The Queen's Gambit Accepted/Isolated Queen's Pawn

Peter Lane, 2nd March 1998

'...a system, imperfect though it may be, is preferable to move to move improvisation' -- KONIG

  Studying opening theory is one of the best and worst tasks for the ambitious chess player: the best, because catching your opponent with a prepared tactical or strategical plan gives you a headstart to victory; the worst, because no- one likes mugging up variations.

  I long ago gave up the idea of memorising openings -- sets of moves simply do not remain in my head long enough; once I've looked up the correct reply to 4.Bd3 in the French Winawer, it may be 6 months before the position appears again on the board! And so I avoid this unpleasant aspect of openings, though I'm sure it pays dividends to those with a good memory.

  Instead I prefer to combine work on opening theory with attempts to master basic strategical concepts. My favourite strategical concepts are pawn centres and the theories of Nimzowitsch. One topic that is key in almost any of the literature is that of the Isolated Queen's Pawn (IQP). And this topic often occurs in games between top ranking masters.

  This session will examine some games in the Queen's Gambit Accepted (QGA), and so illustrate the key themes of play for and against an IQP.



  First, we must get an idea of the characteristic motifs. The basic structure is shown in the diagram:



The IQP is the White pawn on d4. The basic features of the position which stand out are:

  1. White has more space

  2. Black has two pawn islands to White's three

  3. White has a strong square on e5 -- f6 would weaken the e-pawn

  4. Black has an outpost on d5

  5. the c-file is open.

  The combination of (1) and (3) basically mean White has the better middle game chances, and especially to whip up an attack on the Black king. The combination of (2) and (4), coupled with the isolation of the White d-pawn, mean Black has the better endgame chances. (5) can be useful to both players.

  OVERALL CONCLUSION: a dynamic imbalance -- either player may win!

  (The IQP is also frequently found with a Black pawn on c6 instead of e6; the evaluation is unchanged, although White may have better attacking chances.)

  The IQP can arise from numerous openings, which is why it is a stategem worth studying; no matter your opening repertoire, there is bound to be some variation in which it could (or does) arise.

  The basic move-order is a Queen's Gambit Accepted: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3 e6 5.Bxc4 c5 6.O-O Be7 7.cxd4 exd4. Also possible is the line: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.e3 e5 4.Bxc4 exd4 5.exd4 Nf6 6.Nf3 etc.

  The Slav complex, (1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6) also gives rise to similar positions, and Matthew Sadler frequently plays the QGA and Slav, perhaps for this reason.

  Popular lines of the Nimzo-Indian (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 c5 5.Bd3 d5 6.Nf3 O-O 7.O-O Nc6) and the Tarrasch (1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c5) lead to a characteristic clash of c and d-pawns, which can lead to an IQP on either side.

  The e-pawn openings are not immune either: from the French Defense there is: 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 exd5 4.c4 or 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 c5 4. exd5 exd5, and from the Caro-Kann: 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.c4, and from the Petroff, after 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nxe5 d6 4. Nf3 Nxe4 5. d4 d5 6. Bd3 and a later c2-c4



  'For Black the following are desirable.

  (i) All cases (ceteris paribus) of a pronounced end game character.

  (ii) Those where Black has played Nd5xNc3;bxc3, with the idea of pinning down White's Pc3 from the start and of laying siege to it.' -- NIMZOWITSCH

  First up, a game to illustrate how the endgame can go in Black's favour, played by that maestro of clear-cut strategy, Dr.Lasker.


Akiba Rubinstein vs Dr.E.Lasker, Moscow 1925.

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.e3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5.Nf3 Nbd7 6.Bd3 dxc4 7.Bxc4 b5 8.Be2 a6 9.O-O Bb7 10.b3 Be7 11.Bb2 O-O 12.Ne5 c5 13.Bf3 Qc7 14.Nxd7 Nxd7 15.Ne4 Rad8 16.Rc1 Qb8 17.Qe2 cxd4 18.exd4



I have skipped over the opening stage, which illustrates one transposition into a basic IQP position. Black has begun to gain some space on the queen-side, and now, through exchanges, removes any attacking ideas White may have in order to work on the IQP itself.

