KindredSpirit’s Kaleidoscope: Defence in Chess And Use of the Square Count Theory

Chess is war; it beautifies the landscape within the 64-squares where it has been treated by the giants and lesser knights of chess as art with musical like delight that encompass both a struggle –a fight– and science.  It is perhaps found to be champion of literary works since it has for a long time been considered the most written about of any man-made following.  But herein lies a magical wonderment! Reading tons of literature and game play in books and magazines, I noticed from earliest times, the chess public interest in attack with brilliantly sharp sacrifices usually terminating in gold coins being tossed to the victor by onlookers.  The early chess delights gave little attention to defence against a numerous barrage of opening sacrifices that carried various Gambit names until the arrival of post-civil war era players, W. Steinitz and Emmanuel Lasker, who raised the bar to show that defence was as much a vital role as attack.  It always was.  It simply did not get the proper recognition. A deep respect and understanding of the defence role in chess was seen in the play and writings of numerous world champions and exponents of the modern era. It has taken its rightful place beside attack in the opening realm of literature and practice.

The role of the attacker and defender, if a color pattern was used (say Green for attacker and Red for defender), would probably show a terrain of about equal square coverage of the respective territories under control. Practice usually shows the White forces having a favorable spatial edge and count in the early opening stage, even into the middle game, and historically is called the initiative.  Here, the role of the defender must be to decide upon the type of defensive structure to combat the enemy incursion.

The physical nature of the position can change rapidly and may well alter the appraisal of the position and equally that of square count.

Lets define methods of defence as being:

  1. To minimize the incursion achieved by the aggressor;
  2. To hopefully at some stage turn the tables;
  3. To understand that the danger of defensive chess play is losing;
  4. To recognize that it usually takes a flawed plan and number of miscues to lose so always try to find the best in any position;
  5. To guard and protect square weaknesses in the position;
  6. To utilize the principle of imbalance toward creating counterattacking opportunities when vying for a win;
  7. To utilize the principle of balance toward securing equality.

The rule in successful chess play is having fun which comes from attack and mating an opponent.  That enlightening experience is great but the real effect of defence is aiming for improvement. The study of lost games is a long tested positive. In time, you will learn that defence is not dull but invigorating ideas for creating planned operations of defense and counterattack.  Just to excite you about the power of good defence, I now give you a game…………..

                                White:  Neikirkh            Black:  Mikhail Botvinnik        Opening:  Sicilian Defence      Leipzig 1960

1. e4  c5  2. Nf3  Nc6  3. d4  cxd4.

Botvinnik adopts the Sicilian Defence and already using,  knowingly or not my point thinking from move 1 that should White advance d4, he will trade pawns and establish an extra pawn in the central files d/e while creating a half-open c-file that might be used to build up Q-side pressure and dominate the c-file with a Rook and possibly a Queen.  Book play to be sure but thinking out its logic puts your mind on the purpose with the nuts and bolts finding not routine as annotations might suggest to you but eye on critical thinking and where this gives you a ready-made plan of operations for the future. Your moves and plan have a purpose.

4. Nxd4  Nf6  5. Nc3  d6  6. Bc4  e6  7. Bb3  Be7  8. O-O  O-O  9. Kh1?!

This wholly defensive move seems out-of-place because for the moment it is not necessary,  and he could better continue with say, 9.f4. In effect, White has given up his extra edge of having the lst move.

9. … Na5

Botvinnik strikes at the Bishop, gets the Knight out-of-the-way of an exchange and prepares to play the jump move ideas of ….b6,  ….Bb7, ….Nxb3.

11. e5  Ne8!

Capturing the e-pawn would be a mistake because it would open up the center and create a half-open f-file.  Attack requires open lines is our maxim.

12. Rf3!

White finds a clever retort to Black’s plan.  Now, if 12. … Bb7 13. Rh3  Nxb3  14. Qh5! h6  15. Nxb3.

This justifies it seems White’s strategy.  So, it is time to say that things don’t always prove out with the best laid plans.  The scientific master of chess, Mikhail Botvinnik, had to put on his thinking cap!  He spots the weak link in his strategic plan.  The Bishop tempo move actually loses steam because of White’s attack having the dominate aggression of a King Hunt. This is an example where square count on the surface is wrong; but is it?

12. …. Nxb3  13. Nc6.

White sets his eye on the undefended c6 square. He reasons he can win the e7 Bishop for the Knight which he deems a worthwhile exchange since obviously he breaks up the Bishop-pair, known to be favored by his opponent.

13. …Qd7  14. Nxe7+  Qxe7  15. axb3  f6!

Play the position!!  Botvinnik doesn’t worry about not having the Bishop-pair because he sees that his own minor pieces will dominate the Board.

16. exd6  Nxd6  17. Rd3  Nc4  18. Ra4  Qe8  19. Ne4  b5  20. Ra5  Bb7 21. Nd6.

Not 21. Nf5 Bxg2+!)

21… Nxd6  22. Rxd6  Rd8  23. Qd2 Rxd6  24. Qxd6  Qd8 25. Qxe6+ Rf7   26. Qe1 Re7  White Resigns.

Note the power of square count merely took a slightly different course with the same results.

This illustration of using critical thought from the very  lst move should give you a better and practical understanding using principles and exercising your mental faculties rather than just playing by rote book moves. In chess, the plan from move one as I illustrated from this Grandmaster game gives the player using it the edge whether playing the White or Black pieces.  In studying the openings from books, it is good to use this same feature as it helps to keep the essence of the opening goal in sight and lays the groundwork toward a better chance of success entering the middle game.

A number of rich descriptions for defensive tactical strategies has enriched the defence establishment. I am sure I shall miss some colorful gems  that describe the defence and include attack motifs. By now you can probably see examples arising regularly as part of the literary examples of such theory. The struggle between the active and passive pawn structures  and Piece mobilization; Blocked positions; Capablanca was famous for play on both the Kingside and Queenside by timely transfer of Rooks from one sector to the other; The acceptance or decline of a sacrifice; Zwischzug is a chess term meaning an in-between move where the expected course of play is altered by a surprise and unexpected move; where a sacrifice is met by a counter sacrifice.

You have to remember that pawn grabbing is a two-way street.  It may work to win a pawn or two only to find the loss of tempo or tempi can offset such bargains if square count can be gained to the degree setting fire to the nature of the position.  A famous story goes that New York 1927 tournament game  between Frank Marshall and Vidmar found embarrassment by none other than Alexander Alekhine who wrote the tournament book on the game. He pointed out that Vidmar could have taken a gift pawn but declined to do so on several different settings which Alekhine proved would have given Black a won game. When both Marshall and Vidmar were shown the analysis and win of material, neither Marshall nor Vidmar could give an answer. Pawn snatching remains almost a taboo among masters.  Bobby Fischer was famous for accepting such a loose pawn as was Larry Evans. “After all, a pawn is a pawn!” Fischer came away with buttering his knife in many contests.

In forming square count as both theory and having practical application in both selection of a plan, move or idea using my jump moves I find, if used properly, is quite reliable.  A second feature is the chance to map a game graphically that accurately shows the various states of position as being equal or a plus or negative.  I found using a graph every five moves or so is a good reference but any can be applied.  Often it can tell the student, coach or parent the progress of home study and training.

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