Doubled Pawns: Chess Pariahs Or Misunderstood?

Doubled Pawns: Chess Pariahs Or Misunderstood?

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The member QueensConquerer wrote: I just read your article on opening preparation and in it you said that the player shouldn’t be afraid of getting doubled pawns. But there are times when I’m watching YouTube videos (Mainly Matojelic and IM John Bartholomew) and the YouTuber always says that Black/White has a bad pawn structure now after receiving doubled pawns -- but sometimes they accept doubled pawns without even talking about it.”

Jeremy Silman: Mr. QueensConquerer, in chess, there are very few “rules” that are always correct. Each position has to be assessed based on where that particular mix of pieces and pawns stand. And, when one position has doubled pawns that are actually a plus, a slight difference could turn a happy plus into an extremely unhappy nightmare.

However, rules do give us a useful start into a position, but then you need to make sure that rule is standing tall, or if it’s just wrong for that exact situation.

Here are a few rules about doubled pawns:

Rule 1: Doubled isolated pawns are generally bad since there isn’t a side pawn that can protect the lead doubled pawn.

In our first position, White’s lead doubled pawn can’t be protected by a pawn, so that pawn can easily fall victim to a simple buildup:

Of course, keep in mind that there are always exceptions. Never say, “The rule told me that this structure will give me an advantage!”

In the majority of times that might be correct, but you need to make sure that it’s true in the position in front of you.

This shows what I mean:

White’s d-pawns are clearly weak, but Black doesn’t have to be in a hurry. First he needs to make sure that his king is safe. Sadly, if you follow our rule without looking at the board, bad things can happen to you. Thus 1...Rd6 looks logical since it defends g6 from possible sacrifices and prepares to double and eat the d4-pawn. However, it loses!

Rule 2: If the enemy pieces can’t reach the doubled pawns, you can’t take it for granted that they are weak.

In our next example, White has doubled c-pawns (which Black can’t attack), but he also has a very powerful pawn center. Since White’s queen, dark-squared bishop, and knight are all aiming at the enemy king, and since White’s central space advantage is squeezing Black to death, it’s very clear that Black’s in serious trouble and the doubled pawns are more a plus than a minus.

Rule 3: At times, creating a doubled pawn in your own camp can be a very good thing!


Rule 4: If Black doubles the c-pawns, he should be very careful to develop in such a way that his pieces can reach them.

A common sequence is:


However, instead of going into that kind of mega-theory, Black can fight for a completely different kind of game:

Another way to reach that structure can be seen in the following famous game. Notice how Black places his pieces so they can attack the c4-pawn. White in turn tried to create a kingside attack, but Black stopped it by 14...f5. Both sides have won during the many games played from this kind of structure, so one can say that both sides have chances in a dynamic (White’s kingside attack) vs. static (Black going after the c4-pawn) battle.



Of course, there are other “rules” regarding doubled pawns, and there are other double-pawn setups, and other double-pawn plans. However, what I’ve given should give you a small idea as to some of the things that might occur (for both sides).

As you can see, doubled pawns aren’t the pariahs that many make them out to be. They have their advantages and their (obvious) downsides. But, if you think about it, the same thing can be said about almost every structure in chess.


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