The Importance Of Defending While Attacking

In a recent tournament game, I knew I was going to play Black, and had a plan in mind before the game started. I find that I play better when I’ve decided on a theme before a game even begins. In this case, I had been looking at some games by the late GM Vugar Gashimov, who died recently at age 27. I’d always been astounded that he was willing to play the risky Modern Benoni as Black, since modern theory (supported by chess engines) has frowned on this opening for quite some time now. Back in my youth, I was a fan of the Modern Benoni, inspired by the feats of Tal and Fischer and Kasparov as Black using this opening, and when I returned to playing chess as an adult nine years ago, I also played it a lot initially. But I got crushed too many times, and I completely stopped playing it in serious chess in around 2006.

But reviewing the games of Gashimov made me decide to look at the Benoni again, and privately I decided that in honor of his creative, bold style, I would at least once in my current tournament go all out into the “attacking as Black” mode, for fun and (hopefully) profit. I decided that at the first available opportunity as Black against 1 d4, I would attempt my first Benoni in almost a decade.

So in my game, I offered to play a Modern Benoni, striking with c5 against White’s d4 Pawn, but after d5 and then my e6, to my surprise, he decided against holding with c4, in favor of replying with the weak dxe6 that simply gives Black an automatic advantage, with the Pawn retake fxe6 contributing to the center as well as opening up the f-file for possible future attack. Well, Benoni or not, I was going to attack, and the rejection of the Benoni simply meant that I could begin attacking almost straight out of the opening, and without risk.

Outline of the game

The game unfolded in a way that offered a clear attacking plan for Black, so I felt it would be particularly instructive to share it here as a thematic example of attack, with the observation that many of the attacking moves were also defensive in nature. We often see games in which an attack fails because of overextension, leaving weaknesses at home. My game was one where at one point, I missed a winning move, and also my opponent could have defended by taking advantage of a momentary lack of defense. So the critical moments in the game illustrate both “attack by defense” as well as “defense by attack”.

The first thing to note is that “defensive” moves may actually be counterproductive and make attack easier. In this game, White made the classic “mistake” of unnecessarily moving a Pawn in front of the castled King, creating a weakness and a target. White played h3 to prevent Black from developing a Bishop to g4, but this only created a target of a possible future sacrifice on h3.

As soon as h3 was played, the plan for Black was completely clear: maneuver the remaining Black Knight to e7 and then to g6, where it is ready to go to f4 or h4 and apply pressure to the g2 or h3 Pawn. Also note that this maneuver also has a defensive purpose: White in the game hoped to play f4 to block the attack, and the Knight on g6 stops it. During an attack, it is often important to preemptively restrict the opponent’s mobility.

More maneuvering: Black’s Bishop moved from f6, where it served somewhat like a Pawn, to g5, to control more dark squares (White no longer having a dark-squared Bishop helped a lot) and possibly go to f4 or threaten to exchange off White’s Knight if it came to d2 to try to help defend the King side (and it did go to d2, and in the game it did get exchanged).

Black also played the Queen to f6, protecting the e5 Pawn in preparation for freeing up the Knight on g6 (this turns out to be very important), and also having ideas of swinging further to the King side for an attack on White’s King.

At this point, White’s best bet was to try for some Queen side or center play, although Black was ready to catch up on developing the Queen side, retaining a large advantage while trying to get more forces over to the King side attack.

It turned out that the game ended very quickly, as White immediately walked into a tactically untenable position. However, I failed to play the immediately winning sacrificial move sequence, which would have been very pretty because it does not lead to instant checkmate but instead a position in which White is helpless and will clearly lose after several more moves in which Black can calmly bring the light-squared Bishop and King Rook into the picture. Check out the variation that has 18…Nf4 19 Nf3 Nxh3!

The move I played had the serious drawback that it did not actually prevent the move it was supposed to prevent, Nf3. It turns out that White can play that move offering a trade of Queens that on the surface looks pretty bad (it is certainly not a good position for White), but actually offered chances for a draw through simplification, and even a chance at an advantage if Black got greedy and started grabbing the f3 Pawn and the h3 Pawn. The reason is that Black’s e5 Pawn is unprotected after the unplayed variation, resulting in White getting a Knight on e5 and then amazingly having resources because of the threat of Nf7+ against Black’s King. When I played 18…Nh4 instead of the winning 18…Nf4, I should have remembered to double-check that by attacking, I was not undermining my defense of my important e5 Pawn.

