Why Does This Happen?

Hello! Throughout most of my games against 2000+, I find that I get pressured really quickly and get confined so that I can't really do anything. When I play people below 1900 I can generally play the game comfortably and have some idea of a plan and what to do. When I play these elites I find that my position gets cramped really quickly and I can't do anything. I get that they think on a higher level of chess, but does anybody have any tips as to how I can prevent this and still manage counterplay? I think that'll help me tremendously.

For example:

What I found is in this game you gave up some space without really trying to get rid of your opponent's pawn pushes. For example: On move 9 your opponent played b5 grabbing queenside space and you can see you're a little constricted on the queenside. You played a3 perhaps eventually going for a b4 push to try to counteract your opponent's pawn pushes however b4 never comes. Then on move 21 your opponent plays g5 now getting kingside space! Your pieces lack activity and 3 are on the 1st rank 1 on the second and 1 on the third. Your oppoent obtained the bishop pair which rained superior in this game.

Now, just because your opponent got more space than you doesn't mean it's the end of the world. Normally when your opponent has more space you want to trade down pieces because the less pieces you have the more room your remaining pieces can use. Also, if your opponent is, for example, pushing the queenside, then you would want to seek some counterplay on the kingside. This would mean maneuvering your pieces over to the kingside and trying to attack or create weaknesses.
For example on move 16, your opponent played f5 , and you brought your knight back to c3. If we look at all the safe squares can go to, we realize it can no longer advance, just retreat.

In terms of what you can do to improve this positional awareness, I highly recommend reading the book how to reassess your chess by Jeremy Silman. He explains in depth how to greatly improve at positional chess and has helped my chess journey tremendously.

Just based on your verbal description, it seems the problem you describe is in the opening. If you're playing e4, it's costly to waste turns moving that light-square bishop around. Usually my opponents who play bb5 are planning to take the knight and double the pawns or follow up with something like Ne5 if the queen moves to defend and then takes.

Ya got the white pieces... attack, or else your opponent will do so and you may find yourself contained.

As a 2000+ in multiple formats, I can assure you it's mostly your psychological barrier. When you find an opponent that's 2000+ or so called 'elite' you go in a natural defensive mindset that involves overthinking. Only play the moves and not the ratings. I have own against an 2200+ who blundered mate in one and have lost against 1500 ish players multiple times in blitz chess.

To tell you trick, no one wants to lose ratings, especially against a lower rated opponent. So they do not want to draw either. And sometimes will push too hard for a win in a dead-draw and may end up losing.

I personally attack ruthlessly against any significantly higher rated opponents that puts the pressure right on them. You have little to lose. And I myself lose composure when any lower rated opponent goes all Mikhail Tal on me.

Feel free to challenge me for a game anytime if I am online. It's hard find decent Atomic players.

9 d3 is somewhat passive: 9 d4 is more active.
10 a3 is passive, more active 10 e5 to hinder his development with ...Nf6
12 h3 is passive, more active still 12 d4. You could have played 9 d4 in one move.
13 e5 is not as strong as 10 e5: now you cannot recapture Nxe5 because of Qxg2#
16 Rb1 is passive. Why put it there. You had to save your bishop 16 Bg3.
It is the passive moves 9 d3, 10 a3, 12 h3, 16 Rb1 that lead to the cramped position and the loss.

I mean it‘s concrete theory. If you play the Rossolimo the idea is Bxc6, the more after ...a6, a clear loss of a tempo.

So learn your openings well or you will start struggling from the start of every game. Databases, Books, Engines can help. Look for example games.

Actually strong players are pretty much better at everything - so there will be some hard work to overcome your plateau.

Of course white had to capture 6 Bxc6, but he does so one move later 7 Bxc6 so it is just a transposition.
The real culprit are the 4 passive moves 9 d3, 10 a3, 12 h3, 16 Rb1.
You can lose 1 ot 2 tempi, but 3 or 4 tempi are enough to lose.
Here is an example of how to play with 9 d4.

@MathematicChess As Gandalf said, all you can do is do the best with the time you've been given. Same applies to chess. At whatever stage you're at, aim for incremental improvements in your understanding of the opening, middle-game and endgame. Over time, you'll just get better. Going up a 100 points is a big deal and takes effort. Through casual play and learning, 100 points every 6 months - 1 year is realistic. Chess is a complex game and takes learning and practice. So I suggest forget about beating 2000s, just appreciate the game. I take pride and joy from learning about chess and applying aspects of it to my real life. For example, correspondence chess helps me with work emails. Every email in a conversation is like a move in correspondence chess. I can think through my move (email), my opponents response move (email), my response to his response move (email), etc. That way I don't get disheartened. I remain curious and continue to learn.

meditate, but I say that for every ailment, lost your legs in car accident? meditate. got a hang nail? meditate.

Recently I played a game where I felt comfortable all game positionally, material was equal for most of the game and then I won. After the game ended I looked at my opponents rating for the first time and they were rated 200 points higher than me. I was shocked because the game felt easy. I know from past experience if I had noticed their rating before the game started I would have played differently and lost.

I think (I'm not qualified to have this opinion) from your message using words like pressured and elites, you could work on your mental game. Obviously we all need to work on our chess game, even the world number one, so keep doing that, too.

Do some experiments, put a piece of tape over the area of the screen that has your opponents rating, see if you still get cramped playing a higher rated player when you don't know they are higher rated than you.

That’s a perfectly normal feeling. No matter what your rating is, you will feel the same thing when playing someone better. Top GMs said the same words you say when they played Karpov. About how they can’t do anything and feel like being strangled etc.

And this is how people lower rated than you feel when they play you.

All you can do is focus on improvement by analyzing your loss with computer or better yet with a human coach or strong player if you have such a luxury, improve your tactics, read the standard books, and get an opening repertoire.

Chess is basically a game of tactics, pawn levers/structures, and outposts. You’ll have to improve in those areas, and then you will defeat the 2000s which are NOT elite players at all, but then, like I said, you will simply feel the same pressure and helplessness when playing 2200s etc.