How to survive in the violent world of chess

Only force rules. Force is the first law of Nature.1

Whatever the meaning of life and purpose of our existence may be, we know that we are to struggle throughout our lives against various forces. The only thing in life that matters is to win, win ugly if need be, but win. Success is the sole earthly judge, so some may use force and aggression against you to claim that win.

There is also “struggle on even terms between two brains called chess”2 where both sides attack and defend. They’re taking aggressive and violent actions against each other with use of force their men possess. To survive in all these battles of life requires, as well, forceful efforts to get free of restraint and resist attack.

Using force and counter-force is just two faces of the same coin. They are, like attack and defense, dual partners.

Symbolique Du Yi Jing Et Jeu D'echecs, by Pascal Vatinel

Making predictions about the future with I Ching (Yi Jing). Things are operating at the midpoint in the swing between yin (a yielding, nurturing force) and yang (an active, aggressive force) possibly giving STABILITY to your position through all changes and transformations your chess game may see.

To survive, to stay invincible, you need to resist force, parry attack. In fact, this requires more outstanding qualities than attack itself, and seems to be a more vital and trickier part of the equation.

“Invincibility lies in the defense, the possibility of victory in the attack.” — Sun Tzu, around 500 BC

So, what you first and foremost need is to protect yourself.3 It’s a fundamental requirement to sustaining life and seeing any possibility of victory. And how you can protect yourself? By wearing armor, built as an intricate structure of your chessmen and their interconnections. Actually, the word strategy originally meant constructing a strong structure able to resist force (like a building, or setting up your men on the battlefield).

Chess, and struggle in general, are therefore vitally concerned with building up and maintaining a formidable position. If its strength is still inadequate, one needs to improve it. If it is adequate, one may afford mounting attack. The way you act is dependent on the strength of your chess fortress. And, as you can see, attack and defense are just subordinate to the health of your position which shouldn’t offer “soft spots” or holes in the armor for the enemy to target.

But the question is, what can dramatically increase overall health of your position? Prevention! That is the highest law of strategy: seeing through, predicting and forestalling enemy’s plans. This is the best way of preventing the enemy from attempting to weaken and possibly destroy your fortifications. Your position should stay stable, firm and unharmed.

The key word here is stable (verb establish). It comes from Latin stabilis, standing firm.4

You should thus stay steadfast and maintain an unyielding and unwavering position, not becoming weaker despite all difficulties and pressure. Again, what can best make your position unshakable? Anticipating the enemy plans. Then using Prophylaxis. Which usually gives you enough time to reinforce holes in your armor to prevent whatever harmful is coming your way!

However, make no mistake, this doesn’t mean you play a defensive style. On the contrary, all this makes solid ground for tactical, attacking opportunities at some later point. Tactics doesn’t come out of thin air!

* * *

In the game below, Black threatened to occupy an open file which would be advantageous and improve the strength of his position overall. White held him back by a preventive queen move to stay unharmed by the threat and keep his position strong – he eventually won.


© 2013 iPlayoo!


1. Four fundamental forces rule the universe: gravity, the electromagnetic force and then two that act in and around the atomic nucleus, known as strong and weak.

2. Dr Emanuel Lasker, Struggle, New York 1907

3. Protect, a. to cover or shield from exposure, injury, damage, or destruction; to defend; 2. to maintain the status or integrity.

4. The overly inclusive Indo-European root is sta (=to stand). Greek στάση, stási̱,  Latin stare, English stand, German, stehen, Swedish stå, Spanish estar, Russian, stoyat, Serbo-Croatian stayati, Sanskrit vitiSThAte (sthA)

In some languages stand and its derivatives have also the meaning to be, to stay, to remain; for example, in Spanish, estar=be, in Serbo-Croatian, opstati=survive.

5. Mark Dvoretsky, Strategic Play (School of Chess Excellence, book 3) Edition Olms, 2002

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