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Beat Your Opponent by Retreating!

Beat Your Opponent by Retreating!

In general, amateur chess players do their best to push their pieces forward and attack. However, sometimes they think they have to retreat due to the opponent threatening something or starting to take over the game (I said “think” because in many cases threats aren’t threats at all, and retreat is often unnecessary).

In fact, amateurs retreat in fear more often than you would imagine, and they react all the time, even though the reaction is counterproductive. Though I might write an article about unnecessary retreats, this article is about something completely different.

When I ask a class D, C, or B-level student to look at a high-class game, they usually view a retreat as total supplication. And, when they see a backward step they want to know why the side that’s retreating is…well, retreating, since there is no attack to be seen and no threats to be feared.


In IM and GM chess the players only retreat if there is a very good reason to do so. And, in many cases the retreats aren’t based on defense at all.

That’s right, retreats are often based on improving their pieces.

Here’s a case in point:

Though Black’s knight was indeed attacking the weak pawn on e5, this doesn’t take into account the passive placement of Black’s light-squared bishop. Black fixed this problem by moving his knight back to b8, moving the light-squared bishop to c6 (where it is suddenly very active), and then moving the knight to d7 (where it hits e5 and defends the f6-square).

Here’s the rest of the game:

Our theme today: Always get your pieces to their best squares. If that means you have to move backward to do so, then do it!

Since I will go into puzzle mode, I’ll explain some things about puzzles that will make your experience far more enjoyable:

A public service: Whenever I give puzzles, quite a few people don’t realize that they can press the question mark at the bottom left of the board and see various notes (in this series of puzzles there are lots and lots of notes!). Another bit of puzzle confusion is alternative moves. Yes, there are many situations where there is more than one really good move (or even multiple ways to mate!). When this occurs they think that I missed it. No, I didn’t. The problem is that the software will only allow one “best” move. Fortunately, I will usually have mentioned the moves you were screaming about in the notes!
Okay, let’s try some puzzles:







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