Beware the Almighty PAWN!

Beware the Almighty PAWN!

Jun 9, 2010, 8:53 AM |

(Artwork entitled "Pawn's Dream" by Carina Jørgensen - used with permission.  Check her out on Facebook!  Thanks Carina)

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As I continue to develop my chess skill, I'm constantly reevaluating my thoughts & ideas.  I had a 'mini-epiphany' yesterday morning & realized what my next goal is.  And I got excited about it.  It spurred me on to write this blog post about the most under-rated piece on the board - the PAWN!

It's true, the most under-appreciated piece on the board is the almighty pawn.  I'm definately no expert, but I do know a few ideas and concepts to think about when studying these mysterious little brutes.  This article is meant to spur on a discussion on the topic & provide a new basic thought-process for new players to begin thinking about & ultimately help you improve faster. 

I know a flashy, sharp check-mate can be exilirating, but I don't know what can be more satisfying on the chessboard than meticulously squeezing your opponent into submission by executing a plan from start to finish.  Without knowing how to use your pawns, this would be impossible.

I've included some well-known quotes about pawns from some of the finest chess-minds out there, as well as a very fun/frusterating/beneficial exercise you can practice with a friend to help you develop some more appreciation for our little work-horses.

Take each piece on the board & add them together using standard point values.  Two rooks are worth 10 points.  The queen is worth 9.  Next up, the 'lowly' pawns weigh in with 8 points.  However, "in theory" they are potentially worth a whopping 72 points!  (Each one has the ability to be promoted to a queen: 8x9=72)

It's never REALLY clicked like that before!  Have you ever thought of their value in that way?

“Every pawn is a potential queen.”
--James Mason

The pawn is the only piece on the board that cannot move back to where it came from.  This makes every pawn move absolutely CRUCIAL to decide whether or not to advance its position. 

“A passed Pawn increases in strength as the number of pieces on the board diminishes”

Look at those close games you've been winning & losing.

  • What's the reason why you were able to squeak out that win?
  • Why was their light-square bishop able to help & your black-square bishop pretty much useless?
  • How was my opponent able to get ALL of those pieces out while I was floundering about behind my pawns just waiting to be check-mated?
  • My opponent just had 'better pieces' than I did...

Do any of these questions sound familiar?  The key to understanding these concepts is the pawn.  Without knowing how to use the pawns to your advantage, you are dead in the water against an opponent who does.  Learning how to effectively use your pawns to try and gain control over 'who's in charge' throughout the game.  If you're playing as a reaction to your opponent's last move rather than dictating who does what, you might have to look back through the game and see where those pawns could have helped turn the tables in your favor.

It is true that the pawn is a vital part of the game.  I think many beginners fail to recognize the power they have to tip the scales & create a game with all other things equal into a favorable one.

Getting back to the point values for a moment, pawns are the reason why one bishop is more useful than another as the game progresses.  Many times you will read about middle-games where one opponent has an active bishop & one has an inactive bishop, or progressing to the end-game you'll here people talking about how they had the wrong-colored bishop.  It all involves getting your pawns working together & where they need to be.

They can provide a safe perch for a knight deep in enemy territory or squeeze an opponent's options like a python.  The pawn structure can make for a hefty fortress for your king, or a sinking house built on sand.  They affect everything on the chess-board.

When all things are 'equal' it can come down to who is using their pawns in the most-effective way.


A friend showed me a simple, challenging exercise focusing on pawns.  Play a chess game without any queen/bishop/knight/rook on the board - just the pawn & king for both sides.  Try out a few blitz games like this with a friend & see if you can learn anything from it.  It can turn out to be a little frusterating if you're not sure what you're doing!

Pawn Exercise

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Do you have any examples that demonstrate how pawns can change a game?  What do you think - are pawns the most under-rated piece on the board?  To end my rant about pawns, I begin our discussion with a few more quotes:

“In a gambit you give up a Pawn for the sake of getting a lost game”
--Samuel Boden

“The most important feature of the Chess position is the activity of the pieces. This is absolutely fundamental in all phases of the game: opening, middle-game and especially end-game. The primary constraint on a piece's activity is the pawn structure.”
--Michael Stean