18...Rc8 19.g3 Qa8 20.Kg2 Rfd8 21.Rxc8 Rxc8 22.Rc1 Rxc1 23.Bxc1 h6 24.Bb2 Nb6 25.h3 (White is trying to avoid further exchanges ) Qc8 26.Qd3 Nd5!



Thematically sitting on the outpost square, with a threat,

27.a3 Nb6!

  which White prevents (...Nb4), but at the cost of weakening b3, which Black now seizes upon. One of the problems when playing with one weakness, the IQP, is that you are liable to create further weaknesses elsewhere; Nimzowitsch calls these 'reflex weaknesses'.

28.Kh2 Bd5 29.Kg2 (White's oscillation of the king does not appear as worthwhile as Black's oscillation of his knight!) Qc6 30.Nd2 a5! 31.Qc3

  Finally submitting to the exchange of queens, but the 'reflex weaknesses' will tell.

31...Bxf3+ 32.Nxf3 (not 32.Qxf3 Qc2) Qxc3 33.Bxc3 a4! 34.bxa4 bxa4 35.Bb4 (the threat was ...Nc4) Bxb4 36.axb4 a3 37.Nd2 Nd5

  and Black will win the endgame,

e.g. 38.b5 Kf8 39.Kf1 Ke7 40.b6 Nxb6 41.Ke2 Nd5 42.Kd3 a2 43.Nb3 Kf6 44.Kc2 Kf5 45.Kb2 Ke4 46.Kxa2 Nc3+- e2 etc.

  As a further illustration of this theme, we follow:


M.M. Botwinnik vs M. Euwe, Hastings, 1934-5.

1.c4 c6 2.e4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.Bg5 e6 7.Nf3 dxc4 8.Bxc4 Be7 9.O-O O-O



A standard position for this system. White would like to play Qe2, but cannot because of the d-pawn weakness. Ideally the B now sat proudly on g5 would be on e3, but to retreat is to lose face, and time.

10.Rc1 a6 11.Bd3 h6!

  An important move, aiming for control of f4. A mistake would be 11...b5 12.Ne4! Bb7 13.Bxf6 Bxf6 14.Nc5


  Instead, a better move is 12.Bh4 Nb4 13.Bb1 b5 14.a3 Nbd5 15.Qc2 would force g6 or g5.

12...Nb4 13.Bb1 b5 14.Ne5 Bb7 15.Qd2 Re8

  Preventing sacrifices on h6 by enabling ...Bf8 to cover.

16.f4 Nbd5 17.Nxd5 Qxd5 18.f5 Bd6 19.fxe6 Rxe6



Black's play can be recommended as a model for the defense. White's Ne5 is now unable to retreat, due to the weakness of g2.

20.Bf5 Re7 21.Bh3 Bxe5 22.dxe5 Qxe5 23.Bf4 Qd5 24.Qxd5 Nxd5

  and Black went on to win with his extra pawn (in 56 moves).

  Finally, a game to illustrate how easy it is to defend a structurally sound position against an opponent aiming to attack 'no matter what'.


D.Janowski vs. Dr.E.Lasker, Match Game, 1910

1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.e3 c5 4.c4 e6 5.Bd3 Nc6 6.O-O dxc4 7.Bxc4

  Transposing to the QGA, but with loss of time for White.

7...a6 8.a4

  Creates a hole on b4 -- and watch Lasker make a point of it!

8...Be7 9.Nc3 O-O 10.b3 dxc4 11.exd4 Nb4! 12.Bb2 b6 13.Qe2 Bb7 14.Rad1 Nfd5 15.Ne5



Black's pieces are perfectly positioned, and the Bb7 compares favourably with its counterpart, the Bb2. Because of b3 and d4, any endgame would be lost for White, and so he must attack, 'no matter what'. Nevertheless, Lasker provokes.

15...Nf4 16.Qg4 Nbd5!

  And not 16...Nxg2? 17.d5! Nh4 18.dxe6 f5 19.Qg3 with advantage to White. The d-pawn must be kept securely blockaded.

17.Nxd5 Nxd5 18.Rfe1 Bb4!

  This move keeps White on his toes. The rook moved to allow f4, without Black forking his rooks. This bishop move drives the R to e2, where Nc3 forks become a combinative motif. Further, it allows Black to defend his k-side along the second rank.

19.Re2 Rc8 20.f4 Rc7!!



I think Black's last move is a beauty. By defending the Bb7, it also threatens ...h5:Qf3 Nc3! winning the exchange.


  'Leading to the loss of a pawn or the exchange; but Janowski prefers to lose the game his own way: a somewhat dubious satisfaction.' - - REINFELD.

21...h5 22.Qxh5 Nf4 23.Qg4 Nxe2+ 24.Qxe2 exf5 25.Qh5





  Cold-blooded -- occupy the outpost square, stop Ng6 with 'mate!

26.Rd3 f6 27.Rh3

  'Janowski's first logical move in the whole game, as the situation obviously calls for hara-kiri!' -- REINFELD

27...fxe5 28.Qh7+

  'In return for the piece, Janowski obtains two P's and four checks.' -- REINFELD

28...Kf7 29.Qxf5+ Ke8 30.Qh5+ Bf7 31.Qxe5+ Qe7 1-0

  If 32.Qxg7 Qe1+ 33.Bf1 Qxf1+ 34.Kxf1 Bxc4+ 35.Kg1 Rf1 'mate.

  'One of those remarkable games in which Lasker makes his opponent look childish.' -- REINFELD

  After all that, why does White take on an IQP?



  'In general it may be said that the two following cases are worth striving for by White.

  (i) When White has effected d5, exd5; a piece xd5, and thereby gets the better, because a centralised position. (ii) When White has built up a position in the c-file.' -- NIMZOWITSCH

  How should the White pieces place themselves with regard to the isolani? I quote Nimzowitsch as, although his piece placements in themselves are not always followed, the spirit certainly should be!

  'Many players with an isolani proceed much too violently, but it seems to me that there is no objective motive for "plunging" on a desparate attack. At first the utmost solidity is called for. The attack will come of itself in good time, for instance when Black has withdrawn his Nf6, which he will at some time naturally do, since the N wants to get to d5. In the development stage, we would therefore recommend the solid construction, Be3 (not Bg5), Qe2, R's c1 and d1 (not d1 and e1), further Bd3 or b1 (not b3). ... A solid position aimed at maintaining the security of the Pd4 is the one and only right course, and it must ever be remembered that the Be3 belongs to the Pd4 as does a nurse to a suckling child!

  'It is only when Black has withdrawn his pieces from the K-side that White may sound the attack, and this, if he will, he may carry out in sacrificial style.'

  As an illustration we will follow:


Timman-Panno, Mar del Plata 1982:

1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.Nc3 e5 4.e3 exd4 5.exd4 Nf6 6.Bxc4 Be7 7.Nf3 O-O 8.h3 Nbd7 9.O-O Nb6 10.Bb3 c6 11.Re1 Nfd5



A good standard position. Black's last move occupies his outpost and offers an exchange of knights, but moves one piece away from the king-side. White, with the isolani, avoids the exchange and moves his knight closer to the king-side.


  Can attacking chess be so simple? If you follow basic precepts, yes!

12...Re8 13.Bd2 Bf5 14.Ng3 Be6 15.Bc2 Nd7 16.a3 Nf8 17.Bd3 g6?!

  According to Timman, 17...f6 was better, but White would still have the initiative. Note how White studiously avoids exchanges, and Black makes concessions in order to exchange.

18.Bh6 Nf6 19.Qd2 Bd5 20.Ne5 (avoid Bxf3) Ne6 21.Bc2 (avoid Nxd4) Nd7 22.Ng4 (avoid Nxe5) Bg5 23.Bxg5 (OK, one got away, but look at those dark squares) Qxg5 24.Qb4 Nf6 25.Re5 Qh4 26.Nxf6+ Qxf6 27.Ne4 Qd8

  Missing a chance to simplify with 27...Bxe4 28.Bxe4 Re7. Note though that White is always calling the tune, and Black is still hoping to sit through to the endgame. This sort of manoeuvring by White (moves 13-22) can look difficult, until you realise he's merely avoiding piece exchanges, and controlling the dark squares! White now makes a more concerted attacking attempt.

