The Complete Chess Course From Beginning To Winning Chess! (2016)
How to Fight Back
Counterattack - How to Meet the Crisis
Not so long ago I read a magazine article about a baseball manager who is famous for his fighting spirit and aggressiveness. I was not surprised to learn that this manager has no equal when it comes to bellowing at an umpire. But, when his team falls behind, this manager “seems to lose interest.”
So it is with us chessplayers. We attack because we like to; we defend because we have to. We tend to do badly the things we dislike. And, since we dislike to defend, we defend miserably. Thus we lose many games which we might have won.
Have you ever stopped to think that attacking ability plays a big role in defensive play? Forget about the common assumption that defending means passive maneuvers, patient crawling, endless dread of the decisive blow.
There are many times when you can smash your opponent’s attack with one vigorous thrust. If you size up your resources accurately, you can seize the attack for yourself. In other words, play the defense in an aggressive mood. Here’s how:
Look for Counterplay
Let’s look at some actual examples to see the far-reaching difference between active and passive defense. In Diagram 1, for instance, passive play will never do: (D)
Black to move
At first sight it seems that Black can win a piece by the double attack …Qe6+.
White’s bishop is attacking Black’s king rook. Black can simply save the rook with …Rg8. Instead, he tries:
Now if White tries to save his menaced bishop by 2.Be5 (passive defense), he loses his bishop after 2…f6.
White must find counterplay - active defense! Therefore:
By interposing his queen, White has pinned the black queen, and has thus saved his bishop.
This was a very clean-cut example, in which White was confronted with a stark decision. He had to find the right move; otherwise his bishop would be lost at once.
But sometimes the crisis, though real, is not so obvious to us. In such cases we tend to take it easy, thereby drifting into a lost game. Diagram 2 illustrates this possibility. (D)
White to move
White wants to save his attacked e-pawn, and at the same time get a powerful pawn center, with 1.e4. Is this plan good or bad?
White plays the move that looks logical:
1.e4 dxe4 2.fxe4
Now Black has to look sharp. If he plays the dull 2…Ne7, he has a hopeless position after 3.e5 Nfd5 4.Ne4. In that event, White has a magnificent attacking position, with his open f-file, his powerfully centralized knight, and his queen and bishop poised for action on the kingside. (Even his queen rook can be switched quickly to the kingside by means of Ra2 followed by Raf2.)
So here is the crisis. Black can play listlessly, falling into a helpless defensive position - or, he can strike out boldly at the one weakness in White’s position. Namely:
This wins a pawn and destroys White’s mighty pawn center and his beautiful attacking position. For if now 3.cxd4 Qxd4+ winning White’s queen rook! Vigorous counterplay solved Black’s problem.
In Diagram 3 we come to a situation where the crisis is drastic and immediate. Black’s position is threatened so strongly that he seems quite lost: (D)
Black to move
White threatens Qxf7+ followed by Qxg7#. He also threatens to win a piece by …Rxb7 or …Nxb7. Can Black hold the position?
Most players would see no way for Black to save himself in this predicament. And yet there is a way out - if only Black is determined!
His problem is this: how can he parry the mate threat without losing the bishop? If there is a way, it must be based on a counterthreat - a threat of mate, for example. And Black finds the resource he needs:
This defends against White’s mate threat of Qxf7+ etc.
At the same time Black indirectly defends his bishop by threatening …Qb1+ followed by checkmate on the back rank. In other words, White must now stop to prevent this checkmate, giving Black the time to salvage his bishop.
Thus you see how Black, by his alert counterplay, saved a position which many players would have dismissed as hopeless.
Find the Hidden Flaw
The first step toward becoming a skilful defensive player, then, is to handle the defense in an aggressive spirit. If you do that, you can find subtle defensive resources that other players would not dream of. By seeking active counterplay, you will often upset clever attacking lines. Better yet, you will upset your opponent.
