Classic Pawn Structure, Part 3b

Classic Pawn Structure, Part 3b

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In our first look at this pawn structure in Part 3a we explored the piece setups, dynamics, and general plans of the Burn Variation of the French Defense. Though doubling one’s kingside pawns early in the game may look idiotic, the resulting structure is actually full of promise and usually leaves the advantage with the player who understands the structure’s ins and outs. Since most people don’t really understand many structures, let alone this one, Black often discovers that he effortlessly gains an advantage in game after game.

Here’s the Burn Variation and our “beloved” structure.

But I promised that this structure, or structures similar to it, appears in many different openings! As I mentioned in Part 3a, I was really into the Burn Variation in my early teens. However, as the years went by I moved on to other openings (the Sicilian Accelerated Dragon in particular) and, slowly but surely, forgot about the Burn. Then, while living in London (1978), I went through my Bent Larsen phase and looked at all the Larsen games I could find. It was during this “Larsen Course” that I noticed his repeated use of the following line of the Caro-Kann:

Though Black didn’t get the two bishops (as he does in the Burn Variation) he did create my favorite structure! I noticed that Larsen had mixed results with this system, but all of the games were complicated and exciting. Nevertheless, I wasn’t sold on this line (which, by the way, is called the Bronstein-Larsen Variation... it’s fitting that two of the most creative players in history have their name attached to this very creative opening!) until I saw the following game in a magazine at the very beginning of 1980:

Now I'll let you have a bit of fun and find Black's most crushing continuation.


For those that don’t know much about Larsen, he was often considered the best Western player in the world until Fischer usurped the number one spot. His style led to erratic results – he could come in first in four super-strong tournaments in a row, and then come in last in the next one.

In Buenos Aires he finished clear first (three points ahead of the field!) with an outrageous 11 – 2 score (Nine wins, four draws, no losses)! In case you think the field was weak, check out these names: Spassky, Petrosian, Najdorf, Miles, Andersson, Ivkov, Gheorghiu, Panno, Quinteros, and Lombardy.

Bent Larsen | Image Wikipedia

Eventually I met Larsen and we shared a long dinner together. He regaled me with endless tales of Fischer and all the other greats (he was an amazing storyteller!), and that particular dinner remains one of my most cherished memories.

But I digress! Back to the Bronstein-Larsen Variation:

After seeing the Spassky game, I immediately told myself that I was going to give this a try. As it happened, I found myself playing a last round game for first place against an International Master.

After this I realized that the Bronstein-Larsen (and the structure in general) took most players out of their comfort zone, so I began to use it on a regular basis:

I give these games to illustrate the correct way to study a structure (or a particular opening): you quickly play through hundreds (or thousands) of games of the structure you’re interested in, and you’ll notice the dynamics of the pawns, pieces and the typical plans that can be used against White’s various setups.

Don’t worry what your computer says, just let the changes in your initial structure flow by you. Once you have a real feel for your structure, then and only then should you concentrate on opening variations and (if you’re a very serious tournament player) the latest innovations by the world’s best.

Here are other examples of our structure turning up in other openings and variations:

A Different Line in the French Defense


Center Counter

Vienna Variation of the Queens Gambit

Here are some openings that have the same basic kingside structure with the one difference that Black still retains his d-pawn. As one would guess, many of the ideas from the Burn Variation and the Bronstein Larsen are still viable in these openings too.

Caro-Kann Schoolgirl Variation

I gave this system that name (Schoolgirl Variation) since, when I used to coach the American teams for the various World Youth events (Brazil, Germany, Slovakia, Spain, etc.), most of the little girls would play the Caro-Kann (no matter where they were from!). Since time AND simplicity was of the essence, I would also recommend 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.Bd3 for White.

However, I soon discovered that when a member of my team played the Caro-Kann, the coaches from all the other teams would also recommend this same line for White! Hence, the Schoolgirl Variation.


Semi-Slav Defense

Sicilian Defense

Here’s a common position featuring our structure (with the inclusion of a Black pawn on d6) and two bishops for Black. This structure is a hard nut to crack since all the key central squares are covered by Black’s pawns (c5, d5, e5, f5, and even g5). White’s dream is to play f4-f5xe6, opening various lines. If Black answers that with ...e6-e5 then the c3-Knight will claim the tasty d5-square.

However, doing that hands the e5-square to Black’s knight or queen or dark-squared bishop. And, in anticipation of White’s plans, Black will kick the c3-knight with b5-b4 after White’s f4-f5. Then, when the knight moves to the safety of e2, ...e6-e5 foils White’s plans and deprives the knight of d4, f4, and d5. 

In some lines Black’s king will castle queenside, sometimes it will castle kingside (it’s far safer than one might suppose), and quite often it will rest on e7 where it gives support to both d6 and f6.

All these things are known by every Russian schoolboy by the age of two (they are the ABCs of this structure), and if you play either side of it, you also need to know that stuff!

Not done solving puzzles? Tactics Trainer is waiting!


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