Win Games With Powerful Pawns in Chess

Winning chess games requires harmony between your pieces and pawns. Harmony is one of the three essential elements that GM Irina Krush says make up a chess game – time and space being the other two.

Apart from your knights, all other pieces need a pawn to move before they enter the game. Pawns usually lead the way, and in almost every chess game, your pawns make first contact with your opponent’s pieces.

Every chess player experiences the good and bad sides of pawns. We have all been in positions where pawns have turned our pieces bad.

In fact, if you misplay your pawns in chess, you can turn your opponent’s minor piece into a winning advantage with equal material on the board.

Fortunately, good pawn play is not a talent gifted to a few players but a skill you can learn. Learning to get more from your pawns in chess is not extremely difficult.

Active piece play can provide adequate compensation for a pawn weakness. The isolated queen’s pawn is a good example of this, as GM Liem Le Quang demonstrates in this video taken from his premium Master Method course:

Essential Questions About Pawns in Chess

A simple blunder check like asking, “What attacking response does my opponent have to this move?” can dramatically improve your results, yet many of us neglect to use this question.

Checklists or questions can prove invaluable in taking your chess to the next level. Your pawns will begin to dominate the board if you ask the following questions before moving a pawn:

  1. Can my opponent attack my pawn?
  2. Does this move weaken any squares?
  3. Do I have an excellent reason to move the pawns in front of my king?
  4. Can I make my opponent advance their pawns?
The older I grow the more I value pawns blog image

Leave Your Pawns Hanging and Lose Them

King safety is a high priority for most players; however, pawns in chess often get neglected. A gambit opening offers you compensation for the sacrificed pawn in chess, but letting your opponent go a healthy pawn up can cost you the game!

Yes, you need to advance your pawns in chess to activate your pieces, but be cautious when your pawns enter your opponent’s half of the board. The further forward your pawns are, the harder it is to defend them.

Before pushing a pawn to the fifth rank, check to see if you have other pawns that can defend them. Unless you have reached the endgame, you do not want to have one of your pieces tied down protecting a pawn in chess.

Good pawns in chess are pawns that protect each other. Isolated pawns tie pieces down to defend them.

One of the advantages of having a sound pawn structure is to avoid ending up in the difficulties White experiences in the above position.

All the black pawns can defend each other as they advance up the board. The isolated white pawns on the kingside will always need protecting with pieces.

Even though White is only down a pawn, chess engines assess this position as winning for Black.

Always take a few seconds to ask, “Can my opponent attack my pawn?” before you advance your pawns, and remember that, unlike pieces, pawns cannot move backward in chess.

Don’t Rush to Push Pawns Too Soon

When it comes to pawns in chess, there is no going back. Once you’ve created a weak square by advancing a pawn, it could be a permanent weakness.

It is usually best to move the piece when given a choice between moving a piece or a pawn in chess openings.

The sooner you develop your pieces, the better because they control more squares than a pawn, but keeping pawn moves to a minimum helps avoid creating weak squares.

Weak squares caused by pawns are like an exposed king – they don’t matter if your opponent cannot take advantage of the weakness. If you can cover the weakness with another pawn or a piece, it might be okay to advance the pawn.

The vital factor is properly evaluating the position and choosing to play it safe whenever possible.

When you fianchetto your light-squared bishop on g2, your opponent might tempt you into winning the exchange by capturing a rook on a8. Accepting this offer is extremely dangerous if your opponent keeps their light-squared bishop.

Classical variation of the English 6...c5

In such positions, it is usually best to keep your bishop, rather than accept weak squares on h3 and f3 near your castled king.

Creating a weakness is sometimes part of your opening strategy. Some examples of this are playing openings that create an isolated queen’s pawn, for instance, the Panov-Botvinnik Attack against the Caro-Kann, or weakening the d5 square in the Sicilian by playing …e5 – known as Boleslavsky’s hole.

In these instances, the weakness is compensated by the activity of the pieces that offer excellent attacking possibilities or defend the weak square.

Garry Kasparov created a weakness on d5 in his game against Emil Sutovsky but immediately advanced the d-pawn. A few moves later, Sutovsky found himself with a weak, isolated pawn on e4.

