In Defense of Lost Causes: The Theory of Infinite Resistance

Jonathon Rowson, a Scottish grandmaster and Ivy league philosphy student, opened my eyes to a concept known as “The Theory of Infinite Resistance,” best defined here. Basically, the concept is that a player who reaches an inferior position should be able to draw with perfect play, and shouldn’t resign merely because he feels his position is worse because the game isn’t over until checkmate. Churchill’s “we shall fight them on the beaches” speech comes to mind. In any case, from the point of view of a class player, this concept is extraordinarily helpful, since many of us tend to compound bad moves with worse ones, taking an “all or nothing” approach to a position after a blunder. Naturally, two wrongs don’t make a right, and nowhere is this more true than in chess. So, the idea of “infinite resistence” is a crucial one to have in your back pocket, because it enables you to change the nature of the way you approach a game after making a mistake, and recalibrate your thinking to equate a draw with “winning.” This change in perspective will help you find the best defenses, and most importantly to enjoy the process of defending.

There are a number of themes that are helpful to keep in mind in your fight for a draw, such as perpetual check, stalemate, and fortresses. Another common theme is for a player to compensate for lost pawns with piece activity. This is particularly true in rook and pawn endings, such as the third position in this post.

In the following game, the rook and pawn ending that emerges looks absolutely hopeless for black. And yet, he is miraculously able to compensate for this with rook activity and mate threats. Infinite resistance prevails in a contest of mind over material.

In the following game, Eric Schiller finds himself in an absolutely helpless situation, in which he is practically forced to sacrifice a rook in order to maintain positional control over sensitive squares. Then, he manages to orchestrate a magnificent defense, culminating in allowing his opponent to queen and then drawing with a perpetual check.

Naturally, no discussion of saving lost positions would be complete without a game by the master of swindle, Emanuel Lasker. In the following game, we see Lasker on the ropes momentarily, though once his opponent misses his opportunity, lasker’s counter attack is forcing and decisive.