared to face Karpov in this opening. In contrast, Karpov could not
have prepared for his amateur opponent even if he wanted to. How many games by Ms Yip would
exist in his databases?
4. d4 Nf6 5. Nf3 Bf5 6. Bc4 e6 7. O-O
Blacks preparation has already started to reap dividends. While kingside castling is natural for
White, it is not considered the most critical continuation. White normally plays 7.Bd2 and castles
queenside.
7. ... Bd6
Normally, Black plays the dark-squared bishop to b4. The text leads to a slightly passive,
but solid positionexactly what Black was aiming for.
8. Bd2
Karpov threatens either Ne4 or Nb5, winning the two bishops. Black lets him.
1

Personally, I think that on occasion, it might be a smart idea for an amateur to remain low-rated or even unrated
some GMs assume that unrated players are beginners, which is not always a good assumption to make!
39

8. ... c6 9. Nb5 Qd8 10. Nxd6+ Qxd6 11. c3 O-O

This middlegame position is probably better for White due to his possession of the two
bishops. But for this modest price, Black has emerged from the opening with a solid positionnot a
bad achievement when your opponent is Anatoly Karpov! Moreover, Black has a simple, natural
plan of preparing the traditional c5 pawn break. A slightly inferior, but solid position is often
easier to handle than a dynamically equal, but unclear one.
12. Re1 Nbd7 13. h3 Qc7 14. Qe2 c5 15. Bg5
In the meantime, White places his pieces on active squares.
15. ... h6 16. Bh4 Nh5
A typical maneuver. Black is familiar with this opening, and she knows exactly what to do.
Karpov, being somewhat less familiar with this line than most other openings, places his pieces on
active squares. However, it isnt easy for him to find a straightforward plan.
17. Ne5 Nf4
This move is fine, although it would have been better to exchange on e5 first: 17Nxe5
18.dxe5 Nf4 19. Qe3 Ng6 20.Bg3. In the resulting position, Whites darksquared bishop would be
relatively bad, and the position would be approximately equal.
18. Qf3 Ng6 19. Nxg6 Bxg6 20. Bg3 Qc8
20Qb6 would have been more active, attacking the b2-pawn and forcing White to play
either 21.b3 or 21.Qe2. But Blacks move is still solid and acceptable.
21. Rad1 Nb6 22. Bf1 c4
This position is more comfortable for Karpov due to his slightly more active pieces,
especially the rooks. Blacks position is still solid, however, and he should be able to hold. It isnt
clear what Whites plan should be. Hes managed to place his pieces on comfortable squaresso

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now what? At this point, Karpov pushes his h-pawn to sharpen the game, but this only weakens his
kingside and allows Black to achieve an equal position.
23. h4 Nd5 24. h5 Bf5

Black is already equal and has a solid position. Some missteps caused her to land in a
slightly passive position, but she eventually drew by Move 43.

41

Chapter 9: Sometimes, You Get Underestimated


GMs are accustomed to playing other GMs. They reserve their best weapons for other GMs.
They dont play their best chess against amateurs because they usually dont need to. Most of the
time, playing second-best moves is enough to beat amateurs.
GMs usually take their opponents fairly seriouslythey rarely take their opponents so
lightly as to make big blunders. However, once in a while, a careless GM might play particularly
flamboyant (and bad) moves against his amateur opponent.
For example, an amateur might play the first few moves badly, causing the GM to feel
overconfidentso he begins dreaming about playing a beautiful-looking, but unsound attack. The
following classic example demonstrates that even world champions are not immune to this
psychological fallacy:

Emanuel Lasker - NN
London, 1908
1. c4 d5?!
This is a questionable move, allowing White to win both a central majority and an extra
tempo on the queen.
My opponent must be a beginner, Lasker probably thought to himself.
2. cxd5 Qxd5 3. Nc3 Qd8 4. d4 Nf6 5. e4 e6 6. Nf3 Nc6?
This is a beginners move. Black blocks his c-pawn, making it difficult to generate any pawn
breaks.
7. Bd3 Be7

Thus far, Black has played the opening in lackluster fashion, allowing White to build a
classical e4-d4 pawn center. Here, White can maintain a nice advantage by simply castling and
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moving his pieces to active squares, and connecting his rooks. In the meantime, Black will have
trouble completing his development or even connecting his rooks.
Lasker has a superior position. But underestimating his weaker opponent, he embarks on a
highly questionable attacksomething he would never have played against a strong contemporary
like Tarrasch or Capablanca. Sometimes, when an unknown amateur is forced into a bad position,
the GM gets lured into a false sense of complacency.
8. h4 Ng4 9. Ng5?
But this move, leaving the d4-pawn undefended, is wrong. White should have played
something safer, like 9.Bb5 followed by 10.Qe2, for instance.
9. ... e5?
Black could have taken the pawn: 9Qxd4 10.0-0 Nge5 with a clear advantage, for
instance.
All the same, Lasker quickly falls into an inferior position, as the amateur suddenly stops
making beginner moves.
10. d5 Nd4 11. f3 h6

