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I am 1.5 points clear of the field, and my last-round opponent is in a must-win situation for a prize. Is there a mathematically/statistically proven way for me to take advantage of this state of affairs to maximize my own winning chances?

A sub-question of this is: Has anyone studied the phenomenon of must-win situations in sport? What was their conclusion for the side who is not must-win?

  • Are you white or black? – BlindKungFuMaster Mar 3 at 9:37
  • White, but it shouldn't matter... – Daniel Moskovich Mar 3 at 10:12
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    Not that I have ever read, but in a situation like that, your opponent is likely to have to take risks, which might weaken the position, so play solidly, and be patient for things to develop naturally. – PhishMaster Mar 3 at 10:24
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    For my personnal experience: Play as if you didn't know his situation. Overthinking the implications of the tournament situation, especially durng the first 20 moves, often reduces your own playing strenght without affecting your opponent much. Of course, later in the game, if in concrete calculation some lines end in forced draws (dead endgames, perpetual checks...) you can take into account the fact that your opponent will try to avoid them. – Evargalo Mar 3 at 10:34
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    Adding to what Evargalo said, and it is a different situation from what you are asking, but the method may be similar: It has been stated many times that when you need a draw, you do not play for a draw, because you will probably lose. Just play solid chess, and do not worry about it. – PhishMaster Mar 3 at 12:02
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One thing is that you may adjust your opening choice, knowing that any forced draws are wins for you. For instance as white against the Najdorf, 6.Bg5 has many lines that contain forced draws, and black may be used to playing lines where he would welcome them. Now he has to avoid them and that may force him to play inferior lines.

That said -- if this makes you play openings you generally don't play, you will probably just find yourself in a sharp position that you don't know well, which is the last thing you want. And in the given tournament situation, the opponent may already be looking for openings he doesn't have any games in a database with, to avoid any special opening preparation altogether.

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Daniel Moskovich asked: Is there a mathematically/statistically proven way for me to take advantage of this state of affairs to maximize my own winning chances?

I think not.

Generally, one should always play the actual position one faces on the board: you do not know in advance what your opponent intends to open with. You suspect your opponent must play for a win so will take risks suggesting a gambit opening and aggresive tactical play.

One strategy could be to pass the fight to Black with a noncommital move like 1.Nf3 or even 1.b3. Some of the Catalan systems played by Kramnik are worth a look at.

Maybe even be really provocative and try 1.a3 or 1.h3 the strategy being to then mimic as far as possible Black's moves ie in effect making Black play against him/her self.

Although you are White you are then in effect playing as Black but with an extra move in hand.

At the very least your opponent will be discombobulated and any prepared lines they have ready for you will be redundant. Also, this strategy may gain you time on the clock!

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  • Do you know if there are statistics for this approach? I.e. does white score better with 1.a3 when the opponent is in a must-win situation that they would in general? – Daniel Moskovich Mar 4 at 15:46
  • Not that I know of Daniel. Perhaps if a chess game database that recorded along with results the round being played was created it could be useful. Generally, results tend to follow the predictions given by the rating difference between the players with a small bias towards White. Of course upsets occur but over a number of games the rating difference will prevail. What you ask involves player motivation in a particular game. In your specific case you have won the tournament already with a round to spare so your opponent may assume you are less motivated to win: could be to your advantage! – cousin_pete Mar 5 at 16:05

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