The Art Of Chess Defense

The Art Of Chess Defense

| 31 | Middlegame

Every chess player has a unique style, his own tendencies and preferences. But one attribute is common to all elite grandmasters: tenacity.

Consider Magnus Carlsen's performance at the 2015 Gashimov Memorial. In the first round, Magnus confused his preparation and found himself in a very unfortunate situation. 

White is a pawn up, his pieces are beautifully coordinated, and Black is devoid of any counterplay whatsoever. A sure victory, it would seem, for one of history's greatest endgame players. 

But Magnus hunkered down and simply refused to budge. Anand improved his position to the fullest extent, but was unable to penetrate the defensive ramparts. In only 17 moves, Magnus won back the pawn and repelled White's initiative. The game ended in a draw on move 53.

At an elite level, dogged resistance of this kind is the norm rather than the exception. No matter how thorough your opening preparation or how comprehensive your chess understanding, bad positions are unavoidable. In this article, I would like to outline and discuss the art of modern chess defense. 

In my opinion, successful defense hinges on three fundamental components: calculation, creativity, and perseverance. Let us put each of these aspects under the microscope. 

1. Calculation 

When you are defending, there is no room for error. In an equal or better position, over-reliance on intuition or an occasional lapse in concentration is usually forgivable. Not so when you are hanging on the precipice! 

Objectively speaking, 30...Qf5 and 37...Qe7 were not difficult moves to find. A few moments of clear-headed calculation was all it took to repulse White's onslaught.

2. Creativity

Frequently, precision alone is not enough to mount a successful resistance. If your position is beyond repair, you must find a way to radically alter the course of the game. As the ninth world champion demonstrated in the following masterpiece, the element of surprise cannot be underestimated.

Without a doubt, 35...Kc6 is one of the most amazing maneuvers I have ever seen. Indeed, Petrosian's entire defensive concept (...Kb7-c6) was so audacious that Kasparov simply lost his marbles. 

3. Perseverance

"Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after another."  -- Walter Elliott (1842-1928)

As GM Gregory Serper pointed out in an excellent four-part article, doing nothing is a skill in and of itself. Sometimes, shuffling your pieces back and forth is the only way to salvage half a point! No matter how ugly your position might appear, a fortress is a fortress. We turn to the aforementioned Anand-Carlsen game for a brilliant illustration.

Above all, a skilled defender must keep his composure at all times. A bad position is still a position: the rules of chess still apply, only you must increase your concentration and intensity a hundred fold.

Whatever you do, remember CCP: Calculation, Creativity, Perseverance! 

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