Upgrade to Chess.com Premium!

"Philidor Would Approve"

  • GM BryanSmith
  • | Apr 26, 2012

Francois-Andre Danican Philidor, born in 1726, was one of the first chess theoreticians. In an era when chess was seen by almost everybody – even its most dedicated enthusiasts – as a mere game, Philidor had to have a certain “weight” in his soul to look for higher principles in this “casual” diversion.

His most famous concept was “the pawns are the soul of chess”. His actual words were “…they are the soul of chess: it is they which uniquely determine the attack and defense, and on their good or bad arrangement depends entirely the winning or losing of the game.” It has been claimed that his emphasis on the pawns was related to the politics in France leading up to the French revolution. Ironically, when the revolution did occur the revolutionary government exiled the guy who emphasized the importance of the common citizens of the chess board. 

In any case, his understanding of the value of the pawn center, of passed pawns, and of pawn phalanxes allowed him to mow down his opposition, who largely saw pawns as encumbrances to the attacking power of the pieces.

Here is one of his most famous games, which shows Philidor’s approach to pawn play. The opponent in this game is a guy named Smith – believe me though, it was not me! Nevertheless, people with such a common name often are put in the role of the anonymous “bad guy”, the hero’s designated opponent and victim. See the Matrix movies…

While he is probably more famous as a chess player nowadays, Philidor was also a musician and composer. In the 62nd championship of Russia, in December 2009, GM Artyom Timofeev created a symphony of pawns which would make Philidor proud, and must have captivated onlookers. Let’s see this game.

Time to pause for the camera. Here is the position after White’s fiftieth move. White has only a knight against two rooks. But his pawn phalanx will form an unstoppable tidal wave.

Not only are the pawns unstoppable, their power of controlling squares renders the rooks useless. A wonderful illustration of a space advantage. Here is how the game ended:

The final position deserves a special diagram:


  • 3 months ago


    Nothing to add.

  • 3 months ago


  • 3 months ago


    The soul grows stronger as it nears the end..it's wonderfully Socratic. Thank you good sir

  • 24 months ago


    this makes you wonder the worth of pawns during end games

  • 2 years ago



  • 2 years ago


    I liked the row of pawns after move 27

  • 2 years ago


    very nice games.  Also liked the commentator's inclusion of the Alterman game.

  • 2 years ago


    amazing game!!!

  • 2 years ago


    Simply amazing! As Saintpauliana said your way of writing is really instructive and easy to follow. The last position deserved its own diagram indeed!

  • 2 years ago


    Waht an amazing concept! The position at move 50 really deserved a picture!

  • 2 years ago


    great read!!! thanks!!!

  • 2 years ago


    Very cool article! Thanks

  • 2 years ago


    nice, thnks 4 sharing

  • 2 years ago

    NM Petrosianic

    I have doubled thee wall, see White's 25th. Cool (Evidently Fritz was not so strong in year 2000.)  Interesting games Bryan I was not familiar with them!

  • 2 years ago


    Yes, pawn formation in the opening determines how you will attack as well as gaining tempo. Towards the end game, pawn postions make a differnce even when sacrificing a piece for pawn formations.

  • 2 years ago


    I have seen the philidor game before (I believe white was "Captain Smith"), but it was really nice to get a pretty objective, modern view of this game. A lot of annotators would just hail Philidor's play all the way through, as if he were winning by move 11 (as a low rated player I had this game on chessmaster, with light annotations, and that's what it made me believe!), but you offered a few fighting ideas for white to take advantage of black's pawn moves on move 13 and on others, which was nice. Maybe you should do these unprejudiced, "up-to-date" reviews of these old games more often Smile

  • 2 years ago


    Never imagined pawns could be so perfect.

  • 2 years ago


    Smith sure got pwned

  • 2 years ago


    Wow, great game!

  • 2 years ago


    Whoa... pawns are amazing.

Back to Top

Post your reply: