Pawns Adventures: Macedonian Phalanx

Pawns Adventures: Macedonian Phalanx


Intended level: Beginner/Early Intermediate

I have never seen anything more terrible and dreadful than a Macedonian phalanx! — Aemilius Paullus, Roman general

Two important concepts of pawn play, the ram and the lever, have been already covered in an adventure before, followed by an example game. The lever normally serves the attacking side by creating tension and possible lines opening for piece activity to follow. The ram typically serves the defender as it means immobility (for example, the white Pe4, black Pe5 ram shuts one file, two ranks, and four diagonals – the seven lines in total, which severely reduces the fighting potential of the troops).

Now let’s introduce pawn duo, two friendly pawns placed next to each other. For example, Pd4,e4.

Pawn Duo, formation in which pawns reach their top efficiency


Duo is a formation in which the pawns reach their top efficiency in the most economical way. If these pawns are foremost of a pawn formation, they are called head-duo in the terminology of Hans Kmoch (check his Pawn Power in Chess).

Pawns should be used in such a way that they form or can form duos, and remain able to do this again and again. While the attacking side wants to be maintaining their mobility and flexibility, the defending side is trying to stop them, which ultimately means blockade. If blocked, the pawn duo lost its value as it would be unable to march on to challenge the enemy resistance.

The ability to produce duos is an important measure of the value of pawn formation.

The pawn-duo is most important when it involves contact with opposing pawns. Then, the duo usually leads to the exchange of a pawn, which in turn increases the scope of pieces.

It was the head-duo in particular that Philidor had in mind when he realized the significance of that sort of formation more than two hundred years ago. He called it phalanx. In Greek texts, the phalanx described the mass of heavy infantry (armed with spears, pikes, or “sarissas”) that would deploy in line during battle. They used shields to block others from getting in. They marched forward as one entity, crushing opponents. While the Spartan phalanx used a shorter more versatile spear, the Macedonian phalanx that Alexander commanded used sarissas which were much longer and heavier spears requiring the use of both hands (Alexander the Great was one of the few great generals in history, along with the likes of Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, and Alexander Suvorov, who never lost a battle).

Head-duo in the center, a great force destined to crush the enemy


Let’s take a look at the above position by examining the pawn play, which, as is well known, affects all proceedings on the chessboard. White posses a strong pawn center thanks to the pawn duo. Both sides completed their development and must devise concrete plans for the middlegame. White may want to realize his preponderance in the center by crossing into the enemy territory by the pawn push d4-d5. The Nf6 is adequately placed against d5-thrust, and is also ready, in the event of e4-e5, to play …Nd5 (it’s important for us to realize that Black’s entire opening play has been focused on this threatening pawn center, watching out for its possible movement all the time, with the main idea to render it harmless by immobilization).

White must find an active plan because otherwise Black would start to create counterplay on the Q-side with …b5, followed by …a5. It would create another marching pawn duo on the battleboard!

After considering the situation, White decided to make a pawn sacrifice, by d5 and if then …exd5 to continue the attack by e5 (this needs some more preparation as the immediate push forward would be premature: 1.d5 exd5 2.e5 Ne4).

We see that strategic plans for both sides, and possible combinative attacks, or counterplay, all depend heavily on the pawn formation. Pawn play, as the preparation measures for action by pieces, creates preconditions for any serious plan on the board.

Remember: your handling of pawns is one of the keys to your success in chess. Using that unstoppable phalanx spreading fear and panic among the opposing army may truly help your game!


David BRONSTEIN — Paul KERES, XIX ch of USSR. Moscow 1949

In this game you are going to see how a formidable pawn phalanx prepared the ground for an infantry thrust deep into enemy territory that ended with a mating attack (the annotations from the tournament book by A. Konstantinopolsky were also used).

This is an updated version of my blog (with the Bronstein-Keres game added) that was first published on iChess com net on April 13, 2012.