Basic pawn strategy
Basic pawn strategy

Just as rooks become more powerful on open files and the value of the knight increases towards the center, so too the pawn becomes more powerful and more threatening as it nears the queening square on the final rank.

Basic pawn strategy


An introduction to pawn structure


Unlike the other pieces, the pawns can move in only one direction. Forward. Ever forward. Reach the final rank and the lowly pawn, the foot-soldier of chess, can transform itself into any other piece, though almost always into a queen. And yes, you are allowed to have more than one queen on the board, though it is very rare to see more than two. If you are lucky enough to have more than one queen, either borrow a queen from another set, or else take one of your captured rooks and turn it upside down. Chess players understand that an upside-down rook represents a second queen.

As the pawns move forward, they open up diagonals for the bishops, protect other pieces, and often lead the way for attacks. They can pry open an opponents' kingside, but they can also spell doom when they become weak and are easily subject to capture.


In the following diagram, white's pawns are considered very strong despite the fact that they have not yet moved. We say that there are no pawn weaknesses in white's camp. By contrast, all of black's pawns are isolated and weak. Without addition captures, it is not possible for any of the black pawns to protect to protect the others. As you play chess, you should generally try to keep your pawns coordinated. Think of them as the foundation of your house. Every crack and every hole can eventually lead to disastrous consequences for the whole house.



Generally, try not to double your pawns


When pawns wind up one in front of the other, we refer to them as doubled pawns. Generally, doubled pawns happen after a capture has occurred and only a pawn can recapture. There are exceptions, but you should most often try to re-capture with a piece in order to avoid the weakness of doubled pawns.


As you can see in the following diagram, black has not one but two sets of doubled pawns. White's strategy becomes quickly clear. White will first double the rooks on the c-file. Black will have to respond by trying to the black rooks to defend the c-pawns rather than actively pursuing an attack upon the white pawns.


It is worth noting that you should generally not be in rush to attack such weaknesses. By all means do so if you see a clear win as a result, but bear in mind that weaknesses such as doubled pawns are "structural" in that the weaknesses will usually be there for the whole game. In most situations, you will be able to capture weak pawns once all of your pieces are well developed.



Pawn chains:


The pawn structures often define the ways in which the middlegame battle will be carried out. In many openings, the pawns form chains of pawns. In order to understand the nature of the pawn chain, we use the somewhat violent analogy to shooting birds. When three birds fly overhead in formation, the best strategy for a large holiday meal is to shoot at the bird in the rear. The other birds may hear the shot, but they won't actually see that the bird in the rear was shot.


In chess, the pawn in the rear of the chain is the weakest of the pawns precisely because the other pawns can no longer protect it. The best strategy, therefore, is often to aim your attack at the rear of your opponent's pawn chain. In the following diagram, black has prepared and will now play the move ...c5. If white should capture this c-pawn, both of white's pawns will be weak and subject to capture.




Here is a more practical example. White, on the attack, moves the pawn to e6 where it attacks the base of the black pawn chain. If black captures the pawn, white will be able to respond with Qxg6 check!




Passed pawns like to be pushed


Just as rooks become more powerful on open files and the value of the knight increases towards the center, so too the pawn becomes more powerful and more threatening as it nears the queening square on the final rank. You will often find that your opponent will have to give up a knight, a bishop, or sometimes more in order to prevent a pawn from reaching the queening square.


In the following diagram, the white pawn on e6 is a very powerful weapon in no small part because white has placed a queen to help guide in the pawn. After white pushes the pawn, black must give up the knight immediately or else a rook when the pawn reaches the e8-queening square.



Every pawn move creates a weakness


It's true. Every pawn move creates a weakness. By virtue of how they capture, pawns control two squares. As they move forward, they lose control over the squares they had just controlled. So think twice before moving them!


Pushing pawns is especially dangerous when you do so in front of your king. In the following diagram, black has pushed forward the g-pawn leaving two weaknesses on f6 and h6. White is attempting to take advantage of the weakness on h6 orienting his pawns and pieces towards that square.