To defend in chess it’s helpful to eliminate the opponent’s active pieces, limit their options, implement premature defenses, look for counter-attacks, and eliminate any back rank weaknesses.
Defending in chess can be a problematic task that requires a certain level of advanced visualization. It is so hard in fact that a lot of players treat defense as much more harder task than offense. Hence the quote “It is easier to attack than defend”.
A someone who have been playing for years I can tell that there is some truth to this. Mostly because defensive moves are much more subtle (less obvious) than attacking moves.
This is why most players have trouble finding moves during defense than attacks, but there are actually ways to defend better in chess. This guide is long due and I will be talking about some of my favorite tips in putting up a nice defense.
I am going to talk about it in this article. To get started, here are the tips to properly defense in chess:
1.) Limit your opponent’s options
When we are trying to defend our position we often forget that attacks themselves can be complicated too removing them from the equation.
This is a mindset that needed to be changed when viewing chess defense, you need to make it so that there are lesser attacking moves that can be played.
You need to limit the options (opportunities) where the opponent can go for the attack just like this one:
The queen on b7 and bishop on c6 makes a battery that threatens the king’s pawn at g2 (although it is defended at the moment) which could have a potential combination.
The Knight on g6 can also jump to h4 to increase the pressure on the g2 pawn that may lead to something.
White can choose to ignore the threat at this point but instead pushes pawn f2 to f3 just to limit Black’s ideas.
2.) Block the position
Blocked positions always have lesser chances to have an opening that can be used for attacks.
This is why blocking (mostly with the pawn) can be extremely useful to prevent further attacking probabilities.
The attacking player will have to find a way around the blockade first before going in with their plan:
This is actually a position I have against a chess.com member (username: Petroffski) where I have implemented this idea.
I am to move here, and I can choose to have the rook on b5 to capture pawn b3 with check (which is actually complicated and I don’t have much time) but instead pushed pawn h7 to h6.
I completely block my King’s position and him being low on time decided to capture my rook which leads to a forced checkmate (look for it on your own).
3.) Make premature defenses
Premature defenses are safeguards to an opponent’s attack before they even have the time to attempt it.
This again can be a useful tool to intimidate the other color from further aggression:
Here white threatens to push the h4 pawn to h5, which will open the rank for White’s h-rook that can be potentially used for attacks.
Black can choose to ignore this threat (which will make the game a little bit complex) or to just prevent the push altogether by playing pawn h7 to h5.
These block the position from being somewhat aggressive and remain positional (black can even castle here safely).
4.) Exchange opponent’s active pieces
Pieces are what most likely be doing any aggressive play for the attacking player which you should exchange if given the chance.
This would limit a given attack’s opportunities to make any feasible combination:
As you can see here black’s c3 knight is extremely active in comparison to white’s d1 knight laying really cool in its outpost.
Letting that Knight stay on such a well-developed tile can give it the freedom to make complications.
Instead white should choose to exchange the dormant d3 knight who has a questionable future in order to neutralize such possibilities.
5.) Simplify to neutralize the attack
Simplifying generally refers to exchanging pieces in general (despite the activity) to limit attacking chances that could occur on the board.
This generally happens in positions where one side’s king is much more exposed in the other:
Here both sides have their attacking opportunities, but white’s king is much more vulnerable to tactics since it is in the open (although black is vulnerable too).
White exchanged his f4 knight for black’s e3 which could possibly jump to the g5 square and pile on the weak h3 pawn.
By removing the Knights the position was simplified and in fact white is even better here since most of the pieces will be attacking the g7 pawn.
6.) Move away from pins and skewer
Pin and skewer generally refer to a time where a bishop attacks a piece with another behind, such can lead to losing material when not being careful.
A pinned piece cannot move since the one at the back will get attacked (it’s basically paralyzed) and this could lead to problems:
Here white’s bishop at b5 prevents the Knight at c6 from moving since the black queen will be attacked (hence it is pinned).
White is threatening to push the d4 pawn to d5 (which attacks the Knight) therefore making the Knight fall.
Black can remove the pin by shifting the Queen at d7 to e7 attacking the g5 knight with tempo which can allow the black Knight to move afterward (although white would probably snatch a pawn here, figure out why).
7.) Check the King’s vulnerabilities
In order to defend from attacks we need to learn who is the main target that we need to actually defend, which is obviously the king.
