The Pawns

I.A.    Basic pawn Advancing and Capturing; pawn Structure, pawn Center.

A pawn is one of the three multilinear playing objects on the chessboard. Unlike the pieces, a pawn only advances vertically and captures by advancing diagonally. The pawn does not need to capture an opposing piece or pawn. Instead, a pawn may be advanced vertically straight ahead past the opposing piece or pawn instead, to create a passed pawn.

Importantly, unlike the pieces, a pawn may never go backwards…no retreating for the working infantry! Also, a pawn may only advance vertically on the same file if the square immediately in front of the pawn is empty (not occupied by a pawn or piece of either player). The terms advance and advancing therefore are used for pawns to denote the restriction of the pawns not being able to go backward; although, advancing is obviously moving the pawn.

Only on a pawn’s first advance from its home square, may the pawn optionally be advanced straight ahead two squares if both are empty ( two-square advance). Look at the following diagram (Diagram I-A). White opened with the e pawn making a two-square advance (English Algebraic notation … e4 – meaning the pawn at e2 moved two squares to the e4 square), and Black responded with a single square advance of his or her own e pawn in reply (English Algebraic notation … e6 – meaning the pawn at e7 moved one square to the e6 square). The reply is the initial move Black makes to begin setting up the French Defense opening.

Single Square and Two-Square pawn Advances


After its first advance, a pawn may only further advance vertically on its file one square at a time provided it is empty. If any pawn or piece of either player is located on the square immediately ahead of a pawn on the same file, then the pawn cannot be advanced vertically straight ahead because it is blocked.

French Defense – Additional Examples of Single Square
and Two-Square pawn Advances


In the above diagram, you may readily see one power of a pawn – to block the vertical advance on an opposing pawn on its own file, as White did to Black’s pawn at e6 by advancing White’s pawn from e4 to e6.For a player to block an opposing pawn from advancing further vertically on its own file, he or she must maneuver one of his or her pieces or pawns to land on the square in front of the advancing opposing pawn (either through a move or advance, or a move and capture, or advance and capture), or have the other player block his or her own pawn with doubled pawns (two pawns for the same player in the same file). A tactic that may be employed to block the vertical advance of a pawn straight ahead is for a player to offer a pawn capture situation to the opposing player whereby an opposing pawn will land in the file creating doubled pawns if the opposing player engages in a pawn capture of the player’s piece or pawn. Doubling of either the player’s or the opposing player’s pawns on a single file one in front of the other, severely restricts the rear pawn from advancing and opens the pawn’s original file. An open file means the player has no pawn in that file. A saying in the chess world is that “open files are killers” and a player with one or more open files more often than not likely will lose the game! Open files provide avenues for the Rooks to become active and mobile.

The pawn advance by White as shown above also created a passed pawn, which is covered in Section II. Black’s second move of advancing the d7 pawn to d5, and White’s third move of advancing the e4 pawn to e5, also created what are known as pawn chains (two or more of a player’s pawns connected diagonally in a line), and White’s pawn advances created a central pawn chain (one located in the center of the board). White’s pawn chain also is a pawn couple (two of a player’s pawns connected), and an isolated pawn couple because they are not currently connected with any other of the player’s pawns in files to the right and left of the files in which the pawn couple is located). Further, White’s pawn chain also is a pawn island (group of connected pawns, which are not also connected with another pawn or any other pawn group(s)).

Click here to see the pawn chains diagrammed and for tutorial on pawn chains.

