Pawn Formations


Philidor (picture on the right) was the first famous chess player to recognize the importance of pawn structure about 250 years ago. Here are some terms it would be useful for you to know:

q       A friendly pawn is one of your pawns. An enemy pawn is one of your opponent’s pawns. A rank is a row on the chessboard; a file is a column, going up the board.

q       A centre pawn is a pawn on the d- or e-file.

q       A pawn centre is, ideally, both centre pawns standing on the fourth rank (squares d4 and e4 for white, d5 and e5 for black). A pawn centre will provide a formidable obstacle against an enemy advance, but you must guard your centre pawns with pieces and you must keep on the look-out to stop the enemy breaking up your pawn centre.

q       A pawn island is a group of pawns of one colour on neighbouring files.

q       A pawn chain is a diagonal formation of pawns, each one supported by a friendly pawn diagonally behind it.  In the diagram on the left, there is a white pawn chain and a black one. We say they are locked because they both stop each other moving forward.

q       A backward pawn is a pawn that has fallen behind the friendly pawns next door and so has no other pawns to protect it from attack.

q       An isolated pawn is a pawn for which there is no friendly pawn on a neighbouring file.  In fact it is a pawn island consisting of only one pawn.

q       Doubled pawns are two pawns of the same colour on the same file. Usually doubled pawns are a weakness, because they can’t defend each other. Isolated doubled pawns are always a weakness. Sometimes, though, doubled pawns can be an advantage, because a file for a friendly rook might have been opened up, or because the doubled pawns may defend important squares. Tripled pawns are three pawns of the same colour on the same file and are always weak. In the diagram to the left, can you see two isolated pawns (on a7 and e5) and two doubled pawns (on b4 and b5)?

q       Connected pawns are two or more friendly pawns next to each other.

q       A passed pawn is a pawn for which there are no enemy pawns to stop it from advancing to the eighth rank. In the third diagram, there are four passed pawns. White has two pawn islands and black has three.

q       A pawn storm is an attack where a whole group of pawns on one wing moves forwards (one pawn at a time of course) to attack the enemy defence.

q       A prawn cracker is a white crispy thing you get at Chinese take-aways. They’re rather tasty, but sadly they’re rather unhealthy too (lots of fat).

q       An open file is file on which there are no pawns. An open file forms a very handy path for rooks to zoom down and attack the enemy. A file on which only one player has no pawns is said to be half-open.

q       If you can capture a piece with two of your pawns, it’s usually best to use the pawn that produces more pawns in the centre (i.e. capture toward the centre of the board. One reason is to keep a strong pawn presence in the centre. However, sometimes a pawn capture away from the centre of the board may be the best thing to do.

q       A hole occurs when a player has an open square that cannot be defended by another friendly pawn. A hole is a bad thing to have on your side of the board, because the enemy can plonk a piece there – especially a knight - safe from attack by one of your pawns. There is a hole in the diagram on the right on square e4, which here is being protected by a bishop because there’s no pawn to protect it.