Classic Pawn Structure, Part 1b

  • IM Silman
  • | May 3, 2014

Last week we looked at a structure that featured a central space advantage for White (two center pawns vs. Black's one) and a queenside pawn majority for Black. I discussed White’s most aggressive plan (a pawn sacrifice that creates a mobile e-pawn, use of the d4-square, and kingside attacking chances) and also a counter plan for Black that strives to exchange queens (thus ensuring a safe king), thereby allowing the second player to milk his queenside pawn majority in an endgame.

I also gave this structure’s basic components, which I’ll repeat here:

  • White has more central pawns (central pawns are considered to be superior to wing pawns, especially in the middlegame).
  • Black has a queenside pawn majority (he hopes they will prove to be advantageous in the endgame).
  • White has more central space.
  • White can create a passed d-pawn by d4-d5. If that occurs, Black will try to attack it or block and freeze it. White’s goal will be to break the blockade and ram it all the way home.
  • White can (at some point) play for a kingside attack by e4-e5 (especially if White’s light-squared bishop is on d3). In many cases, the attack can be intensified by Qf4, h2-h4-h5-h6 followed by Nf3-h2-g4 or simply h2-h3, Nh2-g4 and swinging a rook over to that wing by Re1-e3-f3/g3.
  • Black can consider a well timed ...e6-e5 push when d4-d5 blocks the b3-bishop and also hands the c5-square to Black’s knight.
  • Black can get his queenside majority rolling by …b6-b5 (with …a6 or …a5, depending on the situation) when the d7-knight can then move to b6 and c4.
  • Finally, the most interesting of all White’s ideas is the sacrifice we saw Ding Liren use, which gives up a pawn but blocks the b7-bishop, makes the e5-pawn mobile, and gives White’s knight total access to the juicy d4-square (with a possible Nd4-f5 leap being a serious kingside threat).

Here’s a quick glimpse at the aforementioned pawn sacrifice:

And here’s a glimpse at the queen swap (the price being a slightly damaged kingside structure):

This week we’ll finish up by taking a serious look at two other White strategies:

  • Kingside dreams via calm preparation.
  • Going all-in with a passed d-pawn.

White Embraces Calm Preparation

In many cases, if Black hasn’t made inroads on the queenside, White can hold off on any kind of central expansion and instead maneuver his pieces to ideal squares before going all in with a central push.

Puzzle 1:

Another idea under the “calm preparation" umbrella for White in this structure is the aforementioned Nf3-h2-g4 maneuver (with apologies to one of the all time best writers, Natalia Pogonina):

For those that are wondering how White would deal with 21...exd5 (instead of 21...e5) 22.Nd4 dxe4, let’s answer it in a puzzle.

Puzzle 2:

Back to the actual game:

Puzzle 3:

Here are two more games that show the effectiveness of the “calm kingside buildup” plan:

Puzzle 4:

And here’s another game, this time featuring Black offering to close the center with ...e6-e5 (hoping for d4-d5). The push of the e6-pawn also strives to give Black’s knight access to the juicy c5-square:

Puzzle 5:

Let’s say that Black tried 18...Kh8 19.f4 (19.Bc4 is probably even stronger) 19...Qf6? (19...Qc5+ puts up more resistance). How would you play this position?

Continuing with the Timmer - Eberlein game:

Puzzle 6:

The March of the d-Pawn

So far we’ve seen White go after Black with the “Ding Liren pawn sacrifice." We’ve seen him avoid an early queen exchange. And we’ve seen White just take his time and calmly prepare for kingside/central play. However, one of White’s most important options is to create a mighty passed d-pawn.

Ding Liren | Image Wikipedia

To play this correctly, you'll need to know passed pawn theory. In a nutshell, it’s all about blocking the enemy passed pawn if you are the defender, and breaking that blockade if you have the passer. The examples below show both sides feverishly following that dictate. 

The following masterpiece turned a “so-so” strategy into something that was widely feared!

Puzzle 7:

Several years later, Petrosian took the White pieces and showed the mighty Korchnoi that he had learned quite a bit from that defeat against Spassky.

We will continue this game once we do a puzzle where Black played 23...Rae8 instead of the game continuation, 23...Rac8.

Puzzle 8:

Back to the game!

Puzzle 9:

To this day, a well-timed push of the d-pawn remains a dangerous strategy.

Puzzle 10:

Some might say, “I never reach that opening position, so I don’t need to study that structure!” I can understand that stance, but it comes from a base of ignorance.

The fact is that every structure has many lessons to share – tactics, positional subtleties, attacking dynamics, etc. By learning a few ideas from one structure, you will find you can use those same ideas in different (but somewhat similar) situations. We’ll finish with this example:

Puzzle 11:



  • 2 years ago


    Slowly catching up with the articles! They're still my oases in the desert.

  • 2 years ago


    Greate article, but most of the puzzles are to hard for me (OTB 1400).

    Even so, I try to solve the puzzles, but get lot wrong moves. I have entered some of the puzzles into Chessbase, and looked at why my moves were wrong. I feel this is valuable, but it takes time.

  • 2 years ago


    Great article! Full with ideas.

    This is exactly why i love Chess.Com - i feel it helps me be a better chess player

  • 2 years ago


    top page again OMG

  • 2 years ago


    Excellent article! Congratulations for your work.

  • 2 years ago


    Just awesome

  • 2 years ago


    Excellent Article !! Loved the explanation, had me glued to my chair ! Learned many new things..Thanx Silman.

  • 2 years ago


    Hi, just a regular player. Read two of your books. Your articles are very instructive. Just wondering why, and it seems, that only Americans are always critical about your articles. Hikaru is best threat to Carlson, still Americans don't accept him. I'm not anti-US but find that you have no position to back a player, even if his name is not John.

  • 2 years ago


    Really interesting pawn structure, that I'm not very familiar with, so the puzzles were EXTRA HARD!! Still, I learned quite a bit from it, and won't shy away from it, if given the chance. 


    I do queen's pawn openings, so I'm sure I could learn from this and better my skills in middle and end games from it.  Thanks, GM Silman!

  • 2 years ago


    Great article!

  • 2 years ago


    great article it good job and useful exrcise for chessplayers thanx

  • 2 years ago

    IM Silman

    Prabp asked: “WHY SO MANY PUZZLES???????????????????????????????????”

    That’s actually a very good question! One reason is that most readers really enjoy puzzles. But the more important reason that I give lots of puzzles is that they hammer home whatever theme I’m discussing. They do this in two ways:

    * By seeing the same structure over and over again, you will find that you obtain an ever-deepening understanding of how both sides of that structure needs to be treated. Repetition is important in all areas of learning.

    * You do NOT have to try and solve the puzzles! It will help you if you do, but it’s not necessary. Instead, click on the question mark at the bottom of the puzzle and you’ll see the moves and instructive prose. In other words, more instruction is waiting behind each puzzle.

  • 2 years ago


    WHY SO MANY PUZZLES???????????????????????????????????

  • 2 years ago


    Fantastic article!! So many new concepts to use now..thanks doc

  • 2 years ago


    Thanks for the endgame lessons.  So similar are the endgame, it's like it's the same one.  Just as is this:

    They're both singin' bout the same girl. 

  • 2 years ago


    Terrific pattern to know -- thank you!

  • 2 years ago


    Thank you

  • 2 years ago


    This article was a great exercise in pattern recognition. I enjoyed being able to just look through mulitple games that used the same pattern, when I look at archive games they tend to just have so many different patterns. Putting them all together in one article was very convinent for my study time today.  Thanks for all your hardwork towards the site and making players like myself( hobbiest with a competive streak) get better at the game.  

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