Passed Pawns in the Middlegame

Passed Pawns in the Middlegame

It is not a secret that passed pawns are one of the most powerful weapons on the board. A passed pawn can promote into a queen and this is something that happens in endgames more than often. But in middlegames, things are usually a bit different. When there are many inhabitants on the board the road for the pawn is not sweet and full of roses at all. Pawns rarely promote in middlegames; a more seen scenario is that it gets blocked or surrounded by enemies.

But does this mean that it is better to not have a passed pawn in the middlegame?

Well, sometimes a passed pawn is a strength and sometimes it is a weakness. In this article, I would like to illustrate both cases.

Kasparov, Garry (2595) – Pribyl, Josef (2395)
EU-chT (Men) 07th Skara (5.8), 24.01.1980

Passed Pawns in Middlegames: Kasparov-Pribyl diagram 1

In the position from the diagram, Kasparov played 16.d5! Sacrificing a pawn on c3 just to get a passed pawn. Soon it will be supported by the bishop from g5, the queen from a4, and the rooks from d- and e-files. So we see that the road for the pawn is quite clear and actually, Black’s pieces aren’t well coordinated to handle the power of the pawn.

The game continued 16…Bxc3 17.Red1 exd5 18.exd5 Bg7 19.d6 f6

Passed Pawns in Middlegames: Kasparov-Pribyl diagram 2

20.d7! Piece sacrifice! The pawn on d7 just splits Black’s position into two and, being separated from the rest of his forces, the Black king starts feeling insecure. After some complications, White won the game. 20…fxg5 21.Qc4+ Kh8 22.Nxg5 Bf6 23.Ne6 Nc7 24.Nxf8 Rxf8 25.Rd6 Be7 26.d8Q! Bxd8 27.Qc3+ Kg8 28.Rd7 Bf6 29.Qc4+ Kh8 30.Qf4 Qa6 31.Qh6 1–0

When a pawn approaches the final rank it is a good sign to start looking for tactical possibilities. We saw that in Kasparov’s game and now let’s take a look at a brilliant game played by another chess legend Alexander Morozevich.

Morozevich, Alexander (2748) – Nikolic, Predrag (2659)
Corus Wijk aan Zee (13), 30.01.2000

Passed Pawns in Middlegames: Morozevich-Nikolic

38.Bxg7+! Nxg7 39.Qxf8! Rxf8 40.Rd8 Ne6 41.Rxf8+ Nxf8 42.b8Q Kg7 43.Qa7+ Kh6 44.Qf7 1–0

Now let’s take a look at the position where a passed pawn turned into a target itself. The main thing we should pay attention to is the placement of the pieces. Here we see that Black’s army is ready to enter the game while White’s pieces can’t support the pawn’s march as it was in Kasparov’s game.

Caglar, Ahmet Ata (2093) – Dragnev, Valentin (2483)
EU-ch U18 27th Mamaia (2), 06.09.2017

Passed Pawns in Middlegames: Caglar-Dragnev diagram 1

18…Nxb3! White starts by eliminating the main defender of the pawn. 19.Qxb3 Qd6 Even though it is better to block pawns with minor pieces, here nobody can attack the queen anyway. 20.h3 Rc5 21.Re5 Rd8

Passed Pawns in Middlegames: Caglar-Dragnev diagram 2

The pawn is surrounded and can’t be protected; Black captured it and later won the game.

In the next example, White had a passed pawn which also was an extra pawn. This sounds like a dream scenario but in reality, it is a dream position for Black. All of their pieces are well-placed and looking at the direction of the White’s king; while White’s pieces are somewhat cramped and don’t do anything.

The extra pawn is even blocking the way for its partners and allows Black to place their pieces comfortably. Engines say that Black’s position is already winning.

Tip: want to learn the most important Middlegame Ideas that you can apply directly in your game?

Make sure to read the 7 Most Important Middlegame Principles.

Stefanova, Antoaneta (2483) – Hamdouchi, Hicham (2602)
La Roche Sur Yon 2nd (9), 06.03.2007

Passed Pawns in Middlegames: Stefanova-Hamdouchi

16…h5! This pawn is much more dangerous than White’s central passer! 17.Nf1 h4 18.Bd2 Qe7 19.Be1 Qe5 20.Qa4 Qg5… and soon Black won the game. Note also, that if the pawn was on d4 Black’s pieces would be more restricted and that queen maneuver wouldn’t be possible. Advanced pawns give up control over some important squares and this is a big drawback.

Thus we can say that past pawns are good team players. If supported by others they can achieve anything. Otherwise… Well, you know what happens.

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Updated 06.15.2024