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Pawns: The Foundation of Chess

Pawns are indeed the foundation upon which you build your position in a game of chess. If your pawn foundation is strong, then your position can repel invaders, support your attack, or take part in a tactical combination.

You must be familiar with algebraic notation to benefit from these lessons.

Select a Lesson
  • Too Many Pawn Moves

    Key Learning Objective(s)

    • Minimize Opening Pawn Moves
      Beginning chess players often make too many pawn moves especially in the opening of a game. Whereas, the best players rarely move more than two pawns in an opening. (OK. Sometimes chess masters will move as many as four pawns in the opening, but only under very special positional constraints.)

      Beginning players should try to move no more than their two center pawns in the opening to free both Bishops. The reasons are simple. Pawns cannot move backward and are much less useful than more powerful pieces for attack or defense. So if you are thinking about another pawn move when any of your pieces are still on the back rank, when your rooks are not connected, or when you are not yet castled, then think again, and then don't move the pawn.

  • Good, Bad, and Ugly Pawns

    Key Learning Objective(s)

    • The Life-Cycle of Lowly Pawns
      Pawns progress by moving usually one square at a time, and only in one direction; forward. The march of a pawn is limited to at most six advances. Usually, a pawn's progress ends earlier, or sometimes does not start at all. Many games are over before all the pawns become active, and most of them end before any pawn has reached the eighth rank.
    • Attack Weak Pawns
      A pawn that cannot be protected by pawns on its flanks, usually because they were captured, is called an isolated pawn. Similarly, a pawn that cannot be protected by pawns on its flanks, because they have advanced too far ahead of it, is called a backward pawn. Such pawns are fundamentally weak because they can be attacked, and often won. Their defense requires the use of pieces that are better employed in other plans.

      It is a natural plan to attack weaknesses such as isolated and backward pawns
    • Create and Push Passed Pawns
      A passed pawn is any pawn whose progress is not guarded or blocked by enemy pawns on the flank or in front of it. A passed pawn lusts to advance and be promoted. Its royal ambition is an important advantage. Often an opponent must drop all other plans to stop a passed pawn. A passed pawn can often sacrifice itself so that other plans can evolve into a won game.

      Passed pawns should be pushed.
    • Pawns are Often the Deciding Factor
      The assessment of a position requires the consideration of many positional elements. The elements concerning pawn structure usually command the highest attention.

  • Pawns on the Attack

    Key Learning Objective(s)

    • Pawn Storms
      Pawns can lead an attack. When they do, they are said to storm an opponent's position. The art of attacking with pawns requires great skill. Creating a pawn storm is like building a house of cards; the slightest miscalculation will cause one's pawn structure to collapse. Therefore, this lesson is more of an introduction to pawn power play than an attempt to teach all the skills necessary to create an effective pawn storm.

      Pawns facing the front sector of the opposing king (rangers) should advance in order to attack, while pawns covering the front sector of their own king (home pawns) should remain stationary for the sake of safety. The duties of the wing pawns become clear after both sides have castled. Consequently, only the center pawns (d-pawn and e-pawn) may advance in any case. The center pawns may advance with caution, the rangers with enthusiasm, but the home pawns not at all.
    • Pawn Duos are Strong
      Two pawns of the same party, placed next to each other so they mutually cover their stop squares (the squares immediately in front of each pawn), constitute an element which we call the duo. For instance Pc4, Pd4 or Pc5, Pd5. The duo is the formation in which pawns reach their top efficiency in the most economical way. Two duos can control nearly an entire rank; an effect which no other pawn formation can match. Consequently, pawns should be used in such a way that they form or can form duos, and remain able to do this again and again.

      The ability to produce duos is the most important measure of the value of a pawn formation.
    • Passed Duo Pawns are Hard to Stop
      The passer duo (pawns whose path is not directly opposed or guarded by an opposing pawn) is the strongest possible formation of connected passed pawns. Its power is tremendous; so tremendous that it usually makes no difference whether these pawns have helpers (flanking pawns) or not.

      Create, protect, and push a passed pawn duo to win.

The older I grow, the more I value pawns.