Saturday, September 14, 2013

The art of successful defence: Part 2

Defense by overprotection

Imagine you're trying to attack a focal point in your enemy's camp. You know there's 100 enemy units guarding that point. What can you do to capture the point?

In terms of chess, the best way will be to send 101 units to attack it. That is, if you DO have 101 units.

But what happens when the square you're trying to attack is covered by so many enemy pieces that it is almost impossible to overrun it?

Take a look at the following position:

Nimzowitsch - Systemsson
Copenhagen 1927
Position after 21. Nf3
The most striking feature of this will be White's e pawn, which is wedged deep inside Black's camp. Normally such a pawn will be weak and vulnerable to attack (since it lacks support from a pawn chain base) but in this case, the pawn is practically invulnerable to capture. Every one of White's pieces guards the e5 square, which is more than necessary to guard against Black's threats.

This, my fellow Black Knights, is what is known as the concept of overprotection.

Protecting more than what is necessary
Overprotection was introduced by Aaron Nimzowitsch in the early 20th century, as part of the hypermodern school. The main idea behind this concept is one of defending critical squares; rather than rushing pieces over to defend squares which are being attacked by the opponent (and exposing yourself to tactical traps), why not pile up a reserve of defense beforehand to preempt any enemy plans?

In the case of our previous example, we can see that White's e5 pawn is so well protected that Black cannot muster enough forces to put sufficient pressure on it. This striking case of overprotection left such a deep impression on both the players and the audience that it was later dubbed the "Immortal Overprotection Game"

You can see the entire game here; Nimzowitsch has provided ample commentary for you to understand what is going on:


What we have seen earlier is an extreme case of overprotection; it probably won't happen that often in your own games. Thus, I want to show you another game featuring overprotection in a more realistic scenario:

Three Swedish Amateurs vs Aaron Nimzowitsch

This game was also annotated by Nimzowitsch himself in his work "My System, 21st Century Edition". I will adopt most of his annotations over here.

1. e4 Nc6
2. d4 d5
3. e5 f6
4. Bb5

Nimzowitsch suggested 4. f4

4... Bf5
5. Nf3 Qd7
6. c4 Bxb1
7. Rxb1 O-O-O (D)

8. cxd5

If 8. c5 then 8... g5, and a fight for the e5 square begins; for example after 8. c5 g5 9. Qe2 (threatening 10. e6) Qe6 10. h3 Nh6 with an unclear position for both sides.

8... Qxd5
9. Bxc6 Qxc6
10. O-O e6
11. Be3 Ne7
12. Qe2 Nd5 (D)

White is on the verge of creating a weak, isolated pawn on either d4 or e5. To compensate for this he has a prospective outpost for his knight on c5. On the other hand, Black has already set up an outpost on d5, and now he starts to build up a reserve of defensive strength about this square.

13. Rfc1 Qd7

The first steps towards overprotection of the e5 point.

13. Rfc1 Qd7
14. Rc4 Kb8
15. Qd2 Rc8
16. Ne1 Be7
17. Nd3 Rhd8
18. Qc2 f5 (D)

The overprotection of the centre is complete. Black now chooses to pass the attack, which is not easy to conduct.

19. Rc1

Nimzowitsch: "Without question 19. b4 should have been played here, with the intention of 20. Nc5 Bxc5 21. bxc5. The question now arises: Is Black's position strong enough to bear weakening? Two moves in particular come under consideration in answer to 19. b4, namely 19... b6 and 19... b5"

If Black now chooses to reply with 19... b5, the continuation follows 19... b5 20. Rc6 Kb7 21. Nc5+ Bxc5 22. Rxc5 Nb6 with the intention of 20... c6, after which Black stands strong on the light squares.

If Black instead decides upon 19... b6, then 20. Nc5! will follow, but after 20... Bxc5 21. bxc5 c6 Black still stands in a good stead. He, however, must not accept the knight sac with 20... bxc5? for there will follow 21. bxc5+ Ka8 22. c6 Qe8 23. Ra4 Nb6 (D)

And now the striking blow 24. d5!! followed by an unstoppable attack: 24... Rxd5 25. Rxa7+ Kxa7 26. Qa4+ Kb8 27. Bxb6 cxb6 28. Rxb6+ Kc7 29. Rb7+ Kd8 30. c7+ Rxc7 31. Rb8+ Rc8 32. Rxc8+ Kxc8 33. Qxe8+ and White wins.


Back to the text move (19. Rc1), we can see that Black's overprotected e5 point serves as a strong outpost for his knight, from which it exerts significant pressure over the centre. White will have a very tough job in trying to overcome the defences on this square.

Both sides now start their operations on opposite wings: Black on the kingside, and White on the Queenside.

19... g5
20. Nc5 Bxc5
21. Rxc5 Rg8
22. Qe2 h5
23. Bd2 (D)

Grabbing a pawn with 23. Qxh5? allows 23... g4 followed by 24... Rh8 where Black will seize the initiative.

23... h4
24. a4 g4
25. a5 a6
26. b4 c6 (D)

It is now almost impossible to drive out the knight on e5, nor can White easily achieve his goal of breaking into the queenside.

27. Rb1 Qf7
28. Rb3 f4
29. Qe4 f3!
30. Rc1

30. gxf3 leads to 30... gxf3+ 31. Kf1 Rcf8 and White will not be able to hold out for long.

30... fxg2
31. Kxg2 Rcf8

Nimzowitsch: "Note with what surprising ease the rooks are brought into action, a further proof, in my opinion, of the enormous vitality of overprotecting pieces."

32. Rf1 g3
33. hxg3 hxg3
34. f4 Ne7
35. Be1 Nf5
36. Rh1 Rg4
37. Bxg3 Qg6
38. Qe1 Nxg3
39. Rxg3 Rfxf4 (D)

Nothing is left of White's attack, while Black has successfully penetrated the kingside. I will now show the rest of the game without any commentary:

40. Rhh3 Rxd4
41. Qf2 Rxg3+
42. Rxg3 Qe4+
43. Kh2 Qxe5
44. Kg2 Qd5+ (D)

Final position after 44... Qd5+
Black's overprotection of his central squares allowed him to slow down White's attack, while in turn giving himself valuable time to launch his own counterattack.

Part 1:

"My System: 21st Century Edition" by Aaron Nimzowitsch

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