Use the Power of the Passed Pawn

When you mention a passed pawn, many chess players immediately think of the endgame. This is unsurprising because a passed pawn is vital in winning endgames.

Starting with the endgame can help you play better middlegames, where you can harness the power of a passed pawn to set up a win in the endgame. Another excellent way to use the passed pawn in the middlegame is to tie down your opponent’s pieces.

The further advanced the passed pawn gets, the more powerful it becomes. However, you do not want to advance it too far if you cannot keep it defended!

Time spent learning how to create a passed pawn in chess games will reap excellent rewards. GM Rashad Babaev knows how it’s done. This video is taken from his excellent Endgame Renaissance course.

The Passed Pawn in the Endgame

Jose Raul Capablanca said, “In order to improve your game, you must study the endgame before everything else. For whereas the endings can be studied and mastered by themselves, the middlegame and opening must be studied in relation to the endgame.”

Studying the endgames that arise from your chosen openings is vital to your success.

A common middlegame tactic for Black in the Sicilian Dragon is an exchange sacrifice. Despite going an exchange down, Black can transition to an endgame and play for the win.  

Many openings lead to a pawn majority for one side. In the Grunfeld Defense, for example, Black often gets a queenside pawn majority.

Knowing how to use your pawn majority to create a passed pawn is vital to your chess strategy. When you create a passed pawn in the middlegame, you can reduce the chance for errors by simplifying to an endgame.

There are two vital rules in endgames with passed pawns:

  1. You must advance your passed pawns.
  2. The quality of your passed pawns is more critical than the number of passed pawns.

The Magnetic Attraction of the Outside Passed Pawn

In the opening and middlegame, we usually want to increase our control of the center by recapturing towards the center. The closer you get to the endgame, the more important it becomes to capture away from the center.

This is because you want to draw your opponent’s pieces to the far edge of the board. Diverting your opponent’s pieces to the far side of the board makes it easier for you to attack the other side.

Use an outside passer as a magnet to draw your opponents’ king away from the defense of their pawns.

You can sacrifice your passed pawn to buy you time to create another on the opposite side of the board. Although your opponent might stop one pawn, they are unlikely to have the time to get the king back to prevent a second passer from promoting.

Fischer made excellent use of the outside passed pawn to win his game against Bent Larsen

In this position, Fischer simplified to a king and pawn endgame, knowing that his outside a-pawn would prove decisive, as the black king would need to come across to stop the passed pawn.

After 39.Bc3 Bxc3 40.Kxc3, the game only lasted another six moves!

Robert James Fischer – Bent Larsen, 1971.07.18, 1-0, Fischer – Larsen Candidates Semifinal Round 5, Denver, CO USA

The principle of two weaknesses is extremely helpful in the endgame. In opposite-colored bishop endgames, having two widespread passed pawns makes it easier to create two diagonals for the bishop to defend.

Putting the Brakes on the Protected Passer

We do not always get the positions we want in chess, so it is essential to know how to defend against the protected passer. The best blockaders of protected passed pawns are knights.

Knights are the only pieces able to jump over pieces, which means their ability to attack is not diminished. A protected passed pawn can easily restrict a rook because the rook cannot advance if blocked by the pawn.

A protected passed pawn is a pawn defended by another pawn. When you have two passers that protect each other, they are called connected passed pawns.

If the connected passed pawns are well-advanced, they can sometimes prove stronger than a rook.

Defending against protected passed pawns can prove a challenge even for the world’s best players.

In round thirteen of the World Chess Championship Rematch between Botvinnik and Tal, Botvinnik showed how powerful a protected d-pawn can become.

As early as move ten, Botvinnik created a protected passer on d5. This strategy might seem too simple to work against your opponents, yet it defeated the great Mikhail Tal.

Mikhail Botvinnik – Mikhail Tal, 1961.04.17, 1-0, Tal – Botvinnik World Championship Rematch Round 13, Moscow URS

The Passed Pawn in the Middlegame

Now that you know what you are aiming for in the endgame, it is time to learn how to use the passed pawn in the middlegame. One of the advantages of the passed pawn in the middlegame is that it ties down your opponent’s pieces.

A piece blockading the pawn is a restricted piece, giving one of your pieces greater activity. When evaluating a position in chess, the first factors to consider are material and activity.

Also, remember that even if you do not advance the pawn, your opponent must be on guard against the very threat of you advancing the pawn.

Double Your Success With Connected Passed Pawns

You are unlikely to promote a single passed pawn in the middlegame, but connected passed pawns can be a game-winner! They are sometimes so powerful it is worth sacrificing material to get them.

Veselin Topalov wasn’t afraid to sacrifice the exchange to get connected passed pawns in his game against Levon Aronian. After Aronian played 17…Ne4, they reached this position:

It is often worth considering a sacrifice to obtain a passed pawn or connected passed pawns.

Topalov played 18.Rxe4, and at the end of the game, was playing with two bishops against two rooks. Fortunately, he also had connected passers on d6 and c7!

Veselin Topalov – Levon Aronian, 2006.01.25, 1-0, Corus Group A Round 10, Wijk aan Zee NED

Connected passed pawns, like a single passer, will not win you games on their own. You need to know how to get the most from them.

One important rule to remember is don’t rush into advancing your connected passed pawns. Advancing one of the pawns allows your opponent the chance to set up a blockade.

Keep your connected passers side-by-side until you are sure your opponent cannot blockade them before you can advance the other pawn.

When you have connected passed pawns, you have a long-term advantage. Do not rush to cash in but focus on minimizing your opponent’s counterplay.

Successfully Defending Against Connected Passed Pawns

When you cannot blockade connected passed pawns, you must launch what GM Danny Gormally calls a “burning bridges” attack. You need to go all in, or else suffer a slow defeat.

Unless your attack breaks through, the connected passed pawns will ensure victory for your opponent.

Since you have nothing to lose, you can go all in and have fun with your chess attack.

Mamedyarov knew this and launched a winning attack that resulted in obtaining his own connected passed pawns. Unlike Morozevich’s connected pawns, Mamedyarov was able to advance his up the board.

King safety played a significant role in the outcome of this game and is often a factor many chess players discount until it’s too late.

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov – Alexander Morozevich, 2010.01.08, 1-0, World Team Championship Round 4, Bursa TUR

Before you start burning your bridges with an attack, look to see if you can blockade the passed pawn or connected passers.

There are two things to consider when deciding if you can blockade a pawn:

  1. Use pieces that can perform an attacking role while blockading the pawn. For example, a bishop can control the squares in front of connected pawns and still attack from long range.
  2. Always look to invest the minimum amount of your forces in the blockade. You do not want to draw too many of your pieces away from the defense of your king.

In Conclusion

The importance of mastering pawn play in chess cannot be overstated. You can build an opening repertoire around a particular pawn formation.

Although we all know the importance of mastering pawn endgames, as Doctor Siegbert Tarrasch reminded us, there is often a middlegame to play before the endgame. Getting the most from your passed pawn in the middlegame will help you transition to a won endgame.

GM Sam Shankland credited a rise in his rating to an improved understanding of passed pawn and pawn play in general.

There is more to mastering the endgame than merely learning pawn endgames. GM Rashad Babaev knows this and has put together an excellent 6-hour endgame course.

You will learn not only the importance of king activity but also how to use it in your games. Other subjects covered include dynamic sacrifices, major piece endgames, and how to transition to the endgame.

Begin your journey to endgame mastery with “The Azerbaijani Endgame School.” Enroll today and save 50%

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