28.Bb3! a5 29.Qc3 Bxb3 30.Qxb3 Qxd4 31.Nf6+ Kh8 32.Rae1 Reb8?!



Here's the signal for White to attack. Any takers for a continuation?

33.R1e4 Qd8 34.Rxe6! fxe6 35.Qc3 Qe7 (35...Qf8 36.Nxh7+ Kxh7 37.Rh4+ Qh6 38.Qf6! is given by Timman) 36.Nh5+ Kg8 37.Rxe6 Qf7 38.Nf6+ Kf8 (38...Kh8 39.Re7) 39.Qc5+ Kg7 40.Re7 Kxf6 41.Qe5 'mate

  A game to remember!

  If you are in an ultra-aggressive mood, and find all that waiting around for Black's pieces to move away from the king-side etc etc a bit of a drag, then you might prefer the more direct approach of the following game:


1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.e3 e5

  (Note that Black cannot keep his pawn: 3...b5 4.a4 c6 5.axb5 cxb5 6.Qf3!)

4.Bxc4 exd4 5.exd4 Nf6 6.Nc3 Be7 7.Nf3 O-O 8.h3 c6 9.Be3 Bf5



White's development is a model of restraint, Be3 just as Nimzowitsch prescribes. 8.h3 is useful, preventing the pin of the Nf3. But how does that Black Bf5 fit in?


  Scrub that last comment! 'White's restrained development'? Can White really attack like this? Perhaps this is why 9...Nbd7 is a more popular choice for Black.

10...Bg6 11.Ne5! Nbd7 12.Nxg6 hxg6 13.h4!

  White cannot waste any time, as the open nature of the position would give Black ample opportunity to counterattack -- if he can get organised.

13...Nb6 14.Bb3 Nfd5 15.h5 Nxe3 16.fxe3 Bh4+ 17.Kd2 gxh5 18.Qf3 Bg5



If you can find White's next move, you have my full permission to play like this.


  'Never forget your queen's rook' -- easy?!

19...Qxd4+ 20.Kc2 Qf6 (20...Qxg4 21.Bxf7+ Kh7 22.Qxg4) 21.Rxh5! Qg6+

  (If 21...Qxf3 22.Rxf3 Be7 23.Rhf5 {note, shift the attack to the f7 pawn} Bf6 24.g5 Bxc3 25.bxc3 Nd5 26.e4! Also, 21...g6 22.Qh3 gxh5 (22...Qe5 23.Rf5) 23.Rxf6 Bxf6 24.Qxh5 with g5-g6 to follow.)

22.e4 Nd5 23.Rfh1 Bh6 24.g5! f5 25.Nxd5 cxd5 26.Bxd5+ Kh7 27.Rxh6+ Qxh6 28.gxh6 1-0

  No prizes for guessing this is in 'ye olde style' -- it is in fact the 15th game of the first match between La Bourdonnais and McDonnell, played in 1834. In the 85(!) games these two amassed, the Queen's Gambit Accepted featured prominently in La Bourdonnais' arsenal, and thereby were some wonderful victories gained!



  Imre Konig, 'Chess from Morphy to Botwinnik'.

  Yakov Neishtadt, 'Uncrowned Champions'.

  Aron Nimzowitsch, 'My System' and 'Chess Praxis'.

  Yuri Razuvaev, 'You are right, Monsieur La Bourdonnais!' (in Mark Dvoretsky and Artur Yusopov 'Opening Preparation').

  M I Shereshevsky, 'Endgame Strategy' (the chapter on 'Positions with an isolated d-pawn').

Chess Quotes

"On a motif such as was indicated by Reti one cannot build the plan of a whole well contested game; it is too meagre, too thin, too puny for such an end. Reti's explanations, wherever they are concerned with an analysis which covers a few moves, are correct and praiseworthy. But when he abandons the foundations of analysis in order to draw too bold, too general a conclusion, his arguments prove to be mistaken."
— LASKER, Manual of Chess