During some recent games I played, I have lost because my opponent advanced their pawns very far, attacking my pieces and forcing them to retreat. In some cases the pieces became trapped as well. Although these pawns may have been overextended, the few that I picked off because they were so far extended failed to compensate for my massive space disadvantage. The only times I won was when I could exploit holes made in my opponent's structure in this way, or ended up with passed pawns. Nevertheless, these were mostly the result of mistakes made later in the game, and I was under a lot of pressure throughout. How can I counter overextending pawn storms?

For example, I can end up in positions such as this one, in which my pieces have been forced backward by my opponent's pawn advances.

[fen "r1bqkb1r/2p2p2/2n2n1p/1p2p3/p2pP1p1/P2P2B1/BPPNNPPP/R2Q1RK1 w kq - 0 1"]

3 Answers 3


It's a mistake to view the pawns themselves as overextended targets that you might get to "pick off" as you say in your post. After all, Black's main objective with the pawn storm is probably to open up lines to attack your king, and so your snapping up such overextended pawns really only furthers Black's goal.

As already pointed out in comments in this thread, the strong engine Stockfish recommends the move 1.f4 in your diagram position. And when I opened your post and looked at the position, that was my almost immediate reaction as well. Why? Not because I'm even remotely as strong as Stockfish, of course; rather, I was just reflexively applying a classic positional maxim:

An attack on the wing is best countered by play in the center.

That advice really goes double in this position, where the opponent's king is still in the center, and would need a few moves to get out of there. (Moreover, since Black has overextended on both wings, her king ultimately doesn't have anywhere all that safe to go.) In particular, 1.f4 carries a direct threat of capturing on e5, and if the knight on f6 gets forced to move, White is ready to capture on f7 with dire consequences for Black in the form of a vulnerable king open to attack in the middle of the board. Black's best response is probably nipping any ideas of fxe5 in the bud with the en passant capture 1...gxf3.

You might object that we've given Black what I claim she wanted out of her pawn storm, providing a half-open g-file to attack our king, but the point is that we can show Black's pawn storm to be premature by continuing to follow the above maxim. After e.g. 2.Nxf3 Bd6, we just continue to pry at the center with 3.c3! Note that Black is nowhere near getting an attack off the ground, but we've again given her something concrete that she needs to deal with immediately: 4.cxd4 is a serious threat because of an e5 pawn fork in the air.

Bottom line: Black's pawn storm is an overextension, but not because those pawns are now ripe for the taking. The real flaw in Black's play is that she's been pushing pawns for an attack that she's not yet ready for. That's why the proper response is to fight back in the center, demonstrating that she should have been spending her time developing some pieces first and taking care of her own king's safety. Here are just a few short variations, some featuring very poor Black moves just to illustrate the threats; but even in the lines where Black plays more sensibly, note that in the final positions, White is fully developed and ready to play in the center (and against Black's king), while Black is in no position to harass White at all.

[fen "r1bqkb1r/2p2p2/2n2n1p/1p2p3/p2pP1p1/P2P2B1/BPPNNPPP/R2Q1RK1 w - - 0 1"]

1.f4 gxf3 
( 1...Bb7?? 2.fxe5 Nh7 3.Bxf7+ )
( 1...exf4 2.Nxf4 )
( 1...Bd6 2.fxe5 Bxe5 3.Qe1 )
2.Nxf3 Bd6 3.c3! dxc3 
( 3...Bg4? 4.cxd4 Nxd4 5.Nexd4 exd4 6.e5 )
4.Nxc3 *

It's hard to speak in generalities. However, if the pawns are truly overextended then the attack is probably half-baked. The guideline is that a premature attack on one side is countered by an attack on the opposite side. When the smoke clears the moves spent on the pawns are wasted and the opponent's overall position weakened.

But it sounds like your opponents are kicking your pieces with tempo. Thus it could be that you are over-extended and have placed your pieces such that he's getting free moves (and space) by kicking your misplaced pieces to inefficient squares.

If your pieces are getting trapped then you need to open a space for their escape. Opening up g2 and h2 is pretty common.

Post a game and we can give you better information.


I like the above position from White's point of view. The key move here is f3. This will open the f file, and also create escape squares on f2 and e1 for the B on g3. There is a danger of Black's moving this h pawn to h4 and trapping the bishop, but not if you play f3 in good time.

White's "disadvantages" are TEMPORARY. Black has a PERMANENT disadvantage insofar as his advanced pawns rule out castling on either the king or the queen side, meaning the king has to stay in the center. All White has to do is to open a file near the king (the f file is close enough), double rooks on the file, and run along the highway to victory.

  • I thought f3 also but Stockfish likes f4. What do you think about that? I was gratified I at least found the right pawn...
    – Tony Ennis
    Commented Apr 21, 2013 at 14:12
  • @TonyEnnis: It's partly a matter of taste. But note that Black has the option (on the following move) of capturing the pawn on f3 "en passant." So you need to be prepared for this "worst case" scenario if you prefer f4.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Apr 21, 2013 at 14:15

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