The Backward Pawn | Chess Middlegames

The Backward Pawn | Chess Middlegames

Hi everyone, Stjepan here. In this middlegame video I’m going to discuss
a very important strategic concept. That’s the backward pawn; how to play with
it, how to play against it, and everything related to it. A backward pawn is a pawn which is fixed in
your position. A pawn which can’t move forward easily. A pawn which is adjacent to one of your pawns
and it can’t be defended by another pawn from behind. A backward pawn is a positional weakness which
your opponent can easily exploit, and a backward pawn is something you will want to get rid
of as soon as possible. Most people, who don’t consider backward pawns,
don’t take them as seriously as, I would say, isolated pawns or doubled pawns, but a backward
pawn can be even a tougher positional weakness to have than, lets say, having doubled pawns
or having isolated pawns. The reason behind that is that a backward
pawn comes with a second weakness. You automatically get two weaknesses when
you have a backward pawn. The first weakness is the pawn itself, and
the easiest way to get rid of it is to move it forward and to exchange it for this defender. This is the structure of the backward pawn. And the second weakness is the square in front
of the pawn, and this square is often what makes the backward pawn extremely weak. The weaker this square gets, the more control
your opponent has over this square, the weaker your backward pawn is. This structure, I guess you can recognize,
this is from the Sicilian Defense, and this is what usually happens when the player with
the black pieces plays e5. Now this can happen from the Kalashnikov,
from the Najdorf, it can happen from several different variations of the Sicilian. Very often in the Sicilian defense black will
play e5 and then want to play d5, and white will often use the d5 square to his own advantage,
and that’s what we are going to see in one of the example games. A backward pawn is definitely something that
creates an imbalance in the position, and which makes the games interesting. Now how do you react to that if you have the
backward pawn. The player with the black pieces in this position,
if he had some pieces on the board, would need to compensate for the backward pawn and
for the weakness on d5, which are serious positional weaknesses, with piece play and
with having active pieces, going for active play, for an attack, and not really giving
white time to slowly and steadily surround his backward pawn and win it. This means that if you are a positional player
then you are most probably going to cherish having a backward pawn to target, and if you
are an attacking player you might want to play with the backward pawn, because if your
opponent spends his time maneuvering his pieces, positioning them perfectly to pressure your
pawn, then you have time for attack. I always prefer playing against the backward
pawn, but that depends on your style. Now how do you win this pawn? The first thing you need to bear in mind,
and I’m going to use the first game example for that, is does your opponent have counter
play. This is the game between Adams and Conquest
from the 2010 British Championship. You can see that Conquest has a backward e6
pawn. This position came from the Caro-Kann, a sort
of a weird Caro-Kann it’s the Advance Short Variation, but yeah, black ended up with the
backward e6 pawn, and now he has to defend it. This game is probably one of the best examples,
textbook examples of how to play against the backward pawn. I’m not going to explain every move, but I0m
going to walk you through the steps. Step two, written on the screen: Fix the weakness
first, is very important. You can’t really attack the pawn unless it
stays put. You need to fix it first and then, when the
situation is favorable, you can attack it. The second thing is, the third step you see
here, is use the square in front of the pawn as the main weakness. The e5 square is extremely weak so Ne5. Fixing the pawn, occupying the e5 square,
and at the same time, putting pressure on the rook and on the g6 pawn. Rf4, Qe2. I’m just going to show you how Adams increased
control; so Nf3 controlling e5 once again. Rf5, Re1, you can see that all of white’s
pieces are perfectly harmonious, and that all of them are devoted to winning this e6
pawn eventually. The two knights fro now are controlling the
e5 square and fixing the pawn, and then the pawn is going to drop. Rg7, g3. There’s basically nothing black can do here. And, slowly but surely, Michael Adams increased
the pressure enough and managed to win the pawn. The thing I wanted to talk about in the first
step; does your opponent have counter play. Since the best way to play with a backward
pawn, the best way to save your game if you have a backward pawn is to create some initiative
and to create attacking play, you can’t really go for moves such as this one, Nh3, slowly
maneuvering your pieces to attack the pawn if your opponent has some open files or open
diagonals or active pieces. In this case Michael Adams made sure that
Conquest doesn’t have a single line to play with, and Conquest doesn’t really have any
chances here. The queen is ridiculous on c8, the knight
is on f8, the bishop is locked on e7, the rook on g7 doesn’t really do anything. The only active piece is the f5 rook, but
it’s attacking the over-protected f2 pawn which is defended four times. There isn’t really any counter play here. We are going to see another example in which
the backward pawn won. Kg8 here, Re3, slowly, slowly maneuvering
his pieces. Here he won the pawn. He wouldn’t have had time to play these twenty
moves trying to win the pawn if black had counter play. So the first thing is, if we go back to the
original position, here after d6. The first thing he did was he stopped counter
play. How do you do that? Put the knight on e5, block down the bishop,
attack the rook, the rook has to move, then you are going to double your pieces on the
e file and get your other knight into the game. In this position it was already fairly easy
and black was passive already, but remember that if you see a target, if you see a backward
pawn, for example you play against the Sicilian, if you see a backward pawn on d6, don’t just
rush to attack it. Put your knight into d5, get your rooks doubled
on the d file, castle, whatever, just try to put your pieces on their perfect squares
and try to dampen your opponent’s counter play before going for a static weakness. There are two types of weaknesses in chess;
static and dynamic weaknesses. Dynamic weaknesses are tactical possibilities,
for example. On one move your opponent weakened one of
