How to play chess in a won position?

Last week I was writing about playing chess in the lost positions. This week’s topic maybe sounding more straightforward, since most players assume (quiet incorrectly) that once position is winning it will stay so forever. These naive players think if their position is winning they are going to win the game automatically. It’s a real world, not an imaginary perfect-world model of a textbook where Bishop and Knight vs. King is a guaranteed win. Nope. In real life, especially on amateur level, this endgame is pretty far from being won. I can say more, some players in a “very lost position” trade down to this endgame, hoping their opponent won’t know how to mate with two minor pieces. It’s a gamble: sometimes they draw sometimes they lose. The point should be clear: even in the “won” position there are plenty of possibilities to get a draw or even to lose. All chess players know that it’s the most painful to lose a won game.

How do you actually define a won position or a won game? Queen vs. Rook endgame is theoretically a won endgame, since there is a straightforward way to win the rook or to declare a mate. But can an average tournament chess player do it? Against a very weak player: maybe. Against somewhat stronger players: less likely. Against a computer: definitely not. So, “won” position for you as a chess player is something that you know how to win. Therefore, if you don’t know how to checkmate with two minor pieces that position isn’t a won position for you, according to our definition.

The things actually get more complicated than that. Even if you have a significant material advantage, think that game is won and your opponent should resign, he can gain the initiative by giving up something to create a counter-play, making you clear won position look very unclear. Remember, you’ve been in his shoes last week, he has nothing to lose. He will setup traps, he will sacrifice, he will use any chance he got in order not to lose. The key idea is to keep the initiative if you want to avoid unnecessary, unpleasant surprises from your opponent. Don’t focus on getting even more material if you are already significantly ahead. Instead, try to keep the position under control and checkmate his king. Remember, the game isn’t over until you checkmate, your opponent resigns or his time runs out. You need to play extra carefully and need to look for cheap shots and traps.

You opponent will try to make the game as complicated as possible in order to confuse you and make you trade a position you know how to win on a position you just think you know how to win. It’s not a good deal for you. You need to avoid complications and keeps things as simple as possible. However, you should not be afraid to play a complicated line, if you see that it clearly wins. I would recommend to double check all your moves (assuming you’re not in severe time trouble); we don’t want that win to slip away.

The most dangerous approach is to assume that position is so good that it will win by itself. Remember, when a player obtains a winning position he gets excited for a moment and then relaxes. This is the most dangerous state of playing chess. This is where the most mistakes occur. At the same time the opponent who is losing, activates his chess abilities and sometimes returns into the game winning some material back or initiative. Follow the old saying “the hardest game to win is a won game”, concentrate and get that well deserved win!

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Updated 04.07.2023