Protecting Overprotection

Protecting Overprotection

| 38 | Strategy

I think about chess a lot. I think about chess news, chess history, chess openings and endgames, my chess friends (living and dead), beautiful chess games, and how my 4,000 chess books are pushing me out of my home.

But my main chess thoughts are all about instructive chess concepts, and how to make complex (often theoretical) topics easy to grasp for amateurs. 

Because of this love of chess concepts, I have a soft spot for chess thinkers since –- to be honest –- they are rather rare.

I’m not talking about people that look for new ideas in the openings. I’m talking about the rare professionals who view the simplest of chess concepts as being fascinating and beautiful.

Real chess thinkers can change the way chess is played.

Philidor was a game-changing chess thinker, Steinitz took chess to a whole new level, Tarrasch tightened Steinitz’s teachings, and Nimzowitsch and the hypermodern school shook everything up.

Ultimately, the whole “school” thing fizzled when it became apparent that players need to master the discoveries of all the chess schools if they want to experience success.

In my view, IM John Watson has been America’s greatest chess thinker for quite a long time, and his award-winning books, Chess Strategy in Action and Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy are epic in their scope.

However, Watson’s material tends to be for players in the 1900-and-up (way up!) groups. (Over-the-board tournament ratings, please. Don’t delude yourself into thinking you’re a strong player if you have a high bullet or 3-minute rating).

As I said, serious chess thinkers are rare. So imagine my surprise when the 19-year-old grandmaster Daniel Naroditsky started writing for

Daniel Naroditsky via

His articles are all about chess concepts, and he goes out of his way to communicate with players of all ratings. Beginners or masters, he does his best to teach each and every one of them.

Double attack, stalemate, combinations, the correct use of minor pieces, pigs on the seventh, and on and on he goes.

Amazing. If you haven’t followed his stuff, you’re really missing out.

Daniel’s latest article caught my attention became it addressed a concept that few write about (or even think about) nowadays: overprotection, a term originally coined by Nimzowitsch.

Naroditsky quoted an old definition of mine: “Overprotection is 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.”

Since I rarely see anything on this topic, I felt compelled to add a bit more about overprotection, just to keep the conversation churning for a while longer.

Watson and I discussed this a couple days ago (we argue about all sorts of chess topics, and in general discover that we’re on the same page), and Watson made it clear that he wasn’t fond of overprotection as an important term (he discusses this in his books) since the “overprotection” is usually all about something else.

In other words, if the pieces were going to those squares anyway (e.g., because those squares offer them the most activity), then is it overprotection or just natural development?

He has a point, but most things are actually mixes of multiple concepts.

An example: White builds a big pawn center, the big pawn center gains space, the space allows the pieces more room to roam and thus more activity, and the space and activity allows a kingside attack.

Here’s another one: you have an isolated pawn, but it’s also a passed pawn, and it’s also gaining space, and your opponent insists it’s weak and a target, but you insist is a tower of strength. So the isolated pawn in question is many things at once.

All of those things mesh together as one, but we chess teachers still define each bit to make things clear to non-professionals.

When one is learning, small steps and simplicity are of the utmost importance.

So, I’m giving thumbs up to overprotection! In a way, I see overprotection as a “sleeping” concept –- it happens more than we think it does, yet it’s often invisible to the untrained eye. 

Here are three examples of overprotection.

In our first game, Black -- who has a solid but somewhat passive position --  has one target to attack, and one dynamic break to dream of (and eventually make). The target is the e4-pawn, and Black’s dream break is ...d6-d5.

Tarrasch decided to go for the overprotection of e4. (Shocking, since his enemy was Nimzowitsch, who invented the concept more than a decade later!)

Here’s another example, with overprotection being a major part of the system White uses.

In the King’s Indian Attack, the e5-pawn helps set up a kingside smash, but overprotection is key since in many lines it makes ...f7-f6 or ...f7-f5 unpalatable since it would instantly activate all those White pieces behind that pawn.

Both examples showed White overprotecting a pawn. But overprotection is also useful if you want to own a square.

It’s only fitting to finish with a game from the overprotection-creator himself, Nimzowitsch.

Long live overprotection!


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