Defense Under Pressure

Defense Under Pressure

| 13 | Strategy

After playing in Montreal, which I wrapped up with a loss to Naiditsch in the 11th round (covered at:, I had a week off before playing another strong round-robin. This one was in Lubbock, Texas, at Texas Tech University. Of the 10 players, I was the 8th seed, but we were a closely rated group, so nobody was a clear favorite going into the event.

In the 2nd round, I faced IM Ben Finegold (now a GM, as he made his 3rd and final norm at this event) and was on my own after only 6 moves. While I didn't solve the early middlegame problems very well, I did manage to hold the fort as the game was slipping away.

In my view, part of a strong chess player's study should include the question of how to defend in various situations. When do you play a move that isn't objectively best in the hopes of increasing your practical chances to defend? What kind of endgame do you aim for to maximize your drawing chances? All of these questions came into play in this game with Finegold.


Question 1:  What would you play after 10...Bb4?

Question 2:  What would you play after 20...Qb8?

Question 3:  What would you play after 25.Nd2?

Question 4:  What would you play after 29...Nh5?

Question 5:  What would you play after 35...Rb8?


And here's the entire game in one viewer:

There are a few lessons to take away from this game:
   (1) In the opening, I wanted to play 10.f4, but I hesitated and decided to play 10.f3 instead. Unfortunately, my first instinct was right. I've seen this written elsewhere, but last I saw it, it was GM Yury Shulman's little motto: "If you want to do something, but you can’t, but you really, really want to, then you can." I just had to work a bit harder to figure out how.
   (2) If you're in serious time pressure as I was in this game, sometimes the best defense is not the objectively most testing. I'm pretty sure Ben would've beaten me if I had played moves like f4 and e5, giving him a very stable advantage. Sometimes you have to take a risk and challenge your opponent tactically.
   (3) Knowing how the pieces work together can make a big difference in choosing what kind of endgame to play. To stir up counterplay, it's usually useful to keep more pieces on the board. Thus, in rook endgames, the defending side usually likes to keep 2 pairs of rooks on the board while the side with an extra pawn prefers to exchange one off. The same principle was in play here, where I didn't want to exchange any minor pieces off.
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