Swindle your way to success

or, "the hardest thing to win is a won game" (TARRASCH).

36. Ne1?
"Well, well. IM (and correspondence GM) Douglas Bryson once told me that he almost never plays a game that flows smmothly from start to finish; there is always a "moment" of sorts where someone misses a big defensive opportunity or the nature of the position changes more than one might reasonably expect. This was such a "moment"."
-- Jonathan Rowson British Chess Magazine October 1999 p.553
  1. Some general points
    1. Swindlers' attitudes
    2. Swindlers' methods
    3. Playing the opponent and not the board.
  2. Swindle-proofing your game:
    1. Difficult moves to consider (look again!):
    2. Dangerous moments (look again!):
    3. Playing the board not the opponent
  3. Swindling for beginners: some simple examples
    1. Swindling: a simple example
    2. Approaching a swindle
    3. What's the odds?
    4. Examples of swindles and other false results
      1. 1. Pure Luck (or mostly pure)
      2. 2. One Last Desperate Trap
      3. 3. Proper Grown-Up Defence
      4. 4. Real swindles
        1. a. avoiding losing
        2. b. creating opportunities for a swindle
        3. c. exploiting your advantages
        4. d. getting the initiative
        5. e. giving up the exchange
        6. f. exploiting psychological factors
        7. g. being awkward
        8. h. defending the endgame
          1. perpetual check
          2. exchanging into a known drawn endgame
          3. the saving power of a passed pawn
          4. the positional draw


Good News:
There is a brand new book out by Ali Mortazavi which is all about swindling
Bad News:
The book was strongly criticised when reviewed by Jonathan Rogers in KingPin magazine.
Good News:
The review article in itself is very good reading on swindles, and would make a good complement to this document.
Bad News:
The diagrams in this document are a bit of a mix - sorry if it's slow or hard to read. [It looks OK on paper, is my only defence!]
Good News: Also, Simon Webb's book "Chess for Tigers" is excellent for swindles.

By swindling I do not mean:

  (a) hanging on grimly until your opponent blunders (this is Pure Luck)

  (b) setting one last trap (this is Desparation)

  (c) defending the position well until the game turns in your favour (this is Proper Grown-Up Defending)

  ...although swindling contains elements of all of these. Real Swindling is where (1) your position is lost or losing, and (2) your opponent errs because of something you have done. So you do need to be lucky, but you have to make your own luck, or at least stack things a little less in your opponent's favour. Swindling has a similar appearance to active defence, but has a rather more urgent feel about it. "Setting a trap" is the simplest level of swindling, and in fact swindling is all about setting traps: some tactical, some positional, and some psychological. Successful swindling is also about setting traps well before things are desperate.

  Some of the world's best players have always been great swindlers: Frank Marshall brought off so many that fans coined the term 'Marshall swindle', and Lasker won so many 'lost' positions that they speculated about witchcraft or hypnotism (psychological play was always a big part of Lasker's normal game, even if he wasn't losing).

  Let's have a look at some general points, some simple examples, and then some deeper examples. I'd be happy if everyone had a go at the first two sections, which are mostly common sense, and then gradually work their way through the later parts.


Some general points

Swindlers' attitudes

If you are going to turn a game around, you must admit you are losing: be objective, don't kid yourself about your position, and do something about it before it really is too late.

  If you are losing, do something about it: if the game continues normally you will lose.

  Doing something about it means playing differently: you must throw the game off-course, and this probably means playing the move that is not objectively the best

Keep your eyes open: you must make the most of any and every opportunity.

Swindlers' methods

You must avoid losing: you can often decide on the right move by a process of elimination. If your opponent is going to win by promoting a passed Pawn in four moves, it's got to go! But never make simple concessions, make a mess.

Keep playing actively: you must have some activity to give yourself any chance of getting back into the game, or at least set your opponent some sort of problems (without which they will never go wrong!).

  These and other principles are explained below:

  1. a. avoiding losing
  2. b. creating opportunities for a swindle
  3. c. exploiting your advantages
  4. d. getting the initiative
  5. e. giving up the exchange
  6. f. exploiting psychological factors
  7. g. being awkward
  8. h. defending the endgame

Playing the opponent and not the board.

