Pawn formations

Table of Contents 
  1. A. Symmetrical Centre Formations
    1. A.1. Vanished centre
    2. A.2. The QP centre
    3. A.3. The KP centre
    4. A.4. Symmetrical Four Pawns Centre: (i) KPs forward
    5. A.5. Symmetrical Four Pawns Centre: (ii) QPs forward
  2. B. Positional advantage in the centre
    1. B.1. Advanced Fixed Single-pawn (i) KP forward
    2. B.2. Advanced Fixed Single-pawn (ii) QP forward
    3. B.3. Partially Fixed Centre (i) tension form
    4. B.4. Partially Fixed Centre (ii) Benoni without ...e6
    5. B.5. Partially fixed centre (iii) French with White d-pawn backward
    6. B.6. Partially fixed centre (iv) French with Black d-pawn backward
    7. B.7. Mobile Centre (i) King Pawn
    8. B.8. Mobile Centre (ii) Queen Pawn
  3. C. Extra Central Pawns
    1. C.1. Absolute Centre
    2. C.2. Hanging Centre
    3. C.3. Classic Centre
    4. C.4. Neo-Classic Centre *
    5. C.5. Neo-Classic Centre: with open file
    6. C.6. Unbalanced tension form
    7. C.7. Latent Central Majority (i) QP in reserve
    8. C.8. Latent Central Majority (ii) KP in reserve
  4. D. Closed Formations
    1. D.1. Blocked oblique (i) QP forward *
    2. D.2. Blocked oblique (ii) KP forward *
    3. D.3. Stonewall
    4. D.4. Anti-Stonewall
    5. D.5. Pseudo-Stonewall (Botvinnik)
    6. D.6. Wyvill Formation
    7. D.8 Winawer Formation
  5. E. Open Formations
    1. E.1. Ruy Lopez Formation
    2. E.2. French/Caro formation *
    3. E.3. Sicilian Formation *
    4. E.4. Rival Majorities (i) with open file between
    5. E.5. Rival Majorities (ii) with no open file between
  6. F. Half-open formations
    1. F.1. Half-Open with an open file (i) symmetrical
    2. F.2. Half-Open with an open file (ii) focus formation
    3. F.3. Half-Open with an open file (iii) Blocked Oblique
    4. F.4. Half-open with half-open files (i) French
    5. F.5. Half-open with half-open files (ii) Caro-Kann / QGD Exchange
    6. F.6. Passed pawn, protected but blockaded
    7. F.7. Isolated Queen's Pawn *
    8. F.8. Hanging Pawns *

  Based on: The Middle Game I by Euwe and Kramer.
[Currently out of print; Batsford's have the publishing rights for this title and I am grateful for their permission to use this material]

"The most important feature of the chess position is the activity of the pieces. This is absolutely fundamental in all phases of the game (opening, middlegame and especially endgame). The primary constraint on a piece's activity is the Pawn structure."
-- Michael STEAN, in Simple Chess.
"In general, a Pawn centre is a good thing not in itself but in its usefulness for concrete ends."
-- Mark Dvoretsky & Artur Yusupov, Opening Preparation * indicates most common or important types

A. Symmetrical Centre Formations


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A.1. Vanished centre

e.g. Scotch 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 exd4 then ...d5 and exd5

  The placing of the pieces and/or a development advantage will decide if the game has any real meat.

 


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A.2. The QP centre

e.g. French 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 exd5

  The open e-file and outpost at e5 (e4) may become crucial if pieces are allowed to settle there. The natural break c2-c4 does little to add tension, unless castling is performed on opposite sides; the Q-side is then risky with outpost at c5.

 


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A.3. The KP centre

e.g. Philidor or Closed Lopez 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 Nd7 4. dxe5 dxe5

  Assuming King's-side castling, the break f2-f4 is much sharper

 


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A.4. Symmetrical Four Pawns Centre: (i) KPs forward

e.g. Closed Giuoco Piano 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. d3 d6

  White can prepare the advance d2-d4 with c2-c3, or go for f2-f4. Black may try to prevent this e.g. h7-h6 and g7-g5, or go for broke on the Queen's-side.

 


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A.5. Symmetrical Four Pawns Centre: (ii) QPs forward

e.g. Queen's Pawn Game 1. d4 d5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. e3

  The advance e2-e4 is more difficult to achieve than d4 in A.4; the more common plan is c2-c4 and a shift of the struggle to the Queen's-side. If for some reason c2-c4 is impossible or undesirable, then e2-e4 must be sought.

 


B. Positional advantage in the centre


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B.1. Advanced Fixed Single-pawn (i) KP forward

e.g. Alapin Sicilian 1. e4 c5 2. c3 Nf6 3. e5 Nd5 4. d4 d6 5. Nf3 dxe5 6. dxe5

  White's chances lie in a direct attack on the King, with a B on d3

 


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B.2. Advanced Fixed Single-pawn (ii) QP forward

e.g. Benoni/KID lines with late ...e6 1. d4 c5 2. d5 d6 or Franco-Benoni 1.e4 e6 2. d4 c5 3. d5 exd5 4. exd5

  White has a space advantage which must be nurtured carefully.

 


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B.3. Partially Fixed Centre (i) tension form

e.g. Philidor and Closed Lopez 1.e4 e5 2. Nf3 d6 3.d4 Nf6 4. Nc3 Nd7

  White will try to maintain d4 with c2-c3 and use extra space and mobility, sometimes for K-side attack with outpost on f5

 


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B.4. Partially Fixed Centre (ii) Benoni without ...e6

e.g. 1. d4 c5 2. d5 d6

  White has a large space advantage and can play for direct attack on the King with f4-f5 or just roll down the middle with e4-e5

 


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B.5. Partially fixed centre (iii) French with White d-pawn backward

e.g. Advance French with exchange on d3 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 b6 4. Bd3 c5 5. f4 Ba6 6. Nf3 cxd4 7. Nxd4 Bxd3 8. cxd3

  White has a post on d4 for a Knight. The major pieces may come off on the c-file, when White has a post on d4 for a King; without exchanges White can play for attack and break with f4-f5

 


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B.6. Partially fixed centre (iv) French with Black d-pawn backward

e.g. Alapin Sicilian 1. e4 c5 2. c3 Nf6 3. e5 Nd5 4. d4 cxd4 5. cxd4 e6 6. Nf3 b6

  Black has a post on d5, White can play for attack on the K with B on d3

 


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B.7. Mobile Centre (i) King Pawn

e.g. Nimzo after exchanges of the d- and c-pawns, or other slow opening after d3, e4 and ...d5xe4

  There will be a struggle for e5 e.g. White will sieze it with a N and play for attack. This can be resolved by the advance of either e-pawn, when we have structures considered above.

 


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B.8. Mobile Centre (ii) Queen Pawn

e.g. Indian Defence with ...e5xd4, e3xd4, or Alekhin Exchange variation 1. e4 Nf6 2. e5 Nd5 3. c4 Nb6 4. d4 d6 5. exd6 exd6

  White has a space advantage and is very likely to play c4 (else ...d5 will come quickly), when Black will be short of space. Black must put pressure on the White centre.

  There will be a struggle for d5, which can be resolved by the advance of either d-pawn, when we have structures similar to those above, although White can go for a bind with c4-c5.



C. Extra Central Pawns


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C.1. Absolute Centre

e.g. King's Gambit Declined 1. e4 e5 2. f4 Bc5 3. Nf3 d6 4. c3 or Nimzo after cxd5,...exd5 and e4, ...dxe4 and fxe4

  A substantial asset, but not decisive - the reason being the pressure that can be put on the pawns by the opponent's rooks (they are in fact a type of hanging pawns). If the centre can be kept intact, and perhaps advance, then the advantage will manifest itself.

 


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C.2. Hanging Centre

e.g. French 1. e4 e5 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 Nf6 4. e5 Nd7 5. Bd3 c5 and later dxc5, and ...f6,exf6, ...Nxf6

  Another hanging formation, with a key square at e5. If White can occupy e5 or at least prevent ...e6-e5 then Black will be worse. Usually Black can keep White pestered with enough nuisances to keep in the fight, but often a single tempo will make the difference between a successful blockade and a successful advance.

 


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C.3. Classic Centre

e.g. Giuoco Piano 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. c3 Nf6 5. d4 exd4 6. cxd4

  One of the strongest formations - if White can keep it intact. In the Giuoco Piano line above Black can disrupt it with ...d5. But if Black retreats with 6...Bb6 the centre will either form the basis of a crushing attack, or simply roll forward.

 


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C.4. Neo-Classic Centre *

e.g. Slav, Queen's Gambit Accepted, Grunfeld Defence, Queen's Indian 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 dxc5 5. a4 Na6 6. e4 or 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. Nf3 Bg7 5. Qb3 dxc4 6. Qxc4

  Again strong: Black's best hopes are to hit at it with ...e5 (risking d5) or ...c5. Sometimes in the Grunfeld ...f5 may play a part.

 


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C.5. Neo-Classic Centre: with open file

e.g. Grunfeld 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. cxd5 Nxd5 5. e4 Nxc3 6. bxc3 c5 7. Bc4 Bg7 8. Ne2 cxd4 9. cxd4

  Tactically this may still be dodgy for Black, but strategically is prefereable to C4, as the cramp is less, the opportunities to hit at the centre (and directly at pieces) are better, and the Queen's-side majority is an endgame plus.

 


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C.6. Unbalanced tension form

e.g. Slav 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 e6 5. e3 Nbd7 6. Bd3 Bd6 7. O-O O-O 8. e4 dxc4 9. Bxc4 e5

  A tense formation: White can exchange on e5 (rival majorities), Black can exchange on d4 (ditto), or White can push d5 (not strategically worrying for Black, but may be troublesome tactically).

 


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C.7. Latent Central Majority (i) QP in reserve

e.g. Delayed Exchange Ruy Lopez 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Bxc6 dxc6 7. d3

  Often in the RL Exchange White plays d4, and after ...exd4 has a free majority on the King's-side. Here Black would play ...c5 if White hinted at this, so White must either play more slowly for d4, or try f4, or leave things in the centre as they are and creep over to the King's-side for an attack on the Black King.

 


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C.8. Latent Central Majority (ii) KP in reserve

e.g. Queen's Gambit and Caro-Kann Exchange. 1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. cxd5 exd5 or 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 cxd5.

  White has a choice of plans: to prepare the advance e2-e4 (usually by f3), or to play the minority attack.

  The e4 advance is favoured by (a) the d4-pawn not being vulnerable, and (b) two bishops to fight in the resulting open position. So in the line 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. a3 Bxc3 5. bxc3 d5 6. cxd5 exd5 all the signals are there for the e4 plan to be favoured; in the QGD the minority attack is most common.



D. Closed Formations


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D.1. Blocked oblique (i) QP forward *

e.g. King's Indian 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 O-O 5. Nf3 d6 6. Be2 e5 7. d5, or from Ruy Lopez with d4-d5 (cf. B3)

  White has only two ways to open a file: the breaks f4 and c5. The former may leave a weak backward pawn on e4 after ...e5xf4 (even if White can reply g3xf4), so the latter is preferred. Black will naturally counter with ...f5. White can also easily achieve b4, with a strong Queen's-side initiative, but Black's attack on the castled White King is dangerous.

 


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D.2. Blocked oblique (ii) KP forward *

e.g. French advance 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 (also Caro-Kann)

  In practice ...c5 and ...cxd4, cxd4 is common, tranferring the position to F3. Without ...c5 Black is crushed by the advance f2-f4-f5. So the only important position is if Black pushes past with ...c5-c4, as in the line 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. c3 Nc6 5. Nf3 Qb6 6. a3 c4. White will still aim for the attack, but Black can play for infiltration of b3 and to open lines with ...b5-b4. Black can castle Queen's-side, but this may make ...b5 more difficult.

 


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D.3. Stonewall

e.g. most common is the Dutch 1.d4 f5 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 d5, but also Semi- Slav and other QP openings.

  Black plays for a King's-side attack, with an outpost on e4 and a pawn-break ...g5 and ...f4; White's easiest strategical plan involves assault of c6 with c4-c5 (usually) and b4-b5 (always). White can also try to get at e6 with f3 and e4.

  More generally White must aim at restraint of ...e5, exchange of dark-squared bishops, and controlling key squares with Ns on f3 and d3.
Usually c4xd5 is met by ...c6xd5, but if White is organised for b4 then ...e6xd5 may wrong-foot White's pieces.

 


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D.4. Anti-Stonewall

e.g. Semi-Slav 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 e6 4. e3 f5 5. f4!

  If White has this option Black is advised to avoid the Stonewall; the King's-side attack is unlikely to get far and the assualt on c6 is just as dangerous.

 


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D.5. Pseudo-Stonewall (Botvinnik)

e.g. English Opening 1. c4 c5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. g3 g6 4. Bg2 Bg7 5. e4

  If Black can organise ...d5 White's formation will shatter; White must adopt a move-order whereby ...d5 is impossible or undesirable. Then the central bind can enable a King's-side initiative with f2-f4 and f4-f5. If both players adopt this formation, the advantage will go to the player who achieves f4 first.

 


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D.6. Wyvill Formation

e.g. Nimzo-Indian 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e3 b6 5. a3 Bxc3 6. bxc3 d6 7. e4 Nbd7 8. Bd3 O-O 9. O-O e5 10. d5

  Marmaduke Wyvill, the nineteenth century MP, specialised in this formation; the details are important here.

  Ideal for Black is an outpost on c5, and Queen's-side castling. Then the assault on the weak c-pawns can be carried out in safety, and Black can even think about opening a file with ...f5. But White should not volunteer for d4-d5, and usually Black can only induce this by playing ...c5; if in addition Black has castled King's-side White has good chances.

  Sometimes pressure with ...Re8 and ...Qe7 threatens a discovery with ...e5xd4, and this may be enough to provoke d4-d5; Euwe once played ...Na5, ...Ba6 and ...Qe6!

 


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D.8 Winawer Formation

e.g. (and almost exclusively) 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e5 c5 5. a3 Bxc3 6. bxc3.

  White has prospects of a King's-side attack with f4-f5, but Black's attack on the c-pawns can be certain of opportunities. The big structural disadvantage for Black is the lack of the Bf8, creating possibilities of a dark-square campaign. Black should castle Queen's-side, if at all.



E. Open Formations


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E.1. Ruy Lopez Formation

e.g. Philidor or Ruy Lopez Steinitz Variation with ...e5xd4.

  White's superior mobility gives a lasting advantage. It can be milked for a direct attack on the King; White can post the Bc1 on b2. These days most players don't fancy this defensive task as Black and try to maintain the e5 pawn.

 


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E.2. French/Caro formation *

e.g. 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4, or 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4

  With the Bc8 stuck behind the Pe6, Black has a lasting problem. White can post a Knight on e5 and play sharply to restrict Black's pieces and attack the Black King.

  It is natural to seek ...c5, but even after an exhange White has the Queen's-side majority. In the Caro version the Bc8 usually escapes, so Black's chances are better here, even if it takes two moves to play ...c5. Very often Queen's-side castling is an option for either side.

 


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E.3. Sicilian Formation *

e.g. 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3

  A very delicate situation strategically; White has a deal more space, and prospects of a King's-side attack. But Black has an extra central pawn, a minority attack and pressure down the c-file, and myriad tactical opportunities.

  The development of the Bf8 is important; after ...e6 and ...Be7 Black has good central control but a slightly weak point on d6; the centrally sounder ...g6/...Bg7 adds so much to Black's Queen's- side play that Black would play it all the time, if it didn't also create new opportunities for White's King's-side attack after h4-h5.

  White can achieve a powerful bind, and stop Black's counterplay, by playing c2-c4. Black may be able to equalise by good defensive play and achieve a freeing break with ...b5 or ...d5, but it is essentially a defensive task that misses out on the counter-attacking possibilities of the Sicilian.

 


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E.4. Rival Majorities (i) with open file between

e.g. English Opening 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. g3 d5 4. cxd5 Nxd5 5. Bg2 Nb6 and later d4 and ...e5xd4; see also E3.

  Simply, each side must advance their majority. With Queens on, advancing pawns on the King's-side cannot be done casually, but neither can their advance be ignored.

 


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E.5. Rival Majorities (ii) with no open file between

This formation can be achieved by the centre pawns pushing past each other once their partners have been exchanged, but more often it will arise from A2/A3 after an exchange on an outpost square.

  The plans are clear for each side; the bishop's pawns must advance, with equal chances.


F. Half-open formations


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F.1. Half-Open with an open file (i) symmetrical

e.g. Echange Slav 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. cxd5 cxd5

  This is plainly similar to other symmetrical formations, with tactical or dynamic features (lead in development, two bishops, concentration of force) being more important than the pawn formation. The structurally important thing here is on which side the dark-squared bishops are placed.