12. Nxf7?
Objectively speaking, the best course was 12.fxg4 hxg5 13.h5, leading to an inferior, but
playable position for White. But in this difficult position, Lasker decides to simply lash out. Maybe
he was still hoping for a glorious victory after his opponent makes a mistake?
12. ... Bxh4+! 13. Kf1 Kxf7 14. fxg4
The best move was probably 14.Rxh4. But the position after 14Qxh4 15.fxg4 Bxg4 is lost
for White anyway.
14. ... Qf6+
White resigns.
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Do GMs underestimate their opponents often? Rarely, but it sometimes happens. Even the
famously solid Capablanca was occasionally capable of playing far below his normal level against
amateurs:

J.R. Capablanca - Koksal


Prague, 1911
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Be7 5.Nc3 Nf6 6.Bd3 Bd7 7.h3 Nc6 8.Nxc6 Bxc6
9.O-O O-O 10.f4 Re8 11.f5? d5 12.e5? Bc5+ 13.Kh1 Rxe5 14.Bf4 Re8 15.Qd2 Ne4
16.Nxe4 dxe4 17.Be2 e3 18.Qc3 Qd2 19.Qxd2 exd2 20.Bd3 Rad8 21.Rfd1 Rd4
22.Bxd2 Rxd3 23.cxd3 Re2 24.d4?? Bxg2+ 25.Kh2 Bc6+ 26.Kg1 Bxd4+ 27.Kf1 Bb5
28.Bc3 Rxb2+ 0-1

44

Chapter 10: How to Beat Your Computer


In this final chapter, I have decided to give my two cents worth on beating computers.
Although computers dont have titles, they beat GMs most of the time, are frequently rated above
2500, and are therefore worthy opponents to beat.
In his book, The Road to Chess Improvement, GM Alex Yermolinsky suggests that humans
should be open to playing gambits and engaging in tactical melees against computers. In doing so,
he includes a couple of games where he beat Fritz 4 using his strategy. While I dont argue with
what he does (one cant argue with success), I dont see the average amateur outsmarting the
computer through raw tactical play. In my opinion, for most amateurs, the traditional anti-computer
strategies of closing the position and aiming for simple endgames still work far better than a more
tactical approach.
Why endgames? Although most amateurs (including myself) are poor endgame players,
computers tend to be even worseespecially the older programs. When I was in the military, I
spent a lot of my time playing with my Fritz 5. For a while, I got beaten the vast majority of the
time. After a few hundred games, however, I discovered almost by accident that there were certain
endgame positions that were beyond Fritzs calculating power.
One of these endings came about in the White side of the Ruy Lopez Exchange Variation.
Its one of the oldest tricks in the book:
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6 dxc6 5.d4 exd4 6.Qxd4 Qxd4 7.Nxd4.

With the queens off the board, I would simply complete my development, trade off all the
pieces (just double the rooks on the d-file and slowly swap off the minor pieces). To be sure, any
human GM playing Black would never allow the exchanges, but Fritz frequently did, and usually
wound up with a pawn endgame that looked something like this:

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Although material is equal, the endgame is actually winning for White because of his
superior pawn structureWhite has a kingside pawn majority, while Black cannot create a passed
pawn on the queenside due to his doubled pawns. I would create a passed pawn on the kingside, and
then simply march my king to the queenside to chomp off the Black pawnsa 20-move process
that was beyond Fritzs calculating powers. I won dozens of games against Fritz in this simple
fashion before the computer began playing Sicilians instead (Fritz 5 stops playing an opening once
it loses several times with it). I then started losing lots of games again.
To be sure, this simple strategy of achieving superior endgames is unlikely to work in the
long run against the newest machines. A few years ago, computer engineer Ken Thompson
designed an endgame CD so that computers would be able to play perfect moves in any endgame
with six pieces or less. As the scope of these endgame CDs expand, computers will become less and
less likely to allow amateurs to lead them into unfavorable endgames. For the time being, however,
the time-honored strategy of shooting for simple endgames is probably good advice for amateurs.