Diagram 4 offers a good example of such a refutation: (D)
Black to move
Black’s queen is attacked; so is his d-pawn. Naturally he will save his queen. Does that mean his d-pawn is lost?
No doubt of it - this is a difficult situation for Black. If he saves the queen by 1…Qc7, then White simply continues 2.Qxd6 with a pawn to the good.
Or if Black tries 1…Qb4, White has 2.Qxb4 axb4 3.Nb6 Rb8 4.Nxc8 Rfxc8 followed by 5.Rxd6 and again White has won a pawn, leaving Black without compensation.
Must White win a pawn - or is there some sly, hidden resource for Black? There is, if Black is alert enough to search for it. Here it is:
Now comes a stinging surprise:
Giving away the queen?
3.Qxc7 Rxd1+ 4.Nc1 Bd8!!
The beautiful point of Black’s exceptionally clever play. White’s queen is trapped, and White has nothing better than to give up the queen for a minor piece. In that case, Black will have a rook for a minor piece and pawn. This advantage of “the exchange” will assure Black victory in the endgame.
Black’s play in Diagram 4 was remarkably fine. But the way White fights back in the position of Diagram 5 is even more fascinating, especially from a sporting point of view. Here White evolved his defense in a very difficult position, with all the spectators certain that Black was building up a brilliant winning position. (D)
Black to move
Materially the position is about even, as Black has a rook and two pawns for two minor pieces. Positionally, however, Black has a very strong game with one of his rooks on the second rank.
The powerful position of one of Black’s rooks on the second rank gives Black formidable mating threats. The situation is all the more difficult for White because his forces are scattered, and his queen is unable to get back to the kingside. (Note, for example, that Qf1 or Qe2 are impossible.)
Well aware of the strength of his position, Black tries to achieve a decision on the kingside. He starts with:
This looks terrifying, as Black threatens 2…Rxg3+!. If then 3.hxg3 Qf2+ and mate next move. If instead 3.Kh1 Rxh2+! 4.Kxh2 Qf2+ forces mate.
How is White to defend? If he tries passive play with 2.Rf1, Black has 2…Rxf1+ 3.Qxf1 Qc5+ winning White’s knight. That would leave Black with two pawns and the exchange ahead - an easy win for him.
So White does the best he can:
Apparently Black has calculated beautifully. He threatens 3…Qg2#.
If White tries 3.Qf1 - this seems the only defense - there follows 3…Rg2+! 4.Qxg2 Qxd1+ followed by 5…Qxd5. With two pawns ahead, Black would have an easy win in the queen and pawn ending.
So there you see White’s predicament - either he gets mated (immediate death), or he loses the ending (slow death, with torture). Or…is there some way out for White? There is - and what a way!
3.Nf6+!! Black resigns!!
Black resigns although he’s on the point of administering checkmate! Why?
In the first place, if Black plays 3…gxf6 he allows White to snatch the attack: 4.Qe8+ Kg7 5.Rd7#. Bravo!
And if Black plays 3…Qxf6, White has 4.Qb3+ winning Black’s rook and coming out a rook ahead.
Finally, if Black tries 3…Kf7 (or 3…Kh8 4.Qe8#), White has a neat checkmate with 4.Qe8+! Kxf6 5.Rd6+ Kg5 6.Qg6#!.
Admittedly, White’s resource was not easy to see. And why? Because few players, threatened with mate on the move, would have the imaginative daring to try to fight their way out - to hit back, instead of being resigned to a hopeless endgame.
In Diagram 6 you can see the same point illustrated even more forcefully. White’s pieces are beautifully posted - and yet his queen is lost! What would you do in such a position - would you resign, or would you look for some way out? (D)
White to move
White’s queen is lost. How should he proceed? Is his game hopeless, or does he have some subtle, deeply hidden resource that wins for him?
There is a clue to White’s procedure in this fact: Black’s king has a very shaky position, right in the middle of the board and facing White’s businesslike rook on the d-file.
