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Classic Pawn Structure, Part 3a

  • IM Silman
  • | Jun 17, 2014
  • | 12104 views
  • | 23 comments

When a player starts out, he’s told various rules that will help him navigate through the choppy waters of chess. A few basic ones are:

  • Don’t hang your pieces
  • Don’t swallow and talk at the same time
  • Castle as quickly as possible
  • Don’t allow your pawns to be doubled

As time goes by and you start to look at lots of high-level games, you begin to see these gods of chess breaking rule after rule as if they are allowed to do things that you are not. What gives?

The fact is that chess would not be very interesting if you could just follow some basic rules and be good. Rules are there to help you take your first chess steps without falling on your face, but once you reach a certain level you should toss the rules in the garbage - if doing so is correct in that particular position.

One rule that most amateurs cling to is “don’t allow your pawns to be doubled.” In many instances that’s a wise rule to follow. Today though, we’ll be exploring a structure that calls for you to double your f-pawns, which appears to leave your king without a home. To make matters even stranger, all the examples will have Black allowing this to happen to him. Here’s the structure in question:

This is the structure you’ll learn to love. But wait! I hear some sort of noise, as if hundreds of readers are screaming, “Are you kidding? Why would I go out of my way to destroy my own kingside? Silman 0, Senility 1.”

The following puzzle will change your mind and turn your loathing to adoration. Oh... wait, it’s White to move. I guess we will chalk this up to, “If you’re going to make use of this structure, don’t let this happen to you!” 

Puzzle 1:

Okay, okay! That was gruesome! But it doesn’t have to be like this. Really! Since we just looked at a game from the 1800s, let’s try another from that time period. However, this time I’ll toss Amos Burn (also known as Mr. Passive) aside and bring in the big guns: Emanuel Lasker! 

Lasker.jpg
Emanuel Lasker | Image Wikipedia

Why would anyone playing Black want this position? There are several reasons:

  • Usually White’s kingside knight would have access to the e5-square (Ng1-f3-e5), but the doubled pawn deprives White’s pieces of both e5 and g5.
  • In many lines Black’s h8-rook will nudge itself one square to the left and enjoy true happiness on that open g-file.
  • Black has two bishops!
  • At some point Black might play …f6-f5 kicking the e4-knight away and opening the a1-h8 diagonal for Black’s dark-squared bishop.
  • In many instances Black will turn his “weak” isolated h-pawn into a seek and destroy missile via ...h7-h5-h4-h3.

In a nutshell, the doubled pawns give Black many dynamic possibilities while also granting him (in this opening) the long-term advantage of two bishops. 

We’ll continue our game:

Who wouldn’t love Black’s position? In the rest of the game Lasker proceeded to give away most of his advantage only to grind his opponent down anyway:

Okay, that particular move order (1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 dxe4 5.Bxf6?! gxf6) doesn’t offer White anything. But what about 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 dxe4 5.Nxe4 Be7 6.Bxf6 gxf6 when Black’s dark-squared bishop has been dragged to e7, depriving Black of the flexibility of placing it on g7 in some lines, or after ...f6-f5 allowing the queen to leap to f6 (as in the Lasker game)?

This was first played by Amos Burn (the guy I cruelly called Mr. Passive), and nowadays it’s referred to as the Burn Variation. Here’s the initial game:

Wild stuff! Perhaps Burn wasn’t as passive as I thought!

Amos_Burn_1895.jpg
Wildman Amos Burns | Image Wikipedia

Now I have to admit something: When I was 14 years old, I gathered as many really old games as I could (from various books and magazines) and looked through them. I noticed quite a few games with the Burn Variation and I quickly fell madly in love with it. I played it as often as I could but, in a fit of insanity, I threw away all my games when I was 19. Not one of my Burn Variation games survived. I am bringing this up because I want to implore all of you to keep all your games! No matter how bad they might be, there will be a point in your life when you will want to sit back and enjoy a trip down memory lane.

So, have many good players used this system? Here’s a list: Rubinstein, Schlechter, Perlis, Reti, Saemisch, Alekhine, Kmoch Flohr, Bogoljubow, Reshevsky, Lilienthal, Guimard, Bondarevsky, Boleslavsky, Evans, Koblencs, Minev, Radulov, Botvinnik, Petrosian, Bronstein, Hort, Speelman, Andersson, Korchnoi, Bareev, Lautier, Anand, Short, Kosten, Kramnik, Atalik, Sakaev, Seirawan, Chandler, Dreev, Hess, Radjabov, Ivanchuk, Caruana, Shabalov, Topalov, Morozevich, Magnus Carlsen, and many, many others.

As you can see, this line is somewhat addictive! 

I’ll repeat why this attracts so many strong players:

  • Usually White’s kingside knight would have access to the e5-square (Ng1-f3-e5), but the double pawn deprives White’s pieces of both e5 and g5.
  • In many lines Black’s h8-rook will nudge itself one square to the left and enjoy true happiness on that open g-file.
  • Black has two bishops!
  • At some point Black might play …f6-f5 kicking the e4-knight away and opening the a1-h8 diagonal for Black’s dark-squared bishop.
  • In many instances Black will turn his “weak” isolated h-pawn into a seek and destroy missile via ...h7-h5-h4-h3.

