Last week, we examined the concept of attackers and defenders from the attacker’s point of view. This week we’ll briefly look at being a defender, how to defend against middle-game attacks, and when to give up on the defense of a position. The principle of attacking and defending is relatively simple; when attacking, have more attackers than your opponent has defenders, and when defending, have more defenders than your opponent has attackers. Of course, there is more to it than just outnumbering your opponent in regards to material. When attacking, you want to have material that is worth less than the material your opponent is defending with and when defending, you want to have material that is worth less than the material your opponent is attacking with. Lastly, when exchanging material, you want to start with material that has the lowest relative value, working you way up the value scale. Let’s get started!
The best way to ensure that you won’t lose material when defending is to avoid being in a position in which you have to defend. What I mean by this is that if you could somehow play a game so that you were always the attacker, you wouldn’t have to worry about defending because your opponent would be the one doing that. However, there is no escaping having to defend your position. After all, your opponent has his or her own plans and those plans include attacking your position in order to go after your King. Chess is a game in which you switch roles, being the attacker and then the defender.
There’s an old adage, prevention is worth a pound of cure, and no where is that truer than in chess! Beginners love attacking so much that they neglect their own position. They tend to throw their pawns and pieces at their opponent rather than leaving some material (pawns and pieces) close to home to protect their King. We’ve all done this early in our chess careers and it’s part of the learning process. However, doing this leads to lost games. If you play through the games of strong players, which I highly recommend, you’ll notice that they always dedicate some of their moves to bolstering up their defenses. While attacking is their primary goal, they still work on their defense, strengthening any potential weak spots on their side of the board. Why do both? Because if your position has no weaknesses in it, your opponent will have a difficult time trying to launch successful attacks. How does the beginner prevent weaknesses in his or her position?
It’s obvious that you want to avoid weaknesses but you can’t play only defensive chess. If you played a purely defensive game, you’d never have an opportunity to launch any attacks and attacks are needed to win the game! The trick here is to balance your play out, playing both defensively when needed and offensively when the opportunity arises. The first step for the beginner is to pay attention to your opponent’s moves. This seems like a silly thing to say since strong chess players scrutinize every move their opponent makes. However, we’re looking at this problem through the eyes of the beginner. Beginners tend to see only their plans and the moves needed to execute those plans, giving little thought to what their opponent is doing. Only after the beginner has gained a stronger skill set do they consider what their opponent is up to. Therefore, step one for the beginner is to look at every move their opponent makes and ask themselves a few key questions.
The first question to ask when your opponent makes a move is, what pawns and/or pieces on my side of the board is my opponent’s just moved pawn or piece attacking? Follow that pawn or piece’s attacking path and determine whether or not it’s attacking any material belonging to you. If that pawn or piece belonging to your opponent is attacking something on your side of the board, determine if your now attacked material is defended. If it is, compare the value of the attacker to the defender or defenders. If your opponent’s Queen is attacking your Knight and that Knight is defended by a pawn, your Knight is safe. If your opponent’s attacker is a Bishop and your attacked piece is your Queen, you’ll need to get the Queen out of the line of fire! Simply put, compare the value of the attackers and defenders and the number of attackers to defenders. By closely examining each of your opponent’s moves before considering making an attacking move, you’ll avoid potential weaknesses your opponent can take advantage of.
There will be times when you end up with a weakness in your position (the arrangement of both players pawns and pieces on the board) no matter what you do. In such cases, you have to make a big decision, whether to defend the position or abandon the attacked material. Again, you add up your opponent’s attackers and then count your defenders. If you have fewer defenders than your opponent has attackers, see if you can bring more defenders to the pawn or piece in need of defending. However, before bringing in more defenders, you need to compare attackers to defenders to determine whether or not defending is worthwhile. If you have a Queen and Rook defending a Knight and your opponent has two Knights and a Bishop as attackers, you’ll lose material after the exchanges start. Even if you added a third defender, such as one of your Bishops, your defenders are worth more than your opponent’s attackers. At this point it’s time to give up on your defense of your Knight. There is one exception to this.
If you can create a counter attack that is stronger than your opponent’s attack, such as an attack on a piece worth more than your Knight or a check to your opponent’s King, you might be able to turn things around. Note, these types of counter attacks are generally in the skill set of more advanced players.
The easiest way to defend against attacks is to keep your position free of weaknesses. Of course, if you’re new to the game, this will be difficult to do. Therefore, you’ll want to be prepared to defend any weaknesses when they arise. Use the principle of attacking and defending and ask yourself the questions I outlined earlier in this article. Always, and I mean always, look to see what is being attacked on your side of the board (your pawns and pieces) every time your opponent makes a move. Do not think about making a move until you’ve done this. Remember, your opponent is also trying to win the game and has their own plan regarding how to do so. Next week, we’ll look at some game examples that revolve around the ideas discussed this week. I held off adding game examples here because I wanted to get you thinking about some of these principles of defensive play. However, play through the following game and see if you can find anything we’ve just examined within that game. Enjoy!