However, my opponent did not play Nf3 (which we should classify as both a defensive and attacking move, because it attacks Black’s e5 Pawn and virtually forces a trade of Knights, after which the retake Qxf3 is also an “attacking” move wanting to deflect Black’s Queen from protecting e5!), but blundered instead into a quick loss as the King side was ripped apart, I sacrificed my dark-squared Bishop, and obtained a forced mate after the piece was accepted.


  • A solid attack requires defense of one’s attacking base (here, e5 Pawn) and against possible Pawn barriers (here, White’s f4 push).
  • During the final phase of an attack, make sure not to allow tactics that result in the undermining of something no longer defended because the attacking pieces abandoned it (here, Black’s e5 Pawn).

The annotated game

Franklin Chen


Quality Over Quantity

Every chess player wants to improve at chess and for that we already have books suggested by coaches, playing games, doing tactical exercises, endgames etc etc. Yet I have observed a few things among the people who are working hard but failed to improve as much as they might have wanted to or deserved. What are the reasons? I will try to answer.

Here is a position:

Looking at the position you might be wondering what is new in it? It is the Lucena position. It can be won by building a bridge and most of the players know this very well. But how many of you really know that how to reach this position? Are there any rules which can be used? What are the exceptions? My point is that rather than reading too much it’s better to learn few things but try to master them. Quality is always better than quantity.

Now following this example let’s say you have learned everything that has been discussed above for this position. Yet in practical games you don’t reach it for a long time so there are more chances that you forget the ideas/rules. So repetition is a must, but it is often ignored. If I talk about myself, I have read many books but haven’t repeated the process, and I can see that this accumulated knowledge is wiped out with time, not completely but partially.

Accordingly we should look at developing a strong bedrock of knowledge rather than trying to learn lots of new things all the time. And this is achievable if you focus on knowing a few things perfectly and then revise them periodically so that they’re never forgotten.

Ashvin Chauhan


Advice For Vishy

With Vishwanathan Anand having qualified for a rematch for the World Championship, not many people think he has much of a chance. I am one of few who disagree, but I think he needs to do things very differently this time round.

First of all let’s think about what happened last time. He went straight into Magnus Carlsen’s strength of endgame play and beat his head against the Berlin Defence to the Spanish (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6). He looked tired and worried throughout, perhaps partly because he was playing in front of a home crowd as the defending champion. The pressure was on.

This time he’s going in as the challenger and the underdog. That means the pressure should be off him and firmly on Carlsen. Carlsen also seems confident, very confident in fact. And that makes him vulnerable…

So how can Anand win? Well the biggest factor may be that Carlsen is weak in the opening. Since he became World Champion a lot of people have started to believe that this doesn’t matter. But it does, even if it might have been overrated in the past.

To exploit this Anand needs to shift the emphasis of the struggle to this part of the game, choosing the sharpest lines and avoiding premature simplification (just to be 100% clear that means avoiding the Berlin endgames). If his seconds still think they need to win Berlin endgames he could do with a different team. They may be nice guys to eat dinner with but that won’t help him win. He needs to keep some ideas men in the back room (possibly in a different town), players like Igor Zaitsev or Yasha Murei, but younger versions. And then he needs someone who’s good at linking lots of computers together so they generate MASSIVE computing power. Then you get the ideas men to feed their concepts into the supercomputer and see how bad they are. Even if they’re bad this kind of prep could be deeply disturbing to Carlsen. He’ll find himself frequently conceding the advantage in order to ‘avoid preparation’, and this could be just the kind of edge that Anand needs.

Short matches should, in theory, be better for the underdog and the older player, but in any case Vishy should be practicing his yoga. Maybe he should also look at stepping things up a level so that he can control his nerves whilst having his brain fire on all cylinders. If he doesn’t have a really good yoga teacher he should get one. As with tai chi and qigong teachers, they’re really not expensive.

What about the venue? Well if Norway offers to host the match then Vishy should ACCEPT. Plus he might think of getting a log cabin there to train in, this Rocky IV vid shows the way:

So Vishy, that’s how to do it. And if you succeed using my suggestions you know where to send the cheque!

Nigel Davies


Sveshnikov’s Advice

For those fortunate enough to have the language, the Russian live commentary on the Candidates was a treat. Sergey Shipov is the best live commentator in the world, and is well worth the price of admission by himself, but he also had some great guests.

I was especially pleased to hear Evgeny Sveshnikov, an early chess hero of mine. Although a bit cranky in some of his ideas, he is a deep thinker on chess and his comments on the games were fascinating. I liked his discussion of IQP structures in the context of the game Andreikin – Topalov.

