Hippopotamus Defence

Hippopotamus Defence

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What is the Hippopotamus Defence?

The Hippopotamus Defence is a line played with the black pieces which is considered a universal system.

What is the Hippo Defense move order?

The move orders of the Hippo Defence in fact vary from Hippo player to Hippo player.

The Hippo Defence is a system which is based on reaching a specific end position. The moves in reaching that position can vary alot.

To illustrate this let me give you an example of how the Hippo Defence end position looks like.

Notice the yellow highlights. The Hippo Defense trys to seek a position which look exactly like this. As you can see it will take alot of moves to reach this position. Which is why players who play the Hippo Defense as black have alot of different move orders they can use in order to reach this position.

At first glance you might say this line looks cute and passive. Just like the picture below.

Why should white be worryed about a line that is cute and passive?

In truth you would be right in saying the line is some what passive. However, The Hippo Defense is rather sneaky. The cute and cuddly image/position you see is only temporary. Lurking underneath lies a deadly position. 

The Hippo Defense is a line you can fit into your own repertoire with lines you may already use.


  • The Hippo Defense is only effective in a closed position environment.
  • If your opponent establishes a large center pawn mass playing the Hippo Defense is not recommended.

You want to avoid playing the Hippo Defense if your opponent has the following pawn configurations:

Pawns on c4, d4, e4

Pawns on d4, e4, f4

Pawns on c4, d4, e4, f4

The reason why you want to avoid playing the Hippo Defense when your opponent has such a huge pawn mass is simply because the large pawn center allows white to blast open the position.

Since the Hippo defense does well in closed positions. You want to avoid a blasted open position. Which can not be avoided if your opponent has so many pawns in the center!

I will show you ways of playing other lines to help you avoid such a situation.

As usual lets start off at the beginning shall we?

Move 1.e4 - Lets say white places a pawn in the center of the board establishing some center control.

After your opponents first move, no matter which of the below moves it is:

(1.e4, 1.d4, or 1.Nf3)

I recommend the move 1...g6

Through the course of my travels and study's.

I have found the move 1...g6 to be a universal move which handles the different pawn formations pretty well.

Move 1...g6 - This move is a hyper-modern move which is very flexible.

Move 2.d4 - Lets say white continues with another pawn move.

Establishing 2 pawns side by side in the center

White plays d4 to gain more space and have more open lines for there bishops. It is a good move by them. I can't blame them for doing that.

Move 2...Bg7 - After whites move, Black respones with Bg7. 

By playing Bg7, Black develops a piece.

Blacks Bg7 move puts some pressure on the d4 pawn as well.

White has the d4 pawn protected with his queen so not big deal yet. However, White has to be careful. If they move there queen away for example than it would blunder there d4 pawn.

Here comes the first critical point of the game.

At move 3 white has 3 different mainline moves:

  • 3.Nc3 - Hippo still playable
  • 3.Nf3 - Hippo still playable
  • 3.c4 - Hippo no longer playable

Notice the move I have higlighted in red above.

If white plays 3.c4.

Than the resulting position would have a pawn on c4,d4,e4.

This is a pawn formation you want to avoid as black!

If white does this do not play a Hippo Defense.

What you should play another line instead.

You can consider a few different options.

3...d6 going for a Kings Indian Defense

3...c5 going for a Benoni or Accelerated Dragon

I loved the Kings Indian Defense so if they played 3.c4.

My recommendation would be to tranpose into a KID with 3...d6 and than Nf6.

The position would turn into a KID.

However, The most popular move in the position is the below move:

Move 3.Nc3 - This move develops a piece. It also hits some center squares.

I have noticed most players who play 3.Nc3 in this position usually try and castle queenside.

I have noticed most players who play 3.Nf3 in this position usually try and castle kingside. Which by playing the move Nf3 it moves the knight away so they can try and castle king side faster in a sense.

Both moves are good becuase they develop to the center so white is playing very simple. Simple easy chess nothing major.

The only thing to pay attention to is were they castle.

Usually players move the pieces on the side of the board they are planning on castling on first.

So you have to be able to be prepared for that. Other than that your fine. As we keep going you will get the hang of it hopefully lol.

