Saturday, March 13, 2010

ACIS Notes 004 -- First thoughts on pawn chains

'm starting to go through Colin's Pawn Chains book (see previous post), and making mental notes about what I think I need to learn. Colin's book is about pawn chains, which is just a subset of all pawn structures, and then focuses on central chains. As focused as the topic is, it is very important and these structures come up in a lot of openings.

NOTE to readers. I am a chess novice. I am not an expert. In this blog I am trying to see if I can explain concepts in simple language, so that I might actually learn it. I need all the smart people out there to let me know where I get confused, and what I need to correct it. If I get something right, let me know :-)

The first few moves of the French opening are 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5. This is the quintessential fight for the center, and now White has to decide what to do next:

The decision making process is repeated for every move until the chain is fully formed. Do we keep the tension or release it? If we release the tension, do we use pawn exchange or pawn advancement? The diagram below is a schematic of the considerations at every move:

For each move prior to the completion of the chain White can maintain or release tension. All the while, Black has a clear shot at exchanging on d4, and looks for the right time (if ever) to liquidate.

Quite often, the White pawns on d4 and e5 are attacked and exchanged, by the Black pawns on c5 and f6. When that happens Black has three pawn islands, to White's two pawn islands. Further, the Black d5-e6 pawn chain constitute "hanging pawns". If Black can get the pawns moving they will be a powerful force. White's job is to stop them in their tracks. The strategy is to block the pawns by attacking or occupying the d4 and e5 squares (red squares).

Finally, as is typical in a hanging pawn situation, Black can take full advantage of the half-open files on the c-file and f-file (red arrows).


  1. Seems to me that white didn't choose for the f4 pawnpush variation after f6 in your example. Also, every french opening player knows that white will do anything to maintain his pawns on d4 and e5 because that is the whole setup of white, to block in the centre so that black has to play over the wings to get any attack and/or development of his pieces.

  2. In many modern variations of the French, White intentionally gets rid of d4 and e5 to use those squares for pieces.
    Another aspect of this last pawn structure: Black has 2 centre pawns vs White 0. Indeed, if Black can achieve e6-e5 he rules the centre.