Winning Equal Positions

Updated: Oct 27, 2020

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Equal positions can be a pain to play for all players. If you are lower-rated, it may be torturous to be slowly outplayed. If you are stronger than your opponent, it may difficult to pull off a win.

That being said, there are a couple of ways to win equal positions, but usually it requires you to imbalance the position in some way. 

This can be done by:

  • Gradually accumulating advantages

  • Physically unbalancing the position

Each has its pros and cons which I go into detail below.

Gradually accumulating advantages: 

Steinitz said that in equal positions, one should not attack, but instead gradually accumulate small advantages. Once the advantage is significant, only then attack your opponent's weakened position. Usually, these games tend to be long maneuvering battles.

In even positions, greater judgment and selection of plans play a key role in deciding who will emerge victoriously. This is why better players are much more likely to win an even game against a lower-rated opponent. 

Slow, lengthy maneuvering typically involves players incrementally improving their position. They could improve the placement of each piece with every move even if it is a minuscule improvement. 

Players may also pose tactical or strategic threats to induce a bad move and weakness. Below are 3 excellent examples of how to slowly improve your pieces and position through intricate maneuvering and tactical and strategic threats. 

Games from Alexander Panchenko's Mastering Chess Middlegames

Physically unbalancing the position:

Although slow maneuvering is probably the safest way to play an equal position, it may not be the best method especially if you are facing a lower-rated opponent and need to win. Instead, you may need to forcefully unbalance the position, which comes with its own risk.

Sometimes, if a player needs to play for a win, they must find a way to unbalance the position. This is never without risk, and that player will need to make some sort of concession. They hope that the new and unbalanced position will allow for their superior class to be more evident.

Between unbalancing the position and playing a slow maneuvering game is solely dependent on the players' style but may also be affected by tournament circumstances.

Below are the 2 main ways one can physically unbalance the position:

1. Pawn Structure

Games where pawn structure is symmetrical may turn out dull and drawish. So if one is playing for the win, it is usually a good idea to alter the pawn structure. Changing the pawn structure is going to lead to a more dynamic game where one may more easily outplay a weaker opponent.

Here is a quick example of a usually drawish Exchange French.

It is worth to note that Black is making a concession in order to unbalance the pawn structure, so there is risk involved.

2. Material

Changing the material on the board is very similar to changing the pawn structure. Both attempt to alter the physical aspects of the game and opt for a quicker and sharper game. Changing the material, specifically pieces, could mean: exchanging bishop for knight, sacrificing the exchange, trading a rook for 2 minor pieces, etc.

Unbalancing the pieces on the board can be just as powerful as altering the pawn structure.

Annotations by Axel Smith

Playing for a win in an equal position is risky. There is no way around it. Maybe taking a draw in an equal position is best, but if you must play for a win, imbalance the position and don't make too many concessions. If the win isn't there, don't go for it.

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