Saturday, December 5, 2009

ACIS Notes 001 -- Passed Pawns

Valery Frenlakh used to tell me "chess is a game of squares, not pieces!" Unfortunately all the good things he told me sunk long after I was done taking lessons from him. He also used to tell me "make copies of positions you need to remember!". Now it seems, that is a major cornerstone to the ACIS "tailored" method started by Blunderprone.

So I will log my ACIS journey in the form of notes. These notes will be of any topic, in chronological order of discovery or reflection, on my part. As I
mentioned earlier I have an index in a Word file. If the notes are interesting to people, I could publish the index.

Back to "chess is a game of squares, not pieces!"...

I am reading
Herman Grootens "Chess Strategy for Club Players", and I have to say, the material is similar to Aron Nimzowitsch's My System, but somehow, much more readable. I'm actually able to plow through it and get reinforcement, and sometimes surprise out of the concepts. In Chapter 6 "Passed Pawns" (a Nimzowitsch favorite) I came across something that startled me. I always knew Aron said "passed pawns must be pushed", but how do you create passed pawns? And what about the fact that creating a passed pawn (an advantage for you), can sometimes allow an advantage of a different sort for your opponent.

Consider the case of the "small center" out of the Semi-Tarrasch. A schematic of the position is
here (diagram C4 from Exeter CC).

The basic point is the potential for a passed pawn in the center for White, balanced against the wing pawn majority for Black. What was never obvious to me (at all!) is how these imbalances of pawn structure affect choices of what pieces to keep on the board - and the choice of what pieces to keep on the board influence their placement. For example, in the diagram on the left, I've always wondered, "where should I put my Rooks?".

My typical response would be to observe: (a) the open c-file, and then; (b) possible potential passed pawn in the center, means; (c) put my a-Rook on c1 and f-Rook on d1.

What I did not consider is that (a) Black wants to exchange Rooks, and keep his minor pieces, to exploit his pawn advantage on the Queen-side; (b) White wants to exchange minor pieces, and keep his Rooks to exploit his advantage in the center (push passed pawn), and; (c) placing Rooks on an open file is practically guaranteeing that the Rook(s) will be exchanged. This is covered in detail in Chapter 6 of
Grooten's "Chess Strategy for Club Players". Once it sunk it, I was startled how I missed a pretty basic chunk of chess logic all these years:

  • What does your pawn structure tell you about your strengths and weaknesses relative to your opponent?
  • What piece play, relative to the pawn structure is warranted/advised?
  • What does this mean in terms of which pieces you want to keep vs. exchange?
  • Only then devise means to exchange/keep pieces, and post the ones you want to keep on the right (strong) squares.
  • NOTE: I know that Silman tries to drum in the "imbalance" concept, but it seems like he focuses on Knight vs. Bishop. What I totally missed was pawn structure imbalances that inform you of whether to keep major pieces on board or not, and if so don't exchange, even if it means not trying to "claim" an open file! For me (chess novice) this is revolutionary...
Below is a good example of White properly taking advantage of the "small center".

The big decision for White is on his 13th move. This is when he decides to put his f-Rook on e1. Followed by the a-Rook on d1 on his 14th move, and the thematic d-pawn push to d5 on his 15th move. This creates the much written about isolated d-pawn. Petrosian is a master of trading advantages, and he trades this passed d-pawn into a passed c-pawn on c6 on his 19th move. This passed pawn, so deep in his opponents position is defended masterfully by Kortschnoj. Petrosian takes advantage of Kortschnoj's passive position on his 27th move with 27. h4, starting a King-side attack. Petrosian induces weaknesses in Kortschnoj's King-side, and wins a few moves later with 37. Qxh5#.

The second example is where White reaches too far, and Black profits.

After Black's 17th move, we have a similar setup (d4, e4 pawns vs e6 pawn), however, White's King-side Rook is on d1, and the Queen-side Rook is still on a1. By White's 21st move, White has a connected passed pawn on d5, which is good, while Black contests the c-file with his Queen-side Rook, leaving White with an offside, passive Rook. However with 21...Nc4, Black pushes White's only active Rook off course, and with 22...Ne6 starts a multi-piece pileup on the e4 pawn. The initiative passes to Black. With 25...Rd1+ he forces an exchange of Rooks, which Black wants, and White does not. After 29. f3, we have a good Knight (Black) vs. bad Bishop (White) ending, however White does still have the protected passed pawn on d5. The challenge for White after 37. Bxa4 is that now White has to block Black's passed outside a-pawn with the Bishop. That is just enough of a distraction to turn the game in Black's favor. I may be oversimplifying a bit (maybe a lot - I'm a chess novice remember), nonetheless, from my perspective, White had no heavy pieces to convert the advantage of the protected passed d-pawn, and he left himself open to Black gaining the initiative. From there, the rest is technique (LOL - I've always wanted to say that but honestly I have no idea what that means).


  1. This is a very informative post. Thanks!

    Understanding pawn structures is important in middlegame concepts. KNowing how to play to your strenghts is critical in getting an edge beyond hoping for blunders by your opponent. ( hope chess)

    The other argument I hear about rooks on open files is to ask how real is the goal to make it to the 7th rank? Understanding the trade off of playing to the positional strengths versus rote axioms like "rooks belong on open files" ... rooks also like being behind passed pawns. knowing when one should out weigh the other is a good insight. Thanks for this well researched post and the reference games!

  2. This was a great post! I think I will be able to beat my brother now :) Thanks for the information.