Attack and Defense in Balance

Attack and Defense in Balance‎

GM BryanSmith
24 | Middlegame

Probably the vast majority of games you will see in articles on or other places end decisively. But overall, at least in the higher levels of chess, the majority actually end in draws. We have been seeing mostly games where the balance was upset some way or another and remained upset until the end of the game. But what about a game where attack and defense are balanced, where the game goes through many adventures but where each swing of the sword is met by a parry?

I should not have to convince you that drawn games can be interesting. If you are one of those people who think that every game needs a winner for it to be worth watching, then chess is not for you. Because chess is not just a sport – it is also an art; and art does not need to have a triumphant winner and disgraced loser. And if you think that somehow eliminating draws from chess is going to make piles of money fall from the sky on chess players (or more likely, chess politicians) then you will be disappointed.

Some people say they don’t mind draws in general, but dislike short draws, “grandmaster draws” – as if they are the scourge of chess. I don’t quite understand this. What is a short draw? It is like a non-game, a mere formality. The players took the day off. If two players agree to a draw in ten moves, they might as well have not played. So if you are complaining about short draws, then why not wage a battle on the bye? Why not cry about every tournament which could have taken place, but did not? Short draws don’t happen so much anymore in top level invitational tournaments, because the players are being paid to play, and if they don’t play they risk not being invited back. And in open tournaments – can you blame the players? Are you going to pay the loser’s rent when he decides to roll the dice in the last round rather than agreeing to a draw?

Anyway, I thought I would show you this interesting and adventurous draw I played in a tournament last July in Paracin, Serbia. This game took place in the eighth round. During the tournament there was an amazing heat spell in an already-hot July. Temperatures were reaching 40 degrees Celsius (over 100 degrees Fahrenheit). I grew up in Alaska and thus could not handle the heat – it was making me sick. After a listless loss in the sixth round, during which I could barely stay conscious, I decided to withdraw from the tournament for health reasons, although my standing in the tournament was still not bad.

However, a little bit later I changed my mind and decided to finish the tournament no matter what. Thus I rejoined it and went out to buy some clothes that would allow me to survive the heat better. In the next round I won a rather shoddy game against Romanian IM Alin Ardeleanu. So basically 1.5/2 would give me a decent prize, and 2/2 would give me a great prize.

My next opponent was Macedonian IM Filip Pancevski. I had black, but naturally I wanted to play for a win. The structure I covered in an earlier article, “The ‘Wide Battle’ in Attack and Defense”, was a perfect system for that. Trying to intentionally upset the balance in the opening, especially as black, is dangerous – but when the structure is already unbalanced and dictates that both sides must act with determination, that is ideal. Thus we had a game whose imbalances were…balanced, if you understand what I mean. It does not stay in one place, but the game shifts dynamically and goes through one adventure after another, without either side really getting ahead. Or so it seems…


I think the game was pretty well-played, especially considering it's complexity. But as you can see, even a seemingly balanced draw contains many missed opportunities for both sides. While I don't think there was ever a real win for either side, there were surely many chances - even many that I have missed in my annotations - to increase the pressure and push the other side over the edge. I feel that I had at least some sort of advantage for the majority of the game after the opening, although White's chance for 34.Qf3 (which I was very afraid of during the game) shows that he had his chances too.

If you are going to discount drawn games, then you have to also discount this beauty, which used to fascinate me when I was just starting to play chess:


It is ironic that this mysterious and wild game surely must have brought some pain to Janowski, who was completely winning and let his opponent escape with a draw, however beautiful. I never remember thinking about it then, but fifteen years later I know it is true.

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