Attack and Defense in the IQP

  • GM BryanSmith
  • | Aug 9, 2012

“The cavalcade, the jamboree of life I thought was meant for me. I never dreamed that it would be replaced by this eternity of isolation.” – The Mighty Boosh                                                

One of the most common structures arising in a game of chess is the one with an isolated queen’s pawn. This is the structure that looks something like this:


Naturally, the board could be flipped and it could be Black who has the isolated queen’s pawn. This structure can occur after many openings – the Caro-Kann (Panov-Botvinnik Attack), the Nimzo-Indian, the Queen’s Gambit Accepted, the Alapin Sicilian (2.c3), and others.

Isolated queen pawn positions vary greatly, depending on the placing of the pieces as well as whether the side facing the pawn has an e-pawn or a c-pawn. Nevertheless, they have certain themes in common.

Learning to play chess better is a complicated process, and it is easy to go about it in the wrong way. In addition to strengthening your mental chess “muscle” by solving tactical puzzles, solving endgame studies, and playing training games, you also need to study opening theory and get a feel for certain structures.

In my opinion, these two go hand-in-hand. Studying opening theory (and by that, I mean the games and analyses by good players) is not simply memorizing moves to be replayed on the board. While it should involve studying specific moves, the point is not so much to be able to play by rote, but rather to absorb the ideas of the position – by learning the specific moves. Thus if you spend time learning the theory of the Panov-Botvinnik variation of the Caro-Kann, it will help you to play any position with an isolated queen pawn better. The ideas you learned will be applicable. It is unlikely you will be able to reel off the exact moves you studied – however, you will be vastly more oriented in the position and will be able to uncover a good move by yourself much quicker.

So let us look at some of the themes of the isolated queen’s pawn. For the article, we will assume that the side with the pawn is white (since that is probably more common), although it could always be the other way around. So sometimes I will refer to “White” and “Black” – White means the side with the IQP, and Black is the side playing against it.

The push d4-d5

It is crucial that both players always consider the possible advance d4-d5, liquidating the isolated queen’s pawn. In those variations where Black is unable to establish an iron blockade of d5, this is often White’s main plan.

The advance of the pawn opens the entire board, changing the struggle from one revolving around square control to one based on open lines. In most IQP positions, the side with the pawn has more active pieces. Playing d4-d5 releases the pent-up energy, opening the d- and e-files, the d4 square, and the a2-g8 diagonal.

Sometimes pushing the pawn can even be a sacrifice, as in the following, one of the most famous classical games. Steinitz used the concept of the “sealer-sweeper” (as Hans Kmoch called it, much later of course) – closing the blockading d5 square for the black pieces and opening d4 for the white ones.

The blockade on d5

It follows that the side playing against the IQP should keep d5 under control – preferably blockaded. The ideal piece to do this is the knight. The knight not only keeps the pawn from moving, but itself benefits greatly from its post. The isolated pawn in front of it keeps it protected from frontal attack, while the fact that the pawn is isolated (there are no neighboring pawns) means that the knight does not need to worry about being chased away by a pawn. From this position, its tendrils reach into the opponent’s side of the board. One such powerfully placed knight can decide the game in favor of its side, as in the following game.


A basic conflict in chess is between static structural factors and dynamic play. An isolated queen pawn is a static weakness in the long-term. However, its presence usually grants its owner more active pieces and space which can lead to immediate play.

Typically when you have a static weakness, you want to avoid too many trades. You want to keep the pieces on the board so that you can use them to create threats, and the weakness will not be such a huge factor. On the other hand, if your opponent has a static weakness, you want to trade some pieces to make that weakness more important and to make it easier to exploit in peace.

That said, it is not so simple to say that the side with the IQP should avoid trades, and the side playing against it should seek them. For one thing, without rooks on the board, it can be hard to win for the side playing against it. Note that in the above example (Skoko-Smith), I avoided trading queens on move 29, playing 29…Qe4 instead of 29…Qxf1+. While if I traded queens, the ending would surely be better for Black, it would be unlikely that I could win it. He could bring his king up to guard d4, and there would be only one weakness. Thus the side playing against the pawn usually needs to keep some heavy pieces if he wants to win the game.

Another important trade is the dark-squared bishops. The side with the isolated queen pawn often manages to induce the move …g6, weakening the dark squares around the black king. Then by trading the bishops, he is able to invade on those squares.

Finally, there is the question of the two bishops. Although IQP positions are relatively open and there is free piece play, strangely enough the two bishops are not worth as much as usual. This is because the play largely revolves around control of specific squares, such as d5 and e5.

