Don't Fear the Isolated Pawn

Don't Fear the Isolated Pawn

NM CoachJKane
Apr 18, 2015, 4:47 PM |

When I was a kid, I attended a few chess camps organized by FM Alex Betaneli, the founder of the Wisconsin Chess Academy. Alex is an amazing coach and organizer. While I was a student the staff included many strong players and experienced coaches including Grandmasters like Alex Goldin,'s Greg Serper, Josh Friedel and for one week a teenage Hikaru Nakamura. 

One of the most beneficial takeaways from these camps was an emphasis, not on specific openings but on how to play in common pawn structures. The coaches most emphasized playing with and against the isolated queen's pawn. Understanding the pros and cons of this structure allows you to aim for the best moves, regardless of whether that gives you an isolated pawn or has you playing against one.

Since I've started coaching chess, I've realized that many of the touranment players that I've worked with have learned about the weaknesses of an isolated pawn, but none of the benefits of having the only pawn in the center of the board. That's why I'm sharing the following tournamnet game which I played yesterday. It was a pretty quick win, but the game continuation and many of the sidelines demonstrate attacking plans associated with the isolated pawn. With a bit of study, you can enter these positions without fear as either side. This was my first time playing this opening in a rated game in nearly a decade, but knowing the key ideas in different structures makes it easy to find good moves even without opening preparation.

 A few ideas to look for when playing with an isolated d4 pawn:

* Aim for tactics against h7, and f7. It's easy to target those squares with bishop, queen and knight.

* Use the open or half open c and e files for rooks.

* The e5 square makes a strong outpost for a knight. Black will have a hard time removing it because f6-f5 weakens the kingside.

* Consider a well timed d5 push to open lines for your pieces.

Thanks for reading. If you would like to see a more complicated game in the same opening, see my previous blog post, "A Missed Blitz Brilliancy."