What’s the secret to chess defense?

Would you like to know how strong chess players defend so well?

This is gonna be a very weird perspective on this subject…

First, we are going to turn to Chinese strategy for answers.

Then we’ll turn to artificial intelligence.

Sound intriguing?

Let’s begin…

There’s a slogan quite famous on the Chinese Mainland which is attributed to statesman Deng Xiaoping which roughly translated, states:

[pullquote align=”normal” cite=”Deng Xiaoping”]“Coolly observe, calmly deal with things, hold your position, hide your capacities, bide your time, accomplish things where possible.”[/pullquote]

He proposed this strategy (known as the “24 characters strategy” because he was able to sum up his entire plan in just 24 Chinese characters)  in 1990 (one year after dealing with the international backlash over the Tiananmen Square “incident”) as China’s strategy going forward and since then we have seen China quietly, but surely become a major international player.

chinese chess

Deng Xiao Ping in 1978

To a lot of people this ENORMOUS growth came from nowhere, but actually, it was all part of a grand strategy.

At that time China was still a poor country with collective farms and virtually the entire economy under state control.

His long-term plan (which took China and Chinese society from a poor country with many disadvantages and pressures to face, to the second largest economy in the world within a single generation!) was brilliant and reflects the inner workings of a Chinese genius.

Anyway…this is an interesting topic, but…

But How Does it Relate to Chess?


Give me your assessment of this position for instance.

toga checkov

Yesterday I posted the position above in a couple of chess groups I’m a member of here in China and asked for people’s opinions.

The result was almost complete agreement across all strength ranges (the weakest respondent was maybe 1200 and the strongest 2300+) strongly preferring white.

Given that (as we have learnt elsewhere on this blog) Stockfish 7 is enormously superior in strength to any human (and most engines) on the planet, I also asked him for the “truth” of the matter.

He responded:Yep, white’s got an an advantage, but he’s not winning yet“.

Stockfish 7

[Note: You might have noticed that even though Stockfish’s analysis is correct, in his mainline he is suggesting some space-age shit (black shuffles rooks to d8 then a8, white shuffles the bishop to f1 then a6…huh? 😐 ) that nobody could understand. Which is why I always suggest human-like engines, even if weaker by far than Stockfish!]

So let’s relate this to the art of Chess Defense

Toga Checkov is the chess engine which was playing the black side of this position against the very positional chess engine Hiarcs 8 Bareev (which I spoke about here).

True to his style Hiarcs has placed considerable positional pressure on Toga Checkov.

Let’s revisit the position…

toga checkov

White has created somewhat of a positional bind in the centre with this pawns, has a beautiful bishop which is completely unimpeded by his pawns and he has enormous pressure on the c-file (most notably the weak black pawn on c6) with his tripled heavy pieces bearing down.

Black on the other hand, has the weak pawn on c6 and a passive queen, knight and rook tied to the defense of this weakness.

How Should Black Handle Such a Difficult Position?

Well…we’ve stated that white holds the main trumps in the position and that black is defending passively, but are there any regions of the board that are potentially weak where black might be able to eventually get counterplay?

There nearly always is.

Chess Defense 2

White has potentially weak light-squares near his king.

Before continuing, let’s just remember the “24 Character Strategy” from the beginning of this post.

[pullquote align=”normal” cite=”Deng Xiaoping”]“Coolly observe, calmly deal with things, hold your position, hide your capacities, bide your time, accomplish things where possible.”[/pullquote]

Here is an example of how Toga’s (assuming he was human) internal monologue might have gone when considering his defence.

This is all assuming of course, that Toga was applying the “24 Character Strategy” to his defensive thinking.

  1. Cooly Observe: “Ok white has pressure on the c-file and the c6 pawn is weak. Cool, no problem…”
  2. Calmly Deal with Things, Hold Your Position: “Okay. I’ll need to keep my knight on e7 for the time being to defend my weak pawn on c6. He can only really attack c6 with four pieces, but I should be able to defend it with four pieces. Assuming there are no tactics involving b5 by white”
  3. Hide your Capacities, Bide your Time, Accomplish Things where Possible “Okay, so I’ve noticed that I have the potential at some point to attack the slightly weak white kingside. I’ll defend for now, and quietly try to get my pieces closer to his king. I don’t mind even giving the pawn on c6, If I can get some pieces over to that vacant region of the board. Better than grovelling all day. Yes, thats it. Maybe at some point I can provoke him to ‘win’ a pawn with a b5 advance and then when his pawn captures on c6 I’ll use it as a shield, tie HIM down to it and quickly swing my pieces to the kingside. He’ll think I’m just trying to surround the c6 pawn. Ok, here goes…”

Ok, so now let’s finally see how chess defensive strategy worked out in the game

 (continued from the diagram)

So there you go… 🙂

What an instructive and interesting game about chess defense, huh?.

I hope you learnt something about chess defense as well as learning an interesting bit of Chinese history as well. Hope you have understood what is chess defense.

It’s time for you to do some work now, my friend…

Gotta integrate this stuff, you know?  😉 

Action Steps:

  1. Download the PDF below of the ENTIRE Hiarcs 8 vs Toga Chekov game (Yep! You get to see the opening as well 😉 ).
  2. Print it out
  3. Set up your chessboard
  4. Study the game and when you reach the key moment after 19.b4, start following along with the example I gave on this page of black’s “inner monologue” (following the 24 character strategy).
  5. Take notes on the key ideas you’d like to remember, like a serious student would 😉 .
  6. Share this post with your chess friends (thanks in advance! 🙂 )

Download HIARCS 8 Bareev vs. Toga Checkov in PGN

Click here to Get the PGN file.