If you look for the best chess players in history there is one that you can notice, many of them have very different playing styles but they still get the results that made them the best.
Aggressive and Defensive are the two main playing styles in chess (although if we dig down there are many playing styles and not just these two). Which one is better than the other? That is what I am going to answer today.
As for what worked for me, here is what I can say:
Playing defensively is better than playing aggressively. Strong chess engines and supergrandmasters play defensively nowadays. Playing aggressively can work, but it is risky. If the opponent can defend well, winning is much harder for the aggressive player. Playing defensively is better.
If I am going to be honest I didn’t really think much about this when I was just learning, however, I recognize that this discussion is important. This topic is pretty interesting, I would love to shared my opinion on it.
Without further ado, let’s get started.
Beginners in chess should play more defensively
If you have read some of my blog posts on this website then you would know that I generally advise beginners to play positionally and not aggressively, people improve significantly faster this way.
Chess in its pure essence after all is a strategic game (defensive).
While I do agree that there are attacking opportunities that players should take throughout the game, most of those positions wouldn’t be possible without a good strategic plan.
Everything has to be set up in order for attacks to happen in the first place, beginners need to embrace this mentality in order to unlock their full potential.
For beginners it is beneficial to learn chess in a defensive manner, most people who only learned how to play are too aggressive. Most moves in chess are positional moves, in order to create a good attacking game subtle quiet moves are still necessary.
There is a reason why many elite just games usually and in a draw come out this is because most of the most at the trouble or defensive rather than offensive.
Even chess players renowned for their creativity and attacking awareness (such as Dubov, Nepomniachtchi, Firouzja, etc.) play defensively in most of their moves. A beginner should learn how to play defensively before they have any right to attack.
A sacrifice or pawn gambit cannot be reversed after all, beginners should hold on to material until they have developed a good tactical strength.
This also teaches patience to beginners which is crucial in a chess game and allows them to think long-term with little chance of blundering.
In chess, players should only play aggressively if they can win games
In chess there is something called a playing style, this is the type of game that a particular player excels in.
Some people are going to be more in tune with an aggressive playstyle while others with a defensive playstyle, it can be different from individual to individual.
People can shift their strategy (offensive or defensive) for a specific game, but most people would have a main playing style that would be present in the majority of their games.
I would say that you should determine which kind of playing style you have and only shift to one over the other depending on your results.
Try playing aggressively, does it win you games? Do you feel more comfortable with it? Are you excited every time you sacrifice a piece/pawn or tend to regret it later? These questions are necessary in order to determine your playing style.
I advise you to only play aggressively if it actually wins you games, aggressive play styles in chess are usually inconsistent so winning is a good sign that it is for you.
Many defensive chess players force attacks on their games because they want to be the magician of chess like Mikhail Tal, what they don’t know however is this is not their preferred playing style.
They try to play aggressively even though a defensive strategic plan is the best for them.
Attacking is not for everyone, if a player notices that there is a good conversion rate on games where they have been aggressive they should keep on doing that.
Aggressive play style in chess is better against strong opponents
There is such a thing as a playing style in chess, however, it cannot be denied that there are certain circumstances where competitors have to shift their strategy in order to win games. One of those instances is when they are facing a stronger opponent.
If you try to play defensively against a significantly stronger player it usually wouldn’t end very well, they are likely to outplay you in the middlegame/endgame. If you play clean the stronger player will emerge victorious as it should be.
However one of the things that could put the stack in your favor are complications, when the chessboard has a lot of potential destinations people tend to be confused on which path to take.
It doesn’t matter if they are stronger rating-wise, people tend to struggle more in a complicated position where there are lots of options than a quiet one. The only way you can introduce complications on the board is if you play aggressively.
Playing aggressively is good against opponents who are stronger than you, people that are highly rated are usually hard to beat positionally.
Many strong players have been taken down by some weaker competitors just because there are complications over the board.
Defensive play style in chess is better against weaker opponents
Now it is recommended to play aggressively against stronger opponents, then what would be the best approach against weaker opponents? It is actually the opposite, it is best to play defensively against weaker opponents.
If the position is dry and there are not a lot of options to be made, the stronger player of the two is likely to make the best move one after the other.
Since there are not a lot of complications over the board, the weaker player doesn’t have as many win conditions and is likely to be outplayed.
This is why you should play defensively against significantly weaker opponents, just maintain your advantage throughout the middlegame and endgame and you are likely to win as the position matures.
It is also better to just wait and not take as many chances when you are the stronger player, just play defensively and let the weaker player blunder or make mistakes on their own.
If you were playing against an opponent who is weaker than you it is better to play defensively and wait for the time to strike.
If you’re really the better player you can easily beat someone in a simple middlegame/endgame, complications will only be in their favor.
To summarize things up, there is no cut and dry answer to which is the better playing style between an aggressive style or a defensive one.
Both the aggressive and defensive playstyle can be an optimal approach depending on who uses it, world champions have been on extreme ends of both.
It is better to play aggressively against stronger opponents to force complications, while it is better to play defensively against weaker opponents.
It really depends on the circumstances and the preference of the player, forcing a particular play style when it is not meant to be is not a good idea.
As in most things in life it is important to look for compatibility, you should only play aggressively if you are getting results in such a playstyle (and vice versa).
Learn more about yourself and what you are comfortable with, this is the best way to identify if you should play aggressively or defensively. That is all, thank you for reading.