Isolated Pawn

Isolated Pawn

Isolated pawn? Did this pawn do something wrong, or has it just been left behind by its friends? Let's find out exactly what an isolated pawn is!

Here is what you need to know about isolated pawns:


What Is An Isolated Pawn?

There are many different types of pawns, but an isolated pawn (also known as an isolani) is a pawn that cannot be supported or protected by another pawn. Unlike a backward pawn, an isolated pawn is never part of a pawn chain because there aren't any pawns on adjacent files. Let's take a look at an example.

In the following position (a tabiya—or main starting position—for the Tarrasch Defense), Black has an isolated pawn on d5. When a pawn is isolated on the d-file, it is an isolated queen's pawn (IQP) as in this position:

isolated pawn
In the Tarrasch Defense, Black willingly accepts an IQP on d5.

Please note that this d5-pawn is isolated as there is no pawn to support it on the c- or e-file. It is also worth noting that not all isolated pawns are necessarily weak or "bad." Many strong players choose the position above as Black because the c- and e-files are potentially active for their rooks and their development is fairly easy to complete.

Now that you know what an isolated pawn is, let's find out why they are important.

Why Are Isolated Pawns Important?

Isolated pawns are important because they usually define the pawn structure and thus play a large part in the planning for both sides. Because isolated pawns can be protected by only pieces, they become weaker and weaker as more material is traded away. In the endgame, isolated pawns are often targets for attack. Let's take a look at an endgame example:

isolated pawn
White's isolated pawn on c4 is weak.

The c4-pawn is weak and isolated, so it has become a target for an attack. Does this mean that all isolated pawns are bad? Absolutely not! Isolated pawns can be a strength as well, especially if they are passed pawns. 

In the following position, White's d5-pawn is isolated but is also a passed pawn. 

isolated pawn
White's IQP on d5 is strong!

This isolated pawn is strong because it controls the squares e6 and c6 and is a thorn in Black's position. Isolated pawns can be a strength or a weakness; it all depends on the specific position—some players enjoy playing against isolated pawns in the middlegame, while others enjoy playing with them! What is important is that you can recognize isolated pawns and determine if they are strong or weak!

Test

Now that you know what isolated pawns are and why they are important, let's see if you can recognize them and determine if they are weak or strong. In the following position, where is the isolated pawn, and is it weak or strong?

isolated pawn
Is there an isolated pawn? If so, is it weak or strong?

Yes! The g3-pawn is isolated! This pawn should be considered weak, as it is targeted by multiple pieces and is at risk of being lost. Let's try another example! Is there an isolated pawn in the following position? If so, which pawn is isolated, and should it be considered weak or strong? 

isolated pawn
Is there an isolated pawn? If so, is it weak or strong?

Correct! The b4-pawn is isolated. This pawn should be considered strong, as it is a dangerous passed pawn that the black king must stop from promoting! When Black's king marches over to stop the c4-pawn, White's king can capture the remaining black pawns!

isolated pawn
The isolated (and passed) c4-pawn deflects the black king from the defense of the black pawns!

Conclusion

You now know what isolated pawns are, why they are important and how to identify them! Check out this video lesson by GM Jon Ludvig Hammer on isolated pawns! Use this new knowledge of isolated pawns in your own games, and may your opponents' isolanis always be weak!