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Strong and Weak Pawns

  • WGM Natalia_Pogonina
  • | Mar 15, 2011
  • | 55744 views
  • | 29 comments

Pawns are very important fighting units. While having limited mobility and being the least valuable piece, a pawn has a large potential and, together with other pawns, defines the course of the game. Pawns form the landscape of the battleground, and can be either weak or strong.

In most cases by strong pawns we mean:

1) Passed pawns

A passed pawn has no enemy pawns on the adjacent files, or they do not control the squares which the pawn has to pass along the way to promotion. Naturally, passed pawns are often a valuable asset, especially in the endgame.

2) Connected pawns

Pawns of the same color placed on adjacent files and able to protect each other. Such pawns are harder to stop since they don’t need protection from other pieces and are quite self-sufficient on the way to becoming a queen.

Of course, there are exceptions to these rules. In some situations even passed or connected pawns may be weak.

A pawn’s weakness originates from the fact that it can move only forward and attack just two (or even one) square. The most common types of weak pawns are:

1)      Double (triple) pawns

Two pawns of the same color placed on the same file. Such pawns can’t protect each other and are even more limited in mobility. Naturally, there are exceptions when such pawns may become strong. For example, well-protected by other pieces double pawns that control the center can be a major force.

2)      Pawn islands

Single pawns scattered all over the board. In the endgame they often become easy targets for the opponent’s pieces.

3)      Isolated pawns

Can be either a strength, or a weakness. In the endgame it often becomes vulnerable, while in the middlegame it can be quite formidable.  

4)      Left-behind pawns

While other pawns of the same color have gone a long way, it is still stuck on or near its initial position. It may either be blocked or unable to move since the square in front of it is under attack by the opponent’s pieces.

On a separate note, I would like to elaborate a little on pawn chains. Pawn chains are pawn structures composed of a few connected pawn, e.g. e3-f2-g2-h2. Some pawn chains have pawn bases, i.e. pawns that support the whole structure (e.g. a4-b3-c4-d5 with b3 being the base). In such situations pawn bases act like potential or real weaknesses: destroying the base allows one to eliminate all the other pawns rather easily.

So, one shouldn’t underestimate the importance of pawns. A strong pawn may be worth more than a piece, while a weak pawn may cost you the game. To sum it all up, you should have respect for your pawns (as well as other pieces), but feel the nuances of each particular position.

The following game took place at Aeroflot-2011 with my opponent being the #1 Canadian GM Mark Bluvshtein:

 

After having played the opening rather carelessly, I had to struggle for equality with White. Mutual mistakes led to an endgame where I made an inaccurate move 27.Qb3 and got myself into trouble. The weak double pawns on the d-file and the left-behind pawn on b2 took their toll.

P.S. Mark has also blogged about his experience at Aeroflot (including the game against me).

Comments


  • 6 days ago

    ongoingprocess

    On Saturday July 25, 2015 at 6:58 pm I read this article and played through the game moves. Thank you for this video!

  • 2 months ago

    WingsFerrisState

    These really piss me off when they start going into annotation but do not put the numbers and letters on the checker board. I am trying to learn here and you take away by aide. Put the freaking numbers and letters on the board. When you start going A3 b3 g78 sd98fds980f8sad08r0238423 I get lost.

  • 6 months ago

    campana1

    My brain is too slow, I would take many hours to fully understand this game, and all the variation examined by you in the notes, but the positional concepts about strong and weaks pawns are very clear. In this game you had 2 doubled weak pawns in the d file. Congrats.

  • 7 months ago

    MuhammadAreez10

    Thanks once again!

  • 21 months ago

    yoursisnodisgrace

    Thanks.

  • 21 months ago

    TavisAshton-Bell

    Very informative and helpful! Thank you :)

  • 2 years ago

    WGM Natalia_Pogonina

    Let’s stay in touch on social networks! Here are my official accounts:

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  • 2 years ago

    Natashabakshi

    pawn pawn everywhere ! i consider !

  • 3 years ago

    Beginnerkhan

    Thanks

  • 3 years ago

    SHOWKAAT

    Thanks for another great article.

  • 4 years ago

    hopsplace

    Thank you

  • 4 years ago

    shon615

    thanks for the article!

  • 4 years ago

    MrPushkin

    Ms. Pogonina,

    I always find your topics and examples instructive. You make the subject matter easy to understand and the ideas discussed seem attainable by the average player.Thanks for the time you dedicate to teaching us.

    J.Aziz

  • 4 years ago

    eddysallin

    let me say a few things relating to the game......1.   whites play appears too vague in outlook for the win( or we after an endgame..attacking blacks castled position ?  the play of white seems to be i'll wait for blacks move ?    2.h5 is an ugly move, but g4 is...?? save the pawn and what? 3.personally i dislike fianchetto of both bishops,but here black contains &controlls center position. 4. after g4.  whites pawn structure & piece spacing( maybe the unconnectivenesss of pieces is better said) feel wrong ?....... sorry,i tend to ramble.I like your passion and willingness too talk chess. Gl and thks   (nxb..uniting whites pawn center obviously is incorrect) qb3?....qxrp.helps, no? 62. nf5 is better..my oh my, i've run on and on....!

  • 4 years ago

    Gepy

    My common failure is the weak base of the pawn chains. Thank you for the attract attention!

  • 4 years ago

    Vaaelenko

    I didn't understand the meaning of Pawn islands & Left-behind pawns

  • 4 years ago

    Mijin

    "Pawn islands...Single pawns scattered all over the board. In the endgame they often become easy targets for the opponent’s pieces."

    I don't think this is quite right...a pawn island is either an individual pawn or a group which can be formed into a chain without making captures. Isn't it? I don't think pawn islands are inherently weak, it's just that as a rule it is better to have fewer islands. 

  • 4 years ago

    abekiroz

    THANK YOU POGONİNA

  • 4 years ago

    Netsuj

    Good job and thanks for the example game w/ annotation.

    You Rock!

  • 4 years ago

    Elubas

    What's with these people claiming equality for black when they double fianchetto? Yes, black will attack the center with ...c5 or ...e5, but, if white has been centralizing his pieces, the confrontation in the center should favor him, because, as he has been developing within his central cushion his pieces should be better, and better pieces equals better position when the center is opening up.

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