Strategy matters. Packers coach Vince Lombardi once famously stated, "The best defense is a good offense," or was that Mao Zedong? But is this really true? We asked experts in chess, gaming and military history to break the adage down to its most basic bits. Is a good offense the best defense or... is a good defense the best offense?



Richard K Betts

War and Peace Studies professor, International Security Policy Program dir. at Columbia University

A defense can’t conquer territory or destroy targets in the adversary’s territory.

The proposition that the best defense is a good offense is plausible, since one might possibly prevent an enemy from striking by striking first.



Misha Favorov

Game Design Consultant, MFA in Game Design at the NYU Game Center

A strong defense in competitive gaming can be a powerful offense, but only when used to secure an advantage of some other sort. Defense without a larger goal just delays an inevitable defeat.

Effective defensive play is all about trading off short-term aggression for long-term gains. In Starcraft, a player may neglect aggressive play and focus on gaining control over as much of the map as possible. Over time, this map control will result in them being able to harvest many more resources than their opponent, letting them pay for a much more expensive (and therefore powerful) army. Only when their strength outweighs that of their opponent will they attack.

A strong defense may also be used by a player who is already in an advantageous situation to force the opponent to take risky and punishable actions in an attempt to take back the lead. If a certain amount of time passes in a match of Street Fighter, the player with the most health remaining will win. This means that the player with the most health can choose to only engage their opponent in situations in which they know they have the advantage, while their opponent must force conflicts in any situation they are presented with.

In baseball, once a pitcher gets to a 0-1 count, hitters hit just .239 against him from there on out.




Bryan Quick

executive director of the Marshall Chess Club, established in 1931 in Greenwich Village, one of the oldest chess clubs in the United States

With regards to chess, as the great Adolf Anderssen said: “Attack! Always attack!” And another, Emanuel Lasker: “The process of making pieces in Chess do something useful (whatever it may be) has received a special name: it is called the attack. The attack is that process by means of which you remove obstructions.” 

In chess, a good move usually has many purposes, but one thing is always true: It is bad to be passive. Good players make their pieces active. They put pressure on their opponents. In chess, the best defense is a good offense.

In chess: white is always the first to move and wins between roughly 35%-38%. Black however wins just around 24%-27%.


ILLUSTRATION:  Nikita Treptsov 
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