The Counterattack

Defense is a very important aspect of chess and even more so at the higher level of chess. Just because something went wrong or things look scary doesn’t mean a chess player should collapse. In this article, I’ll be talking about a key part of defense, counterattacks.

Counterattacks counter attacks (well, duh…). They follow the saying “the best defense is a good offense” which is obviously overgeneralized for picky people like chess players. However, counterattacks can be a handy defense when you think “normal” measures won’t do the trick. First, I should talk about defending against attacks in general.

Rule 1 of defense: Don’t panic (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy reference intended)

Don’t let your brain freeze up just because you’re under attack. You need to be able to calculate and think straight. You need to trust yourself. Do not overestimate your opponent’s chances. The fact that he is attacking doesn’t mean that there is any real danger.

Rule 2 of defense: Don’t panic

Really, don’t. Ok, now that we’ve covered that, there a couple things I should add.

Rule 3: Don’t go passive

Don’t curl up into a ball to survive an attack, metaphorically speaking. Try to defend against the attack actively. Feel free to counterattack. Of course, sometimes you need to be passive, but unnecessary passivity can be fatal. This is basically the point of this article.

Rule 4: Don’t be afraid to bail out

There’s nothing wrong with saying something along the lines of “My opponent’s attack is dangerous, and I’ll give back some material to get into a worse endgame that I may be able to hold.” That’s totally fine! But that does not mean that you should bail out against every little wimpy attack.

Dumb example: if your opponent is “attacking” you with 1.e4 e5 2.Qh5, that kind of thinking could be used to play 2… Nf6 3.Qxe5+ Qe7 so that you get the queens off and “defend a pawn down endgame”. No, no, no! You should have a concrete reason for bailing out, not just “I’m scared”.

Onto some examples…

Playing with fire

In the following game, I was under fire. Instead of calling the fire department, I started my own little blaze. Though what I did was not objectively correct, it was practical…

Brodsky, David (2388 USCF) – Aldama, Dionisio (2517 USCF) World Open 2016

Aldama 1

I had just won a piece, but black has serious compensation… he has two pawns, the white king is shaky, and white is a bit tied up with the pin on the d-file. However, black is not immediately threatening Red8 because of Qe3, counterattacking the white knight, and Nxf3 would fail to Qf4. However, black has ideas of sacrificing even more material with ideas of Rxd6 Qxd6 and Qf5 and harassing the white king.

Asking my silicon friend what it thinks about this position was quite entertaining… it gives white a little edge (maybe 0.4 or 0.5), though its top moves include the awe-inspiring 25.Rab1! (there’s actually a point behind it). Anyway, I decided to play with fire myself by going 25.Nxf7!? Rxf7 26.Re1!

Aldama 2

I’m not interested in taking the exchange, since black just gets free play. Instead, I’m pinning black up, and I’m considering going f4 or Nc4. Unfortunately, objectively, this entire thing is a draw 😢.

The game went 26… Ree7 (unpinning on the e-file) 27.f4 c4 28.Nxc4

Aldama 4

Here is where IM Aldama went wrong by playing 28… Bxc4?. After 29.Bxc4 Nxc4 30.Qd8+ white grabs the exchange, and black doesn’t have sufficient compensation. White is just much better, and I went on to win.

The correct move was 28… Nxc4!. After 29.Qd8+ Kh7 30.Rxe7 c5 31.Bxc4

Aldama 3

Black has enough to make a perpetual check. There are two ways: 31… Bb7+ 32.Rxb7 Qe4+ 33.Kg1 Qe3+, or the fancier 31… Bxc4 32.Re8 Rf8! 33.Rxf8 Qe4+, with the same perpetual check.

What’s the moral of the story there? Instead of curling into a ball, I started a counterattack myself and managed to bamboozle my opponent. I went for an active choice instead of a passive choice because I felt it was right. What I did wasn’t objectively correct, but it did the trick in practice. It was a weird and complicated position, but hey, who said that chess is easy?

My ultimate counterattack

This game goes into my all-time records. After an unusual opening, I won a piece, but had no development. You’ll see for yourself…

Brodsky, David (2449 USCF) – Jacobson, Brandon (2392 USCF) Marshall FIDE Weekend Feb. 2017

Brandon 4

Yeah, I had a point… White is a piece up, but his kingside is undeveloped. How to develop it? Err, ehm, eh… [insert coughing noise]. The details are unclear.

Black’s best continuation is 15… Rhe8! 16.e3 Na2. After 17.Ra1 Nxc3 18.Qg4+, it looks like black is just losing his queen because the mate on d1 is prevented. However, black has 18… Bd7!, and if 19.Qc4+ black goes back with 19… Bc6. That is just a repetition, and white can go 19.Rxa5 Bxg4, though he technically doesn’t have any advantage in the endgame.

Instead, Brandon played 15… Na2? 16.b4! (this is practically forced) 16… Nxb4

Brandon 5

Black’s attack looks very promising, but white has an incredible idea that saves the day… honestly, if I were to choose a best move from my entire career, I’d probably choose this one. Now, try to solve it! Here’s how the game ended.

What’s the moral of this one? Had I lost this one, it would have probably served as a horror movie shown to beginners to illustrate the importance of development… I’m half joking, but seriously, I could have easily lost in the confusion. However, I kept a clear head and managed to launch a deadly counterattack with my 17th move.

Being under attack isn’t the end of the world, not even the end of your game. For all you know the attack may be completely benign. Don’t panic and calculate. Many attacking games are won not because the attack was fatal to start with, but because the defender made a mistake. Try not to be one of these fatalities.

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