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Study Pawn Structures Before Openings: It Adds Up

Study Pawn Structures Before Openings: It Adds Up

Aug 7, 2010, 10:08 AM 5

A lot of player start out believing they need to immediately start studying openings to improve their game. While studying opening theory will improve your game, I believe that your are jumping ahead of yourself. Opening Theory is very specific, and taking in a broader understanding of positions would greatly increase your ability to understand openings. This broader understanding of positions comes from studying pawn structures. To help illustrate this point, I'm going to use a math analogy (I know, so original :P) 
We start learning chess openings with the basic principals: control the center, develop your pieces, secure king safety, etc. This is like adding, subtracting, multiplying, etc. Your foundation to understanding chess/math 
Pawn Structures are like the Algebra of math. Pawn Structures teach us the general plans of any logical opening.  Andrew Soltis classifies the major pawn formations into 16 categories: 
    * 2.1 The Caro formation 
    * 2.2 The Slav formation 
    * 2.3 The Sicilian - Scheveningen 
    * 2.4 The Sicilian - Dragon 
    * 2.5 The Sicilian - Maróczy bind 
    * 2.6 The Sicilian - Boleslavsky hole 
    * 2.7 The d5 chain 
    * 2.8 The e5 chain 
    * 2.9 The King's Indian - Rauzer formation 
    * 2.10 The King's Indian - Boleslavsky Wall 
    * 2.11 The Queen's Gambit - Isolani 
    * 2.12 The Queen's Gambit - Hanging Pawns 
    * 2.13 The Queen's Gambit - Orthodox Exchange 
    * 2.14 The Panov formation 
    * 2.15 The Stonewall formation 
    * 2.16 The Closed Sicilian formation 
Learning these "families" gives you a broad understanding of each opening. In Algebra, you learn the advanced concepts like variables that help you understand the more specific maths later on. 
Finally, openings are your advanced maths: calculus, geometry, trigonometry, etc. Each math is different in its own way, using different methods to solve logical problems. Openings are different methods of solving the same problem: controlling the center, developing your pieces, protecting your king. 
So, what's the problem with learning an opening before pawn structures? Let's say you spend a lot of time studying your favorite Sicilian dragon positions. You go to a tournament, sit down, and every opponent plays 1. d4. This isn't the most likely scenario, but the point is: you're too specific in your understanding, and we don't always get to determine what path the game will go down. In non 1.e4 positions you're not sure where your pieces should go, or if you should castle king side or queen side. It's hard for someone who studies geometry exclusively to be able to solve calculus problems on the spot. 
A more general understanding of all positions will ensure that you are never completely lost when your opponent "transposes" the game to a new position. Once you've studied the pawn structures, studying openings will come more naturally and you'll pick up on all the general principals with ease. Studying one pawn structure fully will help you to develop an opening repetoire and use any opening in that family as a viable weapon. Trust me, it adds up.

P.S. If you have diamond membership, I highly suggest Danny's videos on pawn structures:

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