Timely draw offers: when your counterplay is at its peak, or your opponent has already made one bad mistake, offer a draw in case their confidence has gone

Swindle-proofing your game:

Difficult moves to consider (look again!):

long moves


geometry (playing off the cushions)

Dangerous moments (look again!):

deceptively calm positions (may explode in your face)

deceptively familiar positions (are always slightly different)

reassuring moves (may drop you right in it)

while you are attacking (your opponent also has a right to exist)

after a crisis (danger may not be past)

when victory is in sight (vigilance is required)

Playing the board not the opponent

This of course is the opposite of the swindling strategy. If your opponent bears a lowly grade, or plays badly or incomprehensibly, don't assume your position will win itself, keep playing chess.

  Health educators are given to considering four different aspects of human mind and activity in promoting healthy choices: knowledge, attitude and behaviour. Here's some advice on healthy chess from Amazia Avni:

Knowledge to keep in your mind:

* every game can be lost

* every position can be ruined

* details are important

Attitudes to cultivate:

* constructive paranoia

* self-criticism

Behaviour to practice during play:

* active searching

* thinking for your opponent

* looking for the worst case

Training for between games:

* studying positions with counterplay as a main feature e.g. Open Sicilians

Swindling for beginners: some simple examples

Swindling: a simple example

Regis,D - Greet,An [A10] Torbay Open #5, 1994
1. c4 g6 2. g3 Bg7 3. Bg2 d6 4. Nc3 Nf6 5. e4 O-O 6. Nge2 e5 7. O-O c6 8. d3 a6 9. a4 ANG thought this a mistake 9... a5 10. f4 ?? [10. h3]10... Qb6+ 11. Kh1 Ng4 12. Qe1 Na6 13. Nd1 Nc5 14. f5 Nb3 15. Ra3 Nxc1 16. Nxc1 Bh6 17. h3 Bxc1 18. hxg4 Bxb2

  Now, White is absolutely busted here, a Pawn down and haemorrhaging on the Black squares. 'Sensible' passive play would be useless here. White must find some way of throwing the game off course: Black must be given a position where he can make a mistake.



19. Qd2!? [19. Ra2 Bc1] 19... Bxa3 20. f6 Kh8 21. Qh6 Rg8 22. Bf3 g5? [22... Bc1!] 23. g5 Qd8 24. Kg2 23. Kg2 Rg6 24. Qf8+ Rg8 25. Qh6 1/2

  A very simple example, but it does reinforce points about successful swindling, viz. giving your opponent a chance to go wrong, and playing actively.

Approaching a swindle

To be swindled your opponent must fall into some tactical or positional muddle. We'll look briefly at both. Here's how to approach a tactical swindle:



Bellers-Regis, 1997
Black has sacrificed a piece to expose the King, but there is no mate (...h5-h4 fails to Qxf7+), so Black is losing. How can one approach a swindle in this position?

Start with: what can go wrong for White?



A. hopes of perpetual check (1) by a standard pattern (...Re1+)



B. hopes of perpetual check (1) by exposing the King (although the White King may escape to the Queen's-side if the White Queen can interpose)



C. if the Queen does interpose (1) this may lead the Queen into trouble (Kf5 Qe6+)



D. if the Queen does interpose (2) this may leave the Rook loose (...Qh2+)

  So, we have four basic swindles to try for. You have to weigh up quickly which is your best chance, and play a move quickly (a) to make your opponent decide, and (b) give them as little time as possible to find what you have found. In this case (B) looks very achievable but uncertain to produce a desired change in fortune; the others are in their own ways certain, but difficult to achieve. You have to decide which is the most likely and go for that.
The actual game was adjourned here, so I resigned(!), but in a game I think I would have played quickly the non-committal ...Qf4, when I still have some hope of bringing off (B) and also I have some new chances of (A) (C) or (D). (A reality check suggests that simply Qb7-b4 holds, which is not that hard to find OTB, after which Black has to go for ...Rxf3+, but you have to try these things).


The other swindling considerations are positional: you must strive to make your pieces as active as possible and drive or tempt your opponent's into bad positions.

  For example: you need to get from this lost position I had as White one day:



...to this: