Pawn Structures: e5-d4 (White) and e6-d5 (Black)
In this article a popular pawn structure will be reviewed: when White has pawns on e5 and d4, and Black – on e6 and d5. It is typical of the Caro-Cann, French Defense, and can occur in other variations as well. For example, in the following game it happened in the Catalan.
The aggressive e5-d4 pawn structure implies that White will be playing for an attack on the Black king (usually located on the kingside). White has a space advantage on the kingside, thus having more maneuverability. In the French Defense, when Black’s light-squared bishop is immobilized by the pawn on e6, White sometimes sacks the bishop on h7 and/or puts a piece on f6 to break up the pawn shield of the king. If Black tries to undermine White’s pawn chain by f6, White can exploit the weakness of the pawn on e6 and try to capture the e5-outpost.
White’s activity isn’t limited to the kingside only. It is also possible to play on the queenside by capturing the c-file and/or creating a pawn march. One can also combine the ideas and play on both sides of the board simultaneously. For instance, the rook on c3 can either take part in the attack on the Black king via the third rank, or, after doubling rooks, put pressure on the queenside.
Black has two main scenarios. One is to play on the queenside where, due to the d5 pawn, one has c4 under control. A pawn attack; capturing the c-file; playing with the light pieces (e.g. light-squared bishop+knight). Another idea is to undermine the White pawn structure by playing f6: the rook on f8 becomes active, and if White plays ef, Black can put some pressure on the isolated d-pawn. The drawbacks of this plan have been discussed earlier: e6 becomes a target, but it isn’t that easy for White to take advantage of this fact.
As the pawns are placed on light squares, the corresponding bishop’s mobility may be limited. In the Caro-Cann this problem is solved by transferring the bishop to the h7-b1 diagonal; in the French Defense – the a6-f1 diagonal, or it can stay on d7 and support the e6 -pawn (after f6), or it can appear on the h7-b1 or h5-d1 diagonals via e8 after f6.
Generally speaking, this pawn structure leads to a complicated double-edged struggle, which requires a good positional understanding.
To give you an illustration for this topic, I would like to show you a game from the ’11 Russian Superfinal against Valentina Gunina.
My maneuvers on the queenside turned out to be unsuccessful, so I had to resort to f6 in a situation far from optimal. White played somewhat carelessly and let the advantage slip away. At some point I was totally winning, but missed a chance to finish the game on the spot and traded into a winning endgame, which I failed to convert in time trouble.