What Are Chess Weaknesses?

What Are Chess Weaknesses?


     Chess is a very complex game and because of this it can often become difficult to find a plan. You may notice that many strong players will try to provoke weaknesses from their opponents and squeeze as much of an advantage out of the position as possible. But how is this done? What is the classification of a weakness, and what do they look like? For the sake of simplicity I will be talking about two of the main types of weaknesses that revolve around the same topic - Pawn structures.

     Pawn structures are often considered to be the skeleton of chess. Without a strong skeleton, the body won't be effective. The problem with having a bad pawn structure is that it will often not be solved through static means, meaning that the only way to fight for an advantage is through dynamic play (Dynamic play is referring to piece activity and king safety). But how do we determine a weakness through pawn structures? Lets look at our first example:

Can you spot the weakness in this position?

     Before we go over what the weakness is in this position, it is now time to define a weakness created from pawn structures; A weakness is a pawn or a square that can be easily attacked. With this definition in mind you may have reassessed the position and come to a new conclusion. Originally some may think the c6 or b2 pawns are weak, however there are no immediate lines available to attack c6 and if there are ever threats against the b2 pawn, the move b3 should solve any issues for white. This leaves us with the a6 pawn, which is primarily weak from potential pressure along the a file. This means that black will permanently be stuck defending their a6 pawn, limiting the potential of their pieces. The a6 pawn is weak because it can not be defended from other pawns, meaning that instead of leaving material of lesser value to defend, black will have to restrict their own pieces by having them tied down to the defence of their weakness. This type of pawn is called an "isolated pawn" and to reiterate, the weakness of an isolated pawn is that it can not be defended by other pawns, rather it has to be defended by pieces.

What is the weakness in this position?

     Okay, this is somewhat of a trick question as there are two weaknesses. If you saw that d6 is the weakness you are correct, though if you also considered d5 to be weak as well you get extra points! This type of pawn formation is called a "backward pawn" and it has similarities to the isolated pawn for two reasons. The first reason that the backward pawn is similar to an isolated pawn is that is cannot be defended by pawns on either side, as they are either advanced or are no longer on the board. This means that the only way to defend the pawn is with pieces which as mentioned before - will restrict mobility and prevent counter-play. The other similarity between the isolated pawn and the backward pawn is that the square in front of the pawn will often be difficult to control for the defender, this is important because without black being able to play the move d6-d5 their pieces will remain cramped, meaning if you have the chance to occupy the square in front of these pawns - or in front of isolated pawns, you should seriously consider it. There may not be an immediate win but restricting your opponents ideas will often increase their chances of making mistakes.

Are there any weaknesses in this position?

     You may look at the above position and think, of course there is a weakness! There are two pawns on the c file for black and therefore white has a slight advantage. While this is a fine way to think, we also need to remember what a weakness is.

     "A weakness is a pawn or a square that can be easily attacked"

     With this is mind it becomes apparent that there aren't any easy ways to attack the pawn on c6 or c7, meaning black's position is completely solid. Then we must ask "how would white prove their advantage if they are unable to attack blacks pawns?"

     Instead of the conventional way to play against a weakness (from attacking it), we instead ask what black will have troubles doing in the future. In this position we see that there is a king-side majority for white and for black there is a queen-side majority, the problem that black will now face is that it will be difficult to create a passed pawn. However, whites ability to create a passed pawn is unhindered due to their undamaged pawn structure. We now see what white's long term goals are - to create a passed pawn on the king-side while preventing black from fixing their pawn structure with a pawn break on the queen-side.

     The time may come where there are no inherently weak pawns for either side, however this is where we switch from the perspective of trying to win material and now look at trying to find weak squares. Why is this important? When you see weak squares, this usually means that you can occupy them with your pieces increasing your activity while trying to restrict your opponent. Let's now take a look at a position with a very weak square:

Are there any weak squares in this position that come to mind?

     If you have trained your strategical eye, you may notice that the e3 pawn is not as weak as it may seem, the important reason behind this is that there are no lines to attack it. However, the e3 pawn is not the main focus, of course white may want to play the move e3-e4 at an opportune time this plan is rather unlikely. However, with the construction of the d4 and f4 pawns we notice a particularly weak square on e4. In these types of structures you will normally see white play on the king-side, but what is black's plan? Well a major plan that black can consider is to move one of their knights to e4 while trying to get a good knight vs bad bishop imbalance.

The dream position for black, whites attempt to gain space early with d4 and f4 has backfired.

     There can often be many ways to reach the optimal piece placement that a position demands, so I do encourage you to ask yourself in your own games; "Are there any weaknesses in my or my opponents pawn structure?" And if you create your plans accordingly, you may often find yourself thinking of some new and creative ideas! I hope this blog has helped give you some new ideas and if you are interested in the video form of this blog, you can find that here:

Thanks for reading.