The Importance of Defense in Chess
By Susan Polgar
In the position above, white’s Rook and Knight work together well in creating a checkmate threat with Rxh7. How can Black defend against it? The solution is: 1…Nf3+ 2.Kg2 Ng5 and Black is out of danger.
Well, as always the first question that should be asked: What does our opponent want to do? In this case, what is White’s threat? If you look carefully at the position above, you will notice that White threatens with checkmate along the h-file. Let’s try to defend. Does 1…Ng6 defend against the checkmate? Yes, it does against Qh8, but does not against 2.Qh7 checkmate.
How about 1…Rfd8? It prepares the King’s escape with 2.Qh7+ Kf8 3.Qh8+ Ng8. However, the problem then is 2.Qh8 checkmate.
Maybe 1…f6 works as after either 2.Qh8 or 2.Qh7 Black’s King can run away to f7. But in this case White checkmates in two by 2.Be6+ Rf7 3.Qxf7 checkmate.
Therefore, the only correct answer is 1…f5! Now if 2.Qh8+ Kf7 3.Qh5+ Black runs away with g6 4.Qh7+ Ke8.
2.Qh7+ Kf7 3.Bh5+ Kf6. Now if White continues with 4.Rg3, Black can simply defend with 4…Rg8 but even more precise would be simplifying the position with the elegant sacrifice 4…Qxg3!! 5.hxg3 Rh8 (trapping the White Queen)
6.Qxh8 Rxh8 and Black is clearly winning, having an extra Rook.
Do you see what is White’s sneaky plan in the position above? The plan is to checkmate with Qxb7. So as Black, how would you defend against it?
If, 1…Qb6 then Black’s Knight remains unprotected and White can simply capture with 2.Qxe7.
How about blocking the threat with 1…c6? That seems to work except it allows the highly unpleasant pin by 2.Bf4! So what is the solution?
The right answer is: 1…Nc6! and Black is out of danger.
In the final position above, white’ main threat is Qh8 checkmate. Would 1…Kh6 solve the problem?
No, as after 2.Qh8 the King has no escape on g5.
Would 1…g5 work, freeing up the g6 square? Not quite, because after 2.Qf6, Black cannot properly defend against the upcoming Rh8 threat.
Therefore, the only correct solution is: 1…Be5! and if 2.Qg8+ Kh6 3.Qf8+ then 3…Bg7 saves the day.
Remember, if you are under attack, do not panic! Not every attack leads to checkmate if you defend correctly! And always look out for your opponent’s plan.
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– GM Susan Polgar