Some players have trouble converting a winning position, perhaps even blowing it. As the strength increases, these "winning" advantages become smaller and more subtle.

How does one "finish" in chess? Is it about defense, or having a strong attack?

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    This will depend a lot on the position at hand and can not be answered generally. – user1583209 Feb 17 '18 at 2:23

All players have trouble finishing, also GM's, only at a different level.

For instance, there are many examples of winning (especially rook) endgames that where drawn by top players.

It is never easy to win a winning position, and it is always possible to blunder. In fact, it is one of the most difficult things in chess to win a winning position.


Because there are many possible reasons why a winning position can be lost or drawn. The most common reason are big blunders, where the player loses material. But there are also more sophisticated examples of how a winning position can be lost, for instance if the attacker has a winning position, but he ignores counterplay of his opponent. Another example is, that the position is strategically winning, but the player doesn't know the winning strategy, for example if he has a big lead in development, but he doesn't open the position, or if he is in an endgame, and he trades the wrong pieces, so that the win turns into a draw.

Furthermore it is not easy to tell whether an advantage is big enough to win and how exactly to do this. This is one of the skills that make a strong players. I recommend you to read the chapter "Winnability" of the book "What it takes to become a chess master" of Andrew Soltis, if you have access to this book.

So how can you improve your ability of converting a winning position in a win?

First of all, there are some well known technical principles for converting an advantage into a win: Avoid blunders/counterplay! (most important) If possible, try to understand where your opponents counterplay could come from, and try to avoid it. (This is not always possible.)

Never rush! If your opponent has no counterplay, then you don't need to rush. For example, before you attack, bring up all your reserves!

There are other principles, but these two are most important. Follow these principles, and try to constantly improve your position.

A good exercise is to chose a winning position and try to win it against a strong player/stockfish.


Id' reckon converting an advantage into an actual win has a lot to do with keeping in mind that a position is worth nothing unless you are there to steer it accurately towards victory. Otherwise it's very easy to be visited by 'the ghost of the won position', which would try to convince you that you can relax before the game is over, trying to trick you into making unneccessary mistakes which would diminish your advantage.

When you write "finish" I interpret that as "converting a big advantage into a win". Is this a correct interpretation? If so, then it all depends on the position at hand; if your opponent played an unsound sacrifice for an attack you may have to defend, while if your opponent played too passively you may have to attack to accurately steer the game towards its logical conclusion.

  • This, although succinct, was also a good answer. – Jossie Calderon Feb 18 '18 at 4:37

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