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How to Understand Pawn Structure in Chess

Learn about pawn structure from Chess NYC in this Howcast video.

Transcript

Hi, my name is Rebecca Taxman. I'm with Chess NYC, and I'm going to talk to you today about pawn structures. While there are multiple pawn structures that are very important to know, there are five basics that are "need-to-know".

So, let's start off with the pawn chain. To begin, we have what's called a pawn chain: we have a diagonal set of pawns; each pawn in this pawn chain is protecting one another. This is extremely important in terms of creating an attack. You always want to have your pawn chain directed towards the king. If the king is castled over on this side of the board, this is where you want your pawn structure going, instead of having your pawn chain running off the side of the board. Not so happy. Additionally, the top pawn is the strongest pawn in the pawn chain, the bottom is the weakest. If you're playing on black, you want to attack the bottom of the pawn chain. The idea behind the pawn chain is that it controls a lot of space and it's going toward the king, creating an attack.

Another important pawn structure that is a need-to-know is called "double pawns". Double pawns have both good and bad elements to them. One element that is very good about double pawns is they control a lot of space. Double pawns can control up to five squares - one, two, three, four, five. In chess, we want to control space. Double pawns can control a lot of space. However, there is a weakness to double pawns. This pawn right back here is not protected by any other pawns, therefore this pawn is considered weak. Additionally, this pawn is also considered "stuck in traffic," meaning it can't move unless the pawn in front of it moves first.

Another important pawn structure that we need to know is called the "isolated pawn", or "lonely pawn". This is not a favorable pawn structure. This pawn is sitting all by itself. When we have a pawn that's like this sometimes we have to have a queen or another, bigger piece defending and babysitting this pawn. I don't want my queen babysitting an isolated pawn. I want my pieces going ahead and making checkmate, and not defending an isolated pawn. This pawn is considered a weakness, and it is easy for black to attack.

An even more unfavorable pawn position is "double isolated pawns". Additionally, these two pawns are extremely weak. Neither one of them can protect one another. This pawn is also considered stuck in traffic. It cannot move forward unless the pawn in front of it moves forward, and these are relatively hard to defend. A bishop cannot defend both of these pawns at the same time. A knight can also not defend both of these pawns at the same time. It's also hard, unless a rook is in between them, to defend them at the same time. We have to use a queen or a king to defend the two pawns at the same time.

However, the last pawn structure I want to talk about is called a "passed pawn". Passed pawn is one of the most important pawn structures that we need to know, because this pawn is on its way to becoming a queen. A passed pawn is a pawn that has passed all of your enemy's pawns and is on its way to becoming a queen - by getting to the end of the board - or any other piece that you choose. When you have passed pawn, it is very important to sit and babysit this pawn. So therefore you can get it to the end of the board and it can become a queen or any other piece that you choose.

And that is all I have to tell you about important pawn structures.

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