I'm going to surprise our readership today with not only a serious-minded post, but one about one of the most difficult things in chess - defence. Furthermore, I'll even suggest how we might improve our defensive capabilities. But first...
... place yourself in the black player's seat, in the position to the left with you to move.
It's a serious league game, and you know your team mates are struggling: your result might well prove crucial. As for you- you have twenty minutes left on your clock for the rest of the game. It's been an uncomfortable, uneven affair, your lower-graded opponent smoking out your king at the cost of material for the last ten moves. He's now a rook down - but has a clear and immediate threat of mate in two, beginning 35.Qh5+.
Which move do you choose to play?
Which variations do you analyze & how do you evaluate them?
And how much time on the clock does it cost you?
I'll return to the position at the end of this post, but for now consider the question as to why is defence in chess so difficult. Firstly, I'd like to suggest, there are undoubtedly psychological elements involved. The spectre of defeat looms over our thoughts, there's the embarrassment of potentially being on the receiving end of a brilliancy, there's the sheer instinctive, extreme discomfort that comes of facing someone out to kill us, or so we feel.
But there are more intrinsic chess reasons involved too. One defensive slip & we're mated, no matter how many previously perfect moves we've made. But for an attacker, several inaccurate moves in a row may merely lessen their initiative, rather that dissolve it or cost the game. Many unsound attacks win games through the sheer will to get at the opponent's king & the confusion thus caused. So many attempted-defences fail due to one seemingly-random oversight. This is the nature of chess for humans; the scales are tilted in the attacker's favour. (If you're not convinced, consider how many games have you won with sterling defence, compared to those won through attacks, traps, strategical superiority, positional understanding, endgame knowledge, or - just plain luck during complications? How many can you recall seeing won through defence at club level?)
So, what can non-professional, ordinary club players such as myself do about it? Many things no doubt, but I wish to suggest just one right now as most important. Remember that Botvinnik used to play seven hour training games with a radio playing, surrounded by cigars, to get used to the distractions that often accompanied playing conditions back then? Remember that Rowson says in his two books on chess improvement how crucial it is that we practice concentration? I suggest that to improve our defensive capabilities, we simulate over-the-board defending at home.
There are several ways we might do this. Play a risky opening against Fritz, except do it with a proper set and a proper clock, all phones switched to off. And make it the only chess thing you do that day, so you simulate too the bitter taste of defeat that comes with a failed defence. Or set up positions that featured famous defensive victories, such as Petrosian's, & play those out against a strong computer - but again, setting them up on the board with the clock ticking. Or play out such defensive positions against club-mates. Or finally, try out moments such as the above one from practical club play yourself, similar to that which you might encounter at the board, and measure yourself against what actually happened & what should have actually happened.
Speaking of which, how did you get on with the above position? If you played 34... Rg8, then you made the same mistake my 2221 Elo/195 ECF graded opponent made during the game, after which it's a draw: 35. Qh5+ Kg7 36. Rg4+ Kf8 37. Qh6+ Ke7 38. Qf6+ etc. Instead, there is a tightrope walk to a win that starts with 34...Rb1+ 35.Kh2 Qc1. Here I had thought at the board that 36.Rf4 at the least saved me, and as we analyzed in the postmortem it seemed that way too: 36...Qh1+ 37.Kg3 Rg8 37. Rxf7+ Kh8 38.Rf8. The 'we' I mention includes not only my opponent but three other very strong amateur chess players, incidentally, and this we all missed that now after 38... Rb3+ 39.f3 Rxf3+!, it's all over for white. As for other moves at the diagram - 34...Rb4 draws as does 34...Qa1+ with the correct follow up; the others lose.
If you analyzed all of that- congratulations, and you don't need to practice defence, after all! But, if not, well...