Pawn Endgames: The Breakthrough. Part 1

The breakthrough is a hugely important strategic theme in pawn endgames. Through this resource, a rank could achieve a powerful passed pawn. In most cases, it is necessary to sacrifice one or more pawns. The following position is the most familiar, an unavoidable diagram in every book on the final stages of the game.

Breakthrough 13
White to play

White to Play

1.b6! The key is the double attack. 1…axb6 (1… cvb6 2.a6)

2.c6! bxc6

3.a6 and winning.


Let’s move to a classic example of this in practice. This position occurred in the Svacina-Muller matchup in 1941.


Black to Play

Breakthrough 14
Black to play

Black appears to have succumbed to zugzwang. However, if you look closely, you can see that it is the white king that finds himself in a worse position.

1…f4! In the game, White gave up. Let’s see why.

If 2.Kc6 h4! 3.gxh4 g3! 4.fxg3 fxe3-+;

or 2.exf4 h4! 3.gxh4 g3! 4.fxg3 e3-+;

or 2.Kb4 f3 3.gxf3 h4 4.gxh4 g3 5.fxg3 exf3-+;

or 2.gxf4 h4-+.

Inverting the order of the moves with 1…h4?? would be a horrible mistake owing to 2.gxh4 f4 3.g3+-

Another interesting case occurred in the Maslov-Glebov game in 1936.

Black to Play

Breakthrough 15
Black to play

Again, first impressions are misleading. White threatens to capture the pawns on the queenside, and thus will arrive at an endgame with one additional pawn.

Upon closer inspection, however, we can see something similar to the previous example. The white king is far from the fight. Before seeing the solution let’s see what happens if Black captures certain routes.

1…g5?? 2.h5. The breakthrough will no longer be possible and White will win without trouble.

Another natural-seeming route for the king to take to the center is 1…Kf7. This leads to 2.Ka3 h5 3.Kxa4 g5 4.Kb5 winning. White captures the pawn and Black is unable to get their powerful passed pawn.

By analyzing this final variation we can understand that the king does not need to participate in the fight. The scene is set for Black to counterattack on the kingside with the breakthrough.

1… h5! is key to avoiding White’s h5. 2.Ka3 (if 2.g4 g5!) g5 3.Kxa4 f5! 4.Kb5 (against 4.hxg5 is the decisive 4…f4! and if 4.exf5 g4! 5.fxg4 e4 White cannot access the b3 square, and cannot avoid the promotion). 4…f4 5.gxf4 gxh4


Pawn Endgames – IM John-Paul Wallace, GM Jesse Kraai and IM David Vigorito
– Strategy Behind Pawn Breakthroughs In The Opening, Middle And Endgame – GM Roman Dzindzichashvili
– Stomping White With The Stonewall Defense – GM Eugene Perelshteyn
Self-Taught Grandmaster – GM Igor Smirnov 

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