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

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About Franklin Chen

Franklin Chen is a United States Chess Federation National Master. Outside his work as a software developer, he also teaches chess and is a member of the Pittsburgh Chess Club in Pennsylvania, USA. He began playing in chess tournaments at age 10 when his father started playing in them himself but retired after five years, taking two decades off until returning to chess as an adult at age 35 in order to continue improving where he left off. He won his first adult chess tournaments including the 2006 PA State Game/29 and Action Chess Championships, and finally achieved the US National Master title at age 45. He is dedicated to the process of continual improvement, and is fascinated by the practical psychology and philosophy of human competition and personal self-mastery. Franklin has a blog about software development, The Conscientious Programmer and a personal blog where he writes about everything else, including his recent journey as an adult improver in playing music.