The Campbell Report

The following article was originally written for a state chess magazine but was never submitted for publication.

Defensive Resources in Chess

By J. Franklin Campbell

All chess competitors have had to deal with difficult games. Indeed, there are games where you seem practically lost but your opponent hasn't yet quite demonstrated the win. You can have two reactions to this kind of position: accept that you are lost and either resign or just play on listlessly; or take up the challenge of finding counterplay and defensive resources. The number of defensive resources discovered by a hard-working competitor can be surprising. Following is a difficult postal chess game I played against a highly-rated APCT opponent. I'll use this game to demonstrate a number of defensive resources.

J. Franklin Campbell (2226) vs. Robert Domanski (2306)
1992 APCT Championship
Semi-Final - Section 92 RS-7

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Nbd7 5.cxd5 exd5 6.e3 c6 7.Bd3 Bd6 8.Qc2 Nf8 9.Nge2 Ng6 10.Ng3 0-0 11.Nh5 Be7 12.Nxf6+ Bxf6 13.Bxf6 Qxf6 14.h4 Re8 15.h5 Nf8 16.0-0-0

Uhlmann gives this as a slight edge to White in ECO.

16...Bd7 17.Kb1 Re7 18.Rdg1 h6 19.g4 Rae8 20.Nd1 Ne6 21.f4

White is trying to open up Black's Kingside, but now Black initiates a remarkable plan that elevates this game into a fantastic struggle and completely changes the character of the game.

|    r k |
|pp brpp |
|  p nq p|
|   p   P|
|   P PP |
|   BP   |
|PPQ     |
| K N  RR|

21...Nxf4! 22.exf4 Qxd4 23.f5

White retains a slight material edge at the cost of locking up the pawns. Note that the next K-side pawn move is almost 30 moves later.

23...f6 24.Qc3

One method used to slow down an opponent's initiative is to trade off some material. The defender can often take advantage of the attacker's reluctance to exchange material by offering a choice between exchanging and moving a piece to a less effective square. This can be a very powerful defensive technique!

24...Qf4 25.Qc1 Qf3 26.Qd2

The Black Rooks must be kept off the first couple of ranks.

26...c5 27.Rh2 d4 28.Rf2

The attacker's Queen must be removed from the heart of White's position. The Queen was in a position to support the Rooks' invasion of the second rank, support a central pawn push, and attack the weak K-side pawns. Always try to force your opponent to move well posted pieces to less effective positions.

28...Qc6 29.Re2

The Black Rooks doubled on the e-file are extremely powerful. This exchange dilutes this strength. Black has the initiative but only has two pawns for the piece. The more pieces traded off the less powerful the attack. And White's small material advantage becomes more significant with each exchange.

29...Rxe2 30.Bxe2 b5 31.Nf2 c4

Black is being very skillful in restricting the squares open to White's pieces. White must find a way to post his pieces on good squares.


The Black pawns must be restrained. Here White threatens to eliminate the pawn threat with Bxc4 followed by Qxd4.

32...Qd5 33.Bf1 Bc6 34.Re1 Rxe1+ 35.Qxe1 Qe5!

|      k |
|p     p |
|  b  p p|
| p  qP P|
|  pp  P |
|        |
|PP   N  |
| K  QB  |

Black makes White pay dearly for simplifying the material. Now Black obtains a powerful central pawn mass. One slip and he drives the pawns down White's throat.

36.Qxe5 fxe5 37.b3

In general, when a player has more pawns it is best to avoid pawn exchanges. White attempts to narrow the pawn threat to one pawn mass in the middle of the board to cut down on Black's options. Of course, 37. ... c3 38. Bd3 would solve a lot of problems for White.

37...Bd5 38.a4 a6 39.Kc1 Kf7 40.bxc4 bxc4

White had played his King to c1 with the thought of 41. Ne4 Bxe4 42. Bxc4+ and 43. Bxa6. However, if Black plays 42. ... Ke7 and defends against an a-pawn advance by White it looks hopeless for White. Note that it is important to play tough defense. This is not the time to gamble that the opponent will blunder. Instead it's time to look for every possible resource to aid in the defense. Black's three connected passed pawns look powerful, but at any moment White may be able to exchange a piece for pawns.


|        |
|p    kp |
|P      p|
|   bpP P|
|  pp  P |
|        |
|     N  |
|  K  B  |

This is an important moment for the defense. By this move White has created a weakness that the attacker must watch. The White pawn is safe from attack by the Black Bishop. The Black a-pawn can become a target for White allowing him to create his own passed pawn. When defending, it's important to find some way to deflect your opponent from his plan. After this move he can no longer concentrate solely on his attack but must also defend his own weakness.