Well, what then? Suppose White gives a discovered check:
As it happens, Black can hold out longer with 1…Bd7. But why play this chicken-hearted interposition when he can win White’s queen?
So, here we have a critical position. What can White do to make up for the threatened loss of his queen? Is there any resource which offers the slightest hope in this desperate situation?
If now 2…fxe5 3.Qxg4+ and White’s queen is safe, with a piece to the good. But Black is relentless:
Well, White has a check. Let’s try it:
And now another check:
Wonderful! White has a perpetual check by moving his knight back and forth. His faith in the strength of his position has been justified.
But wait… this is a dangerous moment. What a pity if White, in a moment of relief because he’s managed to save the game, misses the fact that he has a forced checkmate! This is how:
5.Nf8+! Kb8 6.Rd8+ Nc8 7.Rxc8#
White’s uphill struggle was very rewarding. It takes a lot of courage to fight on in a situation where the queen is irretrievably lost.
But note this, which is typical: instead of giving way to despair, White calmly sized up the position and made the best possible use of the factors favoring him. In this case it was the splendid attacking position of his pieces poised to smite the black king that gave White the all-important hint.
One point that’s rather puzzling: how was White able to unleash such a powerful attack without having the services of his queen? The answer is partly, as we’ve seen, that Black’s king was badly exposed to attack. But this isn’t the whole answer. The other vital element was the fact that Black’s queen was not in a position to aid the defense.
And so it turned out that White’s loss of the queen was minor - but only because he hit back immediately, with all the forces at his command.
In the position of Diagram 7, on the other hand, everything is deceptively serene. Black is a pawn ahead, and while his pieces are somewhat awkwardly placed, he seems to have no reason to worry. (D)
White to move
Black is all set to answer an astonishing sacrifice with an even more astonishing reply.
White has deliberately headed for this position, as he has a very powerful-looking move which seems to give him an overwhelming advantage:
Black’s first reaction might well be one of terror as he considers the consequences of 1…Qxc7? 2.d6.
The fight against White’s formidable passed d-pawn seems hopeless, for example:
If 2…Qb7 3.dxe7 Bxe7 4.Bxe7 Qxe7 5.Qd5+ winning Black’s queen rook.
Or if 2…Qd8 3.dxe7 Bxe7 4.Bxe7 winning the same way.
The same motif appears after 2…Qc6 3.dxe7 Bg7 4.Qd5+! Qxd5 5.e8Q+ and wins. Black, in despair, might try 2…Rxd6 3.Bxd6. But then White wins back his pawn and remains with a vastly superior position.
This is a very useful position to study; it is in just such situations that a player, confronted with several unattractive possibilities, loses his head completely. The strain proves too much for the player who is on the defensive.
But in this case Black plays with admirable poise, unleashing a counterattack which leaves White with a lost game.
A magnificent move, which to begin with takes the sting out of White’s contemplated d5-d6.
In addition, look at Black’s threats: 2…Qxc7 or 2…Bxb4 or 2…Ne3. His keen, alert countermove has snatched the initiative from White.
If White tries 2.Rxc8 Rxc8 3.exf5, then 3…Bxb4 leaves Black the exchange ahead.
Or if 3.Bxf8 then Black has a crushing reply in 3…Ne3.
White tries a different way, but Black still remains with a winning game.
2.Bxf8 Qxc7 3.Ba3 Ne3 4.Qc1
Now Black has two ways to proceed. He can play 4…Qd7 attacking White’s knight and thus winning a second exchange. Or he can play 4…Qg7, with the idea of playing for a kingside attack.
Actually Black made the second choice, but this no longer concerns us here. What interests us is that Black, confronted by a stern challenge, met the crisis with a superb countermove that turned the game in his favor.
So there you have the moral of this chapter. Beware of passive defense that may force you into a straitjacket position. Look for defensive moves that are active and aggressive. Don’t be satisfied merely with moves that blunt the hostile attack. Look for moves that enable you to take the attack into your own hands. The examples in this chapter show you how it’s done.