5 Ways to achieve your pawn-structure objectives

pawn structure objectiveNext we will look at 5 practical ways to achieve your objectives with regards to the pawn-structure.

They are:

  1. Move pawns to support the development of your pieces or to help you control important squares
  2. Don’t allow weaknesses in your pawn-structure unless you have a good reason for doing so
  3. Aim to create weaknesses in your opponent’s pawn-structure
  4. Use weak squares near enemy territory to improve the roles of your pieces
  5. Increase your space by advancing pawns only once your pieces are in a good position to support them and protect the empty space behind them.

Note: Due to the permanent consequences of moving a pawn, you should always consider a pawn-move carefully. A useful rule-of-thumb with regards to moving pawns is to:

Only move a pawn when moving it helps you to achieve an important objective.

In this lesson we will look at examples of each of the 5 ways whereby you can achieve your objectives with regards to the pawn-structure.

1. Move pawns to support the development of your pieces

In this position black has a very solid pawn-structure and hardly any weak pawns or weak squares to speak of. However, the development of his Bd7 is severely limited by the pawns.

By playing c5! black not only chases away the Nb5, but also opens the c6-squares for his problematic Bd7
By playing c5! black not only chases away the Nb5, but also opens the c6-squares for his problematic Bd7

The move c5 helped black in a number of ways:

  1. It opened the c6-square for the bishop. On c6 the bishop will have a much better role than on d7 where is was stuck behind the pawns.
  2. It gains a tempo since the white Nb4 is under attack and must retreat.
  3. Black gains control over the d4-square.
  4. The white d3-pawn becomes a backward pawn since it can’t move forward without being lost. The d3-pawn can now be a target for black’s pieces.

Instead of c5, black could also have played e5 but c5 is probably better since it gains a tempo move and restricts the role of white’s Nc2.

Notice how black moved a pawn that helped him to achieve some important objectives. Only move pawns when moving them helps you achieve your objectives.

2. Don’t allow weaknesses without good reason

This lesson illustrates that you should avoid weakening your own pawn-structure, unless you have a good reason to allow it.

Example 1

gxf3? would be a bad choice because f2 and f3 would become a weakness - an isolated double-pawn.
gxf3? would be a bad choice because f2 and f3 would become a weakness – an isolated double-pawn.

Nxf3 is better than gxf3 since capturing with the pawn would create serious weaknesses in white’s pawn-structure. White wouldn’t get any real benefits from weakening his pawn-structure in this way and therefore it should be better to play Nxf3.

Example 2

Even though hxg6 would create weak pawns for black, he will get an open h-file for his rook.
Even though hxg6 would create weak pawns for black, he will get an open h-file for his rook.

Qxg6 would keep the pawn-structure strong, but the Rh8 would stay out of the action. Instead, after hxg6, black can use the open h-file for his rooks and launch a strong attack on white’s king. Note that since white pushed the pawns in front of his king the squares around his king have been severely weakened. The closed-nature of the pawn-structure in the centre also makes it nearly impossible for the white Bb2 to help defend the weak dark-squares on the king-side.

Also note that white can’t attack the “weak” black pawns at this stage. We can conclude that the benefits black gets by capturing with the pawn outweighs its disadvantages.

3. Create weaknesses in your opponent’s pawn-structure

Before you can attack your opponent you need to identify a weakness that can be attacked. But what can you do if your opponent doesn’t have any such weaknesses? In that case you should aim to create or provoke that weakness!

Creating a weakness in your opponent’s pawn-structure can be an important step in the process of attacking your opponent’s territory.

White plays c4! Attacking the pinned d5-pawn. On the next move white will play cxd5 and create an isolated pawn on d5 that can become a target.
White plays c4! Attacking the pinned d5-pawn. On the next move white will play cxd5 and create an isolated pawn on d5 that can become a target.

White will have the advantage since his pieces will have attacking roles whereas black’s pieces will have to defend (the d5-pawn). However, white will still have to work hard if he wants to prove that he has better winning chances. Remember that strong players are willing to work hard for their victories!

4. Use weak squares as entry-points for your pieces

Black just captured a pawn by playing f6xe5. White should now recapture the pawn but what is the best way to do it?

pawn structures 18
1) Nxe5 or 2) dxe5? Which is better?

It most cases it is better to place your piece on weak squares rather than a pawn. A piece will usually get much more benefit from occupying a weak square than what a pawn would. When you have a choice to occupy a weak square with a pawn or a piece you should in most cases choose to occupy the square with a piece.

5. Push pawns to increase your space

Pushing your pawns to increase the space in which your pieces can move is a very effective way of improving the roles of your pieces (since giving them more space increases their mobility).

In the position on the diagram below white’s pieces are all developed and ready for more action. White should now try to improve his development even more.

White's pieces are all developed and they are looking for more work. Push pawns to increase your space if your pieces are well-developed and support the pawn-advances.
White’s pieces are all developed and they are looking for more work. Push pawns to increase your space if your pieces are well-developed and support the pawn-advances.

Note: Before advancing your pawn, check the situation in the centre. It is usually not a good idea to push pawns on the flanks if they situation in the centre is not stable. The reason for this is that your opponent might strike back in the centre, taking advantage of the time you used to advance pawns, and also taking advantage of the weakened squares behind your advanced pawns. In this position white has a firm grip in the centre and so he can afford to expand on the king-side.

Next Lesson – How to evaluate a chess position

Previous Lesson – Why a strong pawn-structure is a valuable asset

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