More Things You Need To Know About Pawn Stucture
It's time to take another pawn structure lesson from the master.

More Things You Need To Know About Pawn Stucture

| 23 | Strategy

What is a pawn structure?

From my online glossary, I define it as “the positioning of the whole pawn mass. Also referred to as the pawn skeleton. This positioning of the pawns is what usually dictates the types of plans available in a given position due to open files, space, pawn weaknesses, etc.”

I am continuing my articles about pawn structures, since people seem to enjoy them and also learn from them. So here is another one!

Oh, one other thing: If you run into a pawn structure that befuddles you (it can be from a grandmaster game or one of yours), feel free to send me the position and I might use it for another of these articles.


Here is a little map that shows how easy it can be to make the right moves (which means you will also know the right ideas).

Basics for White:

  • White has two bishops while Black only has one. That alone gives White a small plus since usually two bishops vs. a bishop and knight favors the bishops.
  • If Black manages to trade the light-squared bishops, White will be left with a dark-squared bishop while Black won’t. Thus, if White ends up with a bishop and knight and Black ends up with two knights, that is (usually) a bit better for White.
  • b2-b4 is a must, now or a bit later. This gives White queenside space and also, at any moment, can open up the b-file, which allows the rooks to pour into Black’s territory.
  • Rf1-e1 proudly says that he will open up the center with e2-e3 and exd4 (that forces Black to take back with the c5-pawn or the e5-pawn), helping the white dark bishop to have juicy diagonals to use.
  • In many games with this kind of pawn structure, White will usual make use of both the b2-b4 idea and the Re1 followed by e3 idea.

Basics for Black:

  • Black’s behind in development, so he needs to get his pieces out and get his pieces on good squares as fast as he can.
  • Black will play …Re8, which gives more stability to the e5-pawn and also gives Black the possibility to play …e5-e4.
  • Black will play …Ra8-b8 (getting away from White’s g2-bishop), followed by …b7-b6 and …Bc8-Bb7 making Black’s light-squared bishop a dynamic piece.
  • In some situations, after playing …Ra8-b8, Black can try to play …a6 (in some cases without …a6) and …b7-b5, which challenges the queenside.
  • Black dreams that White will play b2-b4 and then take on c5. If that occurs, Black’s d7-knight can lounge on the c5-square. Neither White nor Black should be nice to the opponent’s pieces!

Knowing the basics of your pawn structure gives you a roadmap of what to do, and what your opponent should do.


In the eyes of many players, things are complex for both sides. However, the pawn structure screams that Black is lost. You are White here, so you have to show why Black is in so much trouble.


White has a superior position but, obviously, Black is still very much in the game. In positions like that, grab as many little pluses as possible. His goal here: to get two bishops against Black’s two knights, or punish Black for not castling yet.

Note that Black has a strong “wall” of pawns on c5 and e5, so, as Pink Floyd said (and others), you have to “tear down the wall!”


Sometimes defense is the way to victory.


For many players this position is good for Black since 11.d5 is answered by 11…f5 when Black has a superior pawn structure. Note that White has other ways to play: 11.Bd3, 11.Nb3, 11.Be2, etc. However, Botvinnik did something odd, he played 11.dxe5.

Are you in a bit of shock, or are you able to figure out what plan Botvinnik created?




This position might look like it’s good for White since Petrosian wants to play Bf3 (to protect e4) and then Nd5 when the knight is better than Black’s bishop (…Bxd5 would be answered with Rxd5). However, Smyslov understood this and doesn’t allow that negative change of Black’s pawn structure to happen.


It seems that Black has a strong attack against White’s king. However, that’s not quite correct, and White has a few moves to deal with it.

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