his squares or one of his pieces, and you need to take that chance right now, you need
to play that now, otherwise the weakness is gone. A backward pawn is a static weakness and it
doesn’t go away, so if you rush to attack it, you might make a mistake and you might
destroy the position. So take static weaknesses easily. Just build on it. Firstly, kill off your opponent’s counter
play, then fix the weakness, then try to use the square in front of the backward pawn,
and then, let me come to step four; the easiest way to exploit the weakness, so id you want
to exploit d6 and the d5 square in front of it, the easiest way is to provoke another
weakness. This isn’t only connected to the backward
pawn, I’m going to mention it in a lot of videos, and that’s the concept of two weaknesses. In chess, it’s usually considered that you
need to weaknesses to win the game, that one of them is not enough because your opponent
can almost always defend the one weakness. Especially if he still has pieces on the board. The concept of two weaknesses is very important. A very common approach players have with the
backward pawn is to fix it. Lets imagine a knight being on d5, and then
after you have fixed this one weakness and black still needs to keep an eye on that throughout
the game, then you might want to create a second one. For example push a4, a5, a6, I don’t know,
double these pawns, or something. It doesn’t really matter. It depends on the constellation of the pieces
and the king safety. So a great thing is, once you have done the
first three steps; stopped counter play, fixed the weakness and used the square in front
of the backward pawn, try to provoke another weakness. And only then, if you don’t manage or if you
manage, go for an attack. I’m going to show you another position. This is the minority attack setup which I
talked about a few videos ago, and the point of the minority attack is to create a backward
c6 pawn. So after the move a3, white starts his minority
attack, black tries to prevent it, here, takes, takes, black now plays with his pieces, here,
here, here, here. This is what happens in the minority attack. You can often, in games with the minority
attack, see the plan of a knight coming into a4 or into d3 and then into c4, and that’s
one of the main ideas in the minority attack and the first stage of your plan; you have
to fix the weakness. Once you fix the weakness, only then does
white put his rook on c1, or on b1, or on a1, and try for a queenside attack and winning
the pawn afterwards. So it’s very important to fix the weakness. In this position, Michael Adams did that perfectly. I really couldn’t find a more instructive
game. And this might be too simple, but some of
your games are going to look like this. Now lets see what happens when that goes wrong. This is the game between Vishy Anand and Peter
Leko from the 2005 Wijk An Zee tournament in the Netherlands. In this position Peter Leko has a backward
pawn on d6. This is the same Sicilian structure we just
looked at here. It’s slightly different but, basically, you
have an advanced e5 pawn and a backward d6 pawn. So what happened here was that Peter Leko
actually played the position perfectly. As I said, if you have a backward pawn, you
can’t allow white to play around your weakness, fix it and then win it slowly. Peter Leko played aggressively: f5. 0-0, Ra7,
a4, and Peter Leko gave no chance to Anand to slowly build pressure on his weakness. You can see now that the pawn is dissolved
and the weakness is gone. Anand couldn’t have done anything. So you need to be aggressive when you have
a backward pawn. Lets try to find an idea here for black, for
Conquest. After Ne5 he played Rf4, which… I mean, where do you put your rook? You can’t really do much more. Qe2, a logical move. What can he do to be more aggressive here? I was analyzing this game and I tried to find
some plan of attack. I thought about the move g5, and then Kg7,
Ng6, trying to exchange this knight and challenge this square. And if I can manage to get the rook here then
it will be slightly easier to defend because the rook isn’t controlling that many squares. White played Ndf3 here, Kg7, lets say Re1,
here, yeah… I guess if this happens I’m going to be slightly
happier, but the pawn is going to fall anyway, so there isn’t really a way to defend comfortably,
so after Qe2 you can’t risk too much and there isn’t a way to find immediate counter play,
but that’s what you have to think about. Once you have a backward pawn you need to
find fast, aggressive counter play, otherwise you are going to be lost the same way Conquest
lost this game against Mickey Adams. The other example which I’ve just shown you
was much better and actually worked. So after Bd3 you can see that Anand started
to smother the d5 square, started to fix the weakness, but the move f5 just doesn’t give
him time to do that anymore. The knight is going to be dislodged from e3
and the position is going to be better for black. Now, of course, in any endgame black’s pawn
structure is worse. The d6 pawn is still a weakness. But with pieces on the board it’s a whole
different story. So this is, sort of, a battle of static and
dynamic weaknesses, and having a backward pawn is a long term weakness, but dynamically
you might use it to your advantage because you get piece play in exchange for that. Ok! Just to recap. Having a backward pawn is a positional weakness
which, well, makes your position vulnerable and, as time goes by, it’s going to be highlighted
more and more as pieces get exchanged off it’s going to be highlighted more and more. Very often if your opponent’s has a knight,
he’s going to fix your weakness with the knight, you are most likely going to have a bishop
somewhere on e7, because this position comes most often from the Sicilians, so make sure
you don’t trade off your knights to have a position with the good knight versus bad bishop. It will be important to seize the initiative
as soon as possible to make sure that you don’t allow your opponent to do all the plans
that we listed. And if you are playing against the backward
pawn, just fix it, stop your opponent’s counter play, bring all of your pieces into the attack. Try to create a second weakness because it’s
going to make exploiting the backward pawn easier, and use the square in front of the
pawn. You basically get two weaknesses in one with
the backward pawn, try to use them both. Don’t just think about how do you win the
backward pawn, try to think of using the square in front of the backward pawn as well. Ok, everybody! Thanks very much for watching. I hope you liked this video on backward pawns. Let me know what you think and stay tuned
for more chess! See you later. Bye, bye!