After white makes their 3rd move either Nc3 or Nf3.

Black has 2 follow up which seem to be playable.

In fact, one move has been gaining some hype recently.

The moves are:

  • 3...d6 - I am going to recommend this move to beginners
  • 3...a6 - I am going to recommend this move to higher level players

The reason I am recommending the move 3...d6 to beginners is because the 3...d6 line actually as a name.

Which means if you are a beginner and want to improve in that line you can search for that line by looking up it's name to get a greater understanding of the lines. You can search for it from different video's, books, and databases etc.

The move 3...a6 actually is a new novelty idea. It is become very popular in higher level chess. The only draw back is it doesn't have a line name. Which means you will not be able to study it that easy. The only way to study it would be to find games from other Title players and try and figure out there games.

Which a beginner might have huge problems in doing!

Which is why I recommend 3...d6.

I will admit I do believe 3...a6 has become a stronger move than 3...d6.

However, That will have to be a discussion for another day.

Move 3...d6 - This move is the beginner move, I am recommending. This move is a very sensible move stopping white from continuing with a e5 pawn push.

I have seen in beginner chess alot of white sided players play the pawn push to e5 alot. It really is not that great. So in a way playing 3...d6 can help in the lower levels.

 Here comes the Second critical point of the game.

At move 4 white has 9 different mainline moves:

  • 4.Be3 - Hippo still playable
  • 4.Nf3 - Hippo still playable
  • 4.f4 - Hippo no longer playable
  • 4.Bg5 - Hippo still playable
  • 4.g3 - Hippo still playable
  • 4.Nge2 - Hippo still playable
  • 4.Be2 - Hippo still playable
  • 4.Bc4 - Hippo still playable
  • 4.h3 - Hippo still playable

White does have alot of moves here. However, the wonderful part is most of the moves still let you play the Hippo.

The only line which does not is the move 4.f4

The reason why would be become white pawn formation would have a pawn on d4,e4,f4.

You want to avoid playing against a triple pawn formation as black in the Hippo.

If white plays 4.f4 my recommendation would than be to play 4...Nf6 and tranpose into the Pirc Defense.

Bascially white would be playing the Austrian Attack and you would be playing the Pirc Defense.

Always remember avoid facing triple pawn formations as black in the Hippo Defense!

The two most common moves as white in this position are:

Move 4.Be3 - If white plays this move you have to make some very creative waiting move to make sure they do not play 5.f4! or 6.f4 etc. Which means you will have to be focused and observant!

Move 4.Nf3 - If white plays this move. You are all set and can start the Hippo Defense set up.

Move 4...a6 - The funny part is white has 8 different moves they can play (minus 4.f4).

However, your 4th move is the same in all 8 moves lol.

The move you want to play would be 4.a6 which is a nice move.

The idea of this move is to control the b5 square. It is also a very nice waiting move.

It does get played in the Hippo Defense and it is not considered a very commital move. Which is why it is a nice one to play.

The Start of the Hippo Defense

This is the position you want to get into. You want white to play with both there knight outs and only 2 pawns in front.

Move 5.Bc4 - Lets say white plays this move. Alot of aggressive attacking players would try this move for sure. They want to hit f7 and they want to make way for castling.

Move 5...e6 - The poor fools are falling right into our trap. HA HA 

Notice what the move e6 does here. It blunts the light square bishop.

Rememeber what is our purpose? Our purpose is to have a closed position.

We want the center pawns locked!

Lets keep going shall we? Everything at the present moment looks normal so lets see how you want to play it out.

Move 6.0-0 - Lets say white castles to get king safety very normal move. Everything seems normal for white.

However, It is not. MWWHAHAHAHAH.

Move 6...Ne7 - We develop our knight to e7 one of its normal squares in the Hippo. You will see why as we keep going.

Move 7.Bg5 - Now it may seem crazy. However, Most of the moves I am playing for white in this example is stuff an aggressive beginner player might play.

I mean how many of us have had a situation were our opponent saw our knight than they decided to pinn it?

Than we ended up forgetting and lost our queen? I mean come on show of hands?

This move surely is a move they will play. Even if they don't do this move you will see how we continue.


