Pawn Power

Pawn Power

Jun 5, 2007, 10:54 AM |

The theme of my last blog post – the terminology used in chess leads me nicely onto a book that I recently started reading.

‘Pawn Power’ by Hans Kmoch was originally published in 1959 and I have the more recent Dover reprint.  The book is frequently cited as an excellent primer on pawn structures, although many reviewers caution against Kmoch’s confusing use of his own terminology.  If the descriptions used in the book had caught on then there would be no problem.  However, hardly any of his neologisms have entered common usage, so they can provide a real barrier to understanding the book.

Kmoch defines his technical terms in the first chapter “The Elements in Review”.  If you are a fairly experienced chess player who has never come across the book before, you could be forgiven for thinking that Kmoch had gone completely crazy!  Some of the terms he introduces are:

  • Lee and Luff
  • Frontspan and Rearspan
  • Innerpawns and Rimpawns
  • Counterpawn
  • Unfree, half-free and faker
  • Candidates, sentries and helpers
  • Ram, stop and telestop
  • Headpawn and head-duo
  • Fork lever, chain lever, pincer lever and cross lever!

There are lots more, but that’s as far as I’ve got so far!  Amusingly, when Kmoch writes about the head-duo, he says “Philidor…called it a Phalanx – a term the exact meaning of which few people would know today.”  One could say the same of all Kmoch’s terms!

Despite this orgy of fantastic words, it is clear that Kmoch’s intentions were honourable.  He wanted to define different pawn structures accurately, so in order to have the appropriate words available to easily explain these concepts, he had to define a lot of new terms up front.  Less forgivable are his decisions to reject terms in common usage and replace them with his own e.g. instead of kingside and queenside, he prefers home-side (the side your king castles) and ranger-side (the other side).  Kmoch is no longer alive today, but if he were I would be tempted to ask him what he would call either side of the board if the King didn’t castle, but I digress…

If any readers have read this book, I would be interested to what you made of it.  In the meantime, I’m hoping that if I can make it to the end of chapter 1 without forgetting what I read at the start of chapter 1, I might start to learn something useful! Smile