There has always been a debate about how to play against the IQP. Nimzowitsch always talked about blockading it, but Larsen’s advice was that it is better to win the pawn! Sveshnikov summarised the argument very nicely and succinctly – if you have a lead in development, then play to win the pawn, but if the IQP-holder has the lead in development (as is more often the case), then you must play for the blockade.

Sveshnikov also named game 9 of the 1981 Korchnoi-Karpov match as a genius example of how to play against the IQP. Karpov exchanges the minor pieces, gangs up on the IQP, induces the weakening of the white K-side (especially 30.f4, trying to hold back the e6-e5 break), and finally converts his pressure into a mating attack.

Steve Giddins


Queen Traps

The other day one of my pupils showed me a recent tournament game in which he had the black pieces.

I can’t remember the exact move order, but it started something like this.

White opened with the queen’s pawn but neither player really demonstrated much understanding of the subtleties of the opening. At move seven Black decided to attack the white queen. At this level children tend to play threats in the hope that their opponent won’t notice rather than trying to put pieces on better squares. But this time White was sufficiently alert to move his queen and decided to throw in a check on b5. Qd2 instead would have been fine. Black might, I suppose, have replied with c6 but instead he found, possibly without realising why, the correct move Bc6. Suddenly, White’s queen is trapped in broad daylight, in the middle of the board. Black eventually went on to win the game with his extra queen.

Last week I demonstrated this to a group of children at Richmond Junior Club, and asked them what lessons they could learn from the game. They were all eager to tell me the lesson that you have to look ahead before playing your move, which of course is perfectly correct. There were two other lessons I wanted them to tell me about as well, but I had difficulty getting the replies I was looking for.

I was hoping they’d tell me that it’s often dangerous to bring your queen out too soon, one reason being that she might get trapped. I’m sure most of them have been told this many times, but they weren’t able to relate this piece of advice to the game in question. The second thing I hoped they’d tell me was that you should beware of playing random checks. Probably not all of them are aware of this. They’ve been taught to look for every check, capture and threat so not playing random checks seemed like strange advice to some of them. What we mean, of course, is that you should look at every check – it might be checkmate, lead to checkmate, be a fork or whatever, not that you should always play a check should you have one available.

This reminded me of a very short game I first saw in Chernev’s 1000 Best Short Games of Chess many years ago.

In this game White started with 1.e3. Children often play this, illogically, because they’re scared of Scholar’s Mate. Then he went for a queen attack on move 2, but as his e-pawn had only advanced one square Black correctly took over the centre. On move 4 White played his queen to what seemed to be a random safe square, but it wasn’t safe at all. Again, the white queen was trapped in the middle of the board, in record time.

In both these games, White learnt the hard way about the dangers of bringing your queen out too soon.

Richard James


Asking Questions

The chess student’s oath: Repeat after me, “If I don’t understand something, I will ask the instructor to explain it again and again and again if necessary.” All joking aside, asking questions seems to be a problem for many chess students. I teach my students to question everything. I also teach them that the only bad question is the one not asked. I’ve recently been observing my stronger students and asking myself the question, what is it that sets them apart from their classmates.

Of course, my more advanced students have arrived at their destination by working hard at their game, putting a great deal of time into their studies. However, there is more to it than that. One thing I’ve noticed is that these students ask a lot of questions. Why is asking questions so important to one’s success both on the chessboard and off the chess board (as in life)? The answer is surprisingly simple! You’ll learn more by asking questions!

When I teach my classes, I’ll present a master level game that demonstrates specific key concepts. Because my young beginners are new to the game, I’ll concentrate on the opening mechanics, middle game tactics and basic endgame play. In the opening for example, a series of obvious moves will be played that aid in controlling the board’s center. This makes perfect sense since our job in the opening is to control more space than our opponent. If we cannot control as much space on the board as our opponent we try to take squares away from the opposition. While is it relatively easy to see how certain moves help us in our opening goal, there are some moves that don’t immediately do this. To the beginner these moves may seem to be out of place, making no sense. However, to the more experienced player, these moves are seen to help set up a greater control of the board’s center later on in the opening. These moves are stepping stones leading to a stronger opening position. Yet many beginners will not raise their hands and ask the question “why was that move made?” Simply asking that question would help shed light on that move and help the beginner improve his or her game. However, they don’t ask and are suddenly lost, missing the bigger picture altogether.

