Chess Terms
Fortress

Fortress

Something has gone wrong, and you have entered an endgame where you're down in material. Should you throw in the towel? Not before checking if you can build a fortress to save the game!

Here is what you need to know about chess fortresses:


What Is A Fortress In Chess?

A fortress is a technique in which a player uses a specific piece configuration to set up a defense that can't be breached by the opponent. This defensive technique makes it impossible for the attacking player to make progress and forces a draw.

A chess fortress.
A typical rook-and-pawn fortress keeps White from making progress.

Why Are Fortresses Important?

Players usually employ fortresses during endgames to salvage a poor position. Knowing how to use this defensive technique can save you from losing a game where you're behind in material or facing a positional disadvantage.

You can see an example in the game below, played between GM Gregory Serper and GM Hikaru Nakamura. In the following position, we can see that the material count is even, but Black appears to have an edge. Nakamura just took a knight with his pawn to get ahold of the critical f2-square, and the black king can penetrate White's defenses if the knight moves to safety.

White can save the game with a fortress.
The material is even, but Black's position is better.

Serper realized that he couldn't hold the position if he tried to save his knight. He found solace with the surprising 82.Nxe4, sacrificing his knight to build a fortress with his king and pawns.

A knight sacrifice builds a fortress and saves the game.
Serper sacrificed his knight to build a fortress and draw the game.

Nakamura's dark-squared bishop can't hurt Serper's pawns on g2 and h3, which are blocking the advance of the black pawns. The white king protects its pawns and keeps the black king away. The game ended in a stalemate a few moves later, as Nakamura realized he would never be able to win. Here is a more detailed analysis of the position by Serper himself.

The example above shows that understanding how to use fortresses can save you from losing a game when you have a bad position. Read GM Gregory Serper's article about building different kinds of fortresses to learn more.

Test Your Skills

Now that you know what a fortress is and how you can use it to draw games, it's time to put your skills to the test. Solve the puzzles below by creating a fortress to salvage your position.

Puzzle 1: White has an extra bishop and one pawn very close to promotion. Can you force a draw?

Puzzle 2: White is two pawns up and is getting ready to march them to promotion. Can you find a way to draw the game?

Puzzle 3: Black has two extra pawns. Is there a way for you to force a draw in this position?

Conclusion

You now know what a fortress is and how you can build one to save you from a loss. Head over to our Lessons page and learn even more about this crucial concept.