Defending: Lasker on Defence
Lasker shows that defence doesn't have to be boring!

Defending: Lasker on Defence

Mar 11, 2018, 12:55 PM |

There are some things in life that we have to do, no matter how much we dislike them. We're happy to eat a meal but when it comes to washing up we're not so keen; we enjoy ourselves at the weekend but when the weekdays comes back around we don't jump with joy. Similarly, we all love to perform a beautiful Kingside attack but defending doesn't get our heart pumping in quite the same way. This is understandable, of course- where's the fun in allowing your opponent to be in the driver's seat while you hang on for dear life? Why should we let our opponents completely pulverize us because we put one foot out of line once he grabs the initiative?

Well, it doesn't have to be this way! Yes, you heard me right- defending doesn't have to be a complete bore-fest that ends with our opponents mercilessly mating our castled Kings. But how can we gain the knowledge that allows us to make defending fun? Look no further.

In the spring of 1895, reigning world chess champion Emanuel Lasker gave a series of lectures in London. These were geared to the level of the club players, or intermediate level. Later that year Lasker gathered his lecture material together and wrote it up in manuscript form to be published, retaining the informal, conversational tone of the lectures (Source: Russel Enterprises).

I was made aware of these lectures when a friend suggested I write an article on defence as a follow-up to my Sun-Tzu post. He pointed the way to 'Common Sense in Chess' and I started doing some digging. I hope that what I found in Chapter 9 of the book is of some instructional value to you readers.

Defence- An Introduction:

Forget everything you think you may know about defence. We're starting from scratch. Before we get into the nitty-gritty, we'll first of all take a look at the definition of defence, as supplied by the man himself. Lasker said:

If the attack is the process through which obstructions are brought out of the way, the defence is the art of strengthening them, of giving firmness to your position, and of averting the blow directed against you. 

Pretty basic stuff, right? In short, Lasker is saying that defence is the process of making it as difficult as possible for your opponent to attack you. With this knowledge in mind, we can ask ourselves, 'when and how should I attack?'. Lasker covers this also:

When your position is not inferior to that of your opponent, and he nevertheless makes preparations to attack you, disregard them altogether, develop reserve forces, avoid his attack by the slightest defensive movement possible (like a first-rate boxer...) and institute a quick counter action. When you, however, have been unfortunate enough to compromise yourself, to give your opponent an undeniable reason for, and tangible object of attack you have to act very differently.

If your opponent is preparing an attack but it should be of no trouble to you, ignore it (to some degree) and focus on your own army. However, if you're at the risk of suffering at the hands of your opponent, pay attention and begin defending.

Evade blows like a first-rate boxer!

With this basic knowledge, we can begin to really get to grips with defending à la Lasker. 

 Defence In Action:

Let's turn our attention to some example games or, in other words, defence in action. All notes are Lasker's.

So, why did Black win? Well, a more suitable question would be: why did White lose? White pushed forward too early and without good reason on move 7. Then, on move 9, he advanced his King's Rook pawn to h3, thereby creating weaknesses in his own position. These two  weakening misjudgements allowed Black to create a winning attack. Quite simply, White was careless in his defence. On to the next game!
What was White's downfall in this game? I think the note on move 11 sums it up perfectly: "White through his attacking manoeuvres has vastly impaired the solidity of his position". Like in the first game, White attacked prematurely at the cost of his own position's strength.
Now let's take at a look from a position from Lasker's match with Steinitz. This is game No.18,move 33 and it is White to play. Black is applying pressure and White can only keep the balance by a very ingenious defensive idea. Study the position carefully and make your move or, if you prefer, just click the lightbulb icon below the diagram and see how Steinitz dealt with the position!
White was able to draw the game by displaying admirable defensive skill. He considered his opponent's threats and thought about how to deal with them, disregarding disadvantageous lines. This allowed him to minimise Black's small advantage and come out of the game alive. 
I will leave you with a nice quote from Lasker that sums up defending very well:
You will have sometimes to look very deep into the position to find a good move for the defence. But this much, I believe, I can promise you, that if you follow the rules laid down, you will not search in vain. If you will seek you will find, no matter how dangerous the attack may look.
I wish you defensive solidity for many years to come! Until next time, take care and thanks for reading! 
(Material for this article was sourced from Lasker's Common Sense in Chess book. An online version can be found here:  
Skip to Chapter 9 for today's content and more instructive games)