 


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F.2. Half-Open with an open file (ii) focus formation

e.g. Ruy Lopez, Tchigorin Defence 1. e4 e5 2. Nf2 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 O-O 8. c3 d6 9. h3 Na5 10. Bc2 c5 11. dxe5 dxe5

  This is strategically very much richer. Usually there are too many pieces around for invasion via the d-file to be possible, but it should not be overlooked. White has an outpost on d5, and after an exchange on d5, e4xd5 gives a passed pawn and the Bc2 and Nd2 can look forward to a bright future. White also has a plan of Nf5 and a King's-side attack, and may seek to control c4 after a2-a4.

  Black has counterplay on the Queen's-side, and if c5-c4 proves possible, Black suddenly has avoided any nasties on c4 and has a goal on d3. So White's pursuit of King's-side goals cannot be careless.

 


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F.3. Half-Open with an open file (iii) Blocked Oblique

e.g. King's Indian, Ruy Lopez or French; cf. D1/D2

  The discussion in D1/D2 was all about how to open a file, but here such a file already exists. Four possibilities present themselves, combining each central pawn being forward with either bishop file being open. Care and exploitation of the open file affects markedly the plans described above; both players may switch to the side with the open file in order to keep an eye on it.

  Exchanges of rooks down the open file reduce the chances of a successful mating attack, but do not much reduce the positional pawn advances.

 


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F.4. Half-open with half-open files (i) French

e.g. French with dxc5/...c5xd4 e.g. 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e5 Nd7 5. f4 c5 6. Nf3 cxd4 7. Nxd4 Bc5 8. Be3

  Black has chances against the Queen's-side; c4 is an outpost that cannot easily be disturbed by b2-b3. White's chances come on the King's-side, and the attack must be swift and sure - f5 and h4 may figure in the attack. White should maintain a Knight at d4, although Black can exchange or otherwise badger it. If Black can force White to abandon d4, then the advance ...d5-d4 may decide the game in Black's favour.

 


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F.5. Half-open with half-open files (ii) Caro-Kann / QGD Exchange

e.g. 1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. cxd5 exd5 or 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 cxd5

  We see this formation from White's point of view in the diagram, where we might expect White to be better developed than Black. The half-open e-file and outpost on e5 gives prospects of a King's-side attack, even if Black had the majority there, as the advance ...e5 will be difficult or impossible. Black must counter with a minority attack, and can think about spending a moment to exchange the bad Bc8.

 


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F.6. Passed pawn, protected but blockaded

e.g. This may arise from D1 after an exchange on c5.or from C4 after the advance of both the c- and e-pawns is combined with the advance of the d-pawn

  White has a difficult game: no way of opening a file recommends itself, and Black can roll down the Queen's-side. With the e-pawn replaced by a pawn on c4, Black's chances would naturally come with ...f5. The best blockader is always a Knight, who loses no squares to the pawns on c5,d5 or e5, and is handily placed to support pawn advances on either side.

 


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F.7. Isolated Queen's Pawn *

e.g. Queen's Gambit Accepted 1. d4 d5 2. c4 dxc4 3. Nf3 Nf6 4.e3 c5 5. Bxc4 cxd5 6. exd4 or Caro-Kann Panov Attack, 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 cxd5 4. c4.

  Isolated pawns are weak, but central pawns are strong. The critical and common case is the isolated Queen's pawn (IQP) where the strength and space is greatest. White can avoid exchanges and has hopes of a King's side attack based on a N on e5 and a B on the b1-h7 diagonal; Black can consolidate and pile up on the d4 pawn, seeking exchanges and an advatageous endgame.

 


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F.8. Hanging Pawns *

Often derived from IQP after ...Nd5xc3 and bxc3, then c3-c4. Directly from e.g. Semi-Tarrasch 1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 c5 or Queen's Indian 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 b6 4. e3

  The pawns are strong and can be turned to attack because they control so many key squares, but if either pawn moves the weakness of the other will be sharply etched. Again, the defending side can seek exchanges and the endgame, but this is nothing like as straightforward a game as the IQP. There is a defensive idea based on the advance of the isolated a-pawn, hoping to disrupt the Black Queen's-side pawns.

 

Chess Quotes

"If drink is the curse of the working classes and work is the curse of the drinking classes then chess is the curse of the thinking classes "
— J. Ross