The pawn "pin"

Jan 2, 2012, 12:10 PM |

Take a look at this relatively quiet position.  What do think is the likely result of this game with best play on both sides?














Everyone is familiar with the tactical device known as a "pin".  We think of these as coming from pieces that move in straight lines, bishops, rooks and queens, as they attack one piece and keep it from moving due to the fear of a stronger piece being captured behind it.  Simple enough.


Due to my choice of opening repertoire, I find myself frequently gaining space on the queenside, and usually this means I have an advantage on the side of the board where my opponent has not placed his king.  As such, I have struggled at times to find ways to make use of my extra space, given that my goal is clearly not an immediate checkmate.  One breakthrough in my own understanding is the realization that as pawns get closer to queening, they can become just as effective at pinning as the long range pieces!


It's true, a pawn can never produce an "absolute" pin, in which moving is impossible due to leaving the king in check.  However, advanced pawns can produce very effective "relative" pins, in which a piece cannot move due to loss of a large amount of material.  In the case of the "pawn pin" it is not the threat of loss of material, but the threat of the enemy gaining material that causes the defender to be frozen in its tracks!


Look again at the initial position in this article.  The white pawns are advanced, but appear useless at first glance.  Now that you are aware of the "pawn pin" though, you will notice that the black a7 pawn is really "pinned" due to the need to prevent white's a6-a7-a8Q, which means that b6 is actually undefended!  White to move wins instantly with Be3! followed by Bxb6! winning a pawn.  The white pawns quickly become mobile:














This suggests that one simple plan for winning a chess game is to gain space, trade pieces, and then look for breakthroughs like this in the endgame.  These breakthroughs are not just "luck", but are a natural consequence of the "pawn pin", and give you something concrete to play for in the middlegame.  This can alleviate the feeling that you aren't accomplishing anything when attacking on the opposite wing from the enemy king, and give you a plan to try to execute all the way through the endgame.


Have fun!