The b1-h7 diagonal lineup

One of the crucial ideas for the side with the IQP is to make a line up on the b1-h7 diagonal with the queen and light-squared bishop. The idea is – strangely enough – to threaten checkmate. By doing this, White manages to induce black to play …g6, weakening his kingside position. The attack can continue with h4-h5, or by trading the dark-squared bishops. Overall, one of White’s key plans in IQP positions is to create threats on the kingside.

The e5 square

The e5 square is a very typical outpost for the knight. Why is e5 an outpost? After all, the knight can be attacked by …f6. However, the move …f6 is usually terribly weakening. The pawn on e6 would become extremely weak. Thus, a knight on e5 plays a huge factor.

There are obviously a great many more themes to the IQP position, and it is possible to go much deeper into them – but this is just an introductory article. My advice for those seeking a deeper understanding of this structure is to check out this video series, and to look for games played by good players in certain opening lines that lead to this structure. Some of these lines are:

1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 cxc5 4.c4 (the Panov-Botvinnik Attack)

1.e4 c6 2.c4 d5

1.e4 c5 2.c3 d5 3.exd5 Qxd5 4.d4 (The Alapin Sicilian)

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 c5 4.exd5 exd5 (The French Tarrasch)

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c5 (The Tarrasch Defense)

Obviously, there are others – for instance, in one of the games above, I reached the IQP structure from a Modern Defense. Thus every player needs to have an idea how to play this structure.


  • 3 years ago

    NM Bab3s

    @ultramind you've probably figured it out by now but 41. Rc5 Rxc5 42. dxc5 Kf8 43. Kf1 Ke7 44. Ke2 Ke6 45. Kd3 Kd5 is a draw. If instead 45. Kf3? Kd5 46. Kf4 Kxc5 47. Kf5 Kc4 48. Kf6 Kxc3 49. Kxf7 a5 50. f4 b4 51. axb4 axb4 52. f5 b3 53. f6 b2 is even a loss.

  • 3 years ago


    Great article, thank you.

  • 4 years ago


    Thanks for writing this, I got a lot out of it.

  • 4 years ago

    FM Boorchess

    LOL Poonsnatcher.

  • 4 years ago


    Congrats to IM Bryan Smith on his excellent finish at the 2012 Cleveland Open!

  • 4 years ago


    Thank you mr IMBryanSmith for this interesting article but i think in your game with Enhbat your 40- Re5 move not a losing tempo you can win by play 41-Rc5 insted of play 41-Re3 thanks again

  • 4 years ago


    Thank for the excellent article. I have learned a lot about IQP strategy now. 

  • 4 years ago


    A superb study of the IQP, starting with that apposite opening quote; thank you v much:))

  • 4 years ago


    one of the best books ever written about this subject is :


  • 4 years ago


    rook F5 doesn't deliver mate, its pawn to f6. rook D1 is to deflect the queen from the seventh rank and the control of d5 as the queen is both pinning the pawn to the king and controlling that square so the rook can't deliver checkmate on d5

  • 4 years ago



    If Rf5, gxf5 wins.

    I'm also looking at that final position and wondering how it's lost for white.

  • 4 years ago



    If the queen takes the rook, then Black mates with his other rook at F5.  If the queen moves to B5, then the rook splits at D5, the queen takes the rook, then the pawn takes the queen and has pretty much guarenteed promotion.  If the queen moves along the diagonal, then rD5, the queen is forced to block or take (depending where it is), then either the rook takes the queen and mates or the pawn gets promoted.

  • 4 years ago


    what happen for the final game?why dont the queen just take the rook?

  • 4 years ago


    Rd1, the final move for the final game. Haha awesome move.

  • 4 years ago

    NM Bab3s

  • 4 years ago


    Yeah - that Steinitz game is one of the classics.  Just a quick note on GreenCastle's line with 30...Kd8.  Of course, his line wins the queen, but 32.Nf7+ Kd7 33.Qd6# is faster.

    Nice article though.  Got to know IQP positions!

  • 4 years ago


    To those who are wondering how to finish off Black in the second game, 25...Kg8 26.Rg7+ repeats the previous position but this time without Black's pawn on h7.  So now 26...Kh8 27.Qh4+ Kxg7 28.Qh7+ Kf8 29.Qh8+ Ke7 30.Qg7+ and now:

    • 30...Kd6 31.Qxf6+ with mate in 1,
    • 30...Kd8 31.Qf8+ Qe8 32.Qd6+ Qd7 33.Nf7+ Ke8 34.Re1+ is winning the Q,
    • 30...Ke8 31.Qg8+ Ke7 32.Qf7+ forces Black to one of the two squares above.

    Very deep tactical sequence orchestrated by Steinitz.

  • 4 years ago


    Yea, I don't see the combo after 25. -Kg8.

  • 4 years ago


    @ yuendat: See

    And look at the annotaions after Rxh8+. THe queen invades on the h file and pushes the king to either d8 or d6, winning.

  • 4 years ago


    Great article!

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