Back in the 18th century, the famous chess player Francois Andre Danican Philidor was underlying the importance of the pawns and “playing them well”, concluding that “pawns are the soul of chess”. In the coming years, more and more strategical concepts were put together and nowadays we have a whole set of guidelines that help us understand important positional ideas.
The concept of weaknesses (weak squares or weak pawns) is perhaps one of the first strategy lessons a club player receives. This way, we are taught from an early stage about the importance of pawn moves and how they can affect the position on the board.
Another element that keeps coming up in strategy is the pawn structure and it refers to the way the pawns are placed on the chessboard. Every aspiring chess player should become familiar with and study the most common pawn structures and here are some reasons why:
1.Helps at choosing the right plan
One aspect that we have underlined in many of our previous articles is that knowing how to “read” the board will help you play in harmony with what the position “needs”.
In this sense, the pawn structure is a good indicator of what you should be doing next. The pawn chain will indicate whether play should happen on the queenside or on the kingside.
2.Saves time on the clock
Instead of spending a long time trying to find a plan, you will already know the typical plans and what you should be doing in a certain middlegame. You will know where your pieces are supposed to go and what your opponent is playing for.
3.Helps at building your opening repertoire
Knowing the most important pawn structures will help you enrich and build an overall harmonious repertoire. Although the first moves might differ, many openings lead to the same type of structure.
For example, you could reach the same pawn structure from the Queen’s Gambit Accepted, the French Defence, or the Petroff. If you know the structure, playing all these middlegames won’t be a problem for you.
4.Enhances your endgame understanding
Pawn structures are very important not only for the middlegame play but also for a better endgame understanding. For example, you will know in advance whether an endgame will be better or worse for you, without having to calculate a number of moves in advance. Some pawn structures are better in the endgame and this is something to keep in mind throughout the whole game.
5. Helps to get a positional edge
Pawns are not a separate entity and should always be considered in relation to the pieces you have on the board. Depending on the pawn structure on the board, you will know which pieces to keep and which to trade. If your structure is still flexible, then you will know exactly where your pawns should go in order to achieve a big advantage.
6. Helps to calculate less
Without having to calculate too much, you will know which structures are considered to be weak and which are solid and allow you to play for an advantage.
7. Provides the best game plan
When you are playing against a weak structure, you will know exactly what to do and how to put your opponent under pressure. In the same way, you will know what he/she is playing for and how to stop any active ideas.
8. Can help save games
The point above goes the other way as well. If you happen to fall into a worse position, you will know what to play for in order to keep good fighting chances. In most cases, active play is the key and you should be always looking for ways to create counterplay.
9. Can help to start an attack
The pawn break can be a dangerous resource if used correctly and can change the character of the position drastically. From typical pawn breaks to positional pawn sacrifices, these are ideas every chess player should study.
10. Help to decide the direction of the game
The pawn structure rarely stays the same throughout the whole game. The position changes constantly and it is utterly important to understand when to keep the central tension and when the right time to change the pawn structure has come.
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This is the kind of information that a novice, like myself, can get his head around. Excellent article!
Hello Johnny, thanks for your feedback and I’m glad you liked the post!
Great article Raluca and Renier!