Last week, we took a closer look at the principle of attacking and defending as it applies to the middle-game. The basis of this principles was; if attacking, you want to have more attackers than your opponent has defenders, and when defending, you want to have more defenders than your opponent has attackers. However, there were some caveats to this principle. Employing this principle during the middle-game can be difficult for beginners because there are often many pawns and pieces involved in the attack and defense of a position. One of those caveats has to do with the value of the material (pawns and pieces) involved in the attack.
As I mentioned in the previous article, beginners often end up on the losing side of an exchange of material because they don’t compare the value of all the pawns and pieces involved in an attacking or defending situation. You must compare the values of every pawn and piece involved. Here’s an example of a beginner’s game from one of my elementary school classes:
After 1. e4 e5, 2. Nf3 Nc6, 3. Bc4 Nf6, White plays 4. Ng5. White is going after Black’s weak f7 square. The square is weak because there is only one defender of that square, the Black King. White’s weak doppelganger square is f2 for the same reason. White has two attackers, The Knight on g5 and the Bishop on c4. A King so cannot defend a square on its own if there are two or more attackers targeting that square. White is following the principle of attackers and defenders. White has more attackers than Black has defenders. Black now decides to defend the f7 square by adding a second defender.
This game was played by two of my eight year old students who were both beginners. I mention this because some of you will groan when you see the next series of moves that make up the exchange! Just remember, we all played rather poor chess when we first started learning the game! Black obviously sees that the f7 square is being threatened. Therefore, remembering the principle of attackers and defenders, Black decides to even things out by adding a second defender to match White’s two attackers. While the idea is sound, there’s a huge problem. Black plays 4…Qe7. What’s so bad about that move?
Had Black considered the value of the material involved in the attack and defense of f7, the Black Queen never would have moved! White’s two attackers are worth three points each, for a total of six points of material. Black’s defenders consist of his most valuable piece, the King and most powerful piece, the Queen. The King can only participate in a trade of material involving multiple attackers at the very end of the exchange, when one undefended attacker is left. If White played 5. Nxf7, Black’s King couldn’t capture the White Knight because it’s protected by White’s Bishop on c4. If White played 5. Bxf7, the Black King couldn’t capture the White Bishop because the White Knight on g5 is protecting White’s Bishop. In short, Black simply cannot defend the f7 pawn with the King. However, Black sees a way in which to add another defender and plays Qe7. Now White has two attackers and Black has two defenders. Since you need to have more attackers than your opponent has defenders when attacking, Black thinks this is the end of White’s attack. Right? Wrong!
That caveat about comparing the relative value of attackers to defenders really comes into play here. We know that White’s two attackers are worth a total of six points. Black’s one defender, the Queen is worth nine points. The value of the defenders is therefore greater than the value of the attackers. This means that Black will lose material no matter what. The game continues with 5. c3 d6 (wasting time on White’s part) 6. Bxf7+ Qxf7 7. Nxf7 Kxf7.
The student playing White considered the relative value of the pieces involved in the attack, while the student playing the Black pieces did not. After the exchanges, White is ahead three points of material. It should be noted here that this is still the opening game. I mention this because your minor pieces are very valuable during the opening. White may have won Black’s Queen but Black has all four minor pieces to White’s two minor pieces. In reality, White only won three points of material. While that might sink a strong player’s game, beginner’s games tend to be a wild card in which having four minor pieces to your opponent’s two minor pieces might actually help you.
Could Black have avoided this situation? Absolutely! When facing an attack on f7 early in the game, when the King is the only defender against multiple attackers, see if you can block one of those attackers. In the above game, since White’s Knight was one of the attackers, there is no way to block it’s attack. However, the Bishop’s attack could have been blocked by playing 4…d5, which blocks the White Bishop on c4. The Black pawn would be guarded by the Black Knight on f6 and Black Queen on d8. If Black had done some arithmetic regarding the value of attackers and defenders, he would have looked for another solution. Chess is a game of patience and principles. By the way, this opening by White is known as the Fried Liver Attack.
Next week, we’ll dig into some further attacking and defending examples, zeroing in on preventative maintenance designed to avoid getting into such a situation. Here’s a game to enjoy until then!