A pawn may only advance diagonally when capturing an opposing piece or pawn. That is to say, a pawn may capture an opposing piece (except the King) or a pawn only when it is located on a square one rank ahead either in a file to the right or to the left of the file in which the pawn is located. The pawn may not advance and may not capture by advancing diagonally when it is absolutely pinned, whether on either its home square or any other square.The term pawn structure refers to the positioning of a player’s pawns on the board. In determining the strength or weakness of a player’s pawn structure, one takes into consideration what advances and captures he or she made with the pawns, and what defensive, attacking, trapping, capturing, and blocking has been created or the possibilities which have been created by the player against the opposing player. There are many elemental components to a player’s pawn structure. Some key elemental themes in creating pawn structure are:

  • to develop a well-guarded center on the board;
  • to provide for a well-guarded King (King safety);
  • position pawns to be rapidly advanced (pushing pawns; pawn storm) toward pawn promotion to get a Queen, Rook, Bishop, or Knight (covered in section IV) to create distraction and force an opposing player into defensive posture;
  • creating one or more passed pawns and/or an outside (or remote) isolated pawn for endgame play with an ability to do an unstoppable pushing of a pawn to pawn promotion;
  • have a pawn or pawn in strategic position to ram and crash into an opposing player’s structure to fracture it and open it for the player’s pieces and pawns to force their way through toward the opposing King and/or pawn promotion.

Allied with pawn structure is pawn center, which if properly created as strong & well-guarded it will represent a formidable imposing obstacle against the opposing player. Having a strong pawn center is most certainly a significant advantage and often can be overwhelming. It greatly restricts opposing pieces and gains significant space for the player having the strong pawn center. Yet, a pawn center is a big responsibility because it can quickly and easily turn into a significant disadvantage if it collapses under a sustained attack by the opposing player. If the pawn center can be made indestructible (no easy task to be sure), the opposing player will simply be smothered within the restricted confines of his or her own positional inferiority.

Maintaining a pawn center is a huge responsibility, requiring constant vigilance to prevent it from being broken by the opposing player. The corollary principle is that the opposing player should and usually will seek to apply constant pressure and attacks against the pawn center to break it. The battle for control of the center of the board usually comes down to which player (if either one is able to do so) is be able to seize control quickly and set up a formidable, well-guarded pawn center. White has the initial advantage because White opens the game with the initiative due to White moving first. Many of the most common openings for Black concentrate on forcing play in the center of the board to break White’s initiative and seize control of the center of the board for Black.

pawn Fork: a pawn can fork two opposing pieces, an opposing piece or opposing pawn and the opposing King, or an opposing piece and an opposing pawn, or two opposing pawns. Naturally, for a pawn fork of an opposing piece and opposing pawn, or an opposing pawn and the opposing King, or two opposing pawns, to be successful (i.e., resulting in a capture of the forked opposing piece or forked opposing pawn on the next move) requires the player’s pawn to be adequately defended and protected against capture, plus if one or two opposing pawns are forked then it or they must be absolutely pinned so that it or they cannot advance and capture the forking pawn. However, a pawn fork might not have as its ultimate goal simply the capture of an opposing piece or pawn on the next move, but instead be designed to create an advanced passed pawn requiring the opposing player to use a piece to block it and thereby create a possible positional inferiority for the opposing player. The permutations for using pawn forks is quite varied both for attacking and creating defensive positions on the board. The next diagram shows a particularly nasty pawn fork by White’s advanced passed pawn on the seventh rank threatening Black’s Rooks on Black’s back rank with the added goal of pawn promotion after the pawn capture, thereby causing Black to lose a tempo to capture the promoted piece on Black’s next move. White’s advance passed pawn is adequately defended and protected by White’s other advanced passed pawn, creating a pawn chain (and pawn couple), and which itself is adequately defended and protected by White’s Queen and Rook.

pawn Fork


I.B.    Additional pawn Concepts.

