The Central Counterattack

  • GM BryanSmith
  • | Jan 12, 2012

Everyone has heard the saying “an attack on the wing should be met by a counter in the center”. Or, if you haven’t – now you have. But what does a central counterattack look like, and why is it so strong?

Every attack uses up some kind of energy, whether it involves moving pieces away to where the attack is taking place, or pushing pawns and possibly creating weaknesses during the course of a pawn storm. To be able to carry out a successful attack, you have to have some kind of advantage in your position, to be able to take such liberties. If not, then the opponent can hit back, and the best place to hit back is in that tinderbox of the chess board, the center.

The main effect of a central counterblow against a wing attack is that it shifts the battlefield. Often, the counterattack in the center involves a move which would normally be undesirable for the side making the counterattack. For example, in the typical Scheveningen structure, …d6-d5 is a crucial counterblow. However, if it can be safely met by e4-e5, it often just leads to a sad French defense position. Now, after g2-g4 by White, it’s another matter…


When one side carries out a piece attack on the far wing, centralization of the defender’s pieces can carry more “weight” than even the scariest threats to the king. Here is an old game of mine that took place in the last round. I was a half point behind, and thus needed to win. I had a nasty cold and I remember generally having very little confidence in my chances. But I surprised myself, and by winning also won the tournament.


Note the serious problems the Black experienced as a result of his rook lift – not only did the rook not defend the back rank, but also it prohibited him from making a comfortable luft by playing …h6. This is a common scenario, showing the double-edged nature of rook lifts.

When carrying out potentially weakening operations on a wing, one needs to have either very strong threats there, or the center closed or under control. But even an apparently closed center can be torn open:


Burn is mostly known as the guy who couldn’t light his pipe fast enough to avoid defeat by Frank Marshall, but clearly he could play some chess too!

The “center counterattack against an attack on the wing” advice is so well-known that it is almost a cliché. Just as with any chess principle, it has its exceptions. Deciding what move to make in chess does not involve only applying principles, but also calculation and concrete considerations. To decide on a move, you need to first find candidate moves, using your intuition and the general principles of strategy. Then you calculate those candidate moves.

Among good players, the “principles” of chess strategy are usually internalized. During a game I don’t have such thoughts as “he is attacking me on the kingside, I should counterattack in the center”. Rather, I just feel a desire to counterattack in the center, without necessarily being able to explain why. Maybe other masters think differently, you would have to ask them.

Anyway, the principle of counterattacking in the center, while an important principle (after all, the center is the most important part of the board), is by no means always true. There are many instances where central counterattacks have failed. For example:


In this game, Najdorf lost because his central counterattack was simply not effective enough. It was a combination of the fact that White’s threats on the kingside were too strong, and that the white targets in the center were not worth enough.

While just as no chess principles operate 100% of the time, it is nevertheless important to be aware of them. You would be surprised how effective a central pawn break can be against even the scariest-looking pawn storm.


  • 5 years ago


    im happy with it.

  • 5 years ago


    thank you,,good lesson for beginner like me..

  • 5 years ago


    thanks for a good article your submissions are always infomative when do we get some videos?Smile

  • 5 years ago


    Nice,thanks for the article

  • 5 years ago


    Nice article.

  • 5 years ago


    good evening Main Brian
    cheer and thank you for this masterly demonstration… Many time or I have wished to pass the wings, often I fell in front of a backward flow from the center which cost me the loss or at best equality of the plays… But the opposite is some time truth.
    Thank you still, I will have reading is also to learn like always.
    With all my respect.

  • 5 years ago


    Great middle game analysis with that open - I currently dont use that open but will have to remember this center break - great article

  • 5 years ago


    Thanks for the article...

  • 5 years ago


    Thanks for the article. I enjoyed it very much.

  • 5 years ago



  • 5 years ago


    Loved the second game. Really brilliant moves, it shows chess wisdom.

  • 5 years ago


    Outstanding article.  Really nice game selection for the examples.

  • 5 years ago

    FM gauranga

    Botvinnik-Ragozin was a very instructive game. Although White could probably defend against the piece sacrifice starting with the better 23.Qd2 exd3 24.Be3, Black has all the play and White is forced to make the best move in a difficult position every time or else he will lose.

  • 5 years ago


    Thanks for the article!

  • 5 years ago



    I think that move levels the match a bit as 38. Qxe2 Bxe2 39.Kxe2. After that white's attack is neutralised and white is looking a lot better than before and has winning possibilities with 6 pawns to black's 5. 

  • 5 years ago


    Sorry, in Alapin vs Burn game 37 exf4, Re2+ wouldnt be better? (for black i mean) maybe i cant see the hole forest!

  • 5 years ago


    @elbowgrease: I think one should counter-attack on the opposite wing only if he cannot counter-attack in the center, e. g. when the center is totally blocked.

  • 5 years ago


    It's not so simply but each tile has it purpose on why to decide to benefit or lose!!!! Good Day To All Of Us!!!

  • 5 years ago


    Simply amazing! one of the most important lessons in middlegames.

  • 5 years ago


    Isn't when someone attacks on the wing you attack on the opposite wing good also?

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