Minority Attack

Minority Attack

The minority attack in chess is a relatively advanced concept relating to pawn structures and middlegame planning. Let's learn about the minority attack!

Here is what you need to know about minority attacks:


What Is A Minority Attack?

A minority attack occurs in chess when one player attacks an opponent's pawn majority with their pawn minority—in other words, when fewer pawns attack a larger pawn chain. 

The purpose of a minority attack is to favorably change the pawn structure with the intention of creating a structural weakness (e.g., a backward pawn or isolated pawn) for an opponent. A classic example of a minority attack often occurs in the Carlsbad pawn structure:

minority attack
The Carlsbad pawn structure sets up the potential for a minority attack.

As you can see, both sides currently have healthy pawn structures with two pawn islands each. The minority attack in this pawn structure is conducted when White pushes their queenside pawns toward Black's queenside pawn majority.

minority attack
The minority attack occurs when fewer pawns attack a larger pawn chain.

White's goal is either to completely exchange the a-pawns and b-pawns or to exchange the b-pawns alone. If either of these goals is completed, then Black is left with a backward c-pawn. Here we can see how exchanging b-pawns by pushing b4/a4/b5/b5xc6 will create a backward c-pawn for Black.

minority attack
The minority attack in action: White attacks Black's three queenside pawns with their two queenside pawns.

As you can see, Black now has a structural weakness that they didn't have before the minority attack began. The backward c6-pawn will be a target for attack for the rest of the game.

Why Is The Minority Attack Important?

The minority attack is important because it is a common middlegame plan that can be played in many opening systems. It is also a very useful way to favorably alter the pawn structure.

The Carlsbad pawn structure that we see above can develop in several queen's pawn openings but is best known from the Queen's Gambit Declined: Exchange Variation that occurs after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Bg5 Be7 6.e3 c6:

minority attack
The Queen's Gambit Declined Exchange Variation.

Aside from the Queen's Gambit and other queen's pawn games, the minority attack can also occur in many lines in the Sicilian Defense, the King's Indian Defense, the Slav Defense, the Scandinavian Defense, and many other openings. Here is an example of GM Anatoly Karpov conducting a minority attack against GM Joel Lautier. The game started as a Semi-Slav Defense and reached the following position after 19...Bb6:

Minority attack
What plan does Karpov have here?

We can see that Karpov has two pawns on the queenside while his opponent has three pawns on the queenside. In this position, Karpov initiated the minority attack with 20.b4 followed by 21.a4:

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The minority attack in action.

Six moves later, Karpov broke through on the queenside with 27.b5, essentially removing the a-pawns and b-pawns from the board. This resulted in an isolated pawn on c6 for his opponent.

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Goal achieved! Black's c6-pawn is a target.

Karpov eventually won this weak c6-pawn and the game. Here is the full game for your enjoyment:

A player who is aware of minority attacks has a plan to consider in many types of positions. This is especially true when playing openings and the Carlsbad pawn structure develops or similar opportunities occur. Keep this idea in mind when playing your own games! 

Test

Now that you know what a minority attack is and why it is important, we can test your abilities to conduct a minority attack. The first position comes from a game played in 1939 between former world champion Jose Raul Capablanca and Harry Golombek, who has just played 22...Qxd6. Capablanca has started a minority attack in the Carlsbad pawn structure, but how should he continue?

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How can Capablanca proceed with the minority attack?

Yes, 23.b5 continues the minority attack and favorably changes the pawn structure! If Black allows Capablanca to capture on c6, then they will have a backward c6-pawn. If Black captures on b5 (which happened in the game), then White will recapture with the queen and can target the isolated d5-pawn and the b7-pawn next:

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The pawn structure has changed in White's favor.

Let's take a look at another example. This position is from a game played in 1933 between Arnold Denker and Israel Horowitz. Denker has started a minority attack on the queenside, and Black has just played 29...Ra8. How should White continue?

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How should White continue the minority attack?

You got it! 30.b5 is an almost identical idea as the Capablanca example above—Black must either allow a backward pawn on c6 or capture on b5. In the game, Horowitz reacted the same way as Golombek did against Capablanca and captured on b5. Denker captured with his queen and then targeted the newly isolated d5-pawn and the b7-pawn.

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White is now targeting the isolated d5-pawn and the b7-pawn.

Denker captured both of these pawns in the next eight moves and won convincingly. Let's try one more. We have seen a lot of examples by White in a Carlsbad pawn structure, so this time we look at a minority attack by Black. This position comes from a Scandinavian Defense, and Black has done well conducting the minority attack. What is the next step for Black?

minority attack
How should Black proceed?

Yes, 1...bxc3 is the way to continue this position! 

minority attack
Yes, 1...bxc3 is correct!

If White recaptures with the b-pawn, then they will have a backward pawn on c3 for Black to target. If White captures with the rook, then they will have an isolated d4-pawn and an isolated b2-pawn to babysit for the rest of the game. Nice job!

Conclusion

You now know what a minority attack is, why it is important, how you can initiate and conduct a minority attack, and more! Check out this Chess.com video or this great article on the minority attack for more information.