The Mentality Needed When Being an Underdog

For today’s game, I want to go back to a match that I played in 2011, before I broke 1500. I think for 1300–1400 rated players, the biggest challenge is getting a result against a higher rated player. Often times, a lower rated player might play passively, and aim for a draw from move 1! I can’t imagine this works well for most players. While I will analyze the actual moves in today’s game, I hope that for any lower rated players out there, the main takeaway is the fighting spirit from the style of play.

Steincamp – Sinha (Fairfax Open, 2011)

1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. g3 Nc6 4. Bg2

4…Be7 Going into this game, I knew I was a 300 rating point underdog, so to count on silly mistakes would be foolish. However, with my limited chess knowledge at the time, I knew that this was a very passive move. My goal in this position is to open the center with d2–d4, and use my lead in development to acquire the initiative.

5. e3 d6 6. Nge2 Bf5

7. d4 This is in sync with my plan, but I think 7. e4 Be6 8. d3 0-0 9. 0-0 would have been much better for me. While the position is closed, this is the traditional pawn structure of the English, and I am ready to push f2–f4 with a good position.


8. Nxd4 An immediate pawn capture would have been better, as Black’s position would have been somewhat cramped. Generally, if you have less space, trades favor you as it allows for more mobility.

8…Nxd4 9. exd4

9…c6 I remember not understanding this move, but its meant to block my nice g2 bishop. Anyways, my plan here is to optimize my pieces, Black’s bishop on e7 is out of place, so I might be able to gain some sort of positional advantage.

10. O-O O-O 11. Bf4 Qb6 12. Qd2 Nh5 13. Be3

13…Nf6+= I am slightly better here. My opponent does not really have a clear plan as his knight maneuver has not improved his position. My goal now was to gain space in true English style.

14. d5

14…c5 My knowledge of opening theory was very poor, but this a Benoni structure. The correct plan would be to find ways to undermine the d6 pawn. Black’s queen on b6 is misplaced, and makes the typical counterattack awkward. Since I was not familiar with this position however, I continued to improve my pieces.

15. Rfe1 Rfe8 16. Bg5 h6 17. Bf4 Nd7 18. h4 Bf6 19. Rac1 Ne5 20. Bxe5 Bxe5 21. Kh1 a6 22. a3

22…Qb3 I didn’t see this move during the game, and when my opponent made this move, I realized that I was worse. A key positional takeaway for me would be that the b2-b4 idea was far from fruition, and thus the a2-a3 push opened a weakness on b3. Pawns cannot go backwards!

23. Bf1 Re7 24. f4 Bf6 25. Rxe7 Bxe7 26. Be2 Bh7 27. h5 Re8 28. g4

28…f6?+= I have control over the position again. I wasn’t really threatening g4-g5 since my queen is tied down to b2, so this move further shows how the bishop on e7 is misplaced. Black has the pair of bishops, but it yields no benefits.

29. f5= The wrong idea, as it gives black the e5 square on his rook. In all fairness though, as a 1400, I don’t think I could have found better. I wanted to trap in the h7 bishop. However, here I need to find ways to remove the queen from b3. An interesting try could be 29. Rg1 with the idea of a rook lift to g3. This way I can move the knight without allowing …Qh3+ which could prove annoying.

29…Bd8 30. Bd3 Ba5 31. Re1 Re5 32. Rxe5 fxe5 33. Qc2 Qb6 34. Ne4 Qd8 35. Qh2

35…Qe7 The Black queen is no longer on b3, but there is no clear plan for white, my opponent offered a draw and after calculating I took it. Black’s h7 bishop is bad, but the same goes for mine, and there is no easy way to push my kingside pawn majority without the dark squares. 1/2-1/2

While I didn’t win, I still played in a positive manner, and I reached a very respectable position against a much higher rated player. Because I created a plan, seized space, and had control over the center I was able to earn a respectable result. When you are a significant underdog, don’t play passively. Odds are your opponent knows how to punish you. If you are going to lose, make your opponent beat you, don’t beat yourself.

Feel like I missed something? Feel free to comment below!


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