Tactics – Deflection

Tactics - Deflection

We are going to continue looking at tactical devices you can use to gain an advantage.
We will look today at deflection, also known as "overloading"

Football deflecting

Deflections can be very cruel in sport...!

A deflection in most ball sports are a nuisance for the defender to handle - you are often sent the wrong way!

In chess, a deflection is a beautiful technique which often means a defending piece is unable to perform its desired function:

After this fantastic pawn check 1...e4+! (even the humble pawn gets involved!) the king is sadly left to flee the defence of the knight. The king had two jobs to fulfil:

  • Defend the knight
  • Get out of check
The second had to take precedence and there was no way to get out of check and keep the knight so black employed this tactic to win a piece in the fictional game: Robin Hood - John Little, Nottingham 1938.

Three things you will learn today

  1. Deflection (or overloading) is all about giving a piece too much to do!
  2. Overloading can play a great part in the middlegame, especially in open positions!
  3. Overloading is also a critical endgame technique!

Part 1 of 3 - Giving a piece too much to do

Your Turn! White to play

Forgive the complexity in this position, it's just a favourite. After 1. h6 the poor black king can only wobble to his fate - nothing works. He is charged with defending both f6 and h6 getting to the queening square and just cannot do it!

  • 1...Kh7 or Kh8 2. f7! (and queens on f8)
  • 1...Kf7 or Kf8 2. h7 (and queens on h8)
One of the brilliant things about the starting position is every other move loses! 1. Kb2?? Kf7! and black wins - it takes time but he can gobble up both pawns in time and just march to support the pawns promote (you need to sac the a pawn at the right time to avoid a stalemate).

Again, the poor king had two jobs and just couldn't manage both. Whichever pawn he went for, the other ran through!

Try another:

Summary of part 1

  • Deflection, also called overloading, gives a piece too much responsibility to handle and something has to give.
  • In each case, one of the concessions made by the defender must benefit you or it's pointless.
  • Some chess positions are just beautiful in their simplicity!

Part 2 of 3 - Deflection in the middlegame

Deflection tactics are much easier to spot in the endgame. In the middlegame, a piece with a lot of responsibility can soon find itself becoming over-burdened with jobs!

Your Turn! Black to play

There are two tempting paths here. The black knight could jump immediately to f3 but after 1...Nf3+ 2. Qxf3 Qxg5 3. Qf8 Qd8 4. Qxg7 black has a hard time of converting the extra pawn.

Much clearer is 1...Qxg5 when white has a choice of being a piece down by just moving the queen from danger or 2. Qxg5 Nf3+ when again white is again a piece down! The point is that the white queen is trying to both guard f3 (avoiding nasty knight forks) and protect the rook on g5.

Your Turn! Black to play

Black has to contend with white's nasty pawn on a7. The overloaded piece is actually the rook on a2! After 1...Bxg2+ 2. Kxg2 Nxe2 the rook must flee the defence of the pawn on a7 and after 3. Rxe2 Rxa7 (either), the game is level.

Summary of part 2

  • The concept of deflection is important in the middlegame, as it can give a player a vital tempo.
  • For attackers, it can force through an attack, like in the example with 1...Qxg5!
  • For defenders, it is often a saving grace, like after 3. Rxe2 in the second example.

Part 3 of 3 - Building Deflections into your endgame knowledge

In the endgame below, black is "in the square", able to catch both pawns...almost. With black to move, 1...Kb6 2. d5 Kxa6 3. d6 Kb6 4. d7 Kc7. However with white to move:

Your Turn! Black to play

What a sneaky reserve! 1. d5+! this deflects the king from his main job of catching the advanced a pawn. Now if he runs to that, the d pawn runs through unaided, whereas capturing the d pawn is suicide: 1...Kxd5? 2. a7 Kc6 3. a8=Q+

This theme is particularly important in endings with little material left on the board, since the king in particular has many important jobs. Here's another to try:

Your Turn! White to play

Some forgiveness is needed here from the reader. The king is definitely overloaded here having to avoid checks and protect the queen.
There's a deliberate "red herring" but a nice one! 1. Ng6+?? looks brilliant but...1...Qxg6+ and 2. Kxg6 is stalemate!

The way to go is the more effective 1. Bc5+ after which black drops the queen.


  • Deflections are sneaky tactics which you must be mindful of, to avoid unfortunate losses in your games and win some lost positions!
  • Target pieces for deflection tactics are those already performing a lot of jobs.
  • In the endgame, they can be the one tempo you miss!
Finally, deflections can be very, very cruel in sport: