Andrew Soltis


Andrew Soltis has chosen a very difficult subject for his latest book. As he explains in the Introduction the need for this book came about when he was scanning an earlier book he had authored - "The Art of Defence in Chess" written in 1974.  He then realized that the art of defence had moved forward in keeping with the modern age.  Defensive techniques had significantly changed and the methods he had written about in 1974 had been placed on the back burner in favour of what may be described as dynamic defence.  When picking up this new book published by Batsford, it should be realised that this is not a second edition of the 1974 book, but it  is a complete and studious examination of new techniques. 

The very first example given in the book of the nature of this change is pertinent to an understanding of of Soltis' thesis as a whole and is given in his review of the 1974 book:

"The book was drastically out of date.  This has to be completely re-written, I thought.

Out of date?  A book about defence?

Yes, because much of what I wrote - about the virtues of solid but passive defence, for instance - makes little sense nowadays.  It would fail against today's attacking players.  They think differently from those of 30-plus years ago.


Naiditsch - Svidler

Dortmund 2004

Black to play


In 1974, the year I wrote "The Art of Defence in Chess", this would have been considered a favourable position for White, a plus-over-equals advantage, at least.

White has a substantial advantage in space. Black has failed to execute any of the freeing moves, such as ....b5 or ...d5, that he needs to survive in this Maroczy Bind pawn structure. White will eventually fin a winning plan, such as with Re3, Ng5, Rh3 and a breakthrough around h7.

And White's attack would likely have succeeded if Black played in the manner that served so well for much of the 20th century, with cautious moves such as ....Nf8 to protect h7 and to avert 2,e5? because of 2....Bxf3 3,gxf3 dxe5 and ....Qxd3.

But today most masters would prefer to play Black, particularly after ....1. ... Qa8!

White to play

Why?  Because we realise now that White's space advantage, in this and similar positions, is vastly overrated.  And we see Black has a powerful plan of 2.....Rfc8 and 3. ...Rxc4! 4.Bxc4 Rxc4.  That trumps anything White can do on the kingside.

But you can't sacrifice in even positions, can you?  That's what 1974 would say if it could speak.

Yes you can, we say today.  black would have one pawn for the Exchange and powerful pressure on the e4-pawn as compensation after 4. ....Rxc4.

In fact White retreated 2.Qh3 (!) to anticipate threats along the a8-g2 diagonal.  He was no longer acting as an attacker.  He was beginning to think like a defender.  Black continued to think like a counter-aggressor with 2.Rec8.

In the next diagram, 3.Ng5 would try to take Black's attention away from ....Rxc4.  It would offer good practical chances after 3. ....h6 4.Nxf7! Kxf7 5.ef for example.


White to play

What should Black do after 3.Ng5?.  Here's where the solid 3. ....Nf8! makes sense and would put the pressure back on White.

In the game, White chose 3.e5 instead of 3.Ng5.  But 3 .....dxe5 4.fxe5 Nh5 would threaten ....Bxf3/....Nxe5.  If White defends with 5.Be2 it would be time for 5....Rxc4! 6.Bxc4 Rxc4 Black would have the upper hand in view of 7....Bxf3 and 7....Nf4.

Instead, play went 3.e5 dxe5 4.Nxe5 and then 4....Nxe5 5.fxe5 Nd7.  There is only one way to protect the e5-pawn, 6.Bf4 "


Black to play.

Soltis continues his analysis but we feel that he has made his point that there is a new approach to chess that needs to be examined.  For the sake of completeness we give the concluding moves to this example.  6....Rxc4! 7.Bxc4 Rxc4 8.Qg3 h5 9.Ne2? Nxe5 10.Bxc4 Nxc4 11.h4 Q8 12.Bg5 Qd7 13.Nf4 e5! 14.Nd3 Qd5 15.Nf2 Nd6 16.Rd1 Ne4! and White resigned.

Having established that there is such a thing as new defence, the theme is developed further under the following chapter headings:  (we have used the American version of "Defence" as per the book)

Chapter One What is Defense?
Chapter Two The Spirit of Defense
Chapter Three New Defense
Chapter Four Weapons of Defense
Chapter Five Counterplay
Chapter Six Risk Management
Chapter Seven Sacrifice
Chapter Eight Prophylaxis
Chapter Nine You Against Tal
Chapter Ten Last Chance to Defend
an then as various exercises are sprinkled throughout the book:  

It is important to understand when studying these concepts of defence, that Soltis is not suggesting that the theme(s) are new, rather that the treatment of the themes has changed.  For example, the use of prophylaxis as a defence weapon is not a new concept, it has been known and practiced since the Steinitz era, but the purpose of applying prophylactic techniques has been developed.  Also prophylaxis is not a theme complete in itself, in the modern age it is a stage of the game before counterplay comes into being.  This concept can be seen in the example given (Anand - Ivanchuk).

A subject that has not received a good airing by chess authors is the weapons used in defensive techniques.  Soltis goes a long way to repair this omission by devoting an entire chapter to it.  Among the themes he examines are dead pawns, trading into an endgame, confusing enemy pieces, relieving pressure/pins an reinforcing.  Of course, chessplayers have been aware of such themes for a long time and the use of these as weapons are not entirely new. Modern play has not brought as new dimension to these techniques but they are used in the overall concept of "New Defence".  The classification of these weapons may be new, mainly because there has been little attention drawn to them up to now.  As an example, o you know what a dead pawn is, and its role in defensive methods.  Here is an example that Soltis uses to bring attention to this technique  (Geller - Spassky).

Is there a need for such a book?  After all, there has always been a need for defensive play and a knowledge of defensive techniques has always been essential to a chess player whether ancient or modern.  But, as Soltis clearly shows, there has been a difference in approach and purpose adopted by modern players in much the same way as there is a modern approach to opening play.  In essence the change that has occurred  brings to the fore dynamic rather than passive defence, and the need for this to be known supports the need for such a book.  In a way, Soltis is rather lucky in that he can describe such a phenomena against the background of his previous excursion into defensive methods.  Indeed, the current book does for defence what John Watson's "Modern Chess Strategy" did for the middlegame.

An understanding of such matters is essential for the active chessplayer of today, and a study of this material will undoubtedly benefit the results of such a player.

Batsford have performed to their usual professional standards in producing this volume of 229 pages, presenting Soltis' work in single column format, clearly laid out with many diagrams and described in internationally acceptable figurine notation. Soltis makes use of substantially textual explanations rather than profuse annotations, which is mercifully a modern trend in chess authorship.  We are not being bombarded with pages of analysis when a few well chosen words give a more succinct and understandable account of proceedings..

This book, which slots into the club player, strategy/tactics section of Batsford's categorisation is available at a recommended price of £15.99, is a must for the chess enthusiast seeking to improve his play and results.

Bill Frost

August 2014