25 thoughts on “The Backward Pawn | Chess Middlegames

  1. Can you do a video about which is the right position to start attack and which one is early immature attack? Because in many of my games I was tempted to start attack on king side using pawn without castle my king but most of the time it never worked…

  2. My apology If my comment offend you. But, why don't you share some game that related with this content? So perhaps you just can show some ideas/line from the beginning. Thank you. 🙏

  3. Hello. can you also make a video about semi slav defense or nimzo indian defense? I really like how you explain the theory and want to enrich my repertoire against 1d4

  4. Another useful Lecture. Sir i also watched your playing style/game on Thanks for all the support. I now usually ll see you when you ll be online playing on lichess.

  5. Thank you for this video. I have a question : so if you have a v-shaped or zigzag shaped pawn structure, each of the protecting pawns is in fact a liability ? So is it better to have a diagonal structure ? (So only one weak one). What about when you fianchetto the bishop, is each pawn say h7 and f7 weak ?

  6. Nice video. Can you recommend me which English opening book is the best? I want to know every variation in the English.

  7. I am wondering, in the Adam's game, why black didn't exchange his terrible bishop for the excellent knight at the first place. So let's say in the initial position Ne5 – Bxe5. I don't know engine-wise if it would make a difference, but to my knowledge you should trade bad pieces for good ones and disrupt the control of weak squares by your opponent. Because what he went for, in GM level, is 100% slow suffocation and death, because white had a free hand emphasizing black's weakness.

  8. hello stjepan.. this is really nice video.. can u showing a game as example next time? especially when playing with backward pawn?

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