The Isolani

The Isolani

Sep 1, 2015, 7:01 AM |
The Isolated Queen Pawn (IQP) has been a subject I've liked ever since I started playing. I first encountered it in my first ever chess book by "Play Better Chess" by Leonard Barden, as it was the recommended system against the Caro Kann. The model game was Smyslov-Ribli, where Smyslov was on his way to the semi finals of the World Championship in the mid 1980s.
I enthusiastically went through the first chapter of Chess Structures by Rios, which is on the Isonali. His model games are excellent, and most importantly his summary very clear. A key idea I previously didn't appreciate was the role of the Bishop that can operate on the diagonal against the opponent's King.
I like the author's balanced viewpoints of White and Black. This gives me understanding to play both sides and what to anticipate from my opponent.
White's plans (taken from the book)
1. Create a Kingside attack. Standard Plans include Ne5, Bg5 and the battery Qd3 and Bc2. Piece sacrifice may be needed to break through defence. Rooks typically placed on e1 and d1/c1, and a Rook transfer via third rank is possible
2. Break in the centre with d4-d5, trading pawns and opening lines with an overwhelming initiative (or even sacrificing a pawn with the same purpose)
Black's plans
1. Trade pieces to win an endgame. In particular, exchange White's good (light squared Bishop).
2. Place a Knight on d5. This prevents the central break d4-d5, and controls some key squares. In an endgame, a Rook, Bishop or even King would be strong on this square.

Vadim Zvjaginsev - Rodrigo Vasquez, World Rapid Ch, Khanty-Mansiysk 2013
Learning Objective: The central d4-d5 break can be very powerful if Black does not effectively prepare against it

1. Black's position would be safe if he kept the Knight on d5.

2. Absolutely necessar to prevent, or prepare, against possible d4-d5 break.

3. Black's biggest mistake was playing the weakening moves ... a6 and ... b5, wasting time and making the d4-d5 break even stronger.

4. After d4-d5 was played, the position was nearly lost and extremely difficult to conduct


Alexander Huzman - Levon Aronian, Plovdiv 2010

Learning Objective: The break ... d5-d4 (for Black) can be very strong, even in the form of a pawn sacrifice.


1. Time is essential to obtain a good piece setup. White's imprecise 10. a3 allowed Black to fight for an advantage from the start.
2. White's biggest mistake was not to reinforce his control of d4 with 18. Qd2
3. The ... d5-d4 pawn sacrifice gave Black a winning initiative

Radoslaw Wojtaszek - Laurent Fressinet, Wijk aan Zee 2011
Learning Objective: The side which possesses an isolani in the endgame is limited to passive defence. This game shows how to make progress in such an endgame



White won this endgame methodically by following

1. Attack d5 pawn to immobilise Black's pieces, preventing counterplay

2. Gain space on Kingside, improve his piece position

3. Create second prong to attack (passed pawn on Kingside) to decide the game.


Pavel Simacek - Baadur Jobava, Legnica 2013

Learning Objective: This game illustrates how dangerous the black isolani can be when White lacks his e-pawn 

1. White should have neutralised Black's Bishop on b6 with Re1 and Be3 (see move 8)
2. Black's initiative develops so easily that one may wonder if this version of the isolani is simply inferior for White. This is not necessarily true, though White requires extra care and imprecisions prove more costly, mainly because the King is more vulnerable

Oleg Korneev - Rustam Kasimdzhanov, Melilla 2011
Learning Objective: This example reinforces the idea that having an isolani in the endgame is a big problem. Black can use the weakness of the isolani to force the creation of new Queenside weaknesses.



1. The standard plan ... Qd8 and ... Rd5 forces White to play b2-b4, in order to preven ... c5 winning a pawn

2. Once b2-b4 has been played, the break ... a5 forces the creation of a weak b4 pawn or allows Black to achieve ... c5

3. The initial position looks like a slight advantage for Black, but in fact White lost the game without making a further mistake

4. One should not the difference of a Black pawn on c-file rather than e-file


This diagram shows the standard plan if Black had an e-pawn rather than a c-pawn


Etienne Bacrot - Romain Edouard, Caen 2011
Learning Objective: This game illustrates kingside attacking chances in a standard isolani position
1. The d5 break was a predominant theme in this game; which prevented many of Black's desired moves.
2. 18. Bf4 would have given a pleasant, slow paced but steady advantage
3. Althought 18. Bxh6 should only give equality, it is easier in practise to play White's attack than Black's defence (who had a series of only moves).

Nikita Vitiugov - Viktor Bologan, Eilat 2012
Learning Objective: This game illustrates how important it is to have the good bishop when you have an isolani. Without this bishop it is extremely difficult to create counterplay even in the middlegame
1. Black's biggest strategic mistake was accepting an isolani without having his good bishop.
2. White's piece arrangement with pawns e3/f3, Bf1, Bf2 and Nd4 was ideal. Covers most essential squares while maintaining a solid and dynamic position.
3. Black did not have a good response against Rc3, Qc1 and b3 followed by penetration down the c-file. Lost position since move 30.

Magnus Carlsen - Wang Yue, Linares 2009
Learning Objective: The player who has an isolani can obtain good counterplay if he possesses the good bishop. This is true despite having traded two minor pieces.
1. Black's decision to accept an isolani was based on two main factors: White's Knight not useful in an isolani position; Black was rid of his bad bishop and had a good bishop to create critical threats down the b8-h2 diagonal
2. Crucial tactical mistake was 26. Re1, otherwise likely a draw

Narcisco Dublan - Gonzales Vidal, Badolona 2005
Isolani on the Fifth Rank