Pawn Fatale

Pawn Fatale

| 7 | Endgames

The inspiration for the name “Pawn Fatale” is a recent Britney Spears’ album “Femme Fatale”. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, "femme fatale" is a seductive woman who lures men into dangerous or compromising situations; or a woman who attracts men by an aura of charm and mystery. I feel that the context of the definition is limited because we usually associate this term with a movie or literary character and not with anyone specific in a real life. Also the definition lacks the description of character qualities (such as predatory, unreliable, manipulative etc.) and concentrates on the character’s actions (lures, attractions). Speaking of Britney’s album, I am not a big fan of pop music, however I am interested in “femme fatale” as portrayed in literature (Dostoyevsky’ “The Idiot” and “The Brothers Karamazov”) or movies, especially the 1940s film noir.


It seems that the above paragraph has nothing to do with chess but sometimes I think of chess pieces as “femme fatales”. For example today we will see a position where the black passed pawn is duplicitous and self-destructive for black. It is a passed pawn and a great hope for black but on the other hand advancing it causes many problems for black. It is so tempting to promote the pawn but it is very hard to advance it without coming under an attack which puts the black player in a dangerous situation. If black had not had this passed pawn then he would not be tempted to win the game and eventually would settle for a draw. But having the pawn causes black to compromise his position and go for an imaginary win. To me this passed pawn is a “pawn fatale” – a deadly pawn for black.

Although the material balance resembles a middlegame I think this position is an endgame. We have a bunch of pieces on the board: a queen, rooks and a bishop. With so many pieces on the board one should look at king’s safety. Black king is better off due to the pawn shield along the h-file and because it is placed at the edge of the board. On the other hand, the white king is stuck in the middle of the board and doesn’t have a decent shield. Imagine the black rooks operating on an open a-file-- then the white king would be in trouble.

By evaluating the position we extract useful data. Here, we know that opening files on the queendside benefits black due to the white king’s poor placement. Let us keep this at the back of our minds. There is some tension on the kingside and possible pawn exchanges. Suppose white takes a pawn on h5 then black has the Rg3 move. The g3 square is guarded by two black pawns-– h4 and f4-- and not guarded by white pawns. It is hard for white to rid of a black rook nested there. We conclude that g:h is not a threat. How about h:g? Without going further into the calculations we assess that losing a pawn in front of the king is not a good idea for black. White has a passed-d pawn, while black has a passed c-pawn. Which one is more dangerous? The d-pawn is further advanced than the c-pawn but black pieces control the d6-square. The rook on h1 is cut off from the play and cannot participate yet in the c-pawn blockage. It seems that the c-pawn is more dangerous.

In the first game that I and my coach played in a training game I took the black side. The play on the kingside was stalemated, so I decided to play on the queenside. And the only way to play there is to prepare an advance of the c-pawn. The disadvantage of bringing the queen to the queenside is that the pawn on h4 is no longer defended. I thought that the c-pawn movement would be faster than the kingside attack of white. An optimistic assessment as we shall see.


 The important ideas from the game are:

  • If white takes the h4-pawn black’s king position is in danger.
  • With the queen on h4 black must keep the g-file closed. Giving up the h-file is not dangerous as the black king can always hide on f8 and black rooks on the g-file will guard the king.
  • White has to take the situation with a cool head and not rush winning with sacrifices. Calculating all the variations carefully in winning positions is a very-very important habit one has to develop. From a winning position white obtained a loss because of one rushed decision: R:g6.
  • Don’t be greedy: if you missed a win calm down and settle for a draw. Playing for a win in an equal position can result in blunders and in an overestimation of the position.
  • It is easy to miss “long” moves or threats. Qa7 in the game is an example of such a move. The queen threatens the g1 square, which is hard to see in calculations because it is so far away from where the queen is placed.

Overall, the game was rocky – both players made blunders. It was instructive in measuring where the line of equality is and where one pushes too hard for a win and ends up losing. Next week we will continue exploring this position and hopefully find out how deadly the c-pawn is.

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