15 Must Know Opening Pawn Formations

Yury Markushin
15 Must Know Opening Pawn Formations

The pawn structure is a factor that primarily decides how the game will progress. In order to play chess at a high level, it is necessary to understand the fundamental pawn formations that arise from the openings. GM Andrew Soltis has classified major pawn formations into 22 main categories depending on the opening played. In this article, we will focus on the 15 most fundamental formations that every chess player must know. This is very condensed and straight-to-the-point material, which is definitely worth analyzing.

Chess Formation #1. Boleslavsky Formation

Opening: Sicilian Najdorf, Classical, Sveshnikov, etc.

Type of Position: Open, dynamic

Ideas for White: Taking control of the weak d5 square, attacking d6 pawn, f2-f4 break

Ideas for Black: d6-d5 break, minority attack, controlling the c4 square

Chess Formation #2. Caro Formation

Opening: Caro-Kann, French, Queen Gambit Declined

Type of Position: Positional, strategic maneuvering

Ideas for White: Strong outpost on e5, space advantage of the king’s side, d4-d5 break,

Ideas for Black: Weak d4 pawn, c6-c5 and e6-e5 breaks.

Chess Formation #3. Closed Sicilian Formation

Opening: Closed Sicilian, Closed English (reversed)

Type of Position: Closed

Ideas for White: kingside pawn attack, c2-c3 and d3-d4 breaks

Ideas for Black: queenside pawn attack, a1-h8 diagonal

Chess Formation #4. d5 Pawn Chain Formation

Opening: King’s Indian, Benoni, Ruy Lopez

Type of Position: Closed

Ideas for White: Queenside space advantage, c2-c4-c5 break, f2-f4 break.

Ideas for Black: Kingside attack, f7-f5 break, c7-c6 break.

Note: In order to develop a positional understanding it is necessary to go over the annotatedGM chess games, and to think why certain moves were made. Only when you put yourself in the the player’s shoes you will be able to fully understand the problems he was facing in the game and your will be able to improve you own chess. That’s exactly what you can do by studying our training course.

Chess Formation #5. Dragon Formation

Opening: Sicilian Dragon, English (reversed)

Type of Position: Razor Sharp

Ideas for White: Outpost on d5, kingside attack, f2-f4-f5 break or h2-h4-h5 break.

Ideas for Black: Control of long diagonal, queenside attack

Chess Formation #6. e5 Pawn Chain Formation

Opening: French

Type of Position: Closed, semi-closed, sharp game

Ideas for White: King’s side attack, f2-f4-f5 break

Ideas for Black: Breaks via c7-c5 and f7-f6

Chess Formation #7. Hanging Pawn Formation

Opening: Queen’s Gambit Declined, Queen’s Indian Defense

Type of Position: Open

Ideas for White: Opening center, king’s side attack

Ideas for Black: Forcing advance, weakening the pawns

Chess Formation #8. Hedgehog Formation

Opening: English, Sicilian

Type of Position: Closed, semi open

Ideas for White: e4-e5 break, supported by f2-f4

Ideas for Black: Opening the center via d5

Chess Formation #9. Isolani Formation

Opening: Queen’s Gambit, French

Type of Position: Open

Ideas for White: d4-d5 break, attack at the center, outpost on e5, kingside attack

Ideas for Black: blockade, transitioning to the endgame

Chess Formation #10. Maroczy Formation

Opening: Sicilian

Type of Position: Semi-open

Ideas for White: Fianchettoing of bishops, kingside attack, c4-c5 and e4-e5 breaks

Ideas for Black: b7-b5 break, f7-f5 beak, d6-d5 break

Chess Formation #11. Orthodox Formation

Opening: Queen’s Gambit Declined. Caro-Kann (reversed)

Type of Position: Semi-open

Ideas for White: Minority attack, e3-e4 break

Ideas for Black: e4 outpost, kingside attack

Chess Formation #12. Rauzer Formation

Opening: King’s Indian, Old Indian (reversed), Ruy Lopez (reversed)

Type of Position: Semi-open

Ideas for White: Weak d6 square, c4-c5 break, a3-f8 diagonal, queenside attack

Ideas for Black: Weak d4, a1-h8 diagonal, king’s side attack

Chess Formation #13. Scheveningen Formation

Opening: Sicilian (different variations)

Type of Position: sharp

Ideas for White: Pressure on d-file, space, e4-e5 break, f2-f4-f5 push

Ideas for Black: Pressure on c-file, minority attack, d6-d5 break

Chess Formation #14. Slav Formation

Opening: Slav, Catalan, Grunfeld, Colle.

Type of Position: positional

Ideas for White: Pressure on c-file, d4-d5 break

Ideas for Black: e6-e5 break and c6-c5 break

Chess Formation #15. Stonewall Formation

Opening: Dutch, Colle, English

Type of Position: Closed, symmetric

Ideas for White: Outpost on e5, exchange of bad bishops

Ideas for Black: Outpost on e4, exchange of bad bishops

Note: Middle-game is no doubt a very important part of chess. If you want to improve your general chess level simply working on the middle-game is not enough. If you aim for a dramatic improvement at chess you need to work on all of the elements of the game in a systematic way:

  • tactics
  • positional play
  • attacking skills
  • endgame technique
  • classical games analysis
  • psychological preparation
  • and much more

That seems to be like a lot of things, and that is. But no worries, we have made it easy for you. Our comprehensive training course covers it all and much more. Sign up for 21 Day Training right now!

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Updated 12.19.2023


Tom Halstead:
A lot are ala Mauricio Rios in CHESS STRUCTURES, excellent summary!
Hi Mariozevich. I totally agree with you. Good annotations are a must if you use these games for educational purposes. That's why in our training program we annotate almost every move!
nice advice on reviewing GM annotated chess games ...but very often,their notes and comments loose the link with the related pawn structure...the meaninig of some moves are not explained,and the material looses its didactid value, aside the great quality of the game and the player....
carlos diaz: