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How to evaluate progress in the pawn-structure objective

The pawn-structure has a significant effect on the other objectives – specifically on the objectives of development, center-control and king-safety. For example, a certain pawn-move might give you control over an important central square but in the same time restrict the development of one of your pieces. How do you decide if this move is good or bad? This complex effect that pawns have on the other objectives make it hard to evaluate the pawn-structure correctly.

To make the process as practical yet accurate as possible, we will focus on the 2 most important effects that pawn-structure have on the position:

  1. How does the pawn-structure affect my objectives? (development, center-control and king-safety)
  2. Are there any significant weak pawns and/or weak squares that can become targets?

By comparing these 2 elements we can get a good idea as to which player has a better pawn-structure. The next 3 examples will make it clear how you can evaluate the pawn-structure:

Example 1

Compare the pawn-structures in the position below by looking mainly at how the pawns affect your objectives and to whether there are any weak pawns and/or squares that can become targets. Who do you think has a better pawn structure?

pawn-structure evaluation 1
  • Black’s pieces are much more restricted due to the structure of the pawns. Note specifically how the mobility of black’s Bd7 and Ra6 is limited by his pawns, in contrast to the free movement of white’s pieces – which also allows him to take control of the central squares. This is already an indication that white has a much better pawn-structure.
  • Black has isolated pawns on a4 and c6 as well as a number of weakened squares on the c-file and d-file. Black’s c6-pawn and the open c-and-d-files are clearly targets that white can attack.

By comparing the 2 most important aspects of a pawn-structure it is quite clear that white has a better pawn-structure. Considering all we just learned about the position, it would make a lot of sense for white to play Re-d1 on the next move.

Example 2

Who has the better pawn-structure here?

pawn-structure evaluation 2
  • White’s pawns control almost all the central squares and severely restricts the development of black’s pieces. Also the white pieces are all well-placed to control the space behind his pawns and to give full support to his pawns. This is important else black might destroy white’s pawn-structure and attack the space behind them.
  • Due to white’s strong control of the central squares, black will have a problem to defend the c6, d6, e6 and f6 squares, whereas white will target these squares with all his pieces. Note that although the squares near white’s king have been weakened, black will probably not be able to attack those squares, due to white’s control of the center and the fact that his pieces protect the space behind his pawns well.

Our observations here makes it clear that white has a better pawn-structure.

Example 3

This position is shown from black’s point of view. Who would you say has a better pawn-structure?

pawn-structure evaluation 3
  • Black’s central pawns gives his pieces more space to move at the same time restricts the development and movement of white’s pieces.
  • White has 2 weakened pawns on c4 and a2 respectively.

Based on our initial observations it seems that black has a better pawn-structure. Even though this is probably true, it is not quite clear how black will continue. This last example again illustrates that evaluating the pawn-structure is mostly a process of determining how the pawns affect your progress in the other main objectives.

As you have probably experienced yourself, it isn’t always easy to keep your evaluation completely objective. In situations that aren’t very clear, experienced players often trust their intuition in order to make a final judgement.

Next Lesson – The role of intuition in evaluating a chess position

Previous Lesson – How to evaluate progress in the king-safety objective

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