The topic of how to play against hanging pawns have been examined in numerous books. There are plenty of classical examples from the past showing the effective methods of exploiting the weaknesses of the hanging pawns. These pawns are weak because they cannot be supported by the other pawns and only by pieces. The side with hanging pawns normally tries to attack the enemy king or advance the pawns in a way to exchange them. Once the pieces are exchanged, the weaknes of the hanging pawns becomes significant. The two methods to fight against the hanging pawns are: 1) to attack them with pieces; 2) to undermine them with pawns. The topic of today's article is the second method.
The reason why we want to undermine the hanging pawns is to force one of the pawns to move forward, leaving weak squares around and the other pawn behind. As soon as this scenario is achieved, the hanging pawns should be blocked or attacked further. We'll first explore the games from the classics and then study how modern players have successfully adopted these ideas.
The first example is by the highly creative Danish player Bent Larsen. He has achieved an ideal position where all his pieces are centralized, whereas the black pieces are not so well coordinated. Moreover, White's two bishops are aiming the black king's cover.
For now the classical Bxh7 ideas do not work as Black has control over the g5-square, but Black should always keep in mind that Bxh7 might become a serious threat in the near future. Black has hanging c- and d-pawns and his pieces are not located in a way to attack the white king. Hence, for now he has to regroup and hope for some activity.
Meanwhile, with a series of strong maneuvers Larsen manages not only to undermine the hanging pawns but also to position his pieces onto even better squares. A beautiful attack finishes the game.
We saw in the above example that undermining hanging pawns with b4- and e4- breaks can be done to open up the position for our own pieces. The next example is similar in that way. White once again has better pieces and Black still needs to finish his development. With the pawn break e4 White uses the tactical resources along the h1-a8 diagonal and forces Black to close the position in the center. Then, he exchanges one of the most active black pieces, the queen on e6, after which Black's position collapses.
Now let us move forward in time... forty years later Russian top GM Alexander Grischuk showed an excellent understanding of typical maneuvers in a position with hanging pawns. Vescovi's position does not look as bad as Black's position in the above two examples. It is similar to the first example due to weakness of the kingside. However, the big difference is that the bishop is not on d3 but on g2 instead. Hence, Grischuk aims at the b4-break instead of the e4-break because he is fighting for the d4-square. After Black pushes c4, White can use the d4-square to regroup his pieces for a decisive attack on the kingside.
Notice how Grischuk positions his queen and his rooks, achieving a perfect set-up. Black decided not to yield any squares in the center but ended up giving White a passed pawn.
Typically, with hanging pawn structures one ends up in an endgame where Black sacrifices one of the hanging pawns but hopes for drawing tendencies of the endgame with 3 vs. 4 on the kingside. As the next example between two top GMs indicates, these endgames are by no means easily drawn.
Watching Georgian GM Baadur Jobava play is always a treat - he is full of fresh and new ideas. I had to show one of his interpretations of the hanging pawns! Objectively speaking, he didn't get an advantage with the following pawn sacrifice. But from a practical perspective it was the best chance. Exchanging the bishop for the knight was an excellent decision as Black ended up with a poor bishop on b7 that was hitting the e4-pawn. Nd4 was a pieces that controlled the whole board. As this game shows, the b4-break can be a pawn sacrifice as the resulting positions are very Benko-like, where White has enough initiative along the open a- and b-files.
Next week we will continue with the same topic of heritage in modern play.