Isolated Pawn

Isolated Pawn

| 27 | Middlegame

An isolated pawn is a pawn that has no pawns of the same color on neighboring files. Chess theory has many variations featuring this type of pawn structure, e.g. the Queen’s Gambit Accepted, Caro-Cann and others. In these systems the d4 (for White) and d5 (for Black) pawns become isolated. Today we will be discussing the main peculiarities of positions with isolated pawns.

An isolated pawn is controlling important central and adjacent squares. For example, for the d4 pawn it would be e5 and c5. These squares can be used as perches for pieces, especially knights. On the other hand, the opponent gets an excellent blockading square in front of the pawn. As an isolated pawn is not supported by allied pawns, it is subject to attacks from the opponent. In the endgame it becomes a target especially often.

Let’s take a look at the typical strategy used when playing with an isolated pawn:

  1. Attacking the king. Some of the techniques: placing pieces on central squares controlled by the pawn; creating a B+Q battery aimed at the king, activating the rooks via the 3 (6th for Black) rank; pushing the f-pawn.
  2. Playing on the queenside. Exploiting the c-file, attacking queenside weaknesses (if any).
  3. Breakthrough – d5 (d4 for Black). It is used to clear the files for one’s pieces, e.g. when attacking the king, especially when the opponent is behind in development.

Now a few ways to treat an isolated pawn in the opponent’s camp:

  1. Attacking the isolated pawn. Especially popular in the endgame, when your king may help eliminate the intruder.
  2. Exchanging pieces. It both decreases the opponent’s attacking chances and reminds him/her of the pawn’s vulnerability.
  3. Using the blockading square in front of the pawn for creating counter-play. For example, counter-attacking on the queenside.
  4. Exchanging pieces and thus creating hanging pawns that can become a target. For example, trading the d5-knight for the c3-knight and creating a pair of hanging pawns (c3 and d4).

In the following game I played vs Nazi Paikidze at the Russian Superfinal-2010. It may serve as an illustration of some of the above-mentioned concepts.


Please pay attention to the following moments: White has launched an attack against the Black king justified by the fact that the bishop on c8 was bad. I tried to slow my opponent down by exchanging pieces (usually a good idea when defending). On move 18, by playing Ng6 followed by d5 (another technique – see above), White could have gained some space for her pieces and got a long-lasting advantage. Instead Nazi hesitated and played d5 only on move 22, which was less effective. The game reached a drawn knight endgame, but my opponent managed to lose it somehow. After the end of the round I was very glad to receive praise from ex-FIDE World Champion Alexander Khalifman, a critical-minded person with an exceptional chess technique, who noted that I had converted the advantage very skillfully.

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