1.    A hole occurs when a player has an open square on either his or her third or fourth rank (ranks 3 and 4 for White, ranks 5 and 6 for Black), which cannot be defended by another of the player’s pawnsA hole is a permanent defect in the player’s side of the board, usually constituting a serious breach of the player’s defensive capabilities and represents a positional inferiority. Holes provide the opposing player squares upon the board to which he or she may move his or her pieces and or advance pawns to gain space for the opposing player, gain significant tactical advantage for attack by the opposing player, for restricting the player’s ability to develop his or her pieces and attacks, and restricting or even completely thwarting the player’s ability to develop defensive positions. Holes created at or near the center of the board are especially to be avoided if at all possible, as they can be crippling and even game deciding positional weaknesses. The dangerous, pernicious nature of holes cannot be understated.2.    A pawn capture by a player always results in an open file for the player making the advance and capture with a pawn, except when he or she has doubled pawns in the file from which the pawn used to capture is advanced. Also, a player should not do a pawn trade (or exchange) unless he or she will gain something from doing so (such as developing a more advantageous pawn structure, opening a file for his or her Rooks to become active, etc.). A player should try to keep as many pawns as possible for as long as possible through the opening and middlegame phases. When pawns face off against each other diagonally where each could capture the other, this creates pawn tension, and following the above principle usually it is best to let the tension linger on the board and not engage in a pawn trade or exchange. In fact, through moving pieces and advancing pawns it may be that the pawn tension will evaporate by itself with the face-off becoming an advantage to one of the players.

3.    Doubled pawns Doubled pawns while generally despised, may have particular advantages.

A doubled pawn opens the file from which the double pawn came for the activity by the player’s Rooks.
,br> If centrally located, doubled pawns provide the ability to cover critical squares that would not be possible if they were not doubled. Therefore, it is best if possible for a player to double pawns toward the center of the board instead of toward the wings (sides) of the board.

Doubled pawns are generally despised because they often can turn out to be inflexible with the pawn in front acting as a blockade of the pawn to the rear and worse, very weak from a positional structure.

Unlike a pawn chain where the rearmost pawn in the chain is most vulvernable to attack/capture, the lead pawn in doubled pawns is the one most vulnerable to attack/capture because the rear pawn provides no defense and protection for the forward lead pawn.

Therefore, to defend the lead pawn will take either at least a piece (potentially limiting its offensive capability), or a pawn in the opposite adjacent file (from which the doubled pawn came) and which is one square behind the lead pawn so that a pawn chain is formed by the lead pawn and the defending pawn.

4.    Tripled pawns are three pawns aligned vertically in a file and generally have no redeeming value. They are very weakly connected pawns, represent a significant disadvantage, and create great disruption in a player’s pawn structure. Unless a player can adequately defend and protect them (which is very difficult as a rule), at a minimum the forward two pawns are subject to being attacked and captured. If an opposing player can get a blockade in front of the forward most pawn, this will block three of the player’s fighting forces from having any real effectiveness. It is akin to simply losing them to capture. If a player does not have some form of compensation for tripled pawns (superior positional structure, significant material advantage, an attack, mating net, or extremely active pieces), his or her game most likely will take a deep downward turn from which it is very hard to recover.

5.    Passed pawn: a pawn which gets vertically past an opposing pawn in an adjacent file or both opposing pawns in the two adjacent files to the file in which the pawn is located. Most often a past pawn is considered very advantageous to have especially in an endgame, but it can also have detrimental drawbacks because of a player having to devote one or more pieces to defend and protect it. If a passed pawn can get past a player’s fifth rank (the opposing player’s fourth rank), the player will be able to create significant panic for the opposing player as a general rule.


  • The most advantageous power of a passed pawn is in an endgame where the players have play occurring elsewhere on the board away from the passed pawn – the outside (or remote) passed pawn – because the player with the passed pawn can begin pushing (advancing) the pawn toward the opposing player’s back rank for the purpose of pawn promotion. Doing so may help to stop an attack by the opposing player and/or divert the opposing player from the play occurring elsewhere on the board in order to try to bring forces to bear in defense against the passed pawn being pushed.
  • A passed pawn, for obvious reasons, needs to remain in the focus of the opposing player’s tactics and strategy and therefore may assist in diverting the opposing player’s attention allowing the creation of threats, traps mating patterns, and mating nets.


