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KIMPLODES: Pawn Structure--Part V of IX, A Way to Analyze Games

Pawn Structure - for starters, see Pawn Power in Chess by Hans Kmoch
Pawn structure is all about alignment, or the lack thereof of each side's pawns and how the opposing pawns interact with each other. Accompanying  that basic concept are holes, blockade points, outposts and other techical jargon. Intrinsically aligned to the question of Pawn Structure is the notion of Space and Squares, which I'll be discussing in Part IX, the final excerpt in this short-lived series.
 A simple system for evaluating each element of KIMPLODES

This week the P-factor: Pawn Structure.

Pawn structure: basic building blocks.
All you need to understand about pawn structures is:

  • Isolated Pawns
  • Doubled/tripled pawns
  • Backwards pawns
  • Hanging pawns
  • Passed pawns (and outside passed pawns)
  • Pawn majorities
  • Minority attacks
  • Blockaded pawns
  • Pawn versus piece attacks
Then you need to combine that knowledge with an understanding of Space and Squares (KIMPLODES--Part IX), and how both interact with all the other factors. Chess is E-Z when stated this wayFoot in mouth
Can you pick out the doubled, backwards, hanging, passed (and outside passed) pawns? I'll presume you realize White wins no matter whose move it is, so I didn't include sample lines.
Pawn Structure in the Opening
Barring one rather extreme game (below), both sides move pawns in the opening in order to allow their Bishops and Queen to enter the field of play, and to either begin asserting one player's wish to dominate space or the other's wish to avoid or provoke weaknesses. In the 19th century pawn structures often reflected gambit play that reflected the less advanced defensive techniques of most players of the time...even now the Marshall Gambit has many adherents, and other gambits make appearances at times in pursuit of surprise, to catch an opponent unprepared.
As the Romantic era faded, pawn structures in the openings entered a phase in which many of the leading players felt that best play mandated battling for the center with pawns. Beginning in the early 20th Century a few "heretics" began attacking these notions, and attacked the central pawn structures of the Classicists, attempting to push and pull the pawn structures out of position so as to take advantage of the openings this created for infiltrating the enemy position, or simply picking off the befuddled bits as the strong centers broke down. Both sides tended to be contemptuous of each other, making for much amusing reading of columns in which leading players attacked the family heritage of their perceived detractors and/or inferiors.
Pawn Structure in the Middle Game
Assessments of pawn structures continue to evolve under the influence of the silicon chess masters, and the inspiration provided to the leading carbon-based practitioners seeking to stay ahead of the silicon revolution. Even golden guidelines, such as your pawn chain will point to where your play is, are violated by the top practitioners based on their assessment of other factors they believe to be more important (including the point standings and the skill level and attack/defence preferences of their opponent)
The game below makes no pretensions to operating at the highest levels...this is a simple case of how my evaluations of pawn structure influenced my decisions throughout the game. The game starts with a basic pawn structure asymmetry with Black pawns on e6, d5 and c5 while White's were stationed on c3, d4 and e3. Soon, pawn chains clearly pointed towards the areas where each player could find ready-made, standard patterns of play (if not quite tabiya, at least close to that). The White pawn chain from b2-d4, after a pawn exchange on d4, indicated White could focus on the K-side, while the Black pawn chain from f7-d5 indicates Black might do well to focus on the Q-side (that never happened). In the next stage, inaccuracies on Black's part allowed White to create further imbalances, trading a B for N in order to create potential outposts on c5 and e5, and working to entomb Black's "bad" Bishop (Black's central pawns are on the color of his remaining Bishop). As the game progresses it reaches a critical point beyond which it became clear to even a dunderhead like me that the Pawn structure (aka, Caissa-101) was demanding that I sacrifice an exchange so that Black's remaining Knight would be removed from the battlefield, eliminating the only contender for my duo of Knight's total domination of the board from the e5 and c5 outposts, perched happily in front of Black's backward pawns on e6 and c6. Then a new phase started, probing to create additional weaknesses on the Black K-side, pulling his pawn structure further apart like the links in a chain being corroded by rust. Briefly I allowed Black opportunities to create counterplay by breaking out of the fixed pawn structure he had allowed me to create, but when he missed that, I finally slammed the door shut, and won in quick order. In the end, along with an M-factor of +-, I was about to obtain connected passed pawns on the Q-side, while Black had not countervailing threats of any consequence, so he resigned.

Pawn Structure in the End Game

In KIMPLODES: Material--Part IV, I provided an endgame that demonstrates the power of a passed pawn on the 6th rank, and how K-factor and I-factor can dominate M-factor.

Recommended Reading

Start with endgame books and King and pawn endings--it simplifies the problem space. Then look at the cases where each side has a single piece (do this one piece at a time: N, B, R, Q), then look at cases with 2 pieces per side. This will be of tremendous benefit when considering how openings (believe it or not, Mr Ripley) contribute to endgame considerations.

Hans Kmoch, Pawn Power in Chess

Ludek Pachman, Modern Chess Strategy

Ivan Sokolov, Winning Chess Middlegames (advanced)

Chess Mentor on chess.com

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