Punishing The Pawn Grabber!
As beginners, we are invariably warned that pawn grabbing in the opening is a cardinal sin.
Indeed, what could be more incautious than throwing your development to the wind and setting yourself up for tactical calamity?
Pawn grabbing usually stems from a short-sighted mentality outlined by GM Serper in his excellent article The Deadly Opening Sin: "Yeah, I know, don't worry, I will finish my development for sure, but first let me take the tasty little pawn that my opponent left unguarded."
Frequently, a player will neglect his development in favor of material because he sees no forced tactical refutation, and simply assumes that he will find a way to neutralize his opponent's initiative.
The fallacy of this approach was seared into my memory ten years ago:
My opponent's incredibly disciplined and accurate play leads to a crucial point: when punishing a pawn-grabber, it is important to moderate your expectations. If there is no direct refutation, you should patiently kindle your initiative until a tactical opportunity presents itself.
At its heart, chess is a rational game: if your opponent has violated opening principles for no good reason (and much of the time, a small material gain is not a good reason), an opportunity will present itself in due course.
The following game is an excellent illustration.
In capturing the pawn on e4, Black did not — technically speaking — overlook anything concrete. He doubtless anticipated the attack, but hugely underestimated its power.
By simply continuing his development and tightening the noose in the center, Sven Zeidler ensured that his opponent would eventually pay a dear price for his avarice.
When a stronger opponent goes pawn snatching, it is easy to fall into the trap of "trusting" him, subconsciously assuming that there is no refutation because he has calculated everything precisely.
This might indeed be the case — sometimes, you must settle for long-lasting compensation — but even grandmasters experience occasional mental lapses.
I was rather angry with myself after the game for my sloppy middlegame play, but my imperfect technique is beside the point. By keeping my self-composure and resisting the urge to become complacent, I was able to find the key to the position.
Modern chess does not tolerate dogma; nothing is written in stone.
There are individual cases in which pawn grabbing is tactically and positionally justified (the Poisoned Pawn Variation of the Najdorf Defense is a noteworthy example).
But in the majority of cases it is not, and you should not let your opponent emerge unscathed!
RELATED STUDY MATERIAL
- Read GM Naroditsky's last article: The Secrets Of The Berlin Endgame.
- Watch IM Daniel Rensch's video, Pawn Structure 101 Kamsky's Brilliance.
- Take a lesson on pawn power in the Chess Mentor.
- Practice your tactics in the Tactics Trainer.
- Looking for articles with deeper analysis? Try our magazine: The Master's Bulletin.