I suspect that many people, both young and old, feel that asking questions makes them appear to be uninformed. Some people even feel foolish asking simple question because they don’t want to appear to be stupid to those around them. I went to a chess lecture once and, while the start time was listed, there was no end time mentioned. While sitting down, waiting for the lecture to start, I overheard I number of people asking when the lecture ended. When the head of the chess club came out to introduce the guest lecturer he welcomed us and asked if there were any questions. No one raised their hand to ask the obvious question on the minds of many participants, when the event ended. Of course, I raised my hand and asked the question. I was surprised that a few of those I overheard earlier asking about the lecture’s ending time now scoffed at my question. This was a good example of why many people don’t ask questions. If given the choice between being informed and being foolish, I’ll take being informed!

If you undertake the process of learning something, it is your job as a student to ask questions. While experienced teachers can anticipate many questions and answer them before they’re asked, they’re not mind readers. This means you, the student, have to take it upon yourself to ask any questions you want an answer to. Asking questions leads to a better grasp on the subject matter. A better grasp on the subject is how you start the journey to mastery.

If you’re studying an opening with your chess teacher and understand the first eight moves but get stuck on the reasoning behind the ninth move, don’t assume that move nine will make sense a move or two later. Stop and ask your teacher why move nine was made. It may be the case that your question will be answered by playing through the next few moves. However, your teacher will now know that you had trouble understanding move nine and focus his or her explanation of the next few moves around your question. As a student, you have to let your teacher know when you’re having difficulty understanding something.

One idea that helps both student and teacher is to clarify your questions. Rather than ask a vague question, try to ask a question that gets to the heart of the matter. If move seven of a specific opening for White makes no sense to you, ask the question “why did White move the c pawn to c3 (for example) on move seven?” This is a clear question that can be addressed by the teacher as opposed to saying “I’m not sure about that c pawn move.” Clear questions get clear answers. If the teacher’s answer doesn’t make sense, ask them to explain it again. I have no problem with going over a position a few times with my students and appreciate the fact that they obviously want to understand the lesson being taught!

If you’re a self learner, you probably work with books and DVDs. While you can’t ask the author of a book or lecturer on a DVD questions, you can write questions down on a piece of paper while reading the book or watching the DVD. This is important! Too often, we read a chess book or watch a chess DVD, think of a question and then forget about it later on. As you read the book or watch the DVD, jot down every question that comes to mind. Often, with good authors and lecturers, the question is answered soon after you’ve written it down. However, there are times when it may not be addressed. If this happens, try to find an answer to question elsewhere, such as online. Then go back and reread or re-watch the section where your question first came up. Of course, this means you’ll take longer to complete your studies but you’ll be far more knowledgeable by doing so. We have access to huge world of chess information and can use it to our advantage if we ask simply ask questions. Asking questions is the key to truly understanding a subject and by asking questions, your understanding of the subject will be greatly improved. Remember, no one masters a subject without dedication and hard work. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week.

Hugh Patterson


Amateur Versus Master – Game Five

This game is from the final round of the 2011 Golden Knights Correspondence Chess Championship. Because John and I agreed to email our moves to each other instead of using snail mail, this game finished well ahead of the other ones in this section. The rest of my games in this section are still in the openings or are transitioning to the middle games.

John is the lowest rated opponent that I have in this section. I lost playing the Black side of the Benko Gambit. This loss, combined with a few other ones, has convinced me to stop playing the Benko Gambit in correspondence chess. I used to win whenever my opponent fully accepted my gambit. Lately, I have been losing whenever White shoves that passed pawn down my a file!

I am the only non master in this section. Therefore, I have no delusions of grandeur about winning this section. I am simply trying to get an even score and this loss will not help me any.

On move number 6 I decided to change up my usual move order because I was hoping to confuse my opponent and thus gain a psychological advantage. This almost worked. John did get confused a little, but I lost anyway.

Whenever White allows Black to capture the Bishop that is on f1 White gives up the right to castle. This is where Black gets his compensation for the sacrificed pawn. I am no longer able to keep my advantage in this variation.

Black completes his basic development on move number 11 and then White begins his assault by moving that passed a pawn down my throat. I still need to find Black’s best reply to that.

By move  number 14 Black is  bringing his rooks and knights over to the Queenside to launch his counter attack. White is going to break open the Center.

On move  number 15 White anchors a Knight on b5 and this Knight creates problems for me for quite a while afterwards.

Looking back at move number 16, I now doubt that trading my fianchettoed Bishop on c3 was the best move for Black. Allowing White to get a pawn on c4 created many problems for me. From move number 21 on Black is losing.

Mike Serovey


Back to Basics: Mere Development

There have already been many articles here at The Chess Improver on the importance of timely and harmonious development in the opening as vital principles for obtaining a decent game. I recently played a game that I thought was a thematic illustration of simply developing all the way to victory.

