Overprotection, Decoded

Overprotection, Decoded

| 29 | Strategy

The concept of overprotection, invented and verbalized by Nimzowitsch in My System, is defined by IM Jeremy Silman as "a strategically important pawn or square that is given more protection than it seemingly needs. Essentially a prophylactic maneuver, the side that overprotects does so in order to dissuade the opponent from launching an attack against that point" (The Complete Book of Chess Strategies).

While most players are familiar with the term, comparatively few are aware of its full significance. 

Many positional struggles are fought over a certain tangible element — a square, a pawn, a complex of squares, a diagonal, a file — as almost anything can be the subject of a positional battle. 

The main purpose of overprotection, then, is to ensure that you will emerge from this battle victorious.

The following game is a simple but fantastic illustration.

The war was over before it even began, and that is the whole point!

Spassky drove a wedge through the center, and Larsen was absolutely powerless against the impending kingside onslaught. As the cherry on top, Boris the terrible finished off the job with one of the greatest combinations of all time.

Not bad for 17 moves. 

In the following game, the efficacy of White's overprotection is on full display once again.

Notice how astute positional reasoning essentially decided the game. After White entrenched a bishop on a square he patiently overprotected, Black could find no way to develop any meaningful counterplay on the queenside, enabling Adams to transmute his positional advantage into an unstoppable attack.

As you can see, Jeremy Silman's categorization of overprotection as a "prophylactic maneuver" cannot be more accurate.

Identifying a potentially key element of the position and investing a few tempi to overprotect it could well decide a forthcoming tactical skirmish in your favor. 

This game pales in comparison to the previous two in every regard, but it allowed me to truly perceive the importance of overprotection.

Nimzowitsch's teachings should definitely not be viewed as dogma. He was convinced that his system should govern a player's thought process 100 percent of the time, but in modern chess, rules and exceptions live side-by-side.

With that said, overprotection is an extremely useful strategic tool in every grandmaster's positional arsenal. 


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