Pawn Play

  • IM John Grefe
  • Avg Rating: 1740
  • Misc

Pawn play is a vast subject. In this course we're going to cover its most typical - and some atypical - aspects. Some puzzles will focus on tactics, others on strategy. A few of the ideas covered: Strong and weak pawns; the overall pawn structure; understanding how the characteristic pawn formations of various openings determines the middlegame plan; the fight for the center; pawns attacking and defending the King; advanced passed pawns, etc. etc. One final note: Even the slightest change in the pawn formation can have sweeping consequences, one example being when a fluid pawn formation suddenly becomes blocked by a simple pawn advance.

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  • Dangerous "Free" Pawns

    Whenever an unblocked pawn can advance, especially with a direct attack on an enemy piece, the possibility should always be carefully considered. A closer look might reveal dangerous tactics hidden beneath the surface, even if the move initially looks harmless.
  • Pawn Skirmishes in the Center

    Both players employ a classical approach to win control of the center: they each rush their e- and d-pawns into hand-to-hand combat. Since White has an extra move he's able to set the tone, but this opening - the Giuocco Piano -has long been known to allow Black easy equality because he can blow up the center. That's why GMs mostly prefer the Ruy Lopez. The main idea there is also to gain a mobile pawn center, but Black's road to equality is much thornier.
  • E-file Blitzkreig Against the Uncastled King

    Gaining control of the center is the fundamental opening goal, but other aims are also important. If you can mobilize your men faster than your opponent, for example, you may be able to go straight for his King - if you can force open lines of attack. To accomplish this, you must clear your own pawns out of the way as well as the opposition's.
  • Opening Passers

    Passed pawns in the opening are rarer than hens' teeth. And even if you could get one, with so many pieces and pawns still on the board, the chances of making it to the 8th rank and queening are somewhere between slim and none. And yet...
  • The Mobile Pawn Center

    An ideal opening goal that's not easy to attain is creating a mobile pawn center with d- and e-pawns that are unchallenged and unblocked by opposing pawns. It can emerge out of games beginning with either 1.e4 or 1.d4. This lesson offers some insight about what you might try once you've gotten such a pawn center.
  • The King's Pawn Shield

    When both players use "Classical" strategy to fight for the center, using the d- and e-pawns to open the way for the Q and Bs and to annex important territory, the center pawns often require the support of the c- or f-pawns. When the latter is used it means a loosening of the King's pawn cover. In this case extra caution is indicated...
  • Bagging a Bishop

    Pawns perform all sorts of roles: Attacking, defending, blocking, controlling the center, promoting, and so on. Encircling is less common. Here's an unusual example.
  • Pawn Support for Outposts

    Knights, much more than other pieces, thrive on advanced protected outposts. Without adequate pawn support they are likely to be driven back or harmlessly exchanged.
  • A "Keeper"? Pawn Structure Often Decides

    Pawn play is sometimes mainly about the pawns themselves - are they strong or weak, how should the structure be altered, etc. - but often it's about their interaction with the pieces as well.
  • The World's Biggest Pawn Chain

    This lesson, based on a game of the great Capablanca, is rich in features typical of pawn play: Chains, attacking the base, opening a file, establishing an advanced outpost, the "bind", etc.
  • Middlegame Passers

    Passed pawns in the middlegame can cut the opponent's forces in two, threaten to queen, or assist in mating attacks. The last two ideas are illustrated here.
  • Middlegame Majorities

    When two distinct healthy pawn majorities arise, the right plan is often just to push the pawns after adequate preparation. The one who sets things in motion first usually has the advantage.
  • The Isolated Queen Pawn

    The side with the IQP mainly strives for a decision in the middlegame; the defender usually heads for the endgame by trading pieces, making it easier to exploit the inherent weakness of the IQP. So make sure you don't mind playing an endgame if you're fighting an isolani.
  • Restraining Enemy Pawns

    An old saying begins, "An ounce of prevention..." This lesson focuses on 'pint-sized prevention', the hindering of the opposition's schemes for pawn expansion by fighting fire with fire.
  • Crippled Majority

    One of the many little-used opening lines Bobby Fischer rehabilitated with great success was the Exchange variation of the Ruy Lopez. Black almost always retakes on 'c6' with his d-pawn after White captures the N, so that his Bishops will have more scope. But this generally results in a compromised queenside pawn majority for Black, who will be at a disadvantage because of this if his Bishops are neutralized.
  • A Tough Decision

    Deciding which pawn structure to take on, when whatever you do looks unattractive, is not easy. Here the great Fischer shows the correct path when on the defensive.
  • Middlegame Passers

    This lesson features a well-supported passer in the midst of mating threats by both sides. The play featuring 3 majors on each side and back rank mates is thematic.
  • Hunter or Prey?

    Black tries a pawn 'whip' on an audacious Bishop, but will his attempt to hunt it down backfire?
  • Two Passers for a Piece

    Under normal circumstances a pawn is the unit of exchange, with a value of one point. But voluntarily giving up a piece for 2 pawns, or giving up the 'exchange' for 1 pawn, is not unusual. There are, in fact, a number of different ways to give up material in exchange for what would normally be an insufficient number of pawns, thanks to various positional and/or tactical factors.
  • Buried Alive

    There are many well-known ways for pawns to trap pieces. There are also some unusual ones.

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