Poisoned Pawn

Poisoned Pawn

You see a pawn hanging. Do you take it? Be careful: you could be staring at a poisoned pawn that will cost you the game.

Here is what you need to know about a poisoned pawn.

What Is A Poisoned Pawn In Chess?

A poisoned pawn in chess is a pawn that appears to be hanging, but a player who captures it suffers a positional or material loss in the next few moves.

A poisoned pawn.
The e4-pawn does not have a defender, but it is actually poisoned.

Why Are Poisoned Pawns Important?

Being aware of the concept of a poisoned pawn can protect you from a lot of trouble. If you spot a pawn hanging, it is always a good idea to double-check to see if it is poisoned. Not only that, but you can also use a poisoned pawn to set a trap for your opponents.

Additionally, there are quite a few openings with a poisoned pawn variation, like the London System, the Trompowsky Attack, and the Sicilian Najdorf. Some of these variations have a lot of theory related to them, and that is why it is easy to find yourself in an unfortunate position if you play them without knowing the opening theory or book moves.

Let's take a look at one of the most famous games with a poisoned pawn variation. GM Boris Spassky was playing as White and facing GM Bobby Fischer for the World Championship of 1972. Spassky invited Fischer to capture his b2-pawn and eventually trapped Fischer's queen to win the game.

In the game above, White let Black capture a "free" pawn but gained a noticeable positional advantage and lead in development that allowed him to push for victory.

Poisoned pawn variations do not guarantee a win for White can win, though. In another famous example of the Poisoned Pawn Najdorf, GM Garry Kasparov outplayed GM Nigel Short and won the game.

In this game, Short's lead in development and positional gain was not enough for him to win. Kasparov found a way of escaping the assault on his queen and eventually entered a winning position.

As you can see, these variations can lead to very rich and sharp games with winning chances for both sides. If you want to venture into this kind of game, make sure you study these openings with Chess.com's Opening Explorer, so you are not caught off guard.

Test Your Skills

Now that you know what a poisoned pawn is, it is time for you to test your knowledge and tactical perception involving this type of pawn. Solve the puzzles below.

Puzzle 1: Your opponent decides to play the Sicilian Najdorf. After this position, how can White invite Black to enter the poisoned pawn variation?

Puzzle 2: In this game between GM Alexander Huzman and Kasparov, Black moves his bishop to the c8-square and leaves his d5-pawn unprotected. Can White take the pawn, or is it poisoned?

Is it a poisoned pawn?
Can White capture the d5-pawn with the rook?

Yes, they can take it! In fact, that is the move that Kasparov played in the game. He also took the c4-pawn and won by resignation.

It is not a poisoned pawn.
The d4-pawn is not poisoned.

Puzzle 3: Can you demonstrate how White can punish Black if he decides to take the rook with the queen?

Puzzle 4: And what would White do if Black decides to capture the white rook with his knight?


You now know what a poisoned pawn is and the way it affects a game of chess. Head over to the Master Games section and check out how the greats handle a poisoned pawn.