Sutovsky, Emil – Kasparov, Garry, 1998.05.19, 0-1, ISR-Kasparov handicap sim Round 1.2, Tel Aviv ISR

Pawns in Chess: Keeping Your King Safe

Creating an escape square for your castled king is a standard way of protecting against a back-rank checkmate. If you castle short, you will usually play h3/h6 or g3/g6, and after long castle, b3/b6 provides the king with breathing room.

In most instances, the pawn does not advance past the third rank.

When considering advancing a pawn in front of your king, past the third rank, look for attacking opportunities for your opponent. Counting the number of attackers versus defenders is not only something you do when attacking.

Open and semi-open positions are high-risk positions because they offer more maneuvering space for your opponent to launch an attack. In closed positions, there aren’t as many open files or diagonals to use for attacking.

Unless you stand to gain a sizable reward, do not advance the pawns in front of your king.

Good pawn play relies on excellent evaluation skills, so do not neglect this crucial part of your chess training. Calculating your opponent’s attacking chances and evaluating the position objectively is vital.

Although keeping your pawns safe is essential, it is not nearly as important as safeguarding your king.

When unsure about advancing pawns in front of your king, look to see if you can improve your pieces. Improving your position rather than weakening it will bring you more wins!

The closed nature of many positions in the King’s Indian Defense allows Black to advance the kingside pawns fearlessly. Here is a masterclass on how to do it by Garry Kasparov.

Viktor Korchnoi – Garry Kasparov, 1991.05.10, 0-1, Amsterdam VSB Round 7, Amsterdam NED

Enticing Your Opponent to Push Their Pawns

After applying the first three questions to your game, you’ve protected your pawns, avoided any weak squares from rushing to advance your pawns, and provided an excellent shelter for your king.

Obviously, you would prefer it if your opponent didn’t play as soundly, or you’d never win a game. Now it’s time to ask, “Can I make my opponent advance their pawns?”

One of the best ways to force your opponent to advance their pawns in chess is by offering them no reasonable alternative. You want to place them in a position where not advancing also leaves them in a bad position.

In the Sicilian Defense, it is common for Black to seize space on the queenside with …a6 and …b5. Along with grabbing space, this allows Black to fianchetto their bishop on b7.

Here is a typical example of a position from the Sicilian Defense opening.

Forcing An Opponent to Advance Pawns

Black has a weakness on d5 thanks to the advance of the e-pawn, but White cannot take advantage of this weakness now. Black is unlikely to advance the a-pawn or the d-pawn since these advances lead to a loss in material.

White has four pieces ready to become active on the queenside, and opening the a-file would bring another piece into play. A lead in development is usually a temporary advantage, so White must play actively before Black activates the kingside pieces.

That’s why Eric Lobron played 12.a4! in this position, leaving Black with no choice but to advance the pawn. After 12…b4 13.Nd5 Qb7 14.Nc4 Bxd5 15.exd5 Black no longer has a weakness on d5, but White has a strong knight on c4.

Before forcing your opponents to advance their pawns, make sure you have pieces to take advantage of the weak pawn or weak squares moving forward created.

Here is the rest of the game between Eric Lobron and Harald Keilhack. Notice how Eric could take advantage of the weaknesses the pawn advance created in Harald’s position.

White also had pawn weaknesses, but Harald did not take advantage of them because his pieces were busy defending his weaknesses.

Eric Lobron – Harald Keilhack, 2001.11.30, 1-0, ch-GER Round 1, Altenkirchen GER

In Conclusion

You only have one king to protect, but your pawns offer opponents eight targets to attack. That is, without counting any weak squares advancing your pawns have created.

Pawns might have the lowest material value in chess; however, they are crucial to the success of your chess games. Mastering pawns in chess is well worth the effort it takes to learn how to get the best from them.

Placing your pawns on the correct squares in chess will allow your pieces to reach their best squares. You will surely notice greater harmony between your pieces as you master pawns.

These four questions will help you get the most from your pawns, as will understanding the typical pawn structures that arise from different openings.

When learning different structures, pay special attention to the arrangement of the pieces and how they work with the pawns.

The five pawn structures covered in “The Le Quang Method” cover 90% of chess openings, and GM Liem Le Quang has done all the hard work for you.

Chess coaches agree that understanding openings is more important than memorizing theory.

Grab your copy of “The Le Quang Method” now and deepen your knowledge of 90% of chess openings in only 4.5 hours! You can save 50% and get instant access if you take advantage of this special offer.

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