Pawn Formation: e4 d4 c3

Pawn Formation: e4 d4 c3

Sep 5, 2012, 2:37 AM |

The pawn formations are known to be the key to winning in chess since the times of Philidor. Philidor advises us that we must think about the formation we're going into, because a pawn formation mistake would be irreversible. And after 300 years, grandmasters of modern chess spent much effort to decide the most effective formations. I've been studying their historical games as well as today's games to uncover the work Philidor began: the pros and cons of these pawn formations, how to place our cute, innocent peons to make them feared by the enemy...

"e4 d4 c3" is a pawn formation often employed by white. It's roots go back to the games of Greco and then 19th century Evans Gambit. However, I don't think "e4 d4 c3" at those games were intentional, they were played for their mere attack potential, not for their strategic value.

The strategic importance of "e4 d4 c3" pawn formation is discovered by the first World Champion Steinitz. He believed that this formation is achieves the following:

  1. These lowly pawns invade the center as an impenetrable wall.
  2. The formation prevents the enemy bishop from taking advantage of the whole a1-h8 diagonal by fianchettoing to Bg7. It also prevents Bc5 and Bb4 moves, therefore "e4 d4 c3" ultimately throws the black King's Bishop out of the game.
  3. This formation also allows white to develop their pieces easily.

Let's see these infantry at work:

In this game, black very poorly responded against white's pawn structure, and in result, he could not get any counter-attack or space or any advantage against Steinitz. However, there are many responses to this pawn structure. Let's asses them chronogically:
The Earliest(Straightforward) System: Black employs an immediate challenge to the center, leads to an energic game.
Counter-attack Defense: Black spends one tempo to prepare an attack, then attacks the whole center. This concept is the logical alternative of the first and it's easy to understand.
Modern Systems: Black allows white to conquer the center squares with formation, then immediately exploits its weakness by attacking the center. This feels wrong at first, because it seems that if we don't challenge white, we will be cornered by the enemy pieces. But, black has many interesting tactical weapons at his hand to justify the modern systems, and I think it's a more professional way to counter white center.
Hypermodern Systems: Now this seems totally wrong, black ignores the formation completely! As we saw in Steinitz-Mongredien game, black is surely compelled to take some precautions for this formation? Not true! The Steinitz-Mongredien was a poor one I admit and you may encounter some positions that you may safely ignore the "e4 d4 c3" and employ your own strike force. Here is a recent game of mine.
My own game has confused me, in one game e4 d4 c3 is totally unbreakable, and in one game it is useless! After carefully analyzing, I realized that I was using a weakness of the enemy pawn structure. I can count these weaknesses if you wish:
  1. Pc3 usually becomes weak while white is trying to achieve the position(happened in my game). It is usually exploited by Bg7 like Gruenfeld Defense, but my "b4" also exploited it very well.
  2. Pe4 is weak because white can't play Nc3. Nd2 is not good because it restricts the bishop. White must first play Be3, then Nd2 like Steinitz, which spends two tempo. You can immediately attack e4 by any means necessary(you can give a tempo too like French Defense).
  3. If you take Pd4, enemy replies with cxd4, which gives the powerful e1 a5 diagonal to black like the Straightforward System.
My suggestion to the reader is to carefully study these options as both black and white and try to asses these in all games with "e4 d4 c3". By doing so, we could use a time machine to return 1863 and defeat Steinitz and shock himTongue Out. Of course, it's not that easy but I hope that this helpsWink.