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Over-protecting a piece or square (And why it’s actually a useful idea)

White to move.

Let me start this lesson on over-protection by asking you a question:

Are you under the impression that you should allocate only the bare-minimum of resources for defensive tasks?

I’m here to show you why over-protecting a piece or square can often be a useful idea.

Think about this for a moment:

The main benefit of over-protecting a piece or square is that it allows the other defender/s of that piece or square to become more flexible.

Here’s an example that illustrates the point:

Over-protection: Example

White to move.

Q: White clearly has an advantage in this position but what is the best way to make progress?

A: Ideally, white wants to play Nb5, hitting the black rook on c7, but this isn’t possible at the moment because playing Nb5 would allow Rxc6. But by applying the idea of over-protection, white can free up the knight on d4.

1.Ne5! The move seems natural, but it’s instructive to understand why it’s good. The point is that by over-protecting the pawn on c6, the knight on d4 becomes more flexible.

Black is technically 1 point ahead in material, but their position is completely losing.

1… a4 Black’s position is lost in any case. Other moves also lose.

Either knight is now free to move since the pawn on c6 is over-protected. In this case it makes sense to move the knight on d4 since it can be used to kick the black rook from the square in front of white’s passed pawn.

2. Nb5 covers the a3 square and threatens Nxc7. White’s position is overwhelming. For example, the game could continue… 2. Nb5 Rc8 3. c7 Kf8 4. Nd7+ Ke7 5. Nxb6 +-

Note that this example illustrates the idea of over-protection in a simplified position. But the principle of over-protection works in more complex situations too. The important thing is that you should understand the reason why over-protection is useful in some cases.

To summarize the lesson: Don’t assume that over-protecting a piece or square is always a waste of resources. In many situations it can actually be useful technique that increases the flexibility of other defending pieces.

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