What is a Fortress in Chess?

Chess Basics
White setting up a fortress of knights and pawns against black king, pawn and queen.

This article might possibly contain affiliate links. If you decide to click on any of these links and make a purchase, we may receive a commission at no additional cost to you. Thanks for your support.

A fortress in chess refers to a defensive structure that’s difficult for your opponent to penetrate.

Essentially, it’s a position that protects your king and maintains control of key central squares.

Let’s see a very popular example:

Screenshot 2023 11 15 at 10.21.06
White to play

From first glance, White is absolutely lost. He’s two pawns down and the Black pawns are ready to roll down the board to queen.

But, what if we told you that there’s a crazy fortress here? Interesting, huh?

Let’s see it.

White starts with the move 1. Rh8+ checking the Black king 1…Rc8 Black is forced to block the check

Screenshot 2023 11 15 at 10.21.23
After 1…Rc8

2. Rxc8+ This is all part of the sequence 2…Kxc8

Screenshot 2023 11 15 at 10.21.34
After 2…Kxc8

With the rooks off the board, we’re still left with Black’s two fearsome pawns. Is there a fortress here?

Oh, yeah! White plays the amazing and bamboozling 3. Ba6!!

Screenshot 2023 11 15 at 10.37.44
After 3. Ba6!!

Wait. Isn’t White just sacrificing the bishop for nothing? Black can just capture it with a pawn.

Well, that’s exactly the point!

White is leveraging two weaknesses of Black simultaneously: The Black king on c8 and its ‘wrong bishop’.

Let’s start from the concept of the ‘wrong bishop’. It’s a common idea in chess that if your opponent has a rook pawn (pawn on the a- or h- files) and a bishop that can’t cover where the pawn is supposed to queen, it’s mostly a draw.

That’s because no matter what your opponent does, your king can always hide in the queening square since the bishop do not have access to that square. Any forced attempts to push the king away usually leads to stalemate.

This is what White envisioned when he played Ba6. The point is to convert both Black pawns into rook pawns since the Black light-squared bishop can’t control the dark queening square (a1) where White will find shelter in.

Screenshot 2023 11 15 at 10.22.53
White king finds refuge in a1 and surrounding squares

Can this always work in all similar positions? No, not at all.

Why did it work here? Because of the Black’s king position on c8. It’s too far from the queening square.

If Black could, he’ll try to avoid this idea by playing b6 or even b5. However, he can’t because the pawn is pinned by the bishop on a6. You see why playing Rh8+ and Rxc8 was such a great idea.

Now, it doesn’t even matter if Black ignores the bishop and plays Kb8. White still goes ahead with the idea and play Bxb7 forcing Black to be stuck with a rook pawn and wrong bishop.

A possible continuation might get here:

Screenshot 2023 11 15 at 10.23.40
White is completely safe on a1

And if Black pushes too hard, a stalemate happens.

Screenshot 2023 11 15 at 10.23.56
Stalemate. The game is a draw

By now, you should have a very solid grasp of fortresses in chess. It’s one of the most effective defensive techniques in chess.

The key is limiting the movement of your attacking pieces and controlling key central squares.

Here is another position:

Screenshot 2023 11 15 at 11.07.45
Black to play

In the position above, Black is clearly better, if not winning.

However, White has formed this impregnable fortress with the help of the two knights supporting each other and also the pawn on b4. The king also has a pawn c2 cover.

It all looks like this:

Screenshot 2023 11 15 at 11.11.43

The pieces support one another and control weak squares that Black can’t find an easy way to break in.

The best option for Black is to move its king to b5-c4-c3 but of course, White won’t just be watching. With checks from the knights, Black has no way of making good progress.

Concluding Thoughts

So far, the only way to build a fortress is to keep your pieces coordinated and look out for opportunities.

If you’re on the losing side, quickly look for a way to build a defensive wall. If you’re on the offensive, find every way to prevent your opponent from building a solid fortress.

It’s also good to know that most fortresses have their respective weaknesses and the ability to hold a fortress well depends on the defensive player’s strength.

For example, Super grandmaster Sergey Karjakin was nicknamed “Minister of Defense” during the 2016 world championship match with Carlsen due to his superb defensive skills.

Someone like that can easily hold off a king + rook vs king + queen endgame against a casual club player but the reverse is not the case.

Most chess players are not good defenders so they can’t even hold fortresses for a long time if they were able to create them. (Learn the art of good defense here)

So, what can you do?

You just have to probe patiently to find the cracks and create an opening. Don’t make rash moves, instead develop your pieces steadily with each move.

Do this long enough and your opponent might crack under pressure or misplay his best chances. To your success!

Was this helpful?   Share it with a friend :)
Chessforsharks Editorial Team


Our team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers and chess experts with combined 28 years of experience.

Follow ChessForSharks on social media
  • 7 reasons you lose at chess

    This is just placeholder text. It's just here to fill up space until we have real copy.

  • join the conversation

    Leave the first comment

    Work With Us

    We help chess brands create engaging and converting content
    We help innovative Chess brands and influencers create content that sparks engagement and drives revenue
    Content WritingContent PromotionContent StrategyContent Optimization

    Subscribe to our Newsletter

    Google reCaptcha: Invalid site key.

    Unlock your chess potential:

    Discover the '7 Reasons You Lose Your Chess Games' in this ebook and elevate your game!

    Google reCaptcha: Invalid site key.

    No spam, ever.

    Once we have your content finalized, we’ll replace this placeholder text with your real content.

    Or Call(123) 456-7890

    Unlock your chess potential:

    Discover the '7 Reasons You Lose Your Chess Games' in this ebook and elevate your game!

    Google reCaptcha: Invalid site key.

    No spam, ever.

    Once we have your content finalized, we’ll replace this placeholder text with your real content.

    Or Call(123) 456-7890