41...Kf6 42.Nh3 d3 43.Kd2 Bf3 44.Nf2

White threatens to give up a Knight for two central pawns and expose the a-pawn to attack by Nxd3.

44...e4 45.Ke3 Ke5

|        |
|      p |
|p      p|
|P   kP P|
|  p p P |
|   pKb  |
|     N  |
|     B  |

This is a good time to carefully examine the defensive possibilities in the position (see the above diagram). (1) A timely sacrifice of a piece can eliminate the dangerous Black pawn mass. (2) If left to themselves, the White pawns on the K-side can create a passed pawn by the advance g5 followed by f6 or h6 if Black captures or gxh6 if he doesn't. (3) The weak Black a-pawn presents possibilities for creating a White passed pawn. (4) If White can remove the other five pawns (even at the cost of all of his pawns and pieces), the Black Bishop is on the wrong color to force a Queen with his a-pawn. All these factors are important. When defending you should take advantage of every possibility you can find. And then you can make effective long-range plans accordingly.


I was very tempted at this point to play 46. g5. However, I decided to reserve this move for later, after resolving other issues. Besides, g5 looked more dangerous if Black moved his King further away, say by ... Kd5. White defends the g-pawn with the Bishop to allow the Knight to move. White must keep the K-side pawns intact.

46...c3 [46...Kf6 47.Bf1] 47.Nxd3+ exd3 48.Kxd3 Kf4 49.Kxc3

[Finally, the central pawn mass is gone! Black couldn't make additional progress there so he used those pawns to drive White's King away from his K-side pawns. The position is much simpler now, so let's take stock again (see following diagram). If Black goes for the immediate win of White's pawns by 49. ... Bxg4 then 50. Bc1 wins the a-pawn and Black must scramble to avoid allowing White to Queen his pawn and win. In addition, if the Black pawns on g7 and h6 disappear then all White has to do to obtain a draw is to place his King on a1.

|        |
|      p |
|p      p|
|P    P P|
|     kP |
|  K  b B|
|        |
|        |


Black preserves his a-pawn to prevent counterplay. Now it looks like White's Bishop can be won by ... Kg3. However, that would allow g5. If White panicked and moved 50. Bg2? then his K-side pawns would fall.

50.Kd4 Bb5

I was having difficulty getting to sleep one night, so I decided to enjoy myself a bit by thinking about this game. It was then that I saw this move for the first time. Then I really couldn't go to sleep! For some reason I hadn't seen this possibility before but, as I find it difficult to visualize the board in my mind, I took a more systematic approach to looking for candidate moves for my opponent. Perhaps I should have simply gotten up and examined this move on a board. The point of this move is that it forces White to move (almost a zugswang position). I liked the defensive coverage of my King exactly where it was, preventing Black's Bishop from reaching the c4 and d3 squares.

However, the next day I found a good continuation. Perhaps I should recommend to you that you think about your games in bed at night to avoid missing important potential moves for your opponent!

51.Kd5 Kg3 52.g5

|        |
|      p |
|p      p|
|Pb K PPP|
|        |
|      kB|
|        |
|        |

Another important moment in the game has been reached. The defensive goal here is to eliminate the two Black pawns and move the King to the a1-square. But, another important lesson in defensive chess is to always watch for winning chances. Sometimes an over-anxious attacker will present opportunities to snatch a win instead of a draw. Tenacious defense often causes an opponent to overstep and to take chances. Be ready to shift your mindset from defense to offense when the opportunity arises!

52...Kxh3 53. f6 gxf6 54. gxh6! Bd3 55. Ke6 1/2-1/2

The last Black K-side pawn falls. Of course, 55...f5? 56. h7 and White wins.

The above game was a long, difficult defensive battle for White. There were many times when the game seemed headed for defeat. But, by adopting a tenacious defensive mindset and watching for every defensive resource, White was able to save a difficult game and achieve the draw. As Greg Conlon of Jenison, Michigan pointed out to me, "... a draw isn't a win, but sometimes there is a victory tucked away in a hard fought draw."

copyright © 1998 by J. Franklin Campbell. All rights are reserved.

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