My opponent as Black played a dubious “Knight on the rim” opening idea that I’d never faced before. I simply developed normally and by move 11 already had a lead in development and a better Pawn structure. In the absence of early tactical tricks and advantageous Pawn structures, a lead in development is a big deal in chess. After move 11, White has three minor pieces out, and the Queen and two Rooks have obvious places to be developed at will without any barrier. Contrast this situation with Black’s: Black has only two minor pieces out, and although one Rook is “developed”, in reality it is in a position of weakness where it can be attacked easily. And worst of all, the Queen side is not only not developed, but also it is not clear how and when it can be: the light-squared Bishop cannot emerge without at least first making a Pawn move to free it.

Black’s 11th move, a Pawn move did open up the way for development of the light-squared Bishop, but White developed the Queen. Black’s terrible 12th move just blocked it back in, as well as weakened the d6 Pawn. The game is already lost at this point. White already had enough forces developed to immediately begin winning material, by developing a Rook to back up the Queen. After White’s 13th move, let’s do some counting:

  • White has 5 developed pieces: Knight, two Bishops, Queen, Rook.
  • Black has 3 developed pieces: Knight, Bishop, Rook.

After Black lost an exchange, White continued developing. After move 24:

  • White has 3 developed pieces: Queen, two Rooks.
  • Black has 1 developed piece: Queen (the Queen side Rook and Bishop are still at home).

Here I somewhat slacked in my conversion to a win. Objectively I could have prevented Black from developing the final two pieces and gone for mate against the King, but instead, I chose a slow plan of advancing my passed e-Pawn. This plan allowed Black to develop the final two pieces, albeit very passively and defensively, but it was a simple way to squeeze to the point of being able to force a trivially winning ending. But the ending never happened, because Black simply blundered a Bishop away.

The annotated game

Franklin Chen


Five Basic Weaknesses

In Hinduism we have an expression that we should try to overcome certain human weaknesses. Here my intention is not to start a spiritual debate but rather show you how this also applies to chess when you are serious about improving.

Attachment: It is something like you’re playing what you like rather than what position requires. For example a person who loves attack on king will sometimes try to launch an attack when it is inappropriate. If I talk about myself, I prefer endgames, and because of this attachment I have missed many opportunities to launch a winning attack on the enemy king.

Anger: This is related to emotional instability and we all know that a person with unstable emotions can react badly. So I think there is no need to discuss this further.

Fear: This works on all levels. For example if you are going to play match against a stronger player there are more chances that you start playing with some fear rather than playing naturally. How many of us have had this feeling? Probably everyone. But the best way to proceed is to treat your opponent as an opponent rather than IM, GM or super GM. I mean to say that it’s best not to overestimate your opponent.

Greed: There are many examples where even GMs get greedy, and amateurs do this quite often.

Pride: Here it is closely connected with arrogance. Again, rather than giving the example of someone else suffering from this, I will start with myself. I lost so many games against weaker opponents because I took them casually. So don’t underestimate your opponent.

I’m going to ignore ‘lust’ as I can’t correlate it with chess. But what are the solutions? Pranayam, meditation and yoga all fall under the solution list but if you want to dig deeper you may find my other article interesting as we often ignore basics.

Ashvin Chauhan


What To Do About Gambits

Speedy development is often worth the investment of a pawn in the opening. Examples include the Smith-Morra Gambit of the Sicilian 1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Nxc3 when White has a very promising initiative for the pawn that often brings dividends. Devotees of this line can become highly attuned to its nuances. If that is the case you have to ask yourself as Black whether taking them on in their most familiar territory is the most intelligent thing to do. You might decide it is better to avoid it than to try to refute it. Even if you like spending many an hour with opening books, there is no substitute for hours of practice playing the line over and over again – which White will of course be doing. Perhaps Smith-Morra Gamiters’ would find the Caro-Kann or the French Defence, or something else, really annoying. If so, play that against them! It is wise to get your opponent out of their familiar territory.

This is the sort of thing that can be considered if you know your opponent and you’re playing them in an over-the-board game. Of course, if someone plays a gambit against you in a correspondence game and you are allowed to use software for help, then that is a different matter. For example, silicon monsters nowadays are less impressed with the Smith-Morra than we humans are. Below is one of my own correspondence games against a line of the Smith-Morra that I would have found difficult to play against over-the-board. But, with assistance from HIARCS, I found it easier to deal with. It takes a long time, but eventually White’s initiative dissipates and then it is all about whether Black can convert the ending. The knight and pawns ending was particularly pleasant to play for Black. If you would like to play some correspondence chess online, try FICGS – The Free Internet Correspondence Games Server.

Angus James