In a nutshell, the doubled pawns give Black many dynamic possibilities while also granting him (in this opening) the long-term advantage of two bishops.

Here are some games that will give you a feel for the kind of play that occurs in this structure:

Note how the same piece setups and plans are employed again and again by Black. When you know a structure, you will also know where your pieces should go!

At the moment Black (after 7.Nf3) is doing okay with all the main moves: 7...f5, 7...b6, and 7...a6.

But this article is about structure, not about opening theory. And so the following question has to be addressed: Other than this one line in the French Defense, does this structure appear anywhere else? Does it have any non-French Defense value? The answer is yes! In Part 3b, we’ll see it racking up wins in the Caro-Kann, the Sicilian Defense, and in other openings too! In other words, this is a very important structure and, if you grow to understand it, it will repay you over and over again in several different opening and middlegame situations.


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Comments


  • 4 days ago

    jani1002

    to the first puzzle: After rook g1 black king to H8 than queen f6 knight takes than checkmate with bishop f6 whats the problem?

  • 3 weeks ago

    kbza22

    Excelente!

  • 3 weeks ago

    josh3

    cool

  • 3 weeks ago

    AngeloPardi

    This really looks like a Bronstein-Larsen variation in the Caro-Kann. 

  • 3 weeks ago

    FM krstulov_alex

    great article, I am waiting for the part 3b!

  • 5 weeks ago

    bouncer12345

    Talking and swallowing can loose you a game. (suffocating and having to resign)

  • 5 weeks ago

    RahulSampangiramiah

     U CAN MAKE STUFF HAPPEN.. :l

  • 5 weeks ago

    aledsinchina

    I actually laughed out loud while reading this. "Silman 0, Sinility 1" did it for me. My girlfriend gave me the strangest look when I explained that I was laughing at a chess article. 

  • 5 weeks ago

    kasmersensei

    I too go for this structure out of the Caro-Kann, and often get an enjoyable position. Doubled pawns often equal double my fun (more attacking possibilities on the open file)!

  • 5 weeks ago

    savantz

    great article; although I'm familiar with the burn's variation in the french, I've rarely encountered it either side.

    where I more often see this structure is my sicilian games from both sides.

    I think (don't shoot the messenger) in the boleslavsky and najdorf systems.

    looking forward to that

  • 5 weeks ago

    Pawnslinger1

    I can't tell you how many games swallowing and talking at the same time has cost me. Laughing

  • 5 weeks ago

    Missed_Moves

    One of the best and most important articles written on this website I think. There's been times in certain games that doubled pawns have helped me when being attacked by knights, and actually saved me games. 

  • 5 weeks ago

    fatritota

    zekri tota

  • 5 weeks ago

    CJ_P

    I went for this structure in the Caro, but my tactical defense is not good enough to play it -- unless it's in one of the giuoco openings

  • 5 weeks ago

    OBIT

    As a chess coach, I often tell my students that, for most chess strategies, the real answer is "it depends."  Are doubled pawns bad?  Yes, generally speaking, but it depends.  Is castling a good idea?  Most of the time, yes, but it depends.  Is a rook better than a bishop?  Usually, but it depends.  It depends on the position.

    Now, some coaches hate me for making these comments.  For one thing, they tell me I am contradicting the curriculum they follow for their students, which makes them look bad.  They also think the element of ambiguity implied by my comments only confuses the kids - they need to be given neat and tidy rules to follow, else they'll never learn this game.  It's funny, though... most of the kids I have coached don't have a problem with the notion that there will be exceptions for most rules.  And, the really creative ones get good at recognizing situations where the rules don't apply.  

  • 5 weeks ago

    DMFW

    Your comment about knowing when to throw away the rules resonated with me. I think here, chess is like so many things in life. You need to be drilled in early rules whenever you enter any new problem domain to stop basic mistakes, you follow them by rote at first then learn to appreciate exactly why they are there, you continue to treat them as cast iron but then, maybe, just maybe at some point in the future you are able to take a step up and see how their support can be kicked away and how you can do new things perfectly well without the "rules". This could be my epiphany with doubled pawns as I've well and truly got a rule phobia for them and avoid them like the plague when I can. This is a very interesting opening. Seems like I need to know when to relax a bit :-) 

  • 5 weeks ago

    cdowis75

    In a king only endgame, certain doubled pawn structures will make a blockade by protecting the diagonal access to the pawns.  In a recent game, as we were approaching an endgame, I deliberately manuevered the opponent into creating this structure.

  • 5 weeks ago

    IM DanielRensch

    Does anyone else think Burns looks a little like Georg Meier? No? Undecided Just me? Tongue Out

    Well, great article once again Jeremy!

     
  • 5 weeks ago

    JoeTheV

    Love this line in the French.

  • 5 weeks ago

    StevieBlues

    A little while ago I wanted to make the switch to 1.e4. After looking into some main lines, I encountered this variation in stockfish's opening book. It looked so bad for white i gave up then and there on 1.e4. True story

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