18 May 2024

Mastery Concept: Tactical Defense

Periodically I'll post what I have identified over time as key ideas at the board that distinguish Master-level chess from amateur level; they are collected in the sidebar in Mastery Concepts: Amateur vs. Master. Today's is the concept of Tactical Defense.

The fundmental idea behind "mastery concepts" is that they often do not occur at all to non-masters, but can be seen often in master-level chess. Sometimes we have the illusion that every possibility can be seen and calculated at the board, which is simply not the case. If you do not already have the idea in your mind - which also can be described as recognition of a pattern for a possible move - then the candidate move or necessary sequence is unlikely to even be considered as part of your thinking process.

Tactical defense of a piece means that your opponent cannot capture it, without suffering a heavier loss in return. This concept allows a player to effectively ignore an opponent's threat to a piece and do something else on the board. In terms of the thinking process, this means you are free to consider choices beyond physically protecting or moving the attacked piece - the most basic and "normal" candidate moves. This concept can be particularly crucial as part of an attacking sequence, or perhaps can simply allow for better positional play. As in the first example below, it may also mean you can consider moving a piece to where it is technically "en prise" but it cannot in fact be taken without consequences.

Naturally the best way to start identifying and absorbing concepts is to see examples of it in action. Below are several games that illustrate this type of play, mostly master-level but including one from my own game analysis.

Included in My Best Games by Victor Korchnoi, Game 100 (move 18) 

[Event "Muenster Masters op"] [Site "Muenster"] [Date "1996.??.??"] [Round "6"] [White "Kupreichik, Viktor D"] [Black "Kortschnoj, Viktor Lvovich"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C02"] [WhiteElo "2510"] [BlackElo "2635"] [Annotator "carlo"] [PlyCount "134"] [GameId "284824192668"] [EventDate "1996.10.14"] [EventType "swiss"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "GER"] [SourceTitle "CBM 055 Extra"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "1997.01.01"] [SourceVersion "1"] [SourceVersionDate "1997.01.01"] [SourceQuality "1"] 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. c3 Qb6 5. Nf3 Nc6 6. Be2 Nh6 7. b3 cxd4 8. cxd4 Nf5 9. Bb2 Bd7 10. g4 Nfe7 11. Nc3 h5 12. Na4 Qd8 13. g5 Ng6 14. Qd2 Rc8 15. Rc1 Bb4 16. Bc3 Ba3 17. Rb1 Be7 18. Nb2 Nh4 19. Rg1 (19. Nxh4 Bxg5) 19... Nxf3+ 20. Bxf3 Qb6 21. Na4 Qc7 22. Be2 b5 23. Bxb5 Nxe5 24. Bxd7+ Nxd7 25. f4 O-O 26. Ke2 Bd6 27. Rbf1 Rfe8 28. Bb4 Bxb4 29. Qxb4 Qc2+ 30. Qd2 Qe4+ 31. Kd1 e5 32. fxe5 Nxe5 33. Nc3 Rxc3 34. Qxc3 Nd3 35. Kc2 Nb4+ 36. Kb2 Qe2+ 37. Kb1 Qxa2+ 38. Kc1 Nd3+ 39. Qxd3 Rc8+ 40. Kd1 Qa1+ 41. Ke2 Qb2+ 42. Qd2 Rc2 43. Rd1 Qxb3 44. g6 fxg6 45. Rxg6 Rxd2+ 46. Rxd2 Qh3 47. Ke1 Qf5 48. Rgg2 a5 49. Ke2 Qe4+ 50. Kf1 h4 51. Kg1 a4 52. Rge2 Qg4+ 53. Kf1 Kh7 54. Rf2 Qe4 55. Kg1 h3 56. Rfe2 Qg4+ 57. Kf2 Qf4+ 58. Ke1 Qf3 59. Kd1 Qc3 60. Ke1 g5 61. Kf2 Kg6 62. Re6+ Kf5 63. Ree2 a3 64. Kf1 Kg4 65. Kf2 Kf4 66. Kg1 Qc1+ 67. Kf2 Qh1 0-1

Included in Grandmaster Performance by Lyev Polugaevsky, Game 43 (move 19)

[Event "URS-ch45 Final"] [Site "Leningrad"] [Date "1977.12.08"] [Round "7"] [White "Bagirov, Vladimir"] [Black "Polugaevsky, Lev"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D32"] [WhiteElo "2480"] [BlackElo "2620"] [Annotator "carlo"] [PlyCount "76"] [GameId "272191901158"] [EventDate "1977.11.29"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "15"] [EventCountry "URS"] [EventCategory "12"] [SourceTitle "URS-ch"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "1999.07.01"] [SourceVersion "1"] [SourceVersionDate "1999.07.01"] [SourceQuality "1"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. Nf3 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nc6 5. Nc3 e6 6. e3 d5 7. cxd5 exd5 8. Be2 Bd6 9. O-O O-O 10. Bf3 Be5 11. Nxc6 bxc6 12. Bd2 Qd6 13. g3 Bh3 14. Bg2 Bxg2 15. Kxg2 c5 16. f4 Bxc3 17. Bxc3 Ne4 18. Qf3 Rfe8 19. Rfd1 Qb6 20. Rac1 (20. Rxd5 Nxc3 21. bxc3 Qb2+) 20... Rad8 21. Rc2 d4 22. exd4 cxd4 23. Be1 Qa6 24. Qb3 h5 25. Qc4 Qb7 26. Qc6 Qe7 27. Ba5 Rd6 28. Qc7 Qe6 29. Qc4 Rd5 30. Bb4 a5 31. Ba3 h4 32. Qc6 h3+ 33. Kg1 d3 34. Qxe6 Rxe6 35. Rc8+ Kh7 36. f5 Ree5 37. Rc4 d2 38. b4 Nc3 0-1

Kramnik - Fridman, Dortmund 2013 (move 31)

Krush - Eswaran, U.S. Women's Championship 2014 (move 35)

Paikidze - Melekhina, U.S. Women's Championship 2015 (move 29) 

Annotated Game #98: An Attacking Slav (move 21)

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