How To Break Fortresses
Dealing with a fortress — especially when you have a significant material advantage — is an infuriating experience.
Indeed, what can be more frustrating than completely outplaying your opponent, only to find that he has constructed an impregnable fortress?
Nonetheless, my experience has convinced me that even outwardly impenetrable fortresses can be breached through subtle positional maneuvering or tactical ingenuity.
In this article, I would like to examine three crucial fortress-breaking methods that will often enable you to overcome even the stoutest resistance.
Method One: Inducing Zugzwang
In many instances, the structural integrity of a fortress hinges on a piece's ability to occupy a certain square at a specific time.
Placing your opponent in zugzwang will either force him to leave this square, enabling you to penetrate, or to make a serious positional concession.
Method Two: Sacrificial Penetration
All chess players, from novices to super grandmasters, are inherently attached to material.
However, when zugzwang is out of the question, a well-timed sacrifice may be the only way to rupture your opponent's fortress.
As usual, Bobby Fischer provides an excellent illustration.
It was tempting to take the easy way out and simply keep pushing up an exchange, but Fischer hunkered down, calculated, and drove a stake right through Lombardy's position.
More often than not, Caissa rewards the brave.
Method Three: Attrition
In chess, as in life, patience is an indispensable trait.
When your opponent's fortress is able to withstand the zugzwang method and is impervious to sacrificial penetration, do not hurry to take the draw.
Try to delve deeper, and ask yourself if the fortress can be undermined by targeting its weakest point. The next game — which you might have seen at one time or another — beautifully illustrates the importance of patience and self-control.
Had Petrosian resisted temptation and carefully targeted Black's a5 pawn, the game would have dragged on for many more moves — but the result would have been quite different.
The realization that you can make no further progress, and that hours of effort are about to go down the drain, is a debilitating one.
But it is the mark of a strong, experienced player to push his emotions aside and keep digging, keep probing.
As Michael Jordan remarked, "some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen."
RELATED STUDY MATERIAL
- Read GM Naroditsky's last article, The Knockout Blow.
- Watch GM Melikset Khachiyan's video on building a fortress.
- Take a lesson on breaking a fortress in the Chess Mentor.
- Practice your tactics in the Tactics Trainer.
- Looking for articles with deeper analysis? Try our magazine: The Master's Bulletin.