Just by simply watching the weaknesses in the king’s position would allow us to prevent unstoppable threats:
Here the black bishop at c7 obviously resides in a very strong diagonal that can potentially spell danger which white ignored.
This allows the queen from e7 to transfer at d6 making a deadly battery that cannot be stopped crushing white’s position.
There are a variety of moves that could’ve prevented this dilemma (specifically queen moves) if only white paid attention to the king’s vulnerability.
8.) Eliminate back rank weaknesses
Back rank weaknesses refer to the vulnerability of a castled king where any rook check can have a potential checkmate.
This fragility in the position paralyzes some pieces to keep defending the king:
The black rook from b8 attacks the White Queen from b3 where any move will result in checkmate or severe material loss.
The possible capture of the white rook at b1 just eliminates any hopes of white continuing the game (since the back rank is weak).
If there are any breathing spaces the King can turn into the white knight at c3 could just block at b5 (here the rook can sacrifice since it will lead to a back rank checkmate).
9.) Look for threats
Whenever you’re defending the attacking player will most likely make as many threats as possible which is your role to identify.
By looking at the opponent pieces’ placements you could easily nullify danger before it even occurred:
This is a chess.com match I have against username: incinerator that has greatly demonstrated this principle (I am white here though and is attacking).
The doubled white rooks on the g-file along with the about to be active bishop at c3 propose a massive threat that could lay waste on the weak g7 pawn.
My opponent here chooses to push pawn f7 to f6 limiting the influence of about to be active white bishop and adding further protection to the knight at g5.
10.) Avoid hanging pieces
Before you immediately hang your head from me making such a simple advice (to avoid hanging pieces) this may not be what you think.
There are lot of ways to hang a piece without necessarily transferring them to an undefended tile:
Here is one example, the knight on h4 is protected by the pawn at g3 which makes it a defended piece visually (although it is not).
The pawn on g3 is actually pinned from moving by the queen on g6 (it cannot move since the King will get exposed) therefore making the defense imaginary.
The rook from h8 can actually capture the whole knight which is the same as not being defended at all (hanging a piece may not be as specifically defined).
11.) Look for perpetual checks
Perpetual checks are exactly what they sound like, checks that are continuous which eventually leads to a draw.
This is a useful way to defend a fairly losing position that would have been doomed otherwise:
White here has an absolutely winning position adding to the threat of checkmate at the vulnerable g7 pawn.
Black here fortunately has the e1 and h4 squares to check the king indefinitely leading to the so called “perpetual check”.
The white king can ever only go to the g1 and h2 tiles being unable to free from the grasp of the black queen therefore resulting in a draw.
12.) Make a counterattack
If we’re talking about defending as a broad term for dealing with offensive pursuits by the opponent then counter-attacking is fair advice I can make.
This is the place where the phrase “the best defense is a good offense” come into play which is applicable in few situations (although not always):
This is an opening called the “fried liver attack” where the white knight from g5 along with bishop at c4 piles up on the weak f7 pawn.
There are obviously many ways to defend against this but one of the striking ones is the black bishop from f8 to c5 (called Traxler counter-attack).
Black’s idea is to counter-sacrifice at white pawn in f2 (using the bishop to c5) which completely demonstrates the art of counter-attacking.
13.) Sacrifice when necessary
Chess is not only a material game but also largely a positional one, especially when defending in a losing position.
Sometimes it really is necessary to sacrifice a piece or two just to prevent things from crumbling. Here is a game between Liublinsky (White) and former world champion Botvinnik (Black):
Ok, you might argue that there are no apparent attacks underway at the moment but white definitely has more offensive opportunities than black.
The doubled black pawn at c5 and c6 are really weak plus the one at a5 and e5 does not look promising either. Black would likely get stuck defending those for the rest of the game.
Instead the rook on d8 was brought to d4 sacrificing the exchange but gaining a solid connected passed pawn for it enough to hold the position to a draw (the position above although seem equal is actually really horrible for Black).
Defense is a necessary element of any competition since you will have to prevent an opponent from reaching their own goals.
At chess in particular this usually is a skill that is later developed as a player acquire more experience and intuition to deal with the attacks.
These are just the patterns that I’ve noticed that keeps occuring which may help shorten your learning curve.
Get happy defending. Sleep well and play chess.