  • If the passed pawn can be successfully blockaded with a piece, especially a Knight, the pawn can become a significant disadvantage. It can become a blockader of files and diagonals impeding its own Rooks and the Bishop of the same color as the square it is upon. This also can give the opponent access to a key square…the one immediate in front of the passed pawn that would not be available necessarily if the passed pawn was not there.
  • A passed pawn, for obvious reasons, needs to remain in the focus of the opposing player’s tactics and strategy, and therefore may assist in diverting the opposing player’s attention allowing the creation of traps and mating nets.

6.    Pawn couple is where two pawns of the same player connected with one another. An isolated pawn couple is when the pawns are not connected with other pawns of the player in the files to the right and left of the adjacent files in which the pawn couple is located. A pawn couple – if either connected with other pawns in a group or isolated, also form a pawn island.

There are three types of pawn couples: two pawns in a pawn chain, doubled pawns (which are on adjacent squares vertically in a file); and, two pawns side by side horizontally in the same rank. Common isolated pawn couples may develop for White at c4 and d4, and c3 and d4. An isolated pawn couple at c4 and d4 is better for White generally, and c3 and d4 presents more difficulties. When a player has an isolated pawn couple of the horizontal type on his or her fourth rank, this is called hanging pawns. Pawn couples, isolated pawn couples, and hanging pawns all can present significant attacking and positional superiority possibilities for the player, and present the opposing player with significant tactical and strategy considerations that may force or cause lost tempi and deviation from the opposing player’s development and creation of pawn structure. To see the tactical and strategy considerations for each player with hanging pawns on the board, let’s first consider the situation with White having hanging pawns at c4 and d4.

What does White consider for tactical and strategic purposes?

  • If e5 is open, use it as an outpost square for White to blockade vertical advance of Black’s e file pawn and gain space for White. If White follows with advancing his or her f2 awn to f4 to provide defensive and protective support for the Knight at e5, White can gain a tremendous spatial advantage and create excellent possibilities for a Kingside attack.
  • Create a passed pawn and pawn chain with c4 to c5 or d4 to d5, which have a tendency to activate and mobilize White’s pieces. However, doing so weakens squares…with d4 advance to d5 this weakens the c5 square, and c4 to c5 weakens the d5 square.
  • Follow-up with play of pawn advance on the a file (a2 to a4, then to a5) to create a weakness in Black’s structure on the Queenside.

What does Black consider for tactical and strategy purposes? Black obviously needs to create pressure on White’s pawns to open up exploitation opportunities:

  • Move pieces to bring attacking pressure on White’s pawns forcing White to either lose them or move pieces to provide defense and protection for them turning White’s focus from offensive to defensive tactics and strategy.
  • Play with a view toward creating holes (b6 or e6) to force White to make further tactical and strategy decisions…presenting a choice of White trading pawns creating a weak isolated pawn situation for White, or pushing a pawn to create a passed pawn…however if White does so, the passed pawn can easily be blockaded and the rear pawn in the newly created pawn chain is weak and can be attacked.
  • Follow-up with play of pawn advance on the a file (a7 to a6 or a5) to defend against creation of a weakness in Black’s structure on the Queenside.

Now let’s examine c3 and d4. What does Black consider for tactical and strategy purposes?

  • Try to position pieces on c4 and d5 blockading the pawns and White’s game often falls apart and becomes a losing proposition.

What does White consider for tactical and strategy purposes? Either:

  • Advance c3 to c4 to create the good hanging pawns of c4 and d4; or
  • Make use of the extra space that the pawn at d4 creates (d3, d2, d1) to create a strong attacking position by concentrating pieces toward the center and Queenside.

7.    Pawn islands: is a group of pawns which are separated from another pawn group or other pawn groups of the player’s pawns on the board. Pawn islands can be pawn couples, pawn chains, hanging pawns, and tripled pawns. The player with less pawn islands generally is evaluated as having better pawn structure. That makes sense because connected pawns provide means of blocking holes and providing defense and protection.

