Your Pawn Structure Is Your Friend
Don't be afraid of complex pawn structures.

Your Pawn Structure Is Your Friend

| 43 | Strategy

What is 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."

Here are more positions on pawn structures to test your ability to understand them. This time I mixed easy ones and hard ones; something for everyone!

RULE: Develop your pieces AND look for opportunities to improve your pawns. Usually, both should be used for the same goal.

chess pawns

I will give you seven positions, three of which are puzzles.


White played the opening poorly (and 7.b3? made things worse), but ignoring castling was a big mistake. I should point out that a lot of players think that doubled pawns are bad, but it's not always so! In fact, Black's pawn structure is dynamic, as you'll soon see!


3...f6? was an odd (and bad) move, and any strong player would smile if his opponent ruined his pawn structure this way. When an opponent makes a move like this, you need to look for a long time and try to understand why he made that move, and how you can punish it.


Black just played 15...g4, hoping for a kingside attack against White’s king. Also, doesn’t Black have a better pawn structure? The answer is no since White’s doubled pawns are doing fine (keeping Black pieces away from d3 and d4), while Black’s e5-pawn will turn out to be a target. To make things even worse for Black, White is actually winning!


Black is positionally busted, but why? It’s all about the mutual pawn structures. White’s pawns are solid while Black’s are a mess. Black has three pawn islands for Black, but White has a snug two. Black has a backward pawn on d6, a hole (that White might be able to dominate) on d5, and another hole on e4. All this is great, but now you have to prove it!


Is Black better, worse, or equal? The answer, without a doubt, is Black is much better since his minor pieces are more active (notice that White’s knights are on the second rank while Black’s knights are in the sixth). However, that’s not enough. Black has to gain other plusses if he is going to win. To do that, Black has to gain kingside space by using his f7-pawn.


Here’s a situation where the pawns are easy to understand—or are they? The truth is that many pawn structures are fine to play, while (using the same pawn structures) a much stronger player might turn the position on its back by creating hard-to-find ideas.


Let’s look at the “it’s easy to understand” situation:


Here is the same pawn structure, but it changes in very interesting ways due to many ideas of tactics or dynamics. Let’s step back to 12...e6.


One might say that the pawn structure is more or less the same. However, this isn’t the case.

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