Classic Pawn Structure, Part 3a

Classic Pawn Structure, Part 3a

Silman
  • 19,132 Reads
  • 23 Comments
  • Other

When a player starts out, he’s told various rules that will help him navigate through the choppy waters of chess. A few basic ones are:

  • Don’t hang your pieces
  • Don’t swallow and talk at the same time
  • Castle as quickly as possible
  • Don’t allow your pawns to be doubled

As time goes by and you start to look at lots of high-level games, you begin to see these gods of chess breaking rule after rule as if they are allowed to do things that you are not. What gives?

The fact is that chess would not be very interesting if you could just follow some basic rules and be good. Rules are there to help you take your first chess steps without falling on your face, but once you reach a certain level you should toss the rules in the garbage - if doing so is correct in that particular position.

One rule that most amateurs cling to is “don’t allow your pawns to be doubled.” In many instances that’s a wise rule to follow. Today though, we’ll be exploring a structure that calls for you to double your f-pawns, which appears to leave your king without a home. To make matters even stranger, all the examples will have Black allowing this to happen to him. Here’s the structure in question:

This is the structure you’ll learn to love. But wait! I hear some sort of noise, as if hundreds of readers are screaming, “Are you kidding? Why would I go out of my way to destroy my own kingside? Silman 0, Senility 1.”

The following puzzle will change your mind and turn your loathing to adoration. Oh... wait, it’s White to move. I guess we will chalk this up to, “If you’re going to make use of this structure, don’t let this happen to you!” 

Puzzle 1:

Okay, okay! That was gruesome! But it doesn’t have to be like this. Really! Since we just looked at a game from the 1800s, let’s try another from that time period. However, this time I’ll toss Amos Burn (also known as Mr. Passive) aside and bring in the big guns: Emanuel Lasker! 

Lasker.jpg
Emanuel Lasker | Image Wikipedia

Why would anyone playing Black want this position? There are several reasons:

  • Usually White’s kingside knight would have access to the e5-square (Ng1-f3-e5), but the doubled pawn deprives White’s pieces of both e5 and g5.
  • In many lines Black’s h8-rook will nudge itself one square to the left and enjoy true happiness on that open g-file.
  • Black has two bishops!
  • At some point Black might play …f6-f5 kicking the e4-knight away and opening the a1-h8 diagonal for Black’s dark-squared bishop.
  • In many instances Black will turn his “weak” isolated h-pawn into a seek and destroy missile via ...h7-h5-h4-h3.

In a nutshell, the doubled pawns give Black many dynamic possibilities while also granting him (in this opening) the long-term advantage of two bishops. 

We’ll continue our game:

Who wouldn’t love Black’s position? In the rest of the game Lasker proceeded to give away most of his advantage only to grind his opponent down anyway:

Okay, that particular move order (1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 dxe4 5.Bxf6?! gxf6) doesn’t offer White anything. But what about 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 dxe4 5.Nxe4 Be7 6.Bxf6 gxf6 when Black’s dark-squared bishop has been dragged to e7, depriving Black of the flexibility of placing it on g7 in some lines, or after ...f6-f5 allowing the queen to leap to f6 (as in the Lasker game)?

This was first played by Amos Burn (the guy I cruelly called Mr. Passive), and nowadays it’s referred to as the Burn Variation. Here’s the initial game:

Wild stuff! Perhaps Burn wasn’t as passive as I thought!

Amos_Burn_1895.jpg
Wildman Amos Burns | Image Wikipedia

Now I have to admit something: When I was 14 years old, I gathered as many really old games as I could (from various books and magazines) and looked through them. I noticed quite a few games with the Burn Variation and I quickly fell madly in love with it. I played it as often as I could but, in a fit of insanity, I threw away all my games when I was 19. Not one of my Burn Variation games survived. I am bringing this up because I want to implore all of you to keep all your games! No matter how bad they might be, there will be a point in your life when you will want to sit back and enjoy a trip down memory lane.

So, have many good players used this system? Here’s a list: Rubinstein, Schlechter, Perlis, Reti, Saemisch, Alekhine, Kmoch Flohr, Bogoljubow, Reshevsky, Lilienthal, Guimard, Bondarevsky, Boleslavsky, Evans, Koblencs, Minev, Radulov, Botvinnik, Petrosian, Bronstein, Hort, Speelman, Andersson, Korchnoi, Bareev, Lautier, Anand, Short, Kosten, Kramnik, Atalik, Sakaev, Seirawan, Chandler, Dreev, Hess, Radjabov, Ivanchuk, Caruana, Shabalov, Topalov, Morozevich, Magnus Carlsen, and many, many others.

As you can see, this line is somewhat addictive! 

I’ll repeat why this attracts so many strong players:

  • Usually White’s kingside knight would have access to the e5-square (Ng1-f3-e5), but the double pawn deprives White’s pieces of both e5 and g5.
  • In many lines Black’s h8-rook will nudge itself one square to the left and enjoy true happiness on that open g-file.
  • Black has two bishops!
  • At some point Black might play …f6-f5 kicking the e4-knight away and opening the a1-h8 diagonal for Black’s dark-squared bishop.
  • In many instances Black will turn his “weak” isolated h-pawn into a seek and destroy missile via ...h7-h5-h4-h3.

In a nutshell, the doubled pawns give Black many dynamic possibilities while also granting him (in this opening) the long-term advantage of two bishops.

Here are some games that will give you a feel for the kind of play that occurs in this structure:

Note how the same piece setups and plans are employed again and again by Black. When you know a structure, you will also know where your pieces should go!

At the moment Black (after 7.Nf3) is doing okay with all the main moves: 7...f5, 7...b6, and 7...a6.

But this article is about structure, not about opening theory. And so the following question has to be addressed: Other than this one line in the French Defense, does this structure appear anywhere else? Does it have any non-French Defense value? The answer is yes! In Part 3b, we’ll see it racking up wins in the Caro-Kann, the Sicilian Defense, and in other openings too! In other words, this is a very important structure and, if you grow to understand it, it will repay you over and over again in several different opening and middlegame situations.


RELATED STUDY MATERIAL

Online Now