The concept of weakness is the most basic part of positional chess. Weak squares and weak pawns are ideas that you must juggle with throughout the whole game. The choice of a correct plan is most of the time based on correctly identifying targets of attack in the opponent’s position. Just as well, the decision of advancing a pawn or not should be made on the same principles. However, the concept of weakness is often misunderstood by club players. According to its definition, it is a pawn or a square that can no longer be protected by another pawn.
But this is not all.
These are the important question that needs to be answered in order to correctly identify a weakness.
Many openings develop into long, fighting middlegames where a good positional understanding is key. One of those is the Catalan, where white fianchettoes his light-squared bishop and plays for a slow, but annoying pressure on the queenside.
Black has some weaknesses that white can play against and, if he doesn’t react in the best manner, white can suddenly find himself in a much better position.
To illustrate this, let’s begin with the game of Vladimir Kramnik, one of the specialists of this opening:
Kramnik, V – Carlsen, M, Dortmund 2007
White to play
This is a typical position that arises in the Open Catalan. Black captures early on c4 and plays for the rupture c7-c5, which is his current threat in the diagrammed position. If white allows this, black will have no problems equalizing. This advance is important for black to achieve, as the c7 pawn is a backward, hence weak pawn.
However, it is not clear how white could increase the pressure against it at this very moment. Other important weaknesses in black’s camp that white could use at some point in the future are c6, c5, and a5. With this in mind, Kramnik continued here with the move 15.b4, fixing the weaknesses on the c file.
Black responded with 15…a5, trying to create some counter-play on the queenside. After 16.Ne5, improving the knight and eyeing the weakness on c6, 16…Nd5 the following position arose:
Position after 16…Nd5
It looks like with his last move black forces white to make a decision about his pawn on b4, but this is not quite right. White has at his disposal a very strong move, thanks to black’s weakened queenside. He continued with 17.Nb3! and, after installing a knight on c6 black was completely paralyzed.
All that was left to do was attack the weak pawns and pick them up on by one.
You can play through Kramnik’s masterpiece with commentaries below:
Kramnik, V – Shirov, A, Moscow 2007
White to play
This position comes from an Open Catalan as well where the dark-squared bishops have been traded off on d6. Again, white has a slight edge thanks to his better structure and black’s “holes” on the queenside.
The weaknesses are more or less the same – black has to worry about the entry squares c6 and c7, but also about his pawn on a6. To use all these weaknesses, white comes up with a very effective plan – 21.Ne1!
The knight is headed to b4, from where it can put pressure on black’s queenside. The resulting endgame is equal, but white is the one pressing all the time, creating more weaknesses, and playing on both flanks.
Very instructive play by Kramnik, who makes winning this endgame look easy:
In Complete Catalan for White Vol 2, FM Neustroev provides cutting-edge weapons against some of the most common ideas black will throw at you.