Consequences of a Pawn Push

Consequences of a Pawn Push

| 8 | For Beginners

Originally written for

In today’s ( simple ) lesson we will deal with a long-term planning, logical thinking, and understanding.

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be3 e6 7.f3 b5 8.Qd2 Nbd7 9.g4 ( diagram )

This position used to be hot like 10-15 years ago when Kasparov was in his prime, nowdays Black prefers to play the Najdorf-like setup by putting his pawns on d6 and e5 rather than play the Scheveningen structure.

As we can see, Black has a very fluid and firm setup, his pawns are covering all important central squares thus White’s Ns are totally unable to cross the 5th rank. Due to already mentioned flexibility, Black can play both ..e5 and ..d5 at some point; probably he will opt for the second choice as ..d5 would clear the long diagonal for the B and press White’s central bind.

The plans are quite clear, White has just launched a K-side pawn campaign thus he clearly goes for a quick kill. We can say that he left his “slow-motion” mode on bed and wants to mate Black brutally and quickly. The move has a positional background too: White would really like to kick the N away from its natural square because without the pressure on e4 White will have easier time getting his central mass in motion.

Black is on a crossroad and has to make up his mind; the next move will heavily influence plans for both sides.

At this point my student paused my jabbering and asked: “Is 9..h6 a good move?”

Well, here Black has two good moves at disposal: 9..Nb6 and 9..h6. Black should pause and ask his psyche a few questions and determine what kind of position he wants to play.

9..h6 ( diagram )

Black should be fully aware of the consequences of this move:

  • Black wants to keep his N on f6 as long as possible thus in the next few moves he will have to free himself with ..d5. It makes perfect sense to think like that because Nf6 supports the push, he has to justify his 9th move.
  • He should be completely aware that at some point at least one K-side file will open up, so he can kiss his short castle goodbye thus we can conclude that his K will be much safer in the center. Why is that? Check out that little guy on h6, it helps Black to keep his N on f6 for the time being, but at the same time it will help White to open up a file. Once the pawn steps on g5, Black will be unable to ignore that threat – capturing the pawn will not solve the problem, as White will recapture and attack the N for the second time. Unfortunately for Black, White will not stop there, as he might start considering to move his pawn further, directly undermining Pf7 which will shake up Black’s central bind. This powerful positional idea cannot be underestimated; White's play is not only set to destroy opponent's K-side, it can be used for the central strategy too.

So, there’s no turning back once the pawn sets his foot on h6, Black has to arm himself with courage.

The second option is 9..Nb6 ( diagram )

A solid approach, Black doesn’t want to loose his K-side, so White will have tougher time opening some files on that wing. We can draw some conclusions:

  • Black is ready to move his N away somewhere else. His central control has diminished a bit but it’s not a big deal, he will get it back quickly. Notice that the other N supports ..d5, so Black has everything under control.
  • White’s g5, which was so problematic in the previous line, suddenly becomes a cat’s cough. Seeing White’s unability of creating a K-side blitzkrieg, at some point he might even consider to castle.
  • Still, White will not stop there, g5 might not be enough to open up some file, but g5, followed by h5-g6, will create some action, however, since all those moves will not be forced ( no light pieces to attack ), so Black should be able to keep the K-side position locked down.

So, what’s the point of all this? If your opponent is significantly stronger on one wing then you should keep the structure of that wing intact. Of course, every rule has many exceptions, but it’s always good to have some guidelines. Take a look at the next example:

It’s Mar-del-Plata variation, Black is playing on the K-side, and White is trying to do something concrete on the other wing. Black should keep his pawns fluid and move them only when there is no choice, White will try to provoke Black to make some weaknesses by playing Nb5, c5, b4-c5, but quite often Black will ignore White’s plans and continue rolling his own plan.

So, keep an eye on the little guys, one little push can change a lot.

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