Closing the position is another important method of beating computers. Against the
machines, most amateurs would probably score better with the Stonewall than in Open Sicilians.
Although computers are becoming increasingly good at playing in closed positions, there are still a
few secret opening lines where one can defeat a computer by locking up the position. This is one of
them:

Fritz 5 - Chris Seck


60 minute game, 2004

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6

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The Kings Indian Defense is often considered a sharp, tactical opening. However, I find
that it frequently leads to closed positions that computers, especially the older ones, are largely
unsuited to.
5. Nf3 O-O 6. Be2 e5 7. O-O Nc6 8. d5 Ne7 9. Ne1
The classical 9.Ne1 variation is a good line and has a very respectable reputation. But
nowadays, many human GMs would play the Bayonet variation with 9.b4, which is sharper than
the text.
The next few moves are still within the book.
9. ... Nd7 10. f3 f5 11. Be3 f4 12. Bf2 g5 13. a4 Rf6
The beginning of a crafty sequence of moves: Rf8-f6-h6, Nd7-f6, and Qd8-e8-h5, which
lead to a strong attack. Whites only defense at that point would be h2-h3, but then Black has the
nasty Bxh3!, where his threats are irresistible.
Interestingly, this plan would be obvious to a human GM, who would see the nasty threats
and take appropriate measures to stop it. But to a computer, which has no imagination, the
checkmate threat remains outside its enormous calculating power.
14. a5 a6
I decide to slow Fritzs queenside advance, and to prevent any future tricks with Nb5 after
my queen moves to e8.

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15. Na4
The computers moves have been okay so far. But if White wanted to stop my planned Rh6Nf6-Qe8-Qh5 sequence, one possibility would have been GM Alexei Shirovs idea of the
immediate 15.g4, which would at least force Black to think of a different plan of attack. Although
Black can capture the pawn en passant, the sequence is not dangerous because Whites king is
robustly defended: 15fxg3 16.hxg3, followed by Ne1-g2-e3, Kg2, and possibly an eventual Rh1.
However, Fritz cannot see what a human GM can. Therefore, it continues to advance on the
queenside, while I slowly tighten the noose.
15. ... Qe8 16. b4?
Fritz still evaluates the position as slightly better for White. But here, it should have played
16.g4 instead, to stop the upcoming threats. For example, the line 16.g4 fxg3 17.hxg3 Rh6 18.g4! is
still playable for White.
16. ... Rh6 17. h3?
The computer finally sees the upcoming Qh5 and takes steps to defend against it. But
Whites pieces are not well-placed to defend the king.
At this point, it is too late to defend with g2-g4. However, White could still try 17.Kh1 with
the idea of Bg1, defending his kingside. However, moving your king onto the same file as the
enemy rook rarely comes naturally to anyone, not even Fritz.
17. ... Nf6

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18. c5??
I consider White to be quite lost after this move. At this point, 18.Kh2 was probably the only
move that would save the game, with the idea of playing Rh1, indirectly defending the h-pawn.
After 18.Kh2, a possible sequence would be 18Qh5 19.Rh1 g4 20.fxg4 Nxg4+ 21.Kg1 Nxf2
22.Bxh5 Nxd1 23.Bxd1, where Whites position is still somewhat playable. Unfortunately, Fritz
still doesnt see it!
18. ... Qh5
After this move, the computer suddenly realizes what is going on. But it is too late to
prevent the mate threat. Black has been preparing the final blow for the last 6 moves, and the escape
routes have already been closed.
19. cxd6 Bxh3! 20. Bb6
When computers play moves like these, you know theyve lost. But even 20.dxe7 would not have
worked because of 20Bxg2! and the decisive entrance of the black queen. Fritz suggests one grim
sequence, similar to the one that happens in this game:
21.Bh4 Qxh4 22.Nxg2 Qh2+ 23.Kf2 Qg3+ 24.Kg1 Rh2 25.e8(Q)+ Rxe8 26.Rf2 Qh3 27.Nxf4 Rh1
mate. The rest of the game was quite straightforward, even for me:
20. ... Bxg2! 21. Nxg2 Qh2+ 22. Kf2 Qg3+ 23. Kg1 Rh2! 24. Rf2 Qh3 25. dxe7 Rh1
mate

49

Epilogue

I am writing this book as an amateur, and I hope that the reader will view me as just this: a
club player who likes to help other club players.
I recognized early on that as an amateur, there are some limits to what I could achieve in
chess. Work, school, relationships, religion, and other interests all prevent us from becoming the
best chess players we can possibly be.
At the same time, however, by recognizing that we are amateurs and accepting our
limitations, we can all learn to play better chess.
I encourage you to keep learning. Practice against your computer, read chess books, and
watch chess videos. Keep analyzing your games so that youll keep improving. Most importantly,
keep playing lots of GMs, because if you keep trying, you never know when you might drawor
beata GM.
It is almost a tautology that the most reliable way to beat a GM is to become one yourself. In
the meantime however, while were still amateurs, I hope some of the ideas in this book will work
for you as well as they did for me!
Email me to tell me what you think. I can be reached at this address:
chrisseck@howtobeatagm.com.

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