Weakening the Queenside? Not a Good Idea

Weakening the Queenside? Not a Good Idea‎

WIM energia
25 | Strategy

Pawns do not go backwards – this is an expression which shows how committal pawn moves can be. Moving a pawn to one square does not seem to be the most important decision one makes in the course of a game. But sometimes one such move can be of crucial importance- it can determine the flow of the game and decide the battle on a particular side of the board.

Today, I would like to present this topic using two examples from the US Championship, which is taking place right now in St. Louis. In both games black had trouble defending the pawn weaknesses on the queenside. In the first game the weaknesses were self-imposed, while in the second game white pressed hard enough to achieve significant weaknesses on the queenside.

The following general lesson can be extracted from this first game: do not move pawns on the side of the board where you are weaker. White had an open c-file and black gave her targets there. It is easier to defend the weak b7 pawn (since it is located on the closed b-file), rather than the c6-pawn, which is under fire from the white rooks. Another lesson is you can always help yourself by provoking the opponent. In statically closed positions losing time on maneuvers such as Na4 in the game is justified because one tempo does not play an important role. Meanwhile, it gives an excellent opportunity for your opponent to make a mistake. White was practical in this sense and created the maximum number of problems for black to solve.


While the previous game featured the topic of not moving pawns because it will create weaknesses and easy targets for your opponent, the next game features the topic of how to first create and then use weaknesses in the opponent’s camp. Usually, your opponents will not provide easy targets for you: you must help the opponent to do so. In the following game white had aimed for the b7 pawn the whole game. It was first fixed by moving a4-a5 (then the b7 pawn cannot be advanced because the neighboring pawns will become weak), then it was blockaded and eventually captured on the c6-square. Black could have defended better, no doubt, but it is very hard to keep a cool mind when there is an obvious weakness in one’s camp and the opponent never takes their eyes off it.


Today’s presented games are positional masterpieces. There was a unifying plan in each of the games that focused on exploiting the weaknesses of the black pawns on the queenside. In both games white had a minority of pawns on the queenside and attacked the black majority. Having only two pawns on the queenside gives a player an open file – usually the c-file to attack the opponent’s c-pawn. Therefore, another lesson to learn is that having a majority of pawns (three vs. two of the opponent’s)  does not automatically give an advantage on that side. On the contrary, it can be a burden, especially when the opponent’s pieces are active and target the pawns. If you want to further look into this topic there are many classical examples of how to get an advantage with a pawn minority on the queenside from the Carlsbad system in the Queen's Gambit (= Queen's Gambit Exchange Variation).

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