Why a strong pawn-structure is a valuable asset

One big advantage of a strong pawn-structure is that your pawns can defend themselves.

This implies that your pieces don’t have to spend their energy on protecting pawns and they are available for more useful purposes. It also implies that it’s hard for your opponent to attack you since there aren’t any easy targets in your structure.

Strong pawns can defend themselves. We will look at 3 cases where pawns are particularly strong:

  1. Connected pawns
  2. Pawn-chains
  3. Passed pawns

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1. Connected pawns

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Connected pawns

Connected pawns are pawns that have a pawn on the files(s) next to it. Connected pawns can usually defend each other and therefore they are strong. At the start of a new game all the pawns are connected but as the game continue and some exchanges are made the pawns become disconnected – and therefore weaker.

When a group of pawns gets disconnected from the rest of the pawn-structure – they become a pawn-island. In the example diagram above both white and black have 2 pawn-islands each. Generally, the more pawn-islands you have, the weaker your pawn-structure becomes, because you need resources to defend those pawn-islands.

2. Pawn-chains

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Pawn-chains

Pawn-chains are pawns that protect each other on a diagonal. Pawn-chains are quite strong since the pawns protect each other. However, if one of the pawns in the pawn-chain is attacked or exchanged it can cause the pawn-chain to fall apart and be weakened.

Pawn-chains often help you to control either dark squares or light squares. In the example above black’s pawn-chain helps him to control the dark squares whereas the white pawns control light squares.

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White’s bishop is much more useful than black’s bishop because he is placed “outside” the pawn-chain, whereas the black bishop is restricted “inside” his pawn-chain.

The above diagram shows that pawn-chains have a significant effect on bishops. Ideally you want your bishop to be “outside” the pawn-chain because if it is stuck “inside” the pawn-chain the bishop will not be able to fulfill a very active role.

3. Passed pawns

A passed pawn is a pawn that cannot be confronted by any enemy pawns. Passed pawns are very valuable assets since your opponent will often have to allocate at least one piece to prevent the passed pawn from advancing even further.

The passed pawn on b4 threatens to promote if the white king tries to protect the g2-pawn.
The passed pawn on b4 threatens to promote if the white king tries to protect the g2-pawn.

Black will win here because his king can go to capture white’s king-side pawns. The white king can’t protect them because he must keep an eye on the black b4-pawn.

When a passed pawn is supported by another pawn (as in the example above) it is called a protected passed pawn. A protected passed pawn is usually more valuable than an unprotected passed pawn.

A protected passed pawn is an advantage that gives you a good chance of winning the game even if you are a pawn or two behind in material.

Conclusion: A strong pawn-structure is an asset because there aren’t any weaknesses in your positions that your opponent can easily attack.

What makes a pawn-structure strong?

There are a number of things that makes a pawn-structure strong. In this example diagram material is equal but white has an advantage due to his better development and his better pawn-structure.

Can you see why white has a better pawn-structure?
Can you see why white has a better pawn-structure?

The position illustrates 6 things that makes white’s pawn structure strong:

  1. The white pawns doesn’t get in the way his pieces (compare that with black pawns that restrict the movements of his pieces)
  2. They help to keep enemy pieces out of your territory (but the white pieces have entry-points into black’s territory, particularly via c5 and e5)
  3. They can’t easily be attacked since there aren’t weak pawns in the structure (whereas black has a weakened backward-pawn on e6)
  4. The open space behind white’s advanced pawns are fully supported and covered by the pieces
  5. They help to control important squares, particularly central-squares
  6. The pawns in front of the king acts like a shield to keep him relatively safe

Note how black’s pawn-structure gets in the way of his own pieces. Furthermore they also don’t do enough to prevent the white pieces from entering black’s territory via the useful c5 and e5 squares.

Next Lesson – 5 Ways to achieve your pawn-structure objectives

Previous Lesson – Objectives in Chess: Keep a strong pawn-structure

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