Move 7...h6 - We develop our knight to e7 one of its normal squares in the Hippo. You will see why as we keep going. We do the little move h6. A small kick to the bishop. If you rememeber in the Hippo Set up I showed in the very top h6 is a move played in the Hippo. So in a way we are still following our set up plan. We are just chosing when to play our moves.

We want to fianchetto our other bishop soon eventually.


I am going to speed up a few moves here.

Simply because I don't want you to be fixated on some of the trival moves. I want you to be more concerned about specific key moves.

As well as key themes.

Move 8.Bh4 - Lets say our opponent is stubborn and they want to maintain the pin.

Move 8...b6 - We make way for developing our other bishop.

Move 9.Re1 - Lets say our opponent plays Re1 with the idea of trying to put the rook in front of our king. Which can be scary sometimes in chess. However, again it is a fake threat which will never happen lol.

Move 9...Bb7 - We make develop our other bishop.

Move 10.Qd2 - They bump up there queen.

Move 10...Nd7 - We develop our other knight to its important square.

Move 11.Rad1 - They set up a queen and rook battery.

Move 11...0-0 - We castle.


If you remember we have reached the set up we wanted to reach.

In the begining of the article.
Now here is the point of  the discussion. Which I want you to take extreme care over!

When your opponent does a pawn move. You want to respond with a closing pawn move in return. It does not matter on what move they do there pawn move. If a pawn move happens you need alot of care.

If your opponent play his H pawn all the way to h5.

You will respond with g5 locking the position.


If your opponent play his G pawn all the way to g5.

You will respond with h5 locking the position.


If your opponent plays d5.

You will respond with e5 locking the position.


If your opponent plays e5.

You will respond with d5 locking the position.


The Hippo defense pawns are placed in such a way that they meet every opponents pawn response with a way to close the position(Lock the position). Now here is the brillance of the plan.

Once the position becomes locked down in the center play than begins on the Wings. (Sides of the board - King side or Queen side)


It looks pretty good for white to have nice central pieces.

The problem is his pieces can not become effective until the position opens up. It looks like white is doing great. Soon you will see how bad it starts to get when he starts pushing his center pawn's.

Lets say white plays d5. Than you respond with e5 locking the position.

Notice the below diagram.

Do you see how since the center is closed black can now start to do pawn breaks with either c5 or f5.

In this case f5 would be a nice pawn break undermining the center. Making a pawn storm.

Since whites pieces are in the center and the center is locked. His pieces become useless .

Now you see how the black knights and pieces start adding extreme pressure on the white center. An the white king is on this side. Black might even have idea's of doing a pawn roller similar to a Kings Indian Defence or Pirc type of position. Just storming the white king. An when black castles kingside his rook will than be on the F file which might be open file bearing down pressure on the white king.

The line is called the Hippo Defense because it is like a real life Hippo. Hippo's in real life roll around in the mud/water waiting to emerge at the right time.

In this line as Black you wait around doing alot of pawn/piece moves waiting until white starts to push there pawns. When that happens you try and lock the pawns in the center. Than you emerge from the water with anger lashing out with either c5 or f5 pawn break.

I will go back to the fake game I made up above just as a demonstration.

The d5 pawn move

The e5 pawn move

Do you see how in a blink of an eye. The white center disappears? An what is left is with you having a nice pawn storm?

Lastly,  I will share with you a link to a youtube video by a National Master named Jerry. Who goes by the game name Chess Network

In this video, Jerry is showing people how to beat the Hippo Defense with the white pieces.

The way he beats it is instructive.WHY? because it shows you how going against a 3 pawn center is very very bad idea lol.

Which hopefully will get you to understand playing the Hippo Defense can be fun and good. However, It has its limitations.

Play it when you can against people who let you.

However, if they play a massive center do not try to force the issue. Play something esle. Most people who play chess have 2-3 black chess openings.

In a way if you have 2-3 black chess openings with the Hippo Defense being among 1 of them you are no different than anyone esle in a sense. Which is why it can be a very fun opening to try and learn.

As always, Thank you very much for reading. Hope you enjoyed yourself.

Have a Happy Day