In the game of chess, there is a certain feel about who is attacking and who is being attacked. Sometimes we can find ourselves in a position where we have worked up an attack, but can feel it slipping away. Our opponent gains more and more activity while we gain less and less activity, and pretty quickly the initiative has changed and you are the one playing defense. Here we are going to look at a real life example on how to keep this from happening by thinking in terms of keeping the pressure on your opponent, and we’ll see what happens when this pressure causes our opponent to start making mistakes.
Our example game starts off in the French Defense opening with the moves 1. e4 e6, 2. d4 d5. The French Defense is normally characterized by a closed-off center that turns into a slow maneuvering game, but white plays the Exchange Variation with 3. exd5 exd5, 4. Nf3 Nf6 which makes the game open with a lot of space for an attacking game. From here there are passive options like Bd3 or c3, but white keeps the pressure on black by challenging the black center with 4. c4, and black responds with c6.
Here we can see a common theme of what happens when we keep the pressure on our opponent, even as early as move 5. The positions of black and white are completely symmetrical except for the c-pawn, and that pawn’s position creates a world of difference. Black’s mobility is greatly hindered by having the pawn on c6, while white’s mobility has actually been helped with his pawn on c4. Because of his activity, white has a greater mobility and more space, which gives him a clear advantage at this point in the game.
Both sides continue developing their pieces with the logical 6. Nc3 Bb4, 7. Bd3 0-0, 8. 0-0 and then black plays Bxc3, followed by white taking back with 9. bxc3. Black’s dark-squared bishop was one of his most active pieces, and he traded it off to try to make more space for his other pieces, which is a direct result of the cramped black position. White’s pressure in the early opening has led to the advantage of having the two bishops, both of which are pointing over to the black king-side.
Black continues with 9. … Be6, 10. cxd5 Nxd5 and white stays with the theme of keeping on the pressure with 11. Qc2 h6, 12. Ne5 Nd7. Notice all of white’s moves now somehow increase his influence on black’s king-side. There’s nothing going on that wastes time which would allow black to create his own threats. White pushes on with 13. f4 Nxe5, 14. dxe5. It’s tempting to want to play fxe5 here since it creates a pretty pawn chain in the center, but then it’s hard to see how to continue the attack and keep the pressure on black. With dxe5, the threat of white pushing his pawn from f4 to f5 while keeping black’s pieces at bay is devastating.
Black throws in 14. … Qb6+, 15. Kh1 Rad8. Black could have tried Ne6, but after Bxe6 Qxe6, Rf3 white is keeping the pressure on and threatens to bring his queen-side rook all the way over to the king-side while black has traded off another defensive piece and has to waste time moving his queen back out of harm’s way. White keeps the pressure on yet again with 16. f5 Bc8, 17. Bxh6 a bishop sacrifice that’s made possible by all of the pressure against black’s kingside and black’s lack of pressure of his own.
Black tries with 17. … Ne3 but this time white has a stronger counter with 18. Qd2 which put pressure on the knight at e3 instead of immediately alleviating the pressure with something like Bxe3. This move also forces checkmate if black goes for Nxf1, which he did. After 19. Qg5 g6, 20. Qf6 black has no way to prevent Qg7 with checkmate on the next move.
What you should take away from this game is that black’s downward spiral started with a simple pawn move c7 to c6 on move 5, which all but directly led to victory from white all because white kept on the pressure and didn’t allow black room to breathe. Under this pressure, black made a number of small mistakes which allowed white’s pressure to grow stronger and stronger, under black made a bigger mistake and was crushed.