Game#42 – Defensive chess – art form or science?

Defensive chess

Offensive vs. defensive chess

Some players will attack at all costs. They forego piece development or king safety and launch an all out assault on their opponents king. That is the kind of opponent I faced in this game.

Other players prefer defensive chess. They develop their pieces in such a way that they wait for their opponent to come at them. I often call this the “porcupine defense’. The player curls up in a ball, extends his quills, and invites his opponent to attack him.

Defensive chess is needed to stop an attack but there are times when you misread your opponents intentions – you make a move that wasn’t needed and suddenly, your position is worse. Too much defense can lead to passive play allowing your opponent to get the upper hand. If you don’t defend well, you will lose. If you concentrate too much on defense, you miss opportunities to win. Such is the story of this next game.

Fritz S. – Paul H.
Symmetrical English [A35]
3 mins 2 secs

Post-game analysis

Develop first, attack second. There are times when your opponent blunders in the opening and needs to be punished. Exceptions like this are rare but they do happen. You might find yourself pushing a pawn two or even three times in a row, a clear violation of what we are taught, but necessary to win material.

Unless you see a situation like this, always err on the side of development. In this game, you saw my hesitancy to play 9…b6. Instead I opted for 9…Nf5 which led to some problems later on. Mistakes are not always easy to find but they need to be addressed. So, early in the opening, if you are faced with the option to attack or develop, choose the latter. Good development will usually help you overcome attacking oversights you make in a game. This is the connection of defensive chess to piece development. The more pieces you have developed, the more defensive moves are available to you.

Be proactive. We often hear the word prophylaxis used in chess quite a bit. Prophylaxis can play a big role in defensive chess because it prevents attacking ideas that your opponent may or may not see. In this game, the move 19…Kf7 is a good example of this. I am getting my king to a safer square, guarding my g6 pawn while also threatening the idea of Rh8. This is a proactive move that doesn’t stop any single threat but it limits the options my opponent would have in continuing his attack.

defensive chess after 19...Kf7
19…Kf7 was an idea worth pursuing

Checkmate is not always the goal. Everyone loves to deliver checkmate but not every chess position allows for that luxury. Instead, we have to recognize and accept the fact that winning a game might come down to the capture of a single pawn. This in turn leads to an overwhelming advantage your opponent cannot defend. The move 21…fe4 would have led to threats of d3-d2 winning a full piece. This idea showed itself in multiple lines but I was so focused on attacking the enemy king, I completely missed it. If you learn to play better defensive chess, you will see weaknesses in your opponent’s position faster and realize storming your opponents’ king position is not always the primary goal.


Physical and mental stamina are important attributes for a chess player to have. While I consider myself in excellent physical shape, I am susceptible to mental lapses and frustrations. After my loss, I sat down to look at the mistakes I made and founds that I had several opportunities to equalize. Defensive chess is important but understand what you are defending first. Don’t give up. Your opponent is not Stockfish – he or she will not play perfect chess. We saw that in this game. Therefore, always look to seize the initiative by trading off pieces, blocking squares or sacrificing material. Had I done that, I would have had a better chess outcome.