Behind the Stone Wall

  • GM BryanSmith
  • | May 17, 2012

An easy approach to the walls must be provided against: indeed they should be surrounded by uneven ground, and the roads leading to the gates should be winding and turn to the left from the gates. – Marcus Vitruvius Pollio

A wall is not a natural thing in the real world – it is something that must be built by humans. It is not exactly a natural thing in chess either; however, the strange thing about chess is that the separate and opposing actions of two players build the game – like a city built by two fighting antagonists. Thus the position that arises in a chess game is usually the result of a chaotic and organic process, rather than an intentional one.

I think there is some intellectual pleasure to discovering a “fortress” in an endgame. To see that all attempts by the attacker will be rebuffed. Normally a fortress occurs when the game is very simplified and the defender has only a small part of the board to defend. The attacker controls the majority of the board and usually has more material, but can do nothing with it because he cannot pierce the defender’s small encampments:

This is one of a large number of basic fortresses. Despite White's extra bishop, he cannot win. Any attempt to approach by the king will lead to stalemate, and otherwise he cannot break into Black's fortress. Here is a more unusual example, from a 1930 composition by G. Zahodyakin:

However, what we are concerned with here are not those – not infrequent – instances where the defender holds a fortress deep in the endgame. Instead, we will look at some examples of a fortress extending over the entire board. This is fairly rare in practical games; but check out the following position, which – according to GM Andrew Soltis in his The Art of Defense in Chess occurred in a junior tournament in Belgium, although he did not name the players:

Obviously this kind of scenario doesn't arise often in practical games. However, study composers, with their rich imagination, have dabbled in this kind of idea. For example, the following:

Vitaly Chekhover used this idea in a few of his compositions, such as the following well-known one:

But I like even more the following, also by Chekhover:

You might object that these extremely unusual positions are not applicable to practical chess, and only serve as entertainment. While I don't see what is wrong with entertainment, I also do not agree that these things are useless for your chess improvement. The concept of a fortress is crucial to practical chess, and this includes the middlegame. At the root is the understanding of the opponent's possibilities. There are a great many "semi-fortresses" which can arise just after the opening. See for example this position:

Now it is your turn to practice your stone laying. Build a chess wall to rival the Great Wall of China!


  • 18 months ago


    Wait, now I get it. 1. Ke6! Kd8 where White can't prevent 2... Kc8, 1/2-1/2.

  • 18 months ago


    The first fortress can be broken by 1. Ke6! Kd8 2. Bc7+ Ke8 3. Kd6 and the black king has been forced out.

  • 4 years ago


    nice article!

  • 4 years ago


    I don't think these situations are so rare.

    Check this game out for example

  • 4 years ago


    The last puzzle is simply crazy!

  • 4 years ago


    nice.........& good one

  • 4 years ago


    indestructible wall..;-D

  • 4 years ago



  • 4 years ago


    very nice article! thanks... Smile

  • 4 years ago


    Cool fortresses.

  • 4 years ago


    Great article!  I like that you end with a puzzle.

  • 4 years ago


    That second position was just unbelievable!

  • 4 years ago


    Good learning 

  • 4 years ago

    FM Prugno

    A very enjoyable article. I knew some of these examples of fortresses, but not all of them, in particular not the studies by Chekhover.

    But what interested me most was the game fragment. Virgilio Vuelban (originally from the Philippines) is a well-known figure in the Rome chess scene. Like most of his compatriots, he is extremely dangerous tactically but not a great expert on theory, so it was not surprising that you managed to outplay him before falling into that nasty trap.

    Unfortunately I was too busy to play in the Barclays Open - I might have witnessed that game first-hand!

  • 4 years ago


    Very unique subject that is hardly touched on in other articles. Highly enjoyable

  • 4 years ago

    NM GreenLaser

    I just happen to have additional information on the third diagram. As Soltis (a college and Marshall CC colleague of mine - yeow! - does that go back 50 years?) reported it was from a junior event in Belgium. 1/2-1/2 Petrosian,Arshak B - Hazai, Laszlo/ Schilde op U18 6th (9) 25.07.1970. The opening was E80. According to Emms, 46.Qd2 Qa7 47.Kb3 Kb7 48.Nb2 Kb6 49. Ka4 Bh2 50.Nd3 with the idea of Nc1 and Nb3 wins. Move 46 as played was Nxb6?, which was move 2 of diagram 3.

  • 4 years ago


    Nice puzzle!

  • 4 years ago


    Due to Building a semi-Fortress ( she could have sacrificed a little for a [ Big] Positional advantage ) I have managed one time to play Remise with Rybka 2.3.2a mp 32-bit in a Shuffle Chess game ( Chess 960 but without Castling, which I actually prefer ) in the Tarrasch Chess GUI.

    Now I still feared the Situation because I saw several/one Sacrifice(s) she could have made and really Crush me, but she did not because she is not that good at Closed Positions Laughing 

    Too much Programmed & Presumptious Play as Natalia Pogonina would say.

    Deadly Offensive, less Sophisticated and much Harsch in open Positions and the Openings ( shuffle Chess ), for what these Words are Worth Compared to other Chess Engines.

    A flaw of probably all Chess Engines in the World is that they go out of Perfect Play by the Opposite Human Team.... while the Openness of the Position itself is already losing; the ( very ) Tiny advantage for the Opening of the Position { an open Rook File was the key She didn't want to exchange Pawns } does not Compensate the openness of the Position.

  • 4 years ago


    These positions are very insteresting, especially the lasst puzzle!!!

  • 4 years ago


    These are fun puzzles to look at.

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