Topic 27 (Intermediate) – The Opening: Defending against a Faster Opponent


In this exciting follow-up to Topic 26, I’ll be explaining some common opening ideas that many players seem to struggle with. Mainly I’ll be explaining some strategies for what to do when your opponent plays his pawns forward faster than you.


The main annoyance when facing a faster opponent is that he has the option of pushing all his pawns into your position, locking things up. 


For instance, here is a recommended! opening position from Newgen’s Strategy Guide:

Here black played his pawn forward first and was thus able to lock things up with pawn to e4.



Here’s what Nestrellov said about this position in Newgen’s guide:


          Many find this annoying and do not know how to react.”—Nestrellov


It’s true. It is annoying to spot your opponent a good position straight out of the opening! If your opponent plays his pawn faster than you, you cannot provide your opponent a hole in which to push that pawn. Why would you allow your opponent to lock up the board, to his advantage, when you don’t have to?


Fortunately, if you simply follow the opening guidelines I established in Topic 3, your opponent will be at a disadvantage if he tries to advance his pawns similarly, because they’ll be


Overextended Pawns


Pawns become overextended when they advance too far and can no longer be adequately protected from attack. Let’s look at some examples to show what I’m talking about:



This is the same opening we studied in Topic 26, with the difference that this time black moved faster, and therefore has the opportunity to push his pawns into white’s territory. Because he has no pawn holes (in the middle of a V pawn structure) white has nothing to fear from a black pawn advance:


Oh no! Black tries to lock things up. Misery and despair!



The key idea is that white can attack these advanced pawns with his own pawns and pieces (he couldn’t due to the V formation in the Newgen’s guide example), and black cannot protect them sufficiently. A sample attack:


Reader: Wait a minute!. White advances his pawn to e4??? Haven’t you been telling us that’s a bad move for 26 straight Topics?


Devilant: Yes! But it’s a good move now for tactical reasons because it attacks black’s overextended pawns! This is a similar idea to the flank attack from last Topic.



So the important move is e4, which seems to go against everything I’ve ever said before in the guide!


Yes, white is weakening his pawn structure and granting black the d4 square for a knight, but this move is so tactically strong that the disadvantages are outweighed by the strong attack he gets on black’s pawns!



Black has two options to capture the g4 pawn.


Option 1: Recapture with the h pawn.


Now we see the value of the e4 move. White snags a free pawn!


Thanks to the knight block, black is unable to defend his g4 pawn from white’s attack. It was overextended.



Option 2: Recapture with the f pawn.


This leaves black’s g and h pawns extremely weak and ripe for attack. For example, white is immediately threatening:


Another attack where white throws a knight in the way, blocking black from defending the advanced pawns. This is a common idea for combinations against overextended pawns.



Black is facing a strong attack right out of the opening no matter which pawn he captures with. White is hardly “annoyed” by this turn of events!


Attacking opportunities abound whenever your opponent overextends his pawns. As we just saw, the key ingredients for a successful counterattack on the advanced pawns are:

1)   Attack the most advanced pawn with your own pawn.

2)   Attack the supporting pawns with your own pawns (even at the cost of a worse pawn structure!).

3)   Block the opponent’s pieces from defending the pawns.

4)   Win some pawns!


How about another example?


Same deal, black is faster and decides to push his pawns:


This time I also added in the wrinkle of the knight supporting the advanced pawns. We’ll see how to deal with this shortly.


White is already attacking the most advanced pawn and a supporting pawn, so black has walked right into ingredients (1) and (2). White can (and should) attack the other supporting pawn as well, via a flank attack:



Now the plan is to block or remove the defenders of these overextended pawns and snatch them up with a combination attack.


White’s knight will stop black’s bishop from moving to c5, after white plays b5!



b5! Black’s knight is forced to abandon its defense of the pawns.


Nd5! White throws a knight in the way to stop black from defending the d4 pawn.



Black is toast as soon as he moves his knight.


And finally, the pawn-winning combination!



White gobbles up the overextended pawns. Game over.


Finally, a quick look at an opening position from a game I played:


CloudCA vs. Devilant Rated Standard Game (May 2003)

CloudCA was faster than me in the opening… and pushed all of his pawns!





Unfortunately for CloudCA, his pawns are, of course, overextended. You should be able to figure out the correct strategy now… attack the supporting pawns, block white’s pieces from defending, and win some pawns. Nothing to it.


f5! Attacking the supporting e4 pawn. Next comes a flank attack, attacking the other supporting pawn.



Flank attack! White’s d5 pawn is running low on defenders! See Topic 26 for more flank attack goodness.



Two blocks are needed!



Black wins the d5 pawn, and the game.


That’s what you get when you overextend your pawns!


Game over. White pushed his pawns too far and couldn’t defend them.


Hopefully Topics 26 and 27 have clued you in on some opening strategies and tactics that you didn’t already know. Obviously you’ll almost never encounter these exact positions in your games, but you should be able to recognize where you can apply these ideas to similar opening positions now that I’ve explained the basics. Good luck!


PS. These last two topics have been written and sitting on my hard drive for years. I’ve been saving them because I didn’t want everyone to start playing the flanked center against me all the time! =)