I remember a match at state a few years back where several Prospect players had poor positions out of the opening, but in which their opponents had a lot of work to do yet. Thinking that the games would be going on for awhile I decided to take a look at some of the matches that were taking place in the ropes. When I returned to the table ten minutes later I found half the Prospect players packing up their boards. It turned out that they had played quickly, gone for the first cheap trap they saw and then watched their positions fall apart when their opponents didn't take the bait.
Despite the loss to Schaumburg, I was gratified to see three of the games featured Prospect players handling poor positions very well. On 1st Board, Robert Moskwa actually did go in for a dubious tactic against Ben Wu after dropping a pawn, which lead to the loss of a rook for a bishop. After that, however, he settled down and played patient defense. As his opponent was a bit too careless with his pawns, Robert gradually regained enough material to draw. On 2nd Board, an oversight allowed Andrew Joo to develop a dangerous attack against Arun Nair, however, Arun played patiently and turned the game around when his opponent over-extended. On 4th Board, Alex Burke dropped a piece in the opening to Kanish Thakkar and fought back to equality, but failed to come up with the right plan in the endgame.
Question: Should black (a) trade his rook for the two Black knights, or (b) penetrate White's position with the rook and pick off some White pawns? See move 47 of Thakkar v. Burck for the answer.
Playing While Ahead
Among stronger players it is not uncommon to see a player resign upon losing a piece as happened in a game of mine that I posted recently. This is sometimes puzzling to high school players who tend to play most games out to checkmate. Stronger players, on the other hand, know that their opponent knows how to play defensively when ahead on material. The stronger player knows that if the position on the board doesn't promise them any chances to recover, their opponent is unlikely to take any risks that provide them with such chances.
The key to playing with a big material advantage is to think defense first.
“Think defense first” simply means that the more you are ahead, the more likely it is that any reasonable plan of yours will win so long as you do not let your opponent win back material or generate an enormous attack. Therefore, HIS moves become MORE IMPORTANT than yours!NM Dan Heisman
Consider this position from Jaris v. Esau on 7th Board where Black is ahead by a rook and a pawn. This is more than enough material to checkmate White if Black can simply trade off all the other pieces. Black's question to himself should be "What bad thing might happen to me that would let White back into the game."
I hope that most players would see that White has a rook and a queen lined up against the Black king who is feeling rather lonely with most of his pieces on the other side of the board. If Black cans successfully parry the threats against his king, the win should come easily.
As so often happens, however, Black continued to play in the aggressive (and somewhat reckless) manner that he had used to achieve the material advantage in the first place. Although he responded to direct threats when he saw them, he did not think defensively. Here is a typical example from later in the game.
Black played 24...Nxg2+?! winning another pawn. However, Black doesn't need another pawn to win and the knight has nothing to do on g2. In fact, it was still sitting on that square when the game ended thirty-three moves later. I would have much preferred 24...Nc4+. Even though the knight is not stopping any immediate threats, it is well placed to prevent any later trouble that might develop.
Good players adjust their style to the dictates of the position. Having a big advantage dictates playing more defensively.