Chess Corner - Pawns and Pawn Structures

One pawn is not usually powerful on its own. However, your eight pawns together are. The way they are used is important, but what about the way they are organized? How much of a difference does that make? As we will see in this column, good organization of your pawns will greatly improve your position and strengthen the power of your pawns.


Your pawns’ organization is known as your pawn structure. Your pawn structure is very strong at the opening position of the game. Your eight pawns are all lined up together and are ready to defend each other. At the start of the game, your eight pawns are all connected pawns, meaning that they are lined up on the same rank and they are all next to each other in adjacent files.

Connected pawns make for a good pawn structure because they are ready to defend each other at all times. Let’s look at another example on the power of connected pawns in diagram 1. Here, White has two connected pawns that are both two squares away from promotion. Even though Black has a rook to White’s two pawns, the rook cannot stop them both: After 1. c7 Rc8 2. d7 Rxc7 3. d8/Q, White will eventually win. What else makes these pawns so powerful? These two pawns are also passed pawns, meaning that they have gotten past all of Black’s pawns that could have gotten in their way, meaning Black’s c- and d- pawns that could have blocked them, and Black’s b- and e- pawns that could have attacked them. Since these pawns are connected pawns as well, we can call these connected passed pawns

Connected pawns strengthen each other and passed pawns are a threat to promote. Connected and passed pawns are stronger than individual pawns alone. But is it possible to weaken your pawns at all? It certainly is. Probably the most common pawn weakness you’ll run into is doubled pawns. Doubled pawns occur when you have one pawn directly in front of or on the same file as another. Doubled pawns are weak for many reasons: they slow each other down, they are not easily defended, and they weaken the area around them. Look at diagram 2 above. After the trade 1. Bxf6 gxf6, Black is stuck with doubled pawns. He also has an isolated pawn on h6, meaning that that pawn is alone with no other “friendly” pawns on an adjacent file. His kingside has become a target for White. All White needs to play is 2. Qh5, and Black is in serious trouble. If Black had played 1… Qxf6, he would stand much better right now.

I discussed how your pawns are a lot stronger when they are connected together than isolated and apart. I also discussed how doubled pawns weaken each other. And of course, a passed pawn, especially a well-defended one, can pose as a huge threat. Whenever you move your pawns, keep this one thing in mind: You can move a pawn forward, but you cannot move it back.

In this week’s puzzle, White has played very poor moves that have wasted time and now, Black has a passed pawn! It’s Black’s turn – do you see a way he can promote his pawn or even win the game?

Answer to last week’s puzzle: (Note: This board is from Black’s view, so the notation will be different.) Black’s first move attacks the king and sets up his second move: 1. Qd4. After the forced retreat 1… Kg3, Black’s queen and undeveloped bishop guard all of Black’s escape routes. White finishes it off with 2. Nh4#. This shows what happens when your king is on a vulnerable square on an open board – the consequences can go all the way up to checkmate.