8.    Backward pawn: is a pawn which has fallen behind other pawns of the same player in adjacent files, so that it no longer may be defended by another pawn of the same player. Backward pawns may be vulnerable to being exploited through bring attacked and captured by the opposing player. In analyzing whether a backward pawn is weak and thus a point of potential attack and capture for exploitation purposes by the opponent, consider the following:

  • If it is on an open file, generally it is particularly vulnerable and a weakness. If not, often it will not become a significant weakness.
  • If it is well defended by a player’s piece or pieces, the backward pawn generally is immune to most attacks against it and therefore not a significant weakness.
  • Is there a weak square in front of the backward pawn? If so, this greatly enhances the backward pawn’s vulnerability and hence weakens it.
  • Is the backward pawn active in providing a purpose such as defense for a piece or pawn (e.g., the rear pawn in pawn chain often winds up being a backward pawn, but serves an active purpose of protecting and defending the pawn vertically forward in the pawn chain). In providing the defensive posture, the backward pawn also could be serving to act for control of the center in a player’s well-developed pawn structure and act as a block on an opposing Bishop through the center of the board.
  • Is the file in which the backward pawn located one in which it may safely advance and thereby discard being a backward pawn?

9.    An isolated pawn is one in a file that is not connected with any other pawns of the same player in adjacent files, and also usually is a backward pawn. In the opening and middle game phases an isolated pawn often is viewed as being a detrimental weakness. An isolated pawn can be exploited by:

  • Seizing control of the square immediately in front of it and thereby effectively blockading its vertical advance by threatening a capture it if it advances there) or actually blockading its vertical advance (by stationing an opposing piece – or less effectively usually, an opposing pawn – on the square in front of it), thereby making the isolated pawn’s vulnerability to being attacked and captured much greater.
  • If the isolated pawn is an advanced passed isolated pawn, it gains space and makes a player’s other pieces usually quite active. To oppose it consider the following options:
  • trade or exchange minor pieces as quickly as possible to rid the board of them (if they are not on the board they cannot become active and support the isolated pawn);
  • station a Rook in front of it to blockade and immobilize the isolated pawn, to attack and threaten it with capture, however avoid doing so if the passed pawn is well guarded and it is on the 6th or 7th rank as this could easily lead to a forced trade of Rooks or exchange of an opposing Queen for a the Rook followed by the opposing player obtaining pawn promotion as compensation; and
  • moving the Queen in addition to a Rook behind the isolated pawn to doubly attack it along with the Rook, thereby putting great pressure on it.

An isolated pawn may have significant advantages:

  • Often in an endgame an isolated pawn – especially an isolated outside (or remote) passed pawn presents a formidable detriment to the opposing player because the likelihood of obtaining pawn promotion is significant increased. A phrase used is “an isolated pawn is a valuable passer.”
  • The isolated pawn may be centrally located and thereby providing guard to important critical squares for a player.
  • If an opponent has a superior positional structure, the isolated pawn may be used to act as a battering ram to fracture and crush it.
  • An isolated pawn provides a unique opportunity for a player’s Rooks to control the open files on each side of it.

10.    A pawn storm is when a player begins to rapidly push his pawns toward the opposing player’s back rank with an eye toward pushing at least one of the pawns to a safe pawn promotion. A player who begins a pawn storm has to ensure his pawns and pieces are situated (positional structure) adequately to enable at least one pawn to safely reach the goal of pawn promotion…falling short can have often dire consequences to the player whose pawn storm fizzles out because of inadequacies.

11.    A player should capture with a pawn toward the center of the board if possible. The reason is simple…to maintain pawn presence in the center, to prevent holes from developing near or at the center of the player’s side of the board, and to keep the player’s minor fighting forces in position to assist in the battle for control of the center of the board. However, because of tactical, strategy, and positional reasons, sometimes a pawn capture away from the center of the board (toward one of the wings of the board) may be important to consider and do, in order to help maintain the center aspect of the player’s game.