Classic Pawn Structure, Part 1b
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.
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 Chess.com 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.
Back to the actual game:
Here are two more games that show the effectiveness of the “calm kingside buildup” plan:
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:
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:
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.
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!
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.
Back to the game!
To this day, a well-timed push of the d-pawn remains a dangerous strategy.
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:
RELATED STUDY MATERIAL
- Read Silman's previous article in this series Classic Pawn Structure, Part 1a;
- Learn GM Gregory Kaidanov's Paying Attention to Your Opponent's Possibilities: Understanding Pawn Structure;
- Tear apart your opponent's pawn structure in Chess Mentor;
- Maintain your tactical readiness in our Tactics Trainer;
- Looking for articles with deeper analysis? Try our magazine: The Master's Bulletin.