Pawn Pushes in Front of the King

Oct 14, 2013, 6:56 AM |

I think one area where I tend to be a tad conservative, is when it comes to pawn pushes in front of the king. Generally speaking, I just do not do this in fear of weakening my king defense, aside from a h3/h6 pin break or to create a luft for the king in certain situations. Perhaps I am adhering to principles too much and not reading the position as it stands, but not until I enter an endgame or if the centre was very closed would I generally push pawns in front of my king. However, looking at a few games this morning I came across a few games where GMs pushed away seemingly without fear.

Naturally a GM is likely to know when conditions are safe to pawn push. When material has been traded, Queens are off the board or if the centre is closed (but will it stay that way I often think?) but there seems to be other situations where a pawn push to me seems very dangerous. See for example the recent game below from Dortmund, Caruana-Adams.

And from the same tournament, Kramnik - Fridman.

And perhaps not as dramatic, but a one game I looked at this morning, Nimzowitch vs Prof. Michael (from My System).

So three games that I chanced upon and three games where white pushes his pawns in front of his king. In the first game queens are off the board and black was still organising so perhaps there is reason there? In the second game black looked cramped and white was Kramnik! In the last game Nimzowitsch seemed to think the push was quite normal and was of course quickly proved correct. White lost in the first game but was this a result of this pawn play or just coincidence? In all of these games however, I'm still pretty sure I would not have had the nerve to push pawns in front of the king in such a way. Instead I would have built up more slowly. So, my questions are in those positions just before the pawn storm are there any clues which indicate white is safe to push pawns in front of his king, other than the ones mentioned? Or is this just a case of experience or intuition? Or am I being over-cautious in my thinking? What do you think?