The power of pawns

Aug 10, 2010, 1:28 PM |

hen a novice plays chess, they often throw away pawns without a second thought. After all, they are the weakest pieces on the board. However, a basic knowledge of how to use those pawns will make them a valuable part of your chess army.


François-André Philidor, the greatest chess player of the 18th century, called pawns "the soul of chess." They play an important - though sometimes subtle - role in every game, and should you reach the endgame, pawns can become the most valuable pieces on the board! 


Mastering the intricate nature of pawn play can take a lifetime. But a firm knowledge of pawn basics will give you a greater appreciation of their value - and a greater chance of scoring some wins! 



Pawn Moves are Forever


Unlike the other pieces, pawns can only move in one direction - forward! That means that any pawn move you make is final - even if you realize it was a mistake later, there's no way to get your pawn back where it came from. A pawn that moves forward might leave behind some weak squares or holes in your position that your opponent can exploit.


Does that mean you should never push your pawns? Of course not! Moving pawns forward is the main way to gain space, an important element in winning chess games. However, it does mean that you should make sure your pawn pushes aren't giving away important squares to your opponent's pieces.


pawn structure


The pawn structure - that is, the arrangement of one or both players' pawns on the board - is usually what determines the strategic nature of the game. Even though learning specific lines in your openings of choice isn't that important for a beginning player, it can be a good idea to learn the basic plans that go along with the common pawn structures of your openings. The pawn structure can often tell you which side of the board to play on if the center is locked. An example would be a situation in which white has pawns on c3, d4 and e5, while black has pawns sitting on f7, e6 and d5. White's pawns "point" to the kingside, while black's point to the queenside, giving both players